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In/Spectre Season 2
Episodes 13-15

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 13 of
In/Spectre (TV 2) ?
Community score: 3.9

How would you rate episode 14 of
In/Spectre (TV 2) ?
Community score: 4.5

How would you rate episode 15 of
In/Spectre (TV 2) ?
Community score: 4.5

© Kyo Shirodaira, Chasiba Katase, KODANSHA / "In/Spectre" Production Committee
Welcome back to In/Spectre! It's been three years since the first season aired, so if you need a refresher, I wouldn't blame you. Here's the skinny: there are lots of yokai out there, so there are lots of yokai problems too, and to mediate them, they've appointed a Goddess of Wisdom from the human realm to serve as an impartial one-woman judiciary. That's our heroine, Kotoko, and in addition to being revered by paranormal entities, she's a diminutive serial liar with a bonnet-forward fashion sense and a penchant for making her beloved boyfriend miserable. Needless to say, I love her a lot.

More seriously, the second season's first episode efficiently reminds the audience of the series' quirks and particularities. The problem's simplicity—in this case, an unexplained thumping sound—provides an unassuming canvas on which In/Spectre can paint its usual layers of lies and truths. The most interesting part of the episode has nothing to do with the actual solution, which is an exorcism that showcases Kotoko and Kuro's prickly tag-team dynamic. No, my favorite part was watching Kotoko spin that tall tale about the manager and the monitor lizard. It's an absurd fabrication, but we see her carefully stitch together each lie until she produces a picture that satisfies her audience.

That, in short, is about half of the appeal of In/Spectre. It's a largely loquacious production built on the thesis that the Truth is always secondary to the Narrative. This remains unchanged from the first season, and it's not for everyone, so I wouldn't expect this new series to convert anybody previously put off by how wordy the characters are or how pleased the writing often sounds with itself. These are charming points, and the ongoing relevancy of that aforementioned thesis buoys them. A lot has changed in three years, but the precariousness of the truth and the prevalence of lies certainly hasn't, and I like watching an anime that takes this conflict and grapples with it in the hands of a protagonist who dresses like a Touhou character.

The other half of In/Spectre's appeal, while also banter-driven, is more fun and flirtatious. Kotoko and Kuro's verbal sparring—largely between her naked lust for his body and his perpetual exhaustion with her antics—make up my favorite heterosexual relationship archetype in fiction. The Monogatari series (also a close relative in content and tone) is full of clever women who clown on Araragi. Spice and Wolf's story thrives on the playfulness of its main couple's chemistry. And now In/Specture introduces another great example with Yuki-Onna and Masayuki. Who wouldn't fall in love with an apparition who saves your life in the same breath she drags you for your gaps in literary knowledge?

The chemistry between Yuki-Onna and Masayuki is instantaneous. You must love each other to lob insults back and forth with such immediate and equivalent acumen. Masayuki, in particular, is a sad sack (understandable given his streak of rotten luck, I guess), but his dialogue burns much more brightly when Yuki-Onna is around. On the other hand, she is just a fun character on her own. I like her measured integration into the human world—not enough that she has to pay taxes, but enough that she's impacted by inflation—to indulge her vices of booze and ice cream. This is where the quality of In/Spectre's writing is paramount. If their dialogue were a smidge more tepid, their relationship could quickly feel contrived and saccharine. Instead, its sharpness invites us to care about both as characters who care about each other. And we need to care for the drama to work.

This is why it's wise to make Kotoko a secondary character in this arc. The extra time we spent with Yuki-Onna and Masayuki made me genuinely invested in their story, which made me all the more worried that they might be torn apart. This culminates in the climax of the third episode, where Kotoko spins another of her elaborate fabrications. While she's done this scene many times before, this is the first time it's ever made me upset. I had a pretty good inkling of her motives (which she thankfully confirmed soon after), but because I'd grown to like this yokai-human pair, I put myself in their shoes and felt their rising nerves and anxiety. Kotoko wasn't just a girl with a funny hat anymore. She was scary. I love that! That's a beautiful and deft application of storytelling techniques toward an ultimately sweet end. Kotoko is here to solve problems, not mysteries. And I hope we can see Yuki-Onna and Masayuki bicker happily ever after.

And that's a great way to start the season, as far as I'm concerned. The story, characters, and other facets of the production all pick up like there was no gap between seasons. The presentation is modest but never dull, and that's no small feat with such a dialogue-driven show. Speaking of, the performances continue to be the backbone of the series. Akari Kitō is the reason Kotoko is so charming. I like hearing Mamoru Miyano play against type. Makoto Furukawa brings both gravity and levity to his part (no doubt honed by his experiences on Kaguya-sama. Finally, the peerless Aoi Yuuki injects playful nuance into the otherworldly Yuki-Onna—and as a big fan of Shuten Douji, I admit I'm biased whenever she voices a short hedonist yokai full of booze and banter.

I also hope Yuki-Onna's story indicates the direction the rest of the season is headed, at least in tone, if not in substance. While I enjoyed the first season and its unhurried pacing, I can't say I felt much of an emotional connection to it—certainly not to the extent I felt at the end of this week's episode. If In/Spectre can insert this level of craft into the subsequent arcs, then there's no reason the second season can surpass the first. Alternatively, the anime needs to keep introducing more couples who flirt by ruthlessly insulting each other. That works for me too.


In/Spectre Season 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Steve is on Twitter while it lasts. Please send him any good pictures of Kotoko in funny hats that you find. Otherwise, catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.

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