by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
It's worth stressing how much of my affection for In/Spectre is a consequence of my affection for Kotoko as a character. She's the key pinch of spice that makes this narrative so flavorful. She literally spends over half of this episode eating bananas and drinking tea in the backseat of a parked car, and I still found myself sufficiently engrossed by her ramblings. Like last week, this episode doesn't do a whole lot to advance the Steel Lady story, and it instead languishes in the ever-expanding backstory behind this case and its characters, for better or worse.
At this point, it feels like Kyo Shirodaira is deliberately teasing the audience in an act of authorial sadism, and I certainly can't begrudge anybody who feels frustrated at this point. While I still find myself enjoying the act of watching an episode, I have to agree that the languid pace of this Steel Lady arc undercuts some of In/Spectre's potential to explore other topics and metanarratives about contemporary media. The Steel Lady arc, to be fair, is dense with ideas, but those ideas have been trickling through more slowly as we've progressed further into it. I think we're all ready to see Kotoko test her thesis by now. However, In/Spectre has unequivocally asserted itself as a story concerned about the journeys more so than their conclusions. Akin to Kuro's future-determining powers, the thread of fate he grabs is ultimately not as important as the road he took to get there, and furthermore, the road he took there is what determines his ability to define the future.
With that in mind, the foremost concern this week is Kuro's enigmatic cousin Rikka, who was introduced to us last week as the mastermind behind the Steel Lady's appearance. I expressed some doubts about the introduction of such a villain into what so far had been a more organic story, but these flashbacks alleviated a lot of my apprehension. For instance, I'm glad she less a cackling villain and more a natural foil/adversary to Kuro/Kotoko, defined more by their similarities than their differences. She's just a fellow immortal weirdo with a sharp tongue who actually seems to have gotten along decently with our main couple for a time. Her exact motivations are still up in the air, so it's possible those will be stupid, but for now I'm okay with Kuro and Kotoko having a concrete adversary to match their steel one. I also like that Saki's (and by extension, our) misconception about Rikka's “death” was a result of the same pesky rumor mill that's feeding Nanase. In/Spectre's doing a good job teaching its audience not to take any assumption for granted. Assumptions can be deadly powerful.
As per usual, Kotoko frequently steals the show either by mugging for the camera or by rhetorically twisting Kuro's rhetorical arm into something resembling a fairy-tale relationship. One nice thing about In/Spectre is how relatively chaste it has been compared to some of its competitors in this genre, most notably the horny titan that is Monogatari. Even better, this isn't a result of it the narrative ignoring its characters' sexualities—rather, it's been centered on Kotoko's very vocal thirst for Kuro, which is portrayed frankly and lightheartedly. This is all to say that the closest In/Spectre has flirted with “fanservice” occurs in this episode, with Kuro daydreaming about what a domestic life with Rikka would be like compared to Kotoko. His thoughts of Rikka invite us to chuckle at how laughably puritan they are, while his analogous fantasy starring Kