The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
Between Pet and ID: INVADED, it's looking like this will be a season heavy on MIND CRIMES. But while the two shows share a premise centered on exploring people's mental landscapes, they seem to come at it from exactly opposite directions. While ID: INVADED explores how police might be use mind-exploring powers to solve crimes, Pet seems centered on how nefarious individuals might use mental manipulation to commit them.
Pet holds its cards pretty close to the vest throughout this premise, though. After an opening segment that introduces us to the concept of individuals who can explore the mental worlds of others, the rest of this episode is dedicated to the downfall of Kenji, a seemingly decent guy who accidentally learns a bit too much about his shady business partners.
I really appreciated the slow burn of this episode's pacing, and how tightly our perspective was wedded to Kenji's. The audience is given little more understanding of Kenji's predicament than the man himself, and the moment his apartment starts melting around him, the sense of drowning in your own mind becomes palpable and terrifying. Kenji's momentary delusions felt more frightening than a total reality shift likely would have; and by giving us so little information about the forces he's fallen into, we're able to fully share in his confusion and panic. I appreciate narratives that have enough confidence and faith in their audience to explain this little - whereas a weaker script would likely dive into exposition right from the start, Pet simply lets its events transpire as they will, making this episode into a lean and energetically paced thriller.
On the visual front, Pet falls somewhere just short of average. The show's animation is fairly limited, and more fundamentally, its background and character designs are neither distinctive nor attractive. I imagine the show's mental worlds will eventually offer some engaging visual ideas, but the two worlds we visit in this episode's opening segment were disappointingly lacking in imagination.
On the whole, in spite of failing to impress on the visual front, Pet's confident script and fundamentally engaging premise made for a solid premiere on the whole. I wouldn't give this one a universal recommendation, but if you're a fan of thrillers or psychological horror, I'd give it a shot.
I went into Pet hoping for some enjoyable, campy supernatural schlock, like what Darwin's Game ended up being, except hopefully less boring. What we ended up getting instead, though, is something a lot weirder and harder to pin down. Given that this comes from Geno Studio, I shouldn't be surprised that this very janky first episode gave me hard Kokkoku vibes. Like that 2018 oddity, Pet seems to harbor some interesting ambitions, using its supernatural trappings to tell a somewhat more grounded story than you might expect. The problem with Kokkoku was in how that show completely failed to live up to its own promise, instead getting bogged down by muddled storytelling and very inconsistent presentation. Needless to say, the obtuse writing and middling visuals we see in Pet aren't exactly setting the show up for success.
There is hope for a good tale to be found here, though, especially based on the opening scene. In it, a completely run down mother brings her borderline catatonic son Satoru into the hospital to be evaluated, though we see what she cannot: Marital distress has driven her to contemplate suicide, and Satoru's empathetic/telepathic abilities force him to experience all of her anguish and pain, forcing him to retreat. That is, until a stranger with similar abilities arrives, Doctor Sleep style, and teaches him how to control the “peaks” and “valleys” of the “images” he can create with his mind. Silly jargon aside, I found this setup to be quite engaging, and I was interested to see where Satoru's story went from there.
Except, when we flash forward to the present day, Satoru's story is mostly abandoned in favor of a completely unrelated man named Kenji, a Jamaican living in Japan who does criminal favors for gangsters willing to pay up. It's initially unclear how his plot relates to the opening at all, until Kenji runs afoul of the mobsters who hired him, discovering that they use people like the now grown Satoru to manipulate the minds of whoever gets in their way, even killing them when necessary. When Kenji witnesses them using these powers to murder his friend, he threatens to go to the cops with his evidence, though he quickly finds himself hallucinating terrifying visions and freaking out in front of the two kids who work for him. This is when we learn that these two guys are “Crushers”, who are also working with the likes of Satoru and his mob pals, I guess?
I don't mind that Pet is taking the leisurely path and doling out its plot and exposition in its own time – I actually like it when a story is willing to confuse its audience, so long as the material is still entertaining and interesting. Unfortunately, Pet runs into the same problems Kokkoku had, where the mediocre art and languid pacing make it difficult to be very interested in all of the weird genre stuff that ought to be gluing us to the screen. There aren't any characters worth rooting for yet, and the stakes of the plot are still being put into place, making it difficult to say what exactly Pet is even going to be about, aside from people that have vaguely defined psychic abilities. I'll give this one a couple of more episodes to get into gear, but don't be surprised if this ends up as another of Geno Studio's over-ambitious underperformers.
Amazon continues to be the streaming service for the weird, crime-focused thrillers and Pet is no exception. The episode starts out introducing the concept of mind manipulation and how individuals are born with this ability but need to be trained to utilize it properly. This is shown when Satoru, the catatonic child of a broken marriage, meets a mysterious man at a hospital who is able to "awaken" him by ushering him out of his mother's painful emotions and into a happier, albeit fictional, place.
Fast forward and Satoru is a young adult working with Katsuragi, an all-around loathsome criminal who utilizes people like Satoru to cover up his and the higher-ups murders and counterfeit operations. However, Pet isn't interested in spoon-feeding its plot, its premise, or even who the main characters of the show are to the audience. The first episode is more interested in showing the powers in practice and how they're used by criminals by following around Kenji, a Jamaican bar owner that does some yakuza go-fer work on the side. Most of the episode is from his perspective as Kenji discovers that his best friend Yokota didn't just up and leave for Bali; he decided to skim a bit of money off the top to blackmail Katsuragi after he and Kenji discovered a body at the bottom of the river instead of just a barrel full of cash. The yakuza was able to manipulate Kenji's memories but not Yokota's, so now that Yokota got greedy and is a liability, they gotta send him to sleep with the fishes.
