The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Talentless Nana ?
What is this?
An academy on an island in unnavigable waters. There, students trained tirelessly to fight back against the enemies of humanity. Nana, a student newly transferred there, also sets out with the intention of eradicating all enemies of humankind.
How was the first episode?
It doesn't take long to realize that Talentless Nana is setting you up to expect that something is about to go terribly wrong for its hero, Nanao Nakajima. At first glance, the initial premise seems awfully familiar to a certain other franchise about a green-haired protagonist who has no special abilities of his own, while the other “Talented” kids around him have all sorts of cool super-powers. Then, as the premiere goes along, you start asking questions: Why are all of these kids being trained on an isolated island, cut off from the rest of humanity? No class of students that has been stuck on an island in an anime has ever had a good time. Also, what are these vaguely described “enemies of humanity” that popped into existence 50 years ago? They don't have any names, we only see abstract sketches of them from the textbook that Nanao is flipping through, and most of the students have never even seen one of these enemies, let alone fought them with their Talents. Where did these Talents come from, anyways?
Then there's Nanao, who claims not to have any Talents at first, which would make him a weird fit for an elite academy (shades of Danganronpa, here), though later he clarifies that he, like many of his classmates, is choosing to hide his powers. They're training to be soldiers of war, for one, and deception is a valuable skill, but Nanao also believes that his powers simply aren't very useful. He might have been idealistic/arrogant enough to declare himself the class' leader when he first arrived, but months of bullying have cut him down to size. The newest transfer student, coincidentally named Nana, thinks she knows better. Or rather, she knows that Nanao thinks differently, because her Talent lets her read the minds of everyone around her, and she is confident that Nanao is a born leader and should take the reins to become class rep. Sure, it's kind of strange that Nana arrived seemingly out of nowhere, alongside the super suspicious Kyoya, and immediately latched on to the unprepossessing Nanao as the boy she wants to build up, but that's just because she's a good friend, right?
I absolutely love premieres like Talentless Nana's. The way they slowly ratchet up this murky, foreboding atmosphere that reminds you more of a horror story than a superhero fantasy. The excellent control of pacing and tension, where you're given just enough clues to suspect that not everything is as it seems, but even when you think you've pinned down the big twist that's coming, the show still manages to surprise you with what it's really about. I don't want to spoil Talentless Nana more than I already have, and I don't want to give the impression that this is a completely mind-blowing work of subversive genius, or anything. The show simply puts on the mask of being a kind of fun, pulpy shonen manga adventure, and then it does a damned entertaining job of showing you its true face. It's equally pulpy, and just as fun, but the kind of fun that makes you look at the conspicuous splatters on the logo and think, “Ah ha. I see what you did there.” Given the spirit of the season, I'm very interested to see where Talentless Nana takes its unsuspecting hero from here. Hopefully he and his friends can make it to graduation in one piece.
Please, go into this one blind if you can. If you're even a little curious, stop reading this and just watch the episode first, because I don't want to even accidentally reveal something to spoil you.
As for me, I went in completely blind. I was so unaware that I didn't even know that going in without prior knowledge was an advantage! I only knew the title, that it was a shonen action series, and that at some point it got darker. Because of this lack of awareness, I think I enjoyed the first episode a lot more than I would have otherwise.
Oh, I knew something had to be up. After all, what was happening in the episode – Nana using her talent of reading minds to get past Nanao's defenses and ultimately bond with him – was in direct conflict with the title. Because of this, I figured there would be some kind of the twist at the end, but my guess was way off-course. I'm glad of that, because what actually happened was way gutsier.
My feelings on this episode are somewhat conflicted. The anime it was pretending to be, where two superpowered outcasts meet and bond, was cute enough, but neither original nor particularly interesting, and I doubt it would have held my interest for long. In fact, if I hadn't sensed there was some kind of twist coming that would change things up by the end of the episode, I may well have lost interest before that hit. It had enough heart to momentarily make up for its lack of originality, but I doubt that goodwill would have lasted the entire series.
It's partially saved by a strong artistic team, many of whom worked on ANN staff-favorite Heybot!. Nanao and Nana's evening chats often take place against vivid sunset backdrops, and the island they live on feels appropriately rural and isolated. Its kind-of-rundown look seems to conflict with the students being the saviors of humanity, but I guess that can be chalked up to foreshadowing. (Oops, is that a spoiler?)
I don't know if Talentless Nana is going to keep its hold on me for its entire run – my patience for shonen action tends to be thin, and Jujutsu Kaisen has already taken hold of my heart – but it definitely has my attention for now.
Most of the first episode of Talentless Nana is spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. It really tries its darnedest to throw you off, too – maybe even too hard, although in all fairness it probably depends on the frequency with which you watch shows about people with superpowers, like Gakuen Alice or the more recent Bungo Stray Dogs, either of which could give you a major clue as to one place this episode is headed. Before it reaches that point, however, it toys with what the true meaning of the title is – we have characters named Nanao and Nana, either or both of whom could be construed as “powerless” in a special classroom full of people who can manipulate ice, fire, and other physical manifestations of power. That could mean that any psychic or cerebral skills are labeled as lesser, which is what the episode seems to be banking on.
Mostly I feel like Talentless Nana is trying to pull the same thing that School-Live! did – play out an episode almost entirely based on deliberate misdirection before showing us at the last second what its truth is. And like with that other show (which, admittedly, I think did it better), this one offers things that are definitely clues in retrospect, but in the moment barely register. Some of them, like Nanao's watch and the title of the next episode, stand out more; others, like the teacher's attitude, take a bit more thought. But overall there's just too much of an obvious air of wrongness here that makes things feel more projected than they ought to. This kind of last-minute tonal shift works better if it truly comes out of nowhere.
