The Summer 2021 Preview Guide
Night Head 2041
How would you rate episode 1 of
Night Head 2041 ?
What is this?
It is said that humans don't use about 70% of their brains. It is believed that the mysterious powers some humans exhibit come from that part of the brain. There is a term for the 70% of the brain that doesn't get used, "NIGHT HEAD." Cast out of society because of their psychic powers, two brothers named Naoto and Naoya Kirihara were kept in a research lab for psychics for the last 15 years. They hope that the reason they were able to leave the lab is because people were ready to accept and welcome psychics as a part of society, just like they were told by the head of the lab, Kyojiro Mikuriya. But what they found was Tokyo in the year 2041, where not only was the existence of mental energy completely denied, but anything from books or visuals depicting supernatural phenomena, including psychics, were completely censored.
How was the first episode?
There is something supremely goofy about a show where the first lines are a repeated loudspeaker announcement proclaiming any and all belief in the religious or supernatural to be a “thought crime” worthy of arrest. When a group of attractive young adults come rolling up in armored vehicles on their way to arrest a minor charlatan, I started to worry I'd be next on their hit list because my own latent psychic powers awakened, allowing me to guess that one of them would, like me, become that what he suppressed and develop powers of his own. Or maybe it was just that predictable. Who can know, really?
(Not that I would complain too hard if Takuya came to arrest me, know what I'm saying?)
Jokes aside, Night Head 2041 has unusually attractive character designs for a 3DCG anime, thanks in no small part to the work of experienced manga artist Oh! great. Takuya's strawberry blonde ponytail stands out against the blacks and dark greys of the dystopian parking garages and industrial complexes. Their faces and body language are quite expressive, with none of the unnatural stiffness that still tends to plague this particular style of animation, though they still suffered a bit from the choppiness of the reduced frame rate. There was also the issue of minor characters being animated in 2D, much like in the disastrous EX-ARM, which never stops looking kind of strange and silly.
But oh, the writing and direction. They're not great. The idea that the mythical unused part of the human brain is chock full of psychic powers is a cliché as silly as it is old. Apparently, the series' writing has been in the hands of the same man, George Iida, for every iteration since the original 1992 series. You'd think after all that time he'd have managed to refine his scripts to give a bit more subtlety to the story or character writing. Most of the episode is spent on big action sequences in dark settings, but that's no excuse; you can communicate a lot about who a person is through the way they fight! Instead, I found my brain sliding off all the gunmetal gray and dark concrete, and many of the details had slipped from my mind even before the episode ended.
Night Head 2041 is a perfectly serviceable cyberpunk action that I would be shocked to see do anything unusual. The only thing about it that's new to me is it has the first 3D CG anime character that made me go, “Yeah, I'd kiss that.”
The world of Night Head 2041 is explained in its opening moments as one where literal thought police arrest anyone who believes in the unprovable—be that religion or the supernatural. However, the rest of the episode shows that this is not actually the case. Rather this is an atheist dystopia that only exists because the entire population of future Japan doesn't understand what science is on a basic level.
Science is not the opposite of belief. Science is our way of answering the “why” and “how” of reality by using rigorous testing to make sure what we think to be true actually is. The “supernatural” is looked down upon because it is something that cannot be replicated in a non-biased test—it cannot even be proven to actually exist. However, what we see in Night Head 2041 doesn't fall into that category. The superpowers are real with an actual impact on the world around them. Therefore, they are in no way supernatural—they are just phenomenon that science has yet to explain. There should be no problem with our pair of policemen revealing their powers to their colleagues, or our escaped lab rats showing their powers off in public.
Of course, what we see in the show is that people treat anything unexplained as an anathema. It's not about finding the truth but rather destroying anything that doesn't fit the current worldview. “Science” is simply a strawman used to prop up the status quo. But why would a society seek to stunt its own scientific growth like this? There is one obvious reason given the framework of the episode: superhumans are real (and have been for sometime) and the entire social system is set up as a trap to capture and/or kill them—to prevent them from coming to power. In other words, the misunderstanding of science and its relationship to the unexplained is completely intended propaganda by the government.
