The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
To me, the most fascinating thing about Conception is how it manages to be not that bad by virtue of hardly being anything at all. Make no mistake, this show is not good, but given its premise, this first episode dodges a lot of the worst pratfalls this type of show could stumble into. Honestly, so little of anything happens in this introductory episode that instead of being gross or weird or annoying, the primary sin it commits is simply being boring. Normally I'd be impressed with an ecchi show that just went for it and actually featured the characters having sex, but these characters react to everything, whether it's an announcement of a sudden virgin pregnancy or being sucked into a magical fantasy world, with only vague bemusement. The sense of padding to get this all to fill up its time slot is frustratingly obvious: The explanation of Itsuki and Mahiru being transported to the world as ‘Visitors’ is given to them twice in the episode, and there's a scene where the other Star Maidens are shown off that just runs out of dialogue halfway through, leaving the slide-show to play out with nothing else backing it up. Much like teenagers having sex for the first time, Conception seems to have no idea what it's doing.
Given what a nothingburger everything in this show was, I kind of hoped Funimation's Simuldub would just go for broke and try something, anything, to spice up the proceedings. Unfortunately, due to the time constraints in cranking these things out, that wouldn't be the case. The script is extremely rote and accurate to the dialogue in the Japanese version, and the actors do little to infuse any life into it. Ricco Fajardo as Itsuki falls right into the same problem of the character emoting little beyond dull surprise at what should be wacky sex-comedy hijinks he's getting involved in; he doesn't sell the idea of Itsuki at least being into the sexual element of his situation. Megan Shipman's Mahiru is at least marginally better, sounding like she's actually a bit weirded out by the bizarre premise of this show. Jamie Marchi as Reone is in the same boring boat as Fajardo, with an even flatter delivery not helping that her character basically does nothing but dispense exposition. And if you were worried that an English-dubbed Mana might not be as annoying as the original version, you can rest assured that Maya Maxwell directly replicates all the irritation of the character with no added charm. She at least seems to have fun in one scene where she lists off every sex euphemism, demonstrating how this production might have been more entertaining had they just cut loose the whole way through. If handling the show this way was a requirement for some reason, I don't want to dump on the actors too hard for doing exactly as much as they had to with what they had to work with, so just know that if you are wanting to watch Conception for some reason, it's basically the same level of slog in English as it is in Japanese.
Update: Corrected listing of English dub voice actress for Mana as Maya Maxwell.
Jeez anime, we've got like two days of preview guide left, I thought I'd escaped. With “the show about an adult woman attempting to molest a child” and “the show about goblins literally raping women” on the books, I figured this season's uniquely bad premises were basically behind us. But of course here comes Conception with its “you must impregnate an entire harem” premise and its endless exposition and its scenes of friggin' teddy bear mascots groping our heroines. You really got me this time, anime. Well done.
Anyway, the only particularly notable thing about Conception is its uniquely horny premise. Though it's easy to make “I'm gonna keep it real with you, Shinzo Abe” jokes about Japan's declining birthrate versus the moral lessons starting to crop up in anime, it seems more likely to me that Conception the game is just aimed at people with a pregnancy fetish. There are twelve girls, you raise your affection with each of them to boost your eventual babies' stats, and the end result is a neat-enough union of fantasy RPG and pregnancy-themed dating sim.
Of course, while all of that makes sense in terms of “what audience fetishes/gameplay interests is this appealing to” game design, it makes for a largely incoherent and frankly pretty boring anime experience. Though the “highlights” of this episode were surreally nonsensical or creepily predatory moments like our mascot Mana “sniffing out” heroine Mahiru's virginity, the bulk of this episode was just poorly written and poorly conveyed exposition, all articulating a narrative that is clearly just designed to celebrate one specific fetish. Though this episode spends many tedious minutes explaining the mechanics of its world, each new piece of information we receive only undercust any attempt to invest in the world, as they are all things like “only your seed can save us” and “take a look at the twelve character archetypes you'll be boning.”
Conception's direction is too clumsy to ever make it feel genuinely sensual, and the setup for its fanservice scenes was too predatory for me to actually want these characters to hook up. Leaping directly from the mascot bear molesting our heroine to a theoretically “tender” love scene basically exemplified Conception's issues - the show treats its female characters as props to lust over, and even in a harem, that's antithetical to any convincing passion or romance. Lacking in any convincing characterization, buried in clumsy exposition, and solely dedicated to celebrating its specific fetish, there's just not much to engage with in Conception unless that's your particular kink.
