The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide
IRODUKU: The World in Colors
How would you rate episode 1 of
IRODUKU: The World in Colors ?
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How was the first episode?
Iroduku was on my list entering this season, but only in the way basically all P.A. Works shows earn a second look. The studio's shows all tend to possess a certain polish of execution, as well as often gorgeous backgrounds, and they're not afraid to embrace ambitious, anime-original narratives. Iroduku seems to be another such narrative, echoing shows like A Lull in the Sea in its contrast of fantastical worldbuilding and everyday teen drama. Unfortunately, this first episode only really impressed me in a technical sense - it was very hard for me to actually engage with this show's world.
In theory, I appreciate how this episode didn't really hold our hand through its introduction to a world of magic and time travel, and instead let us experience it at the pace of its heroine Hitomi. However, my main problem with this episode was that the pace Hitomi experiences life at is extremely slow. If taken in pure geographical terms, Hitomi's journey through this episode involved her taking a few steps up a hill, being transported back to the bottom of that hill (and also sixty years into the past), and then slowly walking up the hill again. Our journey up that hill was accompanied by occasional dramatic asides and plenty of beautiful design work, but that's still just not that much to grab onto.
I'm obviously exaggerating a bit for my point, but this episode's pacing really did feel incredibly slow, and Hitomi herself didn't help at all. Though it's easy enough to parse her color blindness as a metaphor for depression or alienation, Hitomi didn't really present an otherwise compelling or convincing portrait of those conditions. Hitomi was just there - her total non-presence as a person meant that I only had the narrative itself to engage with, and the narrative was, as I said, mostly about climbing a hill. I actually really love slow and thoughtful stories about anxious or melancholy people, but Hitomi was just too thinly characterized in this episode to care about, and hearing her articulate thoughts like “it's the same, but different. It's different, but the same” didn't really help. Even the show's visual strengths didn't help - while everything was very pretty, I never felt like scenes were realized in such a way that their visual composition actually told me anything about its cast emotionally. When you combine that with the show's convoluted and emotionally baffling premise (“I know, I'll toss my depressed granddaughter sixty years into the past, that'll fix her up”), you're left with a premiere that didn't emotionally engage me in any way.
Fortunately, the show was also really, really nice to look at. The animation was plentiful, characters outside of Hitomi were fairly expressive, and the show was awash in beautiful backgrounds. Some of the interior scenes leaned on CG angles to the point of annoyance, but the outdoor scenes were all beautiful, and the painted climax in particular was a true marvel. The show's narrative also demonstrated clear confidence, in spite of its pacing issues; I may not know where the story is going, but the way it built towards its final meeting made dramatic sense, and all of its character introductions felt purposeful. On the whole, my expectations for Iroduku essentially rest on Hitomi's character; if she can come into her own as a person, we could really have something here, but if not, Iroduku will remain as boring as it is beautiful.
The "(Often Supernatural) High-Gloss Drama About Wistful Teenage Ennui" has been a popular genre for anime over these past few years, and while I've always a big fan of these magical adolescent fables, I think I may be growing a little weary of the formula. This could explain my hesitant reception of Iroduku: The World in Color's premiere, even though there's a lot to like about this opening episode. I love the architecture and visual design of the 2078 setting, and I'm always a fan of stories that mix magic with technology. This is also an expertly produced and directed episode, with the appropriately lush colors marrying well to the subtle character animations and steady camera work. While most of the premiere is pretty laid-back with its aesthetic approach, it knows when to cut loose when it counts. Hitomi's cathartic encounter with Aoi's colorful artwork is one of the better pieces of visual storytelling I've seen so far this year.
