Disappearance of Nagato Yuki chan
Episode 12

by Nick Creamer,

This week marked the third straight slow, atmospheric episode of the disappearance arc, and likely the most unsettling episode so far. With new Nagato now fully established, we stayed close inside her head this time, as her attempts to occupy the old Nagato's space began to run into some unexpected problems. New Nagato already feels like a full person at this point, and with that clear, the show is apparently gearing up to challenge her personhood once again.

We opened with Kyon and Nagato at the library, in a long, slow sequence that really helped to give some texture to new Nagato's personality. New Nagato loves books, and visiting the library allowed the show to indulge in a bunch of silly faces that seemed appropriate for this Nagato's personality. This sequence was intended to establish a sense of normalcy before the rest of the episode disrupted it, and though it was perhaps a bit too slow, it certainly accomplished that; the saturated lighting, actually happy Nagato, and Kyon napping as the afternoon waned on all worked to create a sense of peace after two episodes of drama.

That peace was not to last, though, as new Nagato remembering that the library was where old Nagato and Kyon first met prompted a slow internal siege on new Nagato's identity. New Nagato stood in the background of a flashback depicting that meeting, watching solemnly as her original stammered and blushed and let Kyon get her a library card. The show kept using an unnerving static trick to represent these invasions - as new Nagato's sense of self flickered, the screen or her character specifically would go askew, like an old TV set dying out. “Her personality that's sleeping inside me might be waking up, little by little," new Nagato thought to herself. "If she completely wakes up, what will happen to me?”

That question formed the backbone of the episode's ominous second half, expressed both through the actual narrative and through the show's consistently surprising shot framing. When Nagato went to pick up her old glasses, she declined to put them on; though she herself couldn't say why, it was clear that the glasses were a sign of an identity that was not hers, and that she feared might erase her own. This anxiety became even worse when she got home, as the invasions of old Nagato's identity were represented as dreams, drawing on the easy fear of falling asleep and simply never waking up. And as the episode wore on, even old Nagato's emotions began to creep into her mindset, as her initial distant reactions to Kyon shifted towards a bashfulness she couldn't explain.

As I said, the show's framing also did great work in keeping things tense and off-kilter this episode. The music remained strong, shifting from low-key horns towards urgent piano as the episode progressed, and shots were consistently framed from awkward angles, or just below Nagato's eyes. The library setting also helped establish a sense of entrapment, as the gently bending shelves often formed a kind of tunnel, and the oversaturated lighting shifted from warm to a kind of frightening intensity as the episode continued, with the final scenes even letting the light overwhelm words on a page, making the metaphor of an identity erased very overt. And the final scene, as Nagato's last dream began to meld her inherited memories together in a wave of static, made for a stellar capstone on all the weird nightmares of the episode. The show can't play in this one narrow idea forever, but so far it's continuously adding enough new variables each week to keep this slow-burning, almost Serial Experiments Lain-esque drama rolling.

Rating: A-

Disappearance of Nagato Yuki chan is currently streaming on Funimation.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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