by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 4 of
It would appear that internal reports of Kotoko's perfect relationship with Kuro were greatly exaggerated. In truth, I suspected as much last week, but I figured I at least owed her the benefit of the doubt for the time being, and I can't say I didn't enjoy watching her quite physically squirm under the interrogative force of Saki's judicious eye. While this makes for a fun opening, the cross examination of Kotoko's unreliable narrative also fits neatly into In/Spectre's thematic concern with the inevitable subjectivity of truth. Both Kotoko and Saki have their own personal agendas at play when they enter Saki's apartment, and those agendas dictate their further interactions far more deeply than anything else.
Once again, In/Spectre's character-rich dialogue takes center stage while Saki and Kotoko verbally joust each other in the episode's first half. The writing extracts a lot of genuinely funny moments out of Saki's analytical steadfastness and Kotoko's fragile sense of superiority, but I would have been disappointed if their relationship was entirely reduced to their mutually fraught connection with Kuro. Thankfully, In/Spectre dodges the Bechdel bullet by prioritizing the mystery at hand during these scenes, as both women exchange information and hypotheses in the hope of illuminating the true nature of Steel Lady Nanase. Their jibs and jabs at each other feel like flavor, not focus. If I had to lob a critique at this scene, however, it's that Saki dons the mannerisms of The Bitter Ex a bit too straightforwardly, when in actuality her breakup with Kuro was complicated, with further complexities reverberating into her current situation. I'd rather have had the writing take more time to explore this aspect of her character in earnest.
In/Spectre continues into its investigatory mode as Saki (and by extension the audience) delves into Karin Nanase's history before she became a deadly urban legend. Like the rest of the show, this section is rich is character and humor, with Nanase herself emerging as a compelling figure in her own right. Smart and sharp-tongued, she consciously doesn't fit herself into the more bubbly and demure frame of a stereotypical idol, with Saki glibly commenting that she's likely more popular in death than she was in life. Still, Nanase's stint as the lead of an offbeat tokusatsu drama garnered her some recognition, and I must applaud this adaptation for going above and beyond in animating the entire gloriously absurd opening sequence to The Girl Who Breathes Fire. It clearly foreshadows Nanase's eventual post-mortem transformation, but it's also just a very well-executed parody in its own right.
Nanase's rise to cult fame was soon marred by her father's sudden death and the cloud of suspicion that formed around it. Saki gathers this all from a shady website about the Steel Lady, which includes damning claims about life insurance policies and Nanase's father keeping a secret journal with an entry literally stating his daughter is trying to kill him. This is almost laughably tabloid stuff, and it's also important to note that at no point do we ever get Nanase's perspective of these events. In fact, it's worth noting that these “flashbacks” we see are likely not the actual way these events unfolded, or at least they're not the whole story. Returning to my earlier point about unreliable narrators, we're seeing these scenes as they are in Saki's imagination, which is being informed by her own research into second- and third-hand accounts. I'm not suggesting malevolence on Saki's account, but In/Spectre has already taken lengths to make us think about not only what its mysteries are, but the how and why of their presentation, so it behooves us as audience members to think critically about how it frames a story.
To wit, there's definitely something fishy both about the circumstances of Nanase's death and the circumstances of Steel Lady Nanase's appearances. Saki's colleague, for instance, points out how the Steel Lady's titillating appearance seems at odds with her presupposed desire for vengeance. As a frequent consumer of anime, ridiculously pandering costumes barely even register with me, so I'll admit I didn't even think twice about this until In/Spectre brought it up. Deliberately preying on and playing with an anime audience's expectations like this is pretty darn clever! This strangeness is further supported by Kotoko's own observation that she cannot communicate with the Steel Lady, nor does she detect any mode or mechanism to her actions. Kotoko thus also surmises that she can't be an avatar of vengeance, because she's not an avatar of anything except wanton violence.
Both Saki and Kotoko independently arrive at the conclusion that the key to this mystery lies in the way Nanase died. Or didn't die! The episode wraps up with a summary of the events surrounding her supposed death by steel beam, and having watched my fair share of police procedurals, I can confidently say that Something Is Up. The fact that they could only identify her body by tertiary methods (IDs, fingerprints found in her hotel room, etc.) is a big red flag, and the presence of an estranged older sister also makes me stroke my chin. Right now I'm leaning towards Nanase faking her own death via sororicide, and that her attempt to cover this up created a tulpa in her own image, but admittedly I'm not too sure about the mechanism of all that. Thankfully, that's why we have a small grouchy yokai-whisperer and her immortal boyfriend.
This episode sets the stage for some answers next week, but the methods and subject of this week's investigations make for a perfectly engrossing episode in their own right. I also want to really commend In/Spectre for being as funny as it is. The dialogue's sense of comedic parry and riposte stands out, but the anime is no slouch on the visual front either Kotoko gets a lot of priceless and screencappable expressions, and Saki too graces us with the physical comedy of doing a perfect backflip over her bed to escape some of Kotoko's minions. I love the subtler moments of whimsy too, like Kotoko casually walking away from Saki's apartment and up the arm of a gigantic and demure skeleton yokai, seemingly all too content to taxi her to her next destination. I can't help but feel a similar fondness for the tiny troublemaker. I just hope nobody ends up exceeding their recommended daily intake of iron next episode.
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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