by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Charlotte (TV 2015) ?
This marks our second episodic diversion. Last week, our heroes played baseball to catch a telekinetic mutant. Now, they're going camping to catch a levitator. Fortunately, this diversion is more eventful, packing in humor, characterization, and foreshadowing.
This time, there's a kid with flying powers messing around in the woods. Nao hatches a plan to catch him, and the student council spends a few nights camping outside. The levitater is eventually drawn to them, threatened by their presence in his practice space, but Nao lures him into revealing his powers. He takes off for the sky, but Yuu possesses him. He then almost dies, lacking control over the dude's flight powers. Somehow he manages to land safely, and our heroes intimidate the guy into not using his powers.
This is only about half of the episode, however. The rest is dedicated to character development and enjoyable antics from our crew. Perhaps most importantly, a romance seems to be brewing between Yuu and Nao, and it's one of the more natural ones I've seen in anime. It works because Yuu is curious about Nao as an individual, not a romantic prospect. Their friends are the ones who see it coming, via their chummy and casually confrontational interactions. This week, the two connect over Nao's love for the band ZHIEND. They were her brother's favorite, and she listens to them partially in order to maintain a connection with him. We learn that she dreams of becoming their videographer, and that she films everything for practice, as well as proof of mutant activity. She longs for the day when her power disappears, and she can retire from hunting mutants to pursue her dream. Yuu just listens, but his silence is also meaningful. His life plan prior to Hoshinoumi Academy was based on his power, and the reveal that they'll disappear over time has left him directionless. His endgame characterization will probably see him developing goals independent of his powers.
The song brings something strange out of Yuu – a childhood memory of him sharing a meal with his sister and an older man he doesn't recognize. Curious. Could he have had an older brother who met a dark fate? In this world of spirit channelers and pyrokineticists, a person with the ability to alter memories isn't a stretch. Powers do run in the family. It'd be neat if they could somehow loop this into explaining Yuu's conveniently absent parents. Charlotte is impressive in how it finds new narrative purposes for anime storytelling tics that have been standardized into invisibility, like when they made the little sister character into a ticking clock. Will they do the same here?
(The orchestral pop score does a wonderful job in this scene and throughout the series as a whole. Maeda himself has a hand in scoring the show, and it's neat to see a writer also working as a composer in his work. It certainly makes Yuu's description of ZHIEND's music – evocative of an open field, penned by a blind composer – more powerful. I guess we're supposed to consider these characters equivalent to blind people, using an alternate faculty to evoke an aspect of the world that they cannot directly access. I wonder what this is working toward? Probably something to do with Maeda's fixation on alternate planes of existence.)
Speaking of that, it feels like a waiting game until Ayumi develops her own power. She's in promotional images alongside the rest of the main cast, so I expect her to join in on the action soon. At the end of this episode, Yuu sends her to bed with a sudden illness, which can't be a good sign. Maybe this signals the onset of her powers? Or maybe Charlotte will buck convention with an unrelated sudden-imouto-cough-sickness?
This episode even does stuff with Takajou and Yusa/Misa. We haven't gotten much on the sisters' relationship yet – Yusa doesn't even seem to know that she's possessed – but here we learn that they do care about each other deeply. Yusa admired her elder sister in spite of her attitude, while Misa protects her younger sister. It's nice to get something other than a sugar sweet idol performance out of Yusa, who is the least entertaining member of the gang on her own. That's not saying much though. They're all charming kids.
Takajou seems to be waiting for his powers to go away so that his life can start. He bulks up in order to properly use his teleportation. (Got to have some padding between his internal organs and the concrete.) However, he's not currently interested in romantic relationships, despite his overt attraction to Yusa. Takajou is still the least developed character, but he's not entirely lacking in interiority.
The transient powers are a small but innovative alteration to the typical people-with-powers narrative. While characters in these types of stories are often defined by their powers, Charlotte's characters know that they can't be. They're preoccupied with how to get through this precarious position in their lives, when they're vulnerable to exploitation. This could be building up to a metaphor for how young adults deal with the end of adolescence.
I'm also curious about the celestial imagery. Considering Jun Maeda's predilection for the supernatural, the powers probably won't have strictly scientific explanations. Maybe it's a magical comet? I also appreciate the directorial choice to use a balanced frame and slight fisheye effect to recall the opening's shots of starry skies.
I've heard that the plot is supposed to kick in next week. These episodes have been fine, but I'm looking forward to more of a continuous narrative out of Charlotte in the future. Plenty of mysteries have been set up. Like, why does Nao let those girls beat her up? Who is the mysterious benefactor? What's strange about Yuu's power, and who – or what – is Charlotte? Five episodes in, Charlotte has had a very successful beginning, and now it's all about whether it can live up to its promise.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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