by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 4 of
This week on Chaos;Child, Taku and Onoe's snuggles in the autopsy room get first facilitated and then interrupted by the next wave of NewGen murder victims returning to their "lockers". That last part's obviously a delusion, as this sequel's very restrained approach enters full-blown delusion territory at last. Things could get confusing from here, but it's pretty much impossible for the viewer to mistake Taku's hallucinations for reality if they continue pouring that red haze over these scenes.
Perhaps things are even a little too neat and clear. I'd argue that playing the guessing game of what's real and what isn't makes up an integral part of this story's attraction. There's a good, carefully controlled kind of messy that I feel this episode didn't quite have enough of, despite the nice and creepy teen horror movie atmosphere.
Leaving the bizarre murders behind for a moment, Chaos;Child broadens its genre to incorporate the more fantastic elements that viewers familiar with Chaos;HEAd always knew were just around the corner. Vague references to "abilities" are replaced by clinical studies about Gigalomaniacs and Di-Swords, and the required background explanation is promptly delivered via pseudo-scientific infodump. It's not elegant, but it is necessary to keep the show's entry bar low enough to be enjoyed by newcomers. That said, these explanations run extra long by including an unnecessary lecture on Rorschach tests. Given the popularity these images still enjoy in Japan today along with their near-universal recognizability, this "secret test no. 11" feels like a speed bump. With only one cour to tell its story, time's not on Chaos;Child's side, so let's move on. Rorschach test 11 looks like the sumo stickers, it's used to identify gifted people and then screw around with their brains, which has reduced everyone who's not a cute girl to goo on legs. Got it.
These recent events and revelations seem to already have taken their toll on Taku's mental health, but Onoe is actually the one to watch more closely, not just because she fits the required physical parameters. Doors seem to open magically for her, and both she and Taku have apparently been to the underground prison/hospital/human experimentation facility before, somewhat contradicting that theory of the earthquake's white light being responsible for their powers.
Series director and lead writer Masato Jinbo knows when to end an episode without resorting to Dan Brown-ish levels of cliffhanger inflation, yet a lot of the suspense in this episode ends up feeling artificial. Why do Taku and friends sneak around the hospital just to end up in front of the automatic doors? Why is there so much tension around managing to escape in time when we never see any security guards? (It looks like our guys and girls simply walked out the same way they came in.) This gap between perceived and actual danger in a show about the power of delusions could be interesting if explored later on, but we've already seen the very real dangers posed to people involved in this mess, making this an unlikely path to spend time on.
Visually, this episode was defined by its confined setting, with every shot being as dark and blue-ish as the next one, creating an oppressive atmosphere without any particular highlights. The soundtrack was effective as usual in aiding the uneasiness, with the ghost lady's rendition of Tōryanse (a song already used in Chaos;HEAd) making for a particularly disturbing highlight. We'll have to wait and see if this is only a homage or actually relevant to the story.
For now, I'm just glad Itō wasn't only tagging along so that someone could get killed.
CHAOS;CHILD is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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