However, I think the genre's characteristically subdued approach to tone works against this show's favor in a lot of instances, making for moments that feel rushed, underwritten, or meandering. When Hitomi's grandmother Kohaku sends Hitomi back in time, our heroine is offered little more than a “You'll see when you get there” by way of explanation, then it turns out that Past Kohaku is studying abroad in England, and Hitomi is stranded in the past with no direction and no connections. It isn't until later that we get the impression that this was all part of Kohaku's plan, that she could sense her granddaughter's loneliness and isolation and resorted to drastic measures to send Hitomi to a place where she could start fresh. It's jarring for both the audience and for Hitomi, which is the point, but it still seems like a needlessly convoluted and difficult plan for poor Hitomi to navigate. Maybe it has to be this way to fulfill some sort of causal loop or something, though; you never know with time travel.
I'm also not sold on Hitomi as our protagonist, either. She's the kind of reserved, nondescript heroine whose expressions always seem to fall between either looking sad, confused, lost, or a combination of the three. All we know about her is that she's lonely, she doesn't like being a mage, and that she's become colorblind for some reason. The show never lets you forget this either, because whenever we see the world from her perspective we get a loud “whoosh” sound effect to accompany the transition into black-and-white, a choice that honestly felt like over-direction. It's like the show didn't trust us to piece together the metaphor of "Hitomi's life is lacking color, man!", so it kept having to bang the whoosh gong to remind us over and over again.
It might seem like I didn't like Iroduku, but I genuinely enjoyed this premiere. It was gorgeous to look at, and I'm curious to see where the story goes from here. It's just that I couldn't help but be aware of the show's self-conscious need to be impressive. Sometimes this worked in Iroduku's favor, such as the colorful climax, but too often I got the impression that the show was just trying too hard. Hopefully this first impression of mine is off base, and Iroduku settles into a more naturalistic and emotionally resonant groove as the season continues.
I'll say this much for Iroduku: it's freaking gorgeous. Whether it's the rich background art, the all-around strong production values, or the explosion of color at the end of this episode, there's a lot to take in here. It's enough to make me want to go back through some of these scenes on a much bigger screen instead of the desktop computer monitor I use for my streaming review work. On the other hand, as nice as it is to sit back and bask in the imagery, I wish the story would give me a little more to latch onto.
As I've mentioned once or twice in this very Preview Guide, I'm typically an easy sell when it comes to introverted main characters, but for some reason I'm having a tough time with Hitomi. Part of the problem might just be a natural consequence of the story; she spends so much of this episode just trying to figure what the heck is going on (and not without good reason) that her personality takes a back seat to the urgency of sorting out her time leap. When she does get a spare moment to express herself, it feels like she fits a little too neatly into the basic “sad girl” mold, and the rest of the cast tends to steamroll right over her initiative. Aside from paying a magic bus fare and absconding out of a bedroom window, Hitomi doesn't really do much on her own volition here. Her grandmother chucks her into the past with shockingly little regard for Hitomi's wishes, the high schoolers she meets drag her around town to satisfy their own curiosity, and she doesn't seem to have much of a plan until her grandma's grandma makes a point of offering to take her in. Could we all maybe back off for a minute and let this girl make a decision or two for herself?
While I'm clearly not in love with the character development thus far, I do like the way in which this premiere goes about building the show's world. The little floating orb that acts as Hitomi's future equivalent of a smartphone is a neat touch, as is her struggle to deal with a house that isn't entirely voice-controlled. The integration of magic into the 2018 setting is similarly well done, with a more natural approach that gets the necessary information across without a boatload of meaningless lore. It reminds me a little of Flying Witch in that regard, which is pretty high praise when it comes to sneaking supernatural elements into an otherwise familiar world.
Put all of that together and you get a premiere that has plenty of visual flair and smart world-building, but a few issues in the writing department. The good news is that those flaws should be simple enough to iron out. Now that the necessary setup work is out of the way, Hitomi should have more room to assert herself as the protagonist, both in terms of her personality and her role in advancing the story. I'm still concerned that this could devolve into a “extroverted friends drag shy girl out of her shell whether she likes it or not” situation, but if Iroduku can avoid that particular pitfall, then it could easily turn out to be one of this season's big hits.