All of that is just a pretense to truly introduce the show's lead characters, Tsukasa and Hiroki. The pair seemed innocuous as a pair of lovable maybe-boyfriends renting Kenji's spare room and working in the bar. In reality, they're Crushers (and still maybe-boyfriends) that do mind manipulation for Katsuragi. They're able to work out a new reality for Kenji that keeps him alive but no longer asking the wrong kind of questions. The episode ends there, leaving the audience with a lot of information about a one-off character's circumstances but not a whole lot about Tsukasa and Hiroki. Presumably all their silly antics was a ruse to keep Kenji from suspecting anything, so I can't say I have a good grasp on their actual personalities. The entire flashback sequence involved Satoru but he doesn't play a prominent role (other than putting up with Katsuragi) so we don't really see how his past plays into his current affairs. I can't even say for sure if show seems like a set-up for a longer, single story or if it'll be more episodic with Tsukasa and Hiroki integrating themselves into various scenarios on behalf of their bosses. It's a weird feeling to come out of the first episode of a show and feel like I know nothing about the main characters. The animation effort is satisfactory at best, but it's not particularly stunning either.
I'm still intrigued, nonetheless, because the concept of brain diving is one of my favorites. I unabashedly love The Cell with Jennifer Lopez and have continued to jump into brains (via entertainment, of course) ever since, most recently in AI: The Somnium Files. Pet seems like a definite "give it three episodes" entry, although I wouldn't blame anyone who dropped it when its first episode failed to provide any real hook to hold on to.
Pet is the sort of series that I suspect will turn out to be a lot more enjoyable once it gets its feet on the ground. This episode is a little too invested in figuring out how to best intrigue its viewers, and while it does succeed on some levels, it also uses a few uncomfortable devices in order to do that. Most specifically, I'm talking about the fact that we're introduced to the idea of the people whom information on the internet tells me will be the eponymous pets (the psychics) via a child who appears to be suffering from developmental disabilities. While this turns out to be due his inability to control his powers – essentially his mind is an open door – it's still an uncomfortable moment, especially since the moment turns on the fact that his mother is so overwhelmed that she's considering suicide. This then leads to the uncomfortable thought that our villain is using, or at least training, kids who feel backed into a corner, to do his dirty work.
It may be a bit too early to make this call, about the kids, not the bad guy, because he uses the kid from the first part of the episode to manipulate someone into committing suicide. What's more interesting is that the second, younger group of men seem to have some more autonomy in terms of what they do to Hiroki, the other victim of their manipulations. Rather being killed, he simply has his memories rearranged to reflect badly on his now-dead friend, so the idea that not everything will end badly does seem possible. And should the show decide to focus more on the moral decisions or other factors that go into the pets using their powers (as well as how their boss keeps them from using them against him), I think this would be more appealing. But I had a hard time getting past that opening part, and it definitely colors my reluctance to continue with this show.
On the plus side, this doesn't buy into the same pseudo-deconstructionist storytelling that hampered ID: INVADED's first two episodes, and it has some similar appeal in terms of exploring mental powers. It also blurs the difference between what's real and what's not very well, which again could be a strength going forward. I'm not sold, but it's certainly different, and that may turn out to be its appeal.
I always find it annoying when I have to rely more on an advertising blurb to determine what a series about than the first episode, and this newest offering from the director of Hell Girl, Natsume's Book of Friends, and Durarara!! franchises is one of the most egregious offenders on that point in recent memory. It leaves very little sense of what's going on here, other than an implication that mind-manipulating mental powers are work.
My guess here is that this the last two-thirds of the episode, concerning Kenji, is more a demonstration of what these “crushers” can do than an actual part of the story, as no one in the second part looks like a grown-up version of that kid. That first part suggests that people with these powers are stuck in their own heads because they are automatically picking up on the desires of those around them, or some such thing, but it is clear at least that being able to take charge of that headspace and manipulate it has some nasty potential for abuse. We see that in action (or at least I think we do?) in the second part, where the first victim has been convinced that he's in an alternate reality and so disastrously doesn't follow road safety rules. When Smoking Guy discovers that Kenji has gotten wind of that, my guess is that he arranged for Kenji's memories to be adjusted as well, and what we see after that (and maybe before that as well?) is all a case of Kenji being taken through the mind-altering process. But why go about it in such an obtuse direction? Or did they do it this way because Kenji was still valuable to them, so they wanted to reset him so that he would be oblivious to the nastier side of what Smoking Guy does?
All of the confusing aspects aside, the technical merits so far are quite strong, and the episode definitely achieves the unsetlting, mind-blowing tone it was aiming for. Also be forewarned that this has some pretty dark content to it, even beyond what's mentioned above, so this definitely isn't for the kiddies. The opener is also something a little different and fits the episode's anxieties well. Overall, this probably could have benefited strongly from having a double-episode debut, so I will reserve judgment on it until a couple of more episode are available.
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