You know a series is bad when the single most interesting thing about it is the unreasonable amount of time you can spend dissecting a single frame from the first five seconds. It's ostensibly a fanservice shot, with one of the opening's many silhouetted vixens presenting her rear for the viewer to enjoy, but then you do a double take and think, “Wait a minute. Those look cheeks look like knees. Is this girl's ass…made of knees?” This of course warranted investigation by multiple parties including my sister and a friend on Twitter, who were finally able to surmise that this abomination of anatomy actually depicted two women, one of whom was presenting her butt as mentioned, but another who was laying back and raising up her legs, presumably also so she could offer her genitals to whatever mysterious suitor came to sate her lust.
I have no idea why on earth Conception would show us this scene from a perspective that almost perfectly blended Butt Girl's behind with Knees Girl's patellas, but I can tell you this: that one awful drawing sparked more conversation than anything that followed in Conception's premiere.
The core premise of Conception is identical to that of the game upon which it is based – Itsuki and Mahiru are discussing the finer points of the latter's spontaneous pregnancy when they're whisked away to a magical world called Granvania. One dimly-lit and poorly animated fight scene later, and the two are taken in by a perverted floating raccoon-thing named Mana and a doctor named Reone, who spend the rest of the episode dumping exposition on the two. Itsuki is the Special Chosen Boy who needs to sire children with the twelve maidens of the Zodiac, lest the world be destroyed. Naturally, Mahiru is one of these maidens, and her inexplicable pregnancy was actually her body expelling “impurities” so she could fulfill her role as the oven for Itsuki's baby-batter.
It's exploitative and trashy, but the show never pretends to be anything other than that, and at least it tries to handle this slimy premise with a modicum of tact. Ituki and Mahiru's sex scene is played mostly straight, at least once Mana is done molesting the poor girl, and I get the impression that we're supposed to find the scene more sweet than sexy. As with the rest of the premiere though, I was distracted by the bad dialogue and the clunky animation/direction. In one weird and overlong beat, Itsuki spends an inordinate amount of time fumbling with Mahiru's spaghetti straps – in context, I think it's because he's struggling with the shackles he's being forced to wear, but the way the scene is executed just makes it look like Itsuki has no idea how shirts work. It's about as awkward as losing one's virginity might be for a teenager, but that isn't something I need to see even once, much less eleven more times.
I'll give Conception this much. Some of its writing and direction is so bad that it occasionally warranted a chuckle or two, which alone makes it preferable to My Sister, My Writer. Though that's such a low bar, it can hardly be seen as a success at all.
Conception is a more curious animal in origin than it may appear. While it is based on a video game, the source supposedly isn't overtly erotic in nature; the Star Children aren't created through sexual intercourse in the game, but by blending energies through a device. That doesn't seem to be the case with the animated version, however, as no such option is presented to the protagonist. He and the first girl are bluntly told that sex has to happen, although the little mascot creature suggests that the physical reality of being pregnant does not; generating the Star Child could be nearly instantaneous. Presumably the next episode will clarify the mechanics of that, as this one ends with Itsuki and Mahiru clearly getting it on in a scene that pushes the upper limit of what the staff could get away with showing on TV.
How these encounters balance sensitivity and eroticism is probably going to be the make-or-break line for this series. The first instance is at least a little promising, as the interactions between Mahiru and Itsuki leading up to the big moment are handled pretty well; Itsuki is sensitive, considerate, and even charmingly clumsy, and Mahiru doesn't panic, fall back on anime girl reticence, or come off as unrealistically aggressive. Little previews indicate that the other 11 priestesses are diverse in appeal, and I'm guessing that a fair amount of the runtime will involve his efforts to increase intimacy levels with each of the girls. In other words, this could turn out somewhat similar to Date A Live – except, of course, for the actual sex.
The problem is that the first episode struggles production-wise. It looks better than My Sister, My Writer at least, but the animation is often quite limited, even in the brief action scene. The writing and dialogue exchanges are rough in several places as well, and the editing allows some too-abrupt scene transitions. The premise is as cookie-cutter as can be imagined (beyond sex actually being involved). On the plus side, the fanservice elements are handled tastefully, and the opening montage of nakedness set against a red backdrop is visually interesting. I'm not sure about raccoon-like mascot Mana yet, as I finished undecided on whether I found him exceedingly annoying or perversely charming. The original game was developed by Spike Chunsoft, which produced the Danganronpa games, so maybe he's supposed to remind you of Monokuma?
Overall, the first episode isn't that good, but it's not the disaster I was dreading either. I could see myself actually watching more.