That said, I do like the idea that it's the kids with the powers who are the real enemies of humanity. It's a refreshing reversal of the norm that also allows us to have some serious doubts about who is in charge of the propaganda, and particularly interesting when you compare it to last season's Mr. Love: Queen's Choice, which plays with a similar idea. In that show's worldview, people with powers could be seen as “more evolved,” as in the next step for humanity; that this story takes the opposite route, suggesting that the people with power are dangerous freaks who must be eliminated, hints at a much less tolerant, more frightening world.
And that, in my mind, raises the real question that this show needs to answer. Are the Talented actually bad and dangerous, or are the Talentless simply the fearful majority, moving to stamp out the Talented before they can strike first? That's a question that will determine whether Nana (and, I suspect, Kyoya) are the good guys or the bad guys, or, more intriguingly, if there aren't clear-cut sides in terms of “right” and “wrong” in this fight, with everyone just turning out to be plain old humans in the end, regardless of what they can do. I'm not sure that Talentless Nana can deliver on this, but I'm willing to give it a few more episodes to find out.
Last season the big fake-out title was Deca-Dence, which didn't reveal even the slightest real hint of its truth until the end of the first episode and didn't explain that what we were seeing was a lie until episode two. This season, Talentless Nana is claiming that slot, with the episode-ending reveal that the behavior of the titular character isn't the only thing that's a total sham; the whole premise that the series is operating on means something very different than what is strongly implied at first. Heck, the character portrayed as the protagonist throughout the entire episode might wind up being the first victim instead. (He is listed as one of the three primary cast members, so we may or may not have seen the last of him.)
Really, I must give the series credit for setting viewers up so well, and the advertising blurb (from the manga) for being just vague enough to allow for this possibility while still seeming to go the way focus character Nanao's narration indicates. Everything about the first episode, up to the last couple of minutes, indicates that this is an isolated school meant to train super-powered individuals to fight an alien foe, and the dynamics of what's going on are not much different than something like My Hero Academia. Nana even comes across as the stereotypical genki girl. However, in retrospect niggling inconsistencies abound. It did bother me at first that the enemy had been around for 50 years, and yet the government is still preparing for an upcoming battle. Also, both the classroom and Nanao's dorm room looked suspiciously old-school for a project that humanity's fate might depend on. Since some class members were keeping their powers to themselves, that meant that they were not being specifically trained in power use, which seemed contradictory. So why else might you isolate a whole group of super-powered individuals?
As it turns out, the rumor about “enemies of humanity” infiltrating the island in human form is true because the empowered students are the enemy. Not aliens, just normal people with powers who are regarded as threats because of that.
Once you accept that, the obvious question is then “why go through all of this trouble?” Simple explanation there: they want these individuals dealt with where the public cannot see and/or the government is evaluating which ones might be controllable and useful to them. That then makes Nana the evaluator. If what we see of her at the end of the episode is the real her then she is not an evaluator because of having telepathy; the very title suggests that she has no power, just a keen perceptiveness and intuition and the skill to pull off her act convincingly enough that anyone would buy into it. That puts the other new arrival Kyoya in a different light – he may suspect something – and raises the question of where the teacher stands on this. Is he a dupe or part of the program?
I am officially hooked. This will be on my view card for the season.
I kind of wish I'd been able to go into this show totally blind. While I usually don't look too much into upcoming series if I'm not already familiar with the source material, I do read the comments and replies whenever a new series is announced, if only to get a feel of what other people feel about it. And sadly Talentless Nana is one of those shows where fans just couldn't help playing coy about how there's a dark twist at some point in the story. To those folks' credit they didn't spoil the exact nature of the twist, but knowing a swerve's coming is kind of a problem on its own. I spent then entire premiere of Nana tapping my fingers, watching the progress bar at the bottom, and waiting for it to finally get to whatever the show was really about instead of what it's pretending to be.
Because unfortunately the show Talentless Nana pretends to be for about 20 minutes isn't very interesting. You've seen one class of super-powered anime teenagers, you've seen them all, and the drama around supposedly talentless potato Nakajima is pretty rote, which makes sense when you recognize it's all a narrative red herring before he gets tossed off a cliff to reveal the titular Nana is the actual protagonist. The other characters are both flat and not particularly entertaining, defined by loud and obnoxious personalities that exist solely for the sake of bullying our fake lead, before it's revealed this is actually a Death Game anime and so they're actually unlikable because they are going to be dead by the season's end.
Which, can I just say, isn't a particularly interesting twist? Oh you thought this was a chuuni battle series? Well actually it's a chuuni battle series WITH BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOD isn't the huge swerve it insists it is, especially when I was braced for it and didn't get any shock value out of it. Compare it to something like Deca-Dence, which not only saved its setting-altering reveal for episode 2 to really sell its initial premise, but also sold the paradigm shift through a dramatic change in art style. Or heck, look no further than this season's Higurashi remake, which pulls the same swerve from cutesy to killer but actually builds tension towards that reveal so it feels like it means something. Here the reveal is there solely to give some kind of flavor to an otherwise bland, poorly-paced episode of a show I wouldn't have bothered watching more of. Outside of stoking curiosity about what Nana's actual personality or motivation is, it doesn't offer up anything more interesting than what came before.
Maybe Talentless Nana will get better from here. The problem with building your whole premiere as the prologue to a genre switch is that your actual story doesn't get to begin, and hopefully now that the cat's out of the bag the series can start working on actual character personalities and worldbuilding. But as an introduction this feels like a balked writing exercise that can't survive without shock value.
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