by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 1 of
How would you rate episode 2 of
Based on a visual novel by 5pb, Chaos;Child marks the fourth main entry in the science adventure series. As a sequel to Chaos;HEAd, the story of this new semicolon show takes place six years after the events of its predecessor, and the first important question of many potential viewers is likely if they'll be able to follow and enjoy Chaos;Child without having watched or played the original.
While I can't make any predictions about your possible enjoyment, following the plot shouldn't pose a problem after watching the recap of 2009's "New Generation Madness" in episode 0. Following a series of bizarre murders featuring such inventive cases as dead fetuses being stuffed into dead men's stomachs or people eating their own limbs, a highly localized earthquake of unknown origin devastated the ward of Shibuya. The murders stopped, and reconstruction began, with the public at large still speculating about what happened six years ago.
Where Chaos;HEAd's protagonist, Takumi, was a clinically delusional otaku and part-time hikikomori, Chaos;Child's Takuru seems slightly better-adjusted. Surrounded by a circle of people (of which only one seems possibly homicidal so far), he attends school more or less regularly, even acting as the president of Hekihou Academy's newspaper club. A juicy lead might prompt him to skip class, but his trailer sanctuary seems well-maintained and much more visitor-friendly than Takumi's windowless shipping crate. Along with his fellow club members, Takuru quickly picks up on the connection between the NewGen incidents and a current series of equally horrific murders, with the unfolding madness taking its toll on his mental stability and, possibly, already claiming its first victim among the people closest to him.
While the murders are fairly gruesome and not for the faint of heart, the horror lies more in the grotesque nature of the crimes than the (so far very restrained) amount of blood and guts spilled on screen. Suspense in Chaos;HEAd was fueled by Takumi's paranoia and the question of what was real and what was only a delusion. In Chaos;Child, excitement and fear come from anticipation. If events continue on schedule, we're now three bizarre murders down and four to go. We know when the next one will be committed, so clues and mechanisms have been put in place that might lead to uncovering the truth behind the madness, preventing further victims. All of this has to happen before November 9th, the anniversary of the Shibuya earthquake, when something really big and bad will go down for sure. The clock is already ticking before Takuru receives the message that he is about to die, and the show wastes no time establishing a sense of real personal danger for him and his friends.
Exposition dumps are handled as gracefully as these things can be. With the anniversary of the catastrophe approaching, increasing coverage of the event and reconstruction efforts make sense, and the way information is exchanged between the newspaper club members doesn't get too forced or artificial. They were grade-schoolers when it happened, so seeing them fascinated by (but only partially in the know about) the NewGen incidents doesn't require any suspension of disbelief, especially since there seems to be a significant discrepancy between what the authorities know and what gets relayed to the public. This opens the doors to the lovely conspiracy theory territory that a psychological mystery series like this needs to thrive. The pressing questions of who knows, shares, or withholds information to what purpose represent only the first stage of something much bigger that we continue to steer towards. Add to this some discussions over the power of fake news, genius brain researchers doubling as secret news broadcasters, and supernatural gibberish about sacrifices or sumo stickers doubling as barriers against who-knows-what, and we're already way down the rabbit hole of plots and schemes, some of which are possibly delusional.
While Arimura, Kunosato, and to a lesser extent Shinjō clearly know more about what's happening than the general public or Takuru and friends do, we would experience the visual novel from his limited point of view. Some familiarity with Chaos;HEAd will help to anchor the hints of a dead man's "ability" or Kunosato having worked at a significant American lab more easily than watching just the recap, but immediate recognition of these references is by no means required to follow the current mystery. So far, Chaos;Child seems to have given us just the right amount of background information to stand on its own.
Between the well-directed yet surreal point-of-view shots at the love hotel crime scene, Takuru's death prediction, and episode 2 unceremoniously killing off (or at least gravely injuring) a main character, the suspense bar is already high, aided by an effective score ranging from a full orchestra (with an almost fantasy-game-like feel to it during the first episode's news coverage) to a creepy lone music box melody. With Takuru displaying his first symptoms of delusional behavior, the potential for quite a lot of red herrings looms large, but this is the kind of story that needs at least a couple of these, if handled well. On the other hand, it might not need its important conversations to take place at cafes where waitresses wear grade-schooler backpacks and look like they're 10 years old. Luckily, distractions like these have not yet taken away too much of the atmosphere.
Chaos;HEAd's premise was intriguing, and even though things fell apart spectacularly in the show's second half, I still find myself excited to see its sequel off to a promising start. Hopefully, Chaos;Child will prove to be a more consistent, less rushed delusional mystery story without such a wide gap between how the story sounds on paper (and probably played out in the VN) and how it ended up being executed in the anime. Although, given the subject matter, thinking it all sounded better in my head does have a certain irony to it.
If the quality of both openings could be taken as a general indication, Chaos;Child would already be several delusions ahead of its predecessor.
CHAOS;CHILD is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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