The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide Spiritpact
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
You Keika is the last scion of a formerly prestigious line of spirit mediums. Although they once served the Emperor, he's now forced to resort to fortune telling on the street and moonlighting as a computer repairman, leaving him so poor that he has to scavenge parts from the dump. One night while hunting for parts he encounters Tanmoku Ki, a gorgeous youmeishi, or exorcist, in the middle of trying to banish an evil spirit. Keika is unimpressed, but that's about to change – within moments he's been hit by a truck and killed, only to be revived as a ghost. Tanmoku offers to let Keika become his “spirit shadow” so he can stay in the physical world, but Keika's not sure he wants to work for someone else – until an encounter with the kind of evil spirit he'll otherwise become makes him think again. Spiritpact is based on a web manhua and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 9:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
It is not easy to create the definitive worst anime of a season. There are many ways for anime to be bad, and achieving all of them simultaneously requires a rare combination of poor fundamental material and awful execution. But with its remarkably terrible first episode, Spiritpact may have already secured the crown.
First of all, a truly terrible anime needs very bad writing. Spiritpact has that covered in spades - not only is its plot a profoundly generic “I died and now hunt spirits” deal, but its execution of that plot is remarkably graceless and unexciting. Spiritpact's narrative proceeds like someone's reading the show's own wikipedia entry - “here is the protagonist, suddenly he runs into a fight, magic exists, now he is dead.” No scenes in this show proceed at the pace of a real conversation, or are timed to create some kind of emotional effect. Characters just run through their very basic dialogue, establishing a tedious premise you've seen a million times before with no hooks or flair.
But many anime have terrible writing. The true all-stars of terrible anime also look awful, and Spiritpact definitely succeeds there. Spiritpact has ugly backgrounds, unappealing color work, and extremely generic, under-designed characters. This show's main characters look like background characters, and its background characters look worse. On top of that, the show's attempts at humor generally involve superdeforming these characters not through flavorful animation, but through even more simplistic drawings that make the protagonists look like angry stick figures. Combined with the flat direction, pointlessly murky lighting, and bland backgrounds, Spiritpact offers nothing interesting to look at.
Even that combination doesn't necessarily ensure an anime will be the worst of its season. No, the worst anime must also be actively unpleasant to watch, and Spiritpact is proud to succeed there as well. The show introduces its protagonist You Keika by having him mock a series of women for no reason, as he makes smirking faces at the camera. His personality is basically set right there; the rest of the episode sees him being alternately selfish, petty, and smug, actions that are all framed as if he's hilarious and the audience should agree with him. Keika is profoundly unlikable, and all of Spiritpact's comedy assumes you find him charming.
So that's Spiritpact. Terrible writing, flat visual execution, and a wretched protagonist we're supposed to like. I pray nothing else this season steals its crown.
Oh my good golly gosh, Spiritpact looks awful. The character designs are bland, the animation is stiff and stilted, and the visuals somehow manage to look even worse whenever the show goes into deformed comedy mode. The supernatural visual effects aren't much better, with most of the generic evil spirits appearing as vaguely transparent red blobs of nothingness. If it weren't for the necessity of reading the subtitles, I probably would've been better off looking away from the screen while watching this episode.
Then again, the story and characters don't exactly look like they're going to be this show's saving grace. Ostensible protagonist Keika is probably supposed to be funny and quirky, but he's so obnoxious that the scene of him getting hit by a truck was my favorite part of the episode. The only other character of any significance is grumpy exorcist Tanmoku, who manages to warp the “gruff and serious” archetype into “boring and emotionless.” Put the two together and you have a thoroughly unlikable pair of ghost-busting protagonists.
From what I can tell from this episode, Spiritpact also seems stubbornly formulaic. It shuffles grudgingly through the usual plot points of one good-looking guy making a spiritual pact with another, complete with an expendable villain to speed the process along. I couldn't help but laugh when Tanmoku pointed out that the evil spirit probably had some kind of tragic past, only to declare that he wasn't interested in finding out what it was. A potentially interesting side story? Nuts to that, let's get back to following this painfully dull plot outline!
I can't think of any reason to watch Spiritpact unless it's your job to warn other people away from it. This episode doesn't even take itself seriously enough to be worth making fun of, so it's essentially a joyless experience delivered through the medium of cheap-looking animation. Come back, Schoolgirl Strikers, all is forgiven.
Last season, Bloodivores proved that these Chinese “co-productions” still have a long ways to go before anime fans are going to find them acceptable. This new offering isn't going to change that impression. On top of that, it's clearly falling in the BL genre, which I normally abhor. However, I can't completely trash it for one simple reason: I actually found co-protagonist Keika's antics to be rather funny at times.
