The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Phantom in the Twilight
How would you rate episode 1 of
Phantom in the Twilight ?
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How was the first episode?
The success of any otome dating game premise is going to rest largely on the strength of the core cast of sexy bachelors, as well as that of the central protagonist. Phantom in the Twilight gets off to a strong start by introducing a heroine that has a fun, endearing personality, and a likeable relationship with her best friend, too. Ton Baileu is enthusiastic about her new digs in London, is more than willing to chase down an invisible monster-thing when it steals her bags in the middle of the city and is even able to bust out a magic spell or two when the time calls for it. Even before we meet the supernaturally handsome men that Ton will eventually fall in with, I was already on board just to see how Ton's adventure in London panned out.
It's actually when we do get a further introduction to Luke, Vlad, and Toryu that the premiere's story begins to fall apart a bit. I can buy that Ton's great-grandmother Rijan had some otherworldly influence on Ton wandering into Café Forbidden, where the boys make their living, but her meetup with them still feels a bit tacked on and rushed. It's odd how Ton can just completely forget about her friend for hours at a time, and then just wander through a mirror as if it's no big deal. The way that they explain having known Rijan when she first opened the café and the show's over casual introduction of Ton's knowledge of magic is a bit too hazy for a first episode, a problem which is only exacerbated by the introduction of the series' presumable antagonist, a vaguely threatening and enigmatic man with a fancy haircut and a bad penchant for muttering ominous things to himself.
Vlad, Luke, and Toryu get a bit more time to shine in the episode's climax, which shows off their respective supernatural abilities. Vlad is obviously a vampire from the get go, and it's easy to predict Luke's werewolf transformation even before he grows the ears and tail. Toryu appears to be a jiangshi, the hopping vampires of Chinese folklore, though for some reason his power is the ability to summon a giant Gatling-gun from out of nowhere. The action sequence where they fight the goblins that have been stealing people's luggage is decently animated (as is the rest of the premiere), but the best scenes of the boys are where they can just play off one another; Luke and Vlad, especially, have an endearingly frazzled rapport, what with Vlad being such an unrepentant ladies' man.
Overall, this premiere is pretty good for an otome game story. Ton is more strong-willed and well characterized than I would have expected given my history with the genre, and the supernatural battles look to provide a nice counterbalance to the inevitable cheesy romance. The storytelling here is a bit oddly paced and underdeveloped, but hopefully that issue will iron itself out in due time. I don't necessarily think I'll be following Phantom of the Twilight myself, but otome game fans would do well to give this one a look.
This one has an usual pedigree, being created by a smartphone game company (Happy Elements) without being based on any of their games in development (yet). That's a plus, as the first episode has a more natural flow than pure mobile game adaptations normally manage. It's also a Japanese/Chinese co-production intended for simultaneous release in China. While the latter has generally been a red flag for quality issues so far, this series could help change that perception, since it's at least up to average standards on both visual and storytelling fronts.
The story is a pretty straightforward reverse-harem premise. A young woman studying abroad in London encounters a café full of bishonen while pursuing a thieving goblin. They are all supernatural entities: one's a werewolf, one is heavily implied to be a vampire, and I'm not sure about Toryu yet, while another mysterious figure has been introduced and at least two others are shown in the opener. They all have a compelling reason to be involved with the heroine, because she's the descendant of the woman they revere for establishing the café for beings like them, and unsurprisingly she has some magical abilities herself. Despite erasing her memory of the initial encounter so that she can live her life as a regular student, the epilogue and next episode previews make it plain that she's going to find her way back to Café Forbidden on a regular basis.
While this may sound like a run-of-the-mill concept, the execution is a grade above normal. That Baileu Ton is a well-defined character who takes her own initiative, rather than just a stand-in for female viewers who passively goes along with the guys taking the lead. She also has a female friend who will clearly be a recurring character. The guys also show signs of having more to them than pure stereotypes, and the designs, coloring, and animation all speak to a respectable production effort. The music is solid too, with the lovely closer by May'n likely to be regarded as one of the season's highlights; you should listen to that even if you skip the episode otherwise.
In other words, even though it's firmly not my genre, this is a reverse-harem title that I could actually see myself following.