If all the above is what the creators were hoping to convey, this is a wonderfully nuanced setting for a story about two superpowered cops chasing two superpowered criminals (while trying to hide the fact that they have powers from their fellow officers). However, a big part of me is worried that I've read way too far into this and we're actually supposed to take this atheist dystopia at face value—i.e., there is no government conspiracy to oppress the superpowered and people are just dumb.
...But what the hell. Let's be optimistic and give it three-and-a-half stars.
Well, I'll give Night Head 2041 this: it may not be a good show, or anything approaching well written, but I wasn't bored by it! In a season dominated by half-baked genre pablum, that's honestly a godsend. Sure, I don't really understand most of what happened in this episode, and the stuff I did understand was head-scratching in its stupidity, but at least I was engaged the whole way through.
A big part of that is the presentation. While this is a full CG production, it largely avoids the biggest issues typical of 3DCG TV series. While there's a lot of dark colors and gunmetal on display, the character designs offer some welcome splashes of color courtesy of designer Oh! great. The direction is very reminiscent of studio Shirogumi's previous series revisions, full of big sweeping shots and gratuitous slowmotion that feel more reminiscent of blockbuster action films than its fellow sci-fi anime. While that isn't my preferred style, it demands your attention and fits its slick, sci-fi dystopia world to a T. The incidental character animation leaves something to be desired, but after wallowing through EX-ARM this year, I'm more than willing to give a series with some actual ambition and skill a passing grade.
Unfortunately I can't say the same for the written portion of this premiere. I have no idea how or if this series connects to the original 90's TV drama, so maybe it makes more sense with that context, but when our first spoken dialogue is a government announcement saying that all religion, faith, or printed fiction is illegal, I couldn't stop laughing. It's worldbuilding by way of blunt force trauma, slamming into the audience with a premise somehow less believable than Hypnosis Mic, but delivered with dead-eyed seriousness. By the time we got around to people following a cult leader named “Miracle Mick” because he can do coin tricks, I had stopped trying to even comprehend what this world's idea of “supernatural” even entailed.
Doesn't help that the actual plot of this episode is both scattered and needlessly obtuse. We begin and end following a team of literal Thought Police raiding Miracle Mick's cult compound, and of course their mission is interrupted by – gasp – something supernatural and un-explainable! But in the middle of that we suddenly pick up with a pair of ESPer brothers who have apparently just escaped from some kind of lab/prison, and then proceed to kill a guy for mocking psychic powers before running into the night without explanation. Then we pick back up with the police, only to then have a flashback to show us what happened on their ill-fated mission, and then we cut to a mysterious girl being picked up by a man in a lab coat...18 years before when the rest of the episode takes place. Add in some scattered mentions of World War 3 and a few other incomprehensible but foreboding lines of worldbuilding, and you have a total mess of a script that doesn't seem to know what it's doing at any given moment.
But like I said, I was never bored by this premiere. It throws everything at the wall with little perceivable plan, but it seems to be trying for something, and in a season this weak that's to be applauded. And I'm at least a little curious to see if the show can make any sense out of its own world and characters so I may just try out another episode.
I have to give Night Head 2041 some points for ambition. In the course of just this one premiere episode, the show (which is an adaptation of a nearly 30-year-old television drama by the same screenwriter, George Iida), gives itself three different tasks to accomplish for its epic story. The first task is that it needs to set up a hypothetical future where World War III has already come and gone, and the conflict was so dire that nations like Japan have outlawed everything and anything to do with “faith” or the vaguest notion of an ideology; religion, occultism, and even all fiction are apparently on the government's No-No List. This is a decent enough setting within which to play around with the tropes of science-fiction dystopia, though it might have felt a bit less stale back in 1992, when the original drama aired on TV.
