by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Like any respectable anonymous commenter, Kotoko continues to wage war on the battlefield of ideas in this week's installment of In/Spectre. There's an interesting duality in the proceedings here—while her postulations twist and turn to stimulate her audience, the overall narrative remains straightforward. She's still working through her set of four possible solutions to the Steel Lady case, just like she said she would, and that will likely continue through the next episode. Rather than contradicting itself, I'd say this again exhibits the confidence in In/Spectre's storytelling. Shirodaira shows he's perfectly capable of following through on all the tantalizing breadcrumbs surrounding Nanase's death, but ultimately he's more concerned with the metanarrative about what makes mysteries and their solutions “satisfying” to an audience.
Predictably, a common road towards audience satisfaction involves pandering to one's audience. Like any tool in an artist's toolbox, it's one best used with a sense of restraint (looking at you, J.J. Abrams), but pretty much every creative endeavor involves some degree of pandering. Even intentionally challenging works can be construed as pandering to people who enjoy being challenged. One of my favorite recent examples is the third season of Twin Peaks, which weaponized contemporary fondness for the first two seasons by turning its protagonist into a hollowed shell merely parroting the quirkiness that made him so popular. While this understandably frustrated some viewers, the strangeness and defamiliarization harkened back to what made Twin Peaks stand out in the first place three decades ago. Art that toes the line between friendliness and adversity towards its intended audience can often be the most unforgettable, akin to casting a large net laced with hidden barbs that dig under one's skin.
Oh, and I presented a panel at Sakura-con a few years back called “Twin Peaks Is Anime,” so I'm allowed to reference it here, in case you were wondering.
With this in mind, it's no wonder that Kotoko shifts gears away from her doggedly realist explanation of the events surrounding the Steel Lady and instead drives straight into ghost town. Ironically, this story seems a lot more immediately plausible to the commenters, precisely because they're the kind of people who hang out commenting on a forum about a killer ghost. It can be difficult to ascertain what kind of audience you may have, let alone how and where to find them (hence why marketing is such a big thing), but Kotoko has it pretty easy here. Saki plays an amusing straight woman in this scenario, not hesitating to call out the fantastical stretches of imagination Kotoko has to resort to, but it serves to emphasize that Saki is not her intended audience here. Still, while it's fun to see Kotoko string her story along, I also had fun considering the holes and inconsistencies in her explanations as she provided them. She herself is more than aware that her individual explanations are not enough to form a convincing lie, but again, it's the aggregate of these stories that adds up to her ultimate attack on Rikka's creation.
In/Spectre changes the monologue-heavy pace of Kotoko's online battle by occasionally switching perspectives to see how Kuro is faring in his IRL battle against the Steel Lady herself. And he's usually getting his ass kicked. I appreciate the gory slapstick quality of these brief interludes, and I'm glad the anime recognizes the dark humor of Kuro being repeatedly, gruesomely killed while his girlfriend writes posts. Both sides of this battle are equally important and difficult, but the surface-level disparity is very amusing to me. The couple who busts ghosts together stays together, I suppose.
Kotoko loses the plot a little with her tragic tale of an innocent girl turned monstrous by her shitty father. I actually find the gender and generational dynamics of this interpretation to be particularly resonant, but it's hard to square these aspects against the appearance of a mute and scintillatingly-dressed murder idol. Consequently, Kotoko dials back on the supernatural with her third explanation but doubles down on the bizarre murder mystery schlock. A body double, a jealous sister turned mad with paranoia, and a cross-dressing killer stalker—this story has all the qualities of a pulpy page-turner. It also, you might have noticed, resembles some of the theories I was throwing around several weeks ago. Again, In/Spectre doesn't care about the actual solution to this mystery, because we already know it. It's concerned with the psychology behind how people digest mysteries and how authors (and others) use that to their advantage.
The one aspect of this conflict that still doesn't quite click with me is the duel of fates executed between Kuro and Rikka. In the abstract, it's easy enough to understand with the branching paths visual/explanation given to us weeks ago, and it's interesting to think about from a philosophical perspective. While it most closely resembles a way of thinking about free will, it also resembles a writing process. An author chooses one path for their characters, which dictates a further path, which then dictates the next one, and so on and so forth until the narrative is concluded. Writing is a process of experimentation, trying things out and whittling them down to what works best. In the specific dramatic context of In/Spectre, however, I think this neuters the impact of what Kotoko is doing as it relates to online communities. I'm very interested in how people use and distort information online to suit their objectives, but I don't care as much about whose yokai power is more potent. While I suppose the visualization is a good metaphor for how tenuous and unpredictable any one community can be, this supernatural tack feels like a garnish instead of an integral component to this dish.
That's why I'm very pleased with this episode's cliffhanger, where Rikka herself finally wades into the online swamp and chooses to duel Kotoko with direct words instead of determinism. In one sense, online arguments are about as ethereal as wandering spirits, but in another sense, they're just as visceral as a boxing match where the arena is stuffed with millions of active or potential viewers. I can't wait to see these two prizefighters duke it out, and my money's on our favorite diminutive motormouth.
In/Spectre is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve loves two things: writing about anime and retweeting good Fate GO fanart on his Twitter.
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