In/Spectre
Episode 3

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 3 of
In/Spectre ?

Well, I have to eat some of my words from last week's review. In/Spectre did actually end up resolving last week's cliffhanger, and although I maintain that my way of resolving it (i.e. not) would have been a lot funnier, the way Kotoko assuages the snake's curiosity does not at all invalidate my larger point about this mystery. She spins a tragic tale about a miscarriage and a futile search for closure on the culprit's part, and that ends up appealing both the snake's hangup about the woman's quick prayer and their own perception of what people are like. All's well that ends well, right?

Except later Kotoko privately admits to Kuro that even her final answer is not necessarily the correct one. She came up with the best she could based on the information she was able to collect, but the overall dearth of evidence prevents any degree of certitude. She even says that there's no guarantee that the snake god didn't mishear the woman, which might have changed the context of the entire whydunit. However, these considerations are ultimately unimportant, since her role was not to unearth the truth but to come up with an answer that satisfied her audience. This can be read both as a commentary on real life crime solving and as metatext about the nature of mystery writing as a whole. In both cases, the degree to which we can know and define “the truth” will always be at odds with telling a good story. Storytelling is the art of weaving lies together into a cohesive whole, and its success has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with the audience's perception.

This is a meaty, ambitious way to conclude In/Spectre's first full foray into these genre conventions. While it likely portends further self-aggrandizing cleverness down the road, I have no problem excusing its indulgences if its writing remains this sharp. Not just any author can make a full episode of a girl talking to a snake engrossing. It's also delightful to watch Kotoko's confident smugness clash against the begrudgingly besmitten Kuro. Truly the best romantic chemistry is found bubbling between two different flavors of self-assured jerks.

With the lake mystery solved, In/Spectre surprises with a matter-of-fact two-year timeskip into a completely different location with completely different characters. Two cops on lunch discuss the recent rumors surrounding a new yokai called Steel Lady Nanase, supposedly the vengeful ghost of a recently-deceased idol. It's immediately easy to see why Nanase has (from what I've seen) been the poster-girl for the series—a spooky faceless idol decked out in hot pink and wielding a giant steel beam strikes quite the imposing image. I like too that this means In/Spectre will not only be dealing with creatures from established Japanese folklore. While faceless ghosts (nopperabou) are part of the yokai canon, Nanase's appearance and backstory fall more neatly into the category of a modern urban legend. The steel beam itself is a symbol of modernity. Of course, today's urban legends are also tomorrow's folklore, so it's nice to see In/Spectre acknowledging that continuity.

One of the two cops, Saki Yumihara, happens to be Kuro's ex-girlfriend, and she's primed by her experiences with him to believe that Nanase is a real supernatural threat. We already got the gist of her backstory from Kotoko and Kuro's discussions, but seeing things from her perspective also proves to be illuminating. Most importantly, it becomes easy to sympathize with her position, as Kuro's otherworldliness seems to have been exacerbated by either his inability or his reluctance to properly explain things to Saki. The damage was already done, however, and Saki now finds herself more aware of yokai without being able to do a single thing about it. It's an unenviable position manifesting itself as depression, and it might have even been what drove her to join the police in the first place. This Nanase situation is just one example: her colleague doesn't believe in ghosts, but he does believe that weird rumors often coincide with trouble on the streets. Saki, on the other hand, knows that there's no point in the police allocating resources towards this, but nonetheless feels powerless to do anything helpful herself.

Luckily, fate comes bounding into her in the same fashion that Kuro first fell into Kotoko's arms. This time, however, it's Kotoko doing the falling and Saki doing the catching, with an angry Steel Lady Nanase on the prowl in front of them. Saki is understandably confused by the situation, but she manages to channel both that confusion and her years of sadness into raw anger at the yokai. While her attack is totally ineffectual, this moment marks a turning point for her character, transmuting her passive awareness of yokai into an active desire to fling herself fist-first into that world. Kotoko responds to Saki's passion by pummeling Nanase enough to make her retreat, and the ensuing banter between the two remaining living humans is as full of personality as the rest of the show. Kotoko might want to invest in a reinforced bonnet, however, since Saki's fist-first philosophy also extends to the girl currently dating her ex.

That more or less covers the episode, but here's a small postscript: I love that the first line of dialogue out of Kotoko post-timeskip is pretty much “yep, I've had sex.” The reference to her “deflowering” is totally out of left-field and absolutely not anything a real human would say, but it nevertheless does feel like something Kotoko would say to a stranger who turns out to be her boyfriend's previous squeeze. So much art and literature is so weird about sex, and it's honestly refreshing for In/Spectre to have such a matter-of-fact acknowledgement that its heroine has canonically fucked and it's super not a big deal. After two years of dating, I would hope she and Kuro have a healthy sex life!

In/Spectre continues to be funny, snappy, and thoughtful to a degree nearly without peer this season (the presence of Eizouken forces me to include “nearly” as a qualifier there). It's just chock full of good, character-rich writing, and I can't wait to see more of Kotoko's delightful gremlin antics next week.

Rating:

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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