I've been a fan of original P.A. Works creations ever since they hit a home run with Hana-Saku Iroha, so this one was at least on my radar even if it wasn't one of my most anticipated titles of the season. Even so, I dramatically underestimated it. In a debut weekend loaded with much bigger-name titles, this first episode may be the most memorable for me.
Basically, this episode is what happens when you take elements seen in a few other debuts this season and actually put them together correctly. A time travel gimmick lays at the core of the premise, but in this case it's used immediately and effectively, with hints about the grandmother's mysterious motives already evident by the end of the episode, yet there's still a big mystery about why she sent her granddaughter to the past. The show features a character who is socially withdrawn, but in a more subtle way, as seen in her body language around other people. Her special circumstances are intriguing; what could have happened to cause her to lose her ability to see colors, and how is that connected with her social issues? The story takes its time integrating Hitomi into her new setting, but without wasting time; nearly every scene feels like a setup for something later. The magic of the setting doesn't get a detailed explanation, it's just gradually presented as Hitomi encounters relevant aspects of the phenomena. Compared to so many other anime series, the supernatural is integrated so naturally that it actually seems magical when big effects pop off.
But this episode has way more going for it than that. It's also a visual wonder, with the wealth of fine background detail that P.A. Works series have become known for over the past decade, with a visual feast of beautiful colors when the camera isn't looking through Hitomi's eyes. The alternations between her black-and-white worldview and what everyone else sees provide a stark contrast that helps firm up her personality, but that's nothing compared to the eye-popping visuals when her monochrome world suddenly bursts with painted colors in a fantastic scene at the end of the episode. Also watch for the gradual color shifts in the closer and next episode preview, too! Distinct character designs that are at least slight departures from stock designs populate the cast so far, with Hitomi's height and stature making her stand out compared to other emotionally stunted, pale-haired anime girls. The extent and quality of the animation is also well above average, and the musical support matches the action well.
While other debuts have dazzled me at least as much over the last couple of years, I'm hard-pressed to think of another one that feels more complete than this premiere.
Like a few other people, this show wasn't really on my radar. As such, it completely blew me out of the water. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but the story itself has a lot of potential, with my current major question being why Granny sent Hitomi back in time sixty years in the first place. We can guess that it has something to do with Hitomi's loss of color and her dislike of magic in general, but there's almost certainly more to it than that, especially since Granny's Granny mentions that time travel magic is irreversible. That means that the only way for Hitomi to make it back to sixty years from now is to actually live out those sixty years…which would make it a very real possibility that the woman she thinks of as her grandmother is actually Hitomi herself, sending her back in time in order for the future to exist.
That certainly runs into some time loop issues, but I tend to think that the use of magic as a very real thing within the story's world may negate that. Regardless, the fact that the magical clock has been soaking up moonlight for sixty years speaks of the idea that 2018 is a pivotal year for Hitomi, despite the fact that she was born fifty-odd years after it had passed. This episode makes it seem as if there are layers within layers that will be unpacked going forward, and that seems both interesting and very appealing, especially since there has to be a reason for everything. (Or at least, I'd hope so.)
This feels borne out by the fact that Hitomi is dropped into Aoi's bedroom. It seems unlikely that Granny would have been preparing for this moment for sixty years only to dump Hitomi on some random boy's floor, and that Aoi's artwork is the first time Hitomi sees color in years supports that this was a deliberate move. (Granted, I'm a big, big fan of time travel romance as a genre, so I may really be wanting to see this as part of the end game.) There's also the way Granny phrased her initial statement – not that she wanted Hitomi to meet her when she was a sophomore in high school, but that she wanted to SEND her to when Granny was a sophomore in high school. Again, this seems very deliberate, and like there's a lot more going on than we're being told.
With its combination of Hitomi's emotional needs, time travel, and mystery, to say nothing of beautiful visuals and interesting use of black and white versus color, this is looking like a frontrunner for pick of the season. It's magical in a few senses of the word, and that's worth checking out.
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