by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
After weeks upon weeks of buildup, the climax of the Steel Lady arc descends upon In/Spectre, and like all great climaxes, it primarily involves the protagonist owning somebody online. Kotoko unleashes the full brunt of her master plan, using the seeds of misinformation she sowed in her earlier solutions to prop up her final and most brazen accusation against Haruko Nanase herself. Of course, as Saki's color commentary is quick to remind us, none of this is true, but that doesn't matter on the internet. What matters is that Kotoko delivers a tantalizing enough solution to undo Rikka's narrative and weaken the public's faith in the apparition currently having a fun time vivisecting Kuro.
While the episode spends a lot of time on the details of Kotoko's solution, that “tantalizing” aspect is what ends up being the most important component. Anyone with a modicum of experience in forum communities should know that it's pretty much impossible to waltz in with an opinion and expect the rest of the members to fall in line behind you. Like all communities, they're inherently wary of outsiders and anyone with a hidden agenda outside of their status quo. This doesn't mean infiltration can't and doesn't happen; it does all the time, but it requires trickier tactics. The built-in anonymity of online platforms is itself a tricky thing that can both hurt and help the foundation of a community. Arguably the defining feature of social media in modernity is its volatility, where the right push in the right place can instigate the hottest of takes.
Kotoko's masterstroke, then, is not simply that she logically builds the case for Nanase's homicidal identity switch. What she also does is show the Steel Lady forum members just how fun it is to speculate and solve mysteries. Indeed, her most potent weapon in this environment is the fundamental appeal of the mystery genre, which is something In/Spectre has been interested in this whole time. Once she gets the ball rolling, the rest of the forum explodes into a deluge of posts asking questions and filling in blanks without any further help from Kotoko. Her simultaneous exploitation of both genre and human psychology is all the weaponry she needed to take down Rikka. Her pièce de résistance, however, is accusing Rikka of being Nanase herself, stirring the constant undercurrent of paranoia beneath every anonymous community. Also, everyone wants to be at the center of the action, and what better story is there than being on the very forum, on the very day, that a notoriously crafty murderer is revealed to be the admin? All Kotoko needed, in the end, was to prey on people's preternatural desire to be messy and live for the drama.
As we approach the end, I imagine the most pressing question on most viewers' minds is: did the Steel Lady arc really need to be 9 (10, assuming next week wraps things up) episodes long? The easy answer is no, of course it didn't. There's plenty of room to trim the fat, cull the important plot beats down, and focus on delivering the same thematic thrust with more concision. However, I don't think I would've liked that version of the show as much. The best argument in favor of condensing the Steel Lady stuff is that it would've allowed this first season to squeeze in another mystery and watch how Kotoko and Kuro would've handled it. I can get on board with that, but I also honestly don't mind how In/Spectre decided to pace things. For the most part, I still found myself enjoying the process of watching each episode, and furthermore enjoying the process of thinking and writing about them.
There's an understandable temptation to divorce dialogue from action, as if the two can never overlap, but In/Spectre stands as a good example of dialogue as action. The pleasure of digesting In/Spectre doesn't come from seeing the Steel Lady defeated; it comes from following each step of the process, led every step of the way by Kotoko's planning and intuition. I'd made the comparison earlier to the Monogatari series, but that series has a psychological bent that doesn't mesh with In/Spectre's more metafictional concerns. Enjoyment of this series on a surface level is really about the pleasure of watching a tiny know-it-all verbally and metally spar with her enemies and compatriots. That's a niche appeal, to be sure, and it's one I'm very weak to. In that respect, I think a more apt comparison from recent memory would be Spice & Wolf, swapping the economic theory for storytelling theory.
I'd suspect this arc of In/Spectre will work best when digested as a whole, as opposed to dosed out in weekly chunks. Its individual episodes aren't really structured like independent pieces, and there aren't “standout” episodes that I'd consider noticeably better than their peers. Rather, it's a series of threads gradually twisting together into a single point directed at Rikka. It's a cautionary parable about how internet groupthink can be molded both for noble and nefarious intents. I'd like to see the season finale dig into that concern a bit more, even if it doesn't reach anything conclusive. I know I certainly don't have an answer for how to fix all online discourse, and I'd be skeptical of anything purporting to be that answer. Nonetheless, it's one of the most interesting and pressing questions of modernity, and I'm glad we have series like In/Spectre broaching these subjects in novel and entertaining ways.
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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