Considering its premise, the first episode of Conception is not as bad as one might expect. Admittedly, that's not saying much; “dude has to bang a dozen fantasy girls in order to save the world” sounds like it's either the synopsis for a porn parody or the product of a particularly horny teenager's imagination. Either way, it doesn't offer much hope for a nuanced or even tasteful story, and yet somehow this premiere is actually pretty tolerable. It's not good, mind you, but it's also not “kill it with fire” bad.
From start to finish, it's pretty clear that Conception is aiming to be this season's big sexy show. That much is obvious from the opening montage of abstract female figures, which feels like the underachieving cousin of a James Bond credit sequence. The story wanders into uncomfortable territory at multiple points in this episode, from Itsuki being chained to a bed in his boxer briefs during a deluge of expository dialogue to him and Mahiru sitting half-naked next to each other while the show's cartoon mascot urges them to get it on. Mahiru's false pregnancy is also a bizarre way to open the story, and I say that having consciously avoided reading into the potential symbolism of her puking up the only actual monster we've seen so far. Nope, not going any further down that particular rabbit hole.
Despite all of that, I didn't find myself wanting to tear my hair out in the same way I have with some other premieres. Part of that comes down to Conception's utter lack of pretense; there's virtually no attempt made at disguising what this series is or what the audience can expect from future episodes. There's something refreshingly honest about that approach, if only because it allows the audience to opt in or out without wasting too much of our time. With the exception of the obnoxious mascot, the writing also does a decent job of leaving some room for the characters' own motivations. At the very least, neither Itsuki nor Mahiru seem particularly unhappy with the idea of hooking up, which makes for a more palatable situation than if either of them was clearly being forced into this against their will.
The best and worst thing I can say about Conception is that it is what it is. If you're not interested in the premise, you can pass on it without hesitation, and if you are, then it should deliver exactly what you're looking for. It's also not a bad-looking series, with production values that seem to be up to the task of providing visually appealing fanservice shots. This episode even managed to make me laugh once or twice, though I'm not sure if the comedy was deliberate on the show's part or just my own spontaneous reaction to some of the more outrageous lines of dialogue. Whatever your gut reaction to the premise is, your best bet is probably to trust that instinct.
One thing you can say for Conception – it doesn't beat about the bush. The first twenty seconds of the episode are mauve-colored shots of girls in various sexy (?) poses before shifting to the final one raising her hips while she and the hero go in for an open-mouthed kiss. One quick scene change later and heroine one of twelve, Mahiru, is telling protagonist Itsuki that she's pregnant.
Of course, she and Itsuki haven't had sex yet, and drugstore pregnancy tests and the internet aren't terrific ways to get a reliable answer to suspected (virgin) pregnancy, so we already can guess that there's something else going on. What that turns out to be is an at least mildly interesting take on the basic isekai concept, which is that Mahiru is a star maiden about to be summoned to the world of Granvania with Itsuki as the hero, and she needs to expel any impurities from her body. Apparently this means barfing up the devil, but whatever.
The base conceit of this show is that Itsuki has to have sex with all of the girls representing signs of the Zodiac, get them pregnant, and then their babies will magically defeat all of the evil Impurities threatening Granvania. Over the course of this episode he gets tied up, stripped naked, sexually harassed by the mascot character (who also harasses Mahiru), and eventually has sex with Mahiru as “preparation” for his later sexual escapades. Much of the latter half of the episode is filmed fairly literally over his mostly naked body, with the bulge of his crotch taking up part of the lower half of the screen. It isn't particularly tasteful, but it also is a bit more honest than such shows are. Mana the mascot character really feels like the biggest problem character-wise, because her jokes aren't particularly funny and just seem to make Itsuki and Mahiru uncomfortable. Itsuki's finest moment is when he chucks the furry twit across the room because she's rushing Mahiru and he wants their sexual encounter to be on her terms.
While the show isn't hugely explicit, it also doesn't resort to censorship gimmicks, although the scene change of lots of Manas flying across the screen could be read as such. The bigger issue is the show's apparent obsession with the color mauve, which seems to dominate all of the scenes. The plot definitely feels a bit rushed, perhaps out of a desire to get to the sexy bits as soon as possible.
It isn't a great plot, and I'm not planning to watch any more of this, because I simply don't find it interesting. (Honestly, if “have someone's magic baby” was the requirement to get back to my world, I'd just settle down in Granvania.) But it isn't as sleazily done as it could have been and at least a token effort has been made to be more than this season's NSFW show. It certainly is that, but it also might have a bit more going for it down the line.
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