That surprised me a bit, as normally characters with his kind of antics are a quick turn-off and he starts ingloriously as a guy who seems to have no sense of playing to potential customers. The turning point was probably the scene in the junkyard where we see him giving Tanmoku the middle finger behind Tanmoku's back, and he definitely improved once he was dead. His irreverent, uncooperative attitude actually gave me a few chuckles, which is more than I can say about some other titles so far this season which allege to at least partly be comedies.
Unfortunately that isn't enough, and the series has little else going for it. Tanmoku seems intended as a counterbalance to Keika, as he is every bit as bland and one-note and Keika is excitable. Yes, I know the Stoic Guy is an archetype in anime, but there is a way to do such characters so that they aren't completely dull and this isn't it. In fact, he's so bad that I was left wondering why he even cares about Keika; is he just that desperate for someone to serve as his spirit shadow? Nothing else the first episode does for characters is all that interesting, either, with the villainess being a run-of-the-mill Evil Girl. The business about how spirits take the form representing their happiest or most important memories is interesting, but otherwise nothing about the mechanics is fresh. And of course there are the whole clear BL leanings if that's not your kind of thing; really, slipping a ring on a finger in a manner highly suggestive of a wedding? The spirit shadow pact is a “'til death do us part” situation? No, there's no symbolism intended there. . .
With only mediocre technical merits and thoroughly ordinary character designs and musical support, there's just nothing here to promote as a selling point, especially if you're not into BL and don't find Keika's antics to be funny at all.
Given what I've heard about these shows' significant success in the country they're primarily created for, I'm gonna go ahead and assume that we'll be getting at least one Chinese co-production per season for the foreseeable future. One thing you probably didn't know about these shows, however, is that many of them aired in China months ago, which means Japan (and the western world by proxy) is basically getting a rerun in a different language. All this to say, if you really wanted to, you could probably go on bilibili (Chinese niconico) and spoil yourself for the kind of quality content we'll be getting from these coproductions for the next several seasons!
Spiritpact, for example, first aired in China in June of last year, so we had many months of warning before this horribly embarrassing attempt at a BL anime finally washed up over here. I mean, it's hard enough to get a quality boys' love anime released from Japan, so when I realized this season's Chinese effort was gonna be bargain shelf shonen-ai, my brain was already beginning to shut down before the opening theme had finished playing. Anyway, the episode to follow is basically unwatchable: terrible art and animation, loathably obnoxious characters, the entire story is told through nonstop exposition and painfully unfunny comedy, and terrible editing ensures that the episode just "stops" at the credits rather than feeling like it's reached any kind of conclusion.
Bloodivores was absolutely horrendous, and it was the "best" of these coproductions I've seen so far. Spiritpact, by virtue of being the first to try for "comedy" and romance instead of horror/drama, therefore depriving me of even ironic enjoyment, is probably the worst. Until next season and the next re-dubbed rerun! At least Spiritpact kept the original Chinese opening theme to make it extra impossible for viewers to mistake it for anything else.
Maybe this is just some weird idea I have, but I tend to think that a series needs a protagonist who is somewhat interesting and sympathetic in order to catch a viewer's interest. (Either that or fully horrible. That can work as well.) Spiritpact seems to have missed that memo, instead giving us You Keika, a young man in his early twenties who is barely scraping by as a street fortune teller and occasional computer repairman. He's also so totally wrapped up in his own misery that he's pretty obnoxious. Then he dies, and instead of any positive changes, he becomes totally obnoxious, although judging by the artwork, it is intended to be funny. Pair him with straight man Tanmoku Ki and you've got a story about a guy with no personality and another with an annoying personality, off to exorcise their way to success. Or something.
Sadly, it isn't just the characters that make Spiritpact's first episode less than stunning. Awkward character designs, particularly the women, who look strangely stiff, don't help, nor does the stilted animation. The idea behind ghosts, that they take on the appearance of their happiest time in life, is the one thing that stands to make this show interesting going forward – the evil spirit Tanmoku fights looks like a young girl, but when she died, she was a grown woman with a serious grudge against men, implying that she might have had a reason for her murderous nature. Regretfully Tanmoku says that he's not interested in spirits' backstories, quickly cutting out any hope of the story heading in that direction. We do know why Keika has reverted to his middle school appearance – it was before his home life went downhill – but the clear BL overtones to the episode work against that a bit, as it is setting Tanmoku up to be attracted to a middle school boy. Even though we know Keika's really twenty-three, the fact that it is specified that he appears at least ten years young gives the potential romance a creepy feel. And it seems very likely that there will be a romance – the spirit pact of the title is a golden ring that leads to an unbreakable bond for as long as Tanmoku shall live, which cannot be a cute coincidence. The whole “sharing spiritual power” aspect also has certain romantic undertones as well, and the imagery goes out of its way to set the two up as a potential couple. If either party were sympathetic, that'd be fine; as it stands, it feels forced.
“Forced” is really the word that best sums up this episode. It's not so much telling a story as being pushed along in the direction someone wants it to go. It may sort itself out later, but this episode in no way made me want to check back to find out.
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