In addition to the table setting, the show has two separate but relevant plotlines to introduce. There's the team of Special Weapons Enforcers who go around putting the smackdown on would-be cultists and fraudulent psychics, which makes things very complicated for the gorgeously coiffed Takuya, and not only because he finds himself confronting visions of a mysterious Japanese schoolgirl that nobody but his brother Yuya can see — he also ends up emitting a blast of presumably psychic EMP to save Yuya from an assailant during a cult raid, which just has to result in some conflicts of interest all over the place. We know this is possible, too, because the other half of the episode is dedicated to following another pair of psychic brothers, Naoto and Naoya, who definitely use their telekinetic and empathic abilities to absolutely ruin the day of a local bartender and his two scuzzy regulars.
All in all, there isn't anything new here, so far as the writing goes, but there's just enough meat on the script's bones to keep me invested. I'd like to know more about Naota and Naoya's history, and how it plays into the current, oppressive state of the world; there's less to latch on to with the SWE characters, as they're mostly just pretty anime characters who kick and shoot real good, but, kicking and shooting real good can get an anime pretty far, under the right circumstances. Speaking of the action, I think the most noteworthy thing about Night Head 2041 is its aesthetic, which is…well, it's not awful, at least. In fact, a lot of the time, the CG models and fluid action look really damned good. The show has a lush color palette with vibrant brights and murky darks, which gives it a cinematic feel that makes the premiere feel a lot more polished than it really is. However, the models are all being animated at lower framerates, presumably to mimic the look of a traditional hand-drawn anime, and the 3D models will constantly stand frozen solid while the camera hangs for just a few frames too long when they aren't the ones speaking or doing something important. It looks bad.
Also, you'll notice that I specify the 3D models in particular, and that's because the show makes the equally baffling decision to have some of its human cast be animated in 2D, even as they are acting against and interacting with the 3D characters. When a studio like Orange does this, the result is often seamless enough to go unnoticed, but here it just looks supremely awkward, at least the majority of the time. The mixed-media approach simply doesn't work when you can't believe that characters and objects even exist on the same plane of reality as one another — has nobody learned from the many follies of Studio GoHands?
Night Head 2041 is based on Night Head Genesis which is based on the Night Head live-action TV series. Whew! With all of that, it makes some sense that things feel a little discombobulated. There's clearly a time-hopping, if not outright time travel, element to the story, with the main action apparently taking place in 2041, but at least three of the characters hailing from 2023. The mysterious schoolgirl may be astral forward projecting, but brothers Naoya and Naoto (I assume he's still Naoto; they never actually say his name in the episode) appear to have entered a research facility in one time and emerged in another.
This is probably the best-handled part of the episode. This set of brothers (one of two) appears at about the halfway point, waking up in a forest. They're pleased to discover that they “got out,” and while they're a little confused about the futuristic car, they seem to take it in stride – but we notice that the car has some tech that's much newer than their style, and we can also see that the road they're driving on is cracked, overgrown, and generally suffering from neglect. There's some nice misdirection when they arrive at a pub and the TV news is talking about potential war between the US and the Middle East, because frankly that could be almost any time within the last few decades. But then the operation we saw carried out at the start of the episode, when we learned it was 2041, gets covered, and suddenly everything changes.
It certainly does that with lightning quickness for Naoto and Naoya, who are blown away by the continuing social bias against psychic powers, but also by the idea that they've somehow missed WWIII. (I can't wait until they learn that fiction has been outlawed.) But things aren't much smoother for the other brothers, Yuya and Takuya, who were with the Special Weapon Enforcement (SWE) team picking up a rogue psychic named Miracle Mick – because not only do they have a close encounter of the schoolgirl kind, but it turns out that Takuya can use his own psychic powers. Since those are illegal and largely deemed fictional, that's probably not great news.
The problem is going to be how these things come together, because right now they feel like two totally separate shows that just got smooshed together. Further compounding things is the fact that this is CG Show Number 3 of the season, and while it looks marginally better than the other two, it still doesn't look great, and I'm not just talking about how the “radio wave absorbent” clothing looks like a cheesy mesh shirt from the 1980s. There's just something really dead and unsettling about the eyes…In any event, if this can bring the two bands of brothers together in a reasonable way, it might have a chance. As of right now, though, I'm frankly more interested in hunting down the old 1992 TV show.
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