by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 7 of
If you think being forced to shove a rebar down your throat and then self-immolate is already a harsh way to die, you might not want to watch the last 10 minutes of this episode. By the time we fade to black, Taku will have a family member wrapped in ironic little packages, dismembered by his best friend, leading to my initial reaction of an overwhelming "WTF did I just watch".
The show didn't give us much reason to care about Itou as a character. He mostly just tagged along on the newspaper club's adventures to create the feeling of someone being in real danger. When it turns out he was meant for "greater" things, the lack of prior emotional attachment inevitably puts a damp on any real sadness his immensely unpleasant deed and demise would have created otherwise. Even if Yui got more screentime and development, the gruesome murder's shock value outweighs those other emotions by far. Maybe this moment was emotionally devastating in the VN, but I'm a firm believer in the irrelevance of source material for judging adaptations on their own merit, and this was simply disturbing – but not purely in a bad way. Some things in this gory, bizarre, nightmarish mess worked pretty well.
The first 10 minutes might lull the characters into a false sense of security, but the dissonance between this calm and the expectations built by the OP's absence and inserts of dates counting up to the next NewGen incident already creates a nice uneasiness. Within minutes, we go through an impressive number of red herrings that first lead us to fear for Kurusu and Arimura before zoning in on Yui, briefly lifting the tension when we learn she's with good old Itou, before hitting us in the stomach with a sledgehammer.
Taku's black-and-white run looked like a stylistic choice to visualize his raw panic and disorientation, but when we return to color and see that the stairs he just ran down are nowhere to be seen, there is certainly some room for interpretation. If this turns out to be a delusion, it must not be the kind that can be undone, as that would destroy everything that worked in this sequence, reducing this episode's second half to little more than torture porn. I'm not too worried about this slim possibility though; too much care was put into Taku and Kurusu's devastating emotional states to betray this with a retcon, and this is where the real meat of this episode lies, no tasteless pun intended.
Possessing the protagonist's friend to kill someone he cares about for maximized pain and revulsion isn't rocket science for psychotic, super-powered horror story villains. If it hadn't been for Taku's tangible shock and disbelief or Kurusu's wonderfully ugly and brutally long meltdown after the immediate danger was over, the almost cartoonish nature of the crime would have been too much to swallow. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka's performance gave Taku a broad emotional range, from forcing his voice to stay sweet and calm when calling out to Yui, as if that could help avoiding what he would find at the end of that trail of blood, to a temporary mental shutdown. Kurusu's grief wasn't pretty – there was no body for her to hold in her arms for a teary goodbye, and seeing her try to compensate by hugging the boxes while reality sank in was as surreal and disturbing as the crime itself. This isn't the cathartic variety of sadness, but the kind that lets you puke. Since I don't think this scene's intention was to make me cry, I was rather confused about the choice to underscore this moment of raw devastation with a sad little piano tune that really had no place here. Watching Kurusu clutch the chopped-up remains of her little sister is a bold choice, and trying to soften the ugliness with beautiful music took away its brutality. You can't have it both ways, Chaos;Child. If you want pretty grief, don't let your characters hug gift-wrapped body parts while bawling their eyes out.
While these 10 minutes were revolting, they were also effective. Narratively speaking, I have no clue what's going on anymore. The previous NewGen murders were something Taku discovered and became obsessed with, but as far as we know, the victims were all Gigalomaniacs, not regular humans close to him. Suddenly making this all about him feels contrived. Is this turning into a personal revenge story? Did the not-so-dead Senri possess Itou herself? The only person we know with prior attachments to Senri is Kurusu, and even if she turned out to be a fellow Gigalomaniac secretly angry at Taku for not helping her friend when he and Onoe snuck into the hospital, I don't think something as grotesque as Yui's murder would happen based on a subconscious feeling of "punish Taku for what happened to my friend". On the other hand, Onoe wished for a jaw-dropping new case for the newspaper club to investigate, and I'd say this one, permanent real-booting or not, is as jaw-dropping as it gets.
CHAOS;CHILD is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Anne is a translator and fiction addict who writes about anime at Floating Words.
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