The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Dimension High School
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dimension High School ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Just in case Cells at Work! made blending education and entertainment look too easy, here comes Dimension High School to remind us that it's actually really hard. The passive enjoyment of watching TV rarely plays well with the level of attention and participation required in order to learn something, so combining the two tends to result in a show that's torn between its conflicting purposes. As an example, this episode needs to hammer the audience over the head with its initial lesson on the Doppler effect in order to bring the idea back later on, and that obvious setup takes away the fun of being surprised when the characters solve the puzzle at the last minute.
Of course, this show also has problems that go beyond the tug of war between instruction and storytelling. The most obvious issue is the CG animation used for the “anime” portion of the show, which looks pretty terrible. Movements are stiff, faces lack emotion, and the mix of white outfits and white walls seems like it'd hurt your eyes if you looked at it for more than a few minutes at a time. Even worse is the fact that the alternating visual styles don't really add much to the experience. If anything, it would have been cooler to see the Sphinx bust through the real-world classroom wall. The whole anime gimmick seems like an uninspired attempt at getting kids to pay attention, and that's never a good thing.
It's hard to tell if this episode's main puzzle is worth the trouble, as it requires an understanding of the Japanese language that most English-speaking viewers won't have. For an American audience, then, it feels like a dud, but perhaps the average Japanese teenager might know enough English to put the bilingual clues together. I somehow doubt it, but I'll give the show the benefit of the doubt here. The one genuine upside is that Dimension High School seems willing to poke fun at itself, and I particularly like the contrast between the Sphinx's imposing appearance and its goofy voice. If future episodes can expand and improve on the comedy, it'd make the show more palatable.
I'm usually up for learning a thing or two while I watch anime, but Dimension High School goes so far down the edutainment route that I don't see much of a place for it outside of a Japanese school setting. It seems like the kind of thing a substitute teacher might make kids watch instead of trying to keep up with a real lesson plan. It's slightly more fun than sitting through a half-assed science lecture, but not by much.
Well, that certainly was something.
If you want to see something entirely different this season, then check out this weird offering. It's made in about equal parts live-action and animation, and the central gimmick involves four schoolboys and one teacher being transported into an anime-style dimension, which feels much stranger when that results in a transition from live-action to CGI. For whatever reason, the quintet then has to solve puzzles from a Sphinx, the kind that you might find in an old-school puzzle magazine but with a mix of Japanese and English involved. Supposedly the world's been destroyed except for that room, but why worry about that when there are puzzles to solve?
The animated part of the episode is pretty crude and clunky CGI, and the special effects in the real-world setting look quite juvenile too; there's certainly no visual appeal to this series. The puzzles are respectable brain-teasers, but I can't see many working up enthusiasm for that kind of exercise as animated entertainment. If they weren't fairly complex puzzles that in one case involve a good understanding of both Japanese and English, I'd guess that this was intended for a much younger audience.
The one thing that makes this episode even slightly watchable is that the quintet of actors fully commit to it all. They take things just as seriously as they should in order to make the whole scenario work and don't go over-the-top in hamming it up. In general, they at least try to work some actual acting ability into this situation. None of them are all that interesting or compelling as characters, and their personas are pretty basic so far, but at least most of them have some degree of definition already. The major concern is that there's almost no chemistry between them so far, though.
So while the gimmick is certainly different, there's very little here worth recommending to any audience.
The idea of a production that splits its time between live action and animated segments actually sounds fascinating to me. Anime already dabbles in all sorts of mixed-media experiments, and though there have been properties that split their time between animation and live action in the past (like the famous Otaku no Video), I'm not aware of any that constructed their narrative around transportation between the real and animated world.
Unfortunately, Dimension High School doesn't really have anything going for it outside of the novelty of its premise. The biggest issue with this premise is that if you remove the shift between mediums, the actual story being told here isn't interesting at all. Transporting heroes to a classroom in another world so they can be given brain teasers by a giant sphinx felt both incoherent and pretty dull, and too much of this episode's running time was taken up by our leads simply reacting to that situation. On top of that, all of the characters introduced so far felt like stock archetypes - there was the protagonist, the glasses-pushing nerd, the blustery punk, and his chipper friend, along with the teacher. So far, the story itself hasn't really offered anything worth investing in.
Beyond its bland storytelling, Dimension High School is further undercut by its truly atrocious CG. A show hoping to capitalize on the disconnect between real life and animation demands an animated world that feels genuinely animated, and instead, we got one CG classroom filled with characters whose models and movements would have seemed stiff ten years ago. The animated material here was actually significantly more boring visually than the live action material, and the live action material was already filmed in a mostly flavorless sitcom style. For a show about jumping between visual styles to possess no visual personality of its own is a pretty serious problem.
Given all of that, I'd say it's easy to give this one a pass. There's definitely an intriguing concept for a show here, but Dimension High School is not it.
Welcome to your seasonal dose of WTF! Dimension High School is an utterly bizarre story about four hapless high school guys and their physics teacher who get transported to an anime world (as poorly rigged CG characters) where they must answer weird puzzles from a Sphinx in order to save the world from the Demon of Destruction. It's like a stereotypical isekai story had a child with Phi Brain.
In all fairness, it's a goofy concept that is a decent amount of fun on its own, although the puzzles do feel like they add an unnecessary educational component. The most entertaining scene by far is when the teacher, who was eaten by the Sphinx when everyone failed to answer his first question correctly, realizes that he's lost all of his in-game money as a result and goes on a rampage. The whole thing does have its moments, though, like everyone's determination to get rid of Spudio by chucking him out the window, the unabashed cheesiness of the whole set up and Spudio himself, who looks like a gummy eraser with a face drawn on, is fun. The characters all appear to be firm types on the surface, from Ryusei the suck up to the kindly young teacher to Kikawada, thug with a heart of gold, but Momoya-sensei's break from his character type at the end suggests that this is all being established in order for it to be destroyed.
That's the saving grace of Dimension High School's first episode – it only makes a show of taking itself seriously. To that end, it's actually much more amusing in its live action parts, largely because the animated portions really don't look very good and the actors are able to get more out of the silliness of the show and concept when actual facial expressions are present. The stiff, mostly expressionless anime faces don't do this any favors, nor does the blinding whiteness of the color scheme – white clothes on a white background and minimal black outlines make it difficult to focus. The vocals are trying their hardest, but if we wanted to just listen to guys talk, we would be listening to a radio drama, not watching anime. The fact that the second puzzle isn't possible to solve without knowledge of the Japanese language also detracts from the animated segment, as it relies on both English and Japanese knowledge – but even if you know both, you have to be up for an academic exercise during your entertainment.
If Dimension High School shifts away from its edutainment components and plays more with its sillier side, this could wind up being a lot of fun. It's probably worth giving at least one more episode to see how invested in goofiness it's going to be, because the concept is entertaining enough that it could pull through.
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