by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
How would you rate episode 2 of
Caligula's premiere struck me as an overwritten mess, spending too little time giving its audience a firm grasp on its premise and spending too much time leaning into protagonist Ritsu's predilection for spouting pop philosophy everywhere he went. While I understand that the premiere's intent was to force its audience into the same uneasy relationship with reality as Ritsu, the execution of that effect left something to be desired. It didn't help when the final few minutes of the episode brought out the purple techno-monsters and one character's absurdly oversized revolver, causing a tonal whiplash that only furthered my confusion over what the heck Caligula was actually supposed to be about.
Now that we've had time to dig into Caligula's second episode, it's clear that this will be a much more straightforward series than it initially appeared to be. When you get past all the clunky dialogue and intentionally opaque exposition, what we have is equal parts Persona and The Matrix, which makes sense given that the game this series is based on, The Caligula Effect, was written by Tadashi Satomi, the man responsible for the scenarios of the first two Persona games. These first episodes of Caligula bear many hallmarks of that hit JRPG franchise, as a series where a bunch of stylishly dressed teenagers manifest supernatural powers rooted in their own psychological troubles to do battle against a force that has trapped them in some kind of virtual world. While the distinct Persona influences might rub some of that franchise's fans the wrong way, there is potential to be had in this setup.
The main problem so far is that setup is all we've gotten from Caligula so far. After two episodes, pretty much all I could tell you about this story and its characters can be boiled down to the summary from the previous paragraph. The only character we've gotten to know so far is Ritsu, and he's still more a vehicle for exposition than anything else; his philosophy obsession is apparently an addition to this adaptation, but he still feels distinctly like a silent protagonist from a video game in terms of personality. Shogo also gets more screen time this week, along with his fairy companion Aria, but they don't get much to do outside of bicker about their vague knowledge and participate in the week's one action sequence.
As for the rest of the cast, they're more or less ciphers so far; Marie, Suzuna, and Kotaro haven't done much but react to the bizarre glitched-out people around them and make failed attempts to leave town. Thankfully, now that μ has gathered everyone together and revealed the true nature of their situation—that they're all trapped in a virtual world of her design—I'm sure the characters will finally have the opportunity to at least start fighting the glitchy monsters who are popping up all over the place. Even if the cast doesn't prove to be as endearing as their Persona counterparts, I'm always down to see fashionable teens beat up monsters with esoteric psychology powers.
As of right now, all we've gotten from Caligula is two episodes of protracted setup, and the few action beats sprinkled throughout haven't kept the affair from feeling a little dull. It wouldn't do to declare Caligula a success or a failure so early on, and I do have hope for this show's progress throughout the season. This is a decently animated and directed series at least on a scene-by-scene basis. Even though the overall narrative has failed to come together yet, there have been plenty of entertaining smaller moments. I have hope that when the action and the drama pick up, so will Caligula's overall quality.
Caligula is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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