In some ways Phantom in the Twilight strongly reminds me of a ridiculous late 19th century novel I read where within the first fifty pages the heroine had been kidnapped twice, escaped via secret underground passage, saved someone from drowning, and escaped from a burning hotel by climbing down the drainpipe. She may also have been run down by a horse in Central Park. (It was A Hoiden's Conquest by Mrs. Georgie Sheldon, if you're curious.) While those exact things don't happen to Ton, heroine of this supernatural reverse harem, she certainly goes through a similarly convoluted chain of events: arrives in London, has her luggage stolen by an invisible goblin, stumbles upon a den of supernatural hotties which just so happens to be the restaurant her great-grandmother founded, discovers she has supernatural powers, and gets her memories erased—only to get to her flat and find that her friend's been kidnapped! If that's not sensation novel stuff right there, I don't know what is.
Technically speaking, that doesn't make for awesome storytelling technique, but I enjoyed the episode more than I ought to have simply because it never stops to take a breath but just kept piling on the ludicrous. That Ton largely takes it all in stride kind of works as well, although I'm baffled as to how she could just walk through a mirror without thinking anything of it. (Maybe she reads too much Lewis Carroll.) She does walk a fine line between a heroine who can take care of herself and one who perhaps needs to learn the fine art of thinking things through, but I'm more inclined to come down on the former side, because when she magically pulls Great-Granny's multi-chained weapon from the ground, she doesn't panic, she just starts using it to fight off the spriggan attacking Vlad. She's got some survival instincts, even if “don't walk into creepy dark forest” isn't among them.
While this is not the best looking show out there, it does earn passable marks. The fight scenes involving Luke (werewolf) and Vlad (must be a vampire) physically fighting aren't particularly impressive, but the character designs are nice to look at and the spriggan and goblins were definitely interesting. Shinyao and Ton are cute and the boys are all attractive, and if London is strangely clean and devoid of people, well, we can chalk that up to convention.
Frankly speaking, Phantom in the Twilight's first episode is a messy and over-stuffed affair. But if you're in the mood for melodrama and can deal with non-stop cosmic coincidences (I haven't even gotten into Shinayao's weird magic mirror app), this is the kind of unintentionally silly show that just lets you roll with its punches and turn off your brain.
Phantom in the Twilight's first few minutes had me all prepped for one more “attractive young men serve you delicious-looking food” production, a subgenre that has genuinely become one of my principle delights of preview week. But soon after that, the introduction of our heroine Ton and some mysterious half-cloaked monster had me pinning this as one more subpar supernatural reverse harem. Those expectations were once again subverted by the end of this episode; Phantom in the Twilight does indeed hold to many supernatural reverse harem conventions, but elevates itself above them through a wide variety of smart choices, as well as its generally strong execution. In the end, Phantom is looking to simply be a solidly engaging action-fantasy.
This first episode introduces us to Ton, a girl who's moving to London in order to both further her education and pursue her fascination with her long absent great-grandmother. After her luggage is stolen by some mysterious invisible creature, she quickly finds herself stumbling into Cafe Forbidden, a cafe that was actually founded by that grandmother. There, she meets a group of young men who are very clearly werewolves, vampires, and other assorted supernatural creatures, and after she assists them in fighting some goblins to regain her luggage, she has her memories promptly wiped by presumed vampire Vlad.
Phantom's key priorities seem to be a combination of smoldering young men, supernatural action, and a smidge of London-based scenery porn, but it's all in the execution, and Phantom's execution is solid all around. While I felt the show's early minutes dragged somewhat, things pick up significantly once Ton meets the cafe staff, and I felt the rapport across the main cast was already pretty darn snappy. The fantasy worldbuilding here also felt far more sturdy than in many similar shows; this isn't a world where the Good Fantasy Guys fight the Bad Fantasy Guys, this is a world where creatures like goblins and spriggans and werewolves all exist, all possess their own cultures and priorities, and uneasily rub shoulders with each other. There's a sense of solidity and history to this world's storytelling that makes it far easier for me to engage in its drama, as opposed to seeing it simply as a platform for cute boys or cool fights.
It also helped greatly that Ton herself was a very dynamic heroine. Ton is no wilting flower or dazzled maiden; when her luggage is stolen, she dashes after the creep, and when the world around her erupts in fantastical madness, she does her best to hold on. It was genuinely thrilling to see Ton inherit her ancestor's signature weapon, and Ton isn't just “tough” - she immediately seemed to grasp the larger implications of the things happening around her, making her a very satisfying character to accompany through this world.
Phantom's animation isn't the greatest, and its story's overall beats hew pretty closely to genre convention, but there were enough clever choices and compelling moments all throughout this episode for it to easily earn my recommendation. If you're in the mood for a supernatural fantasy, it's definitely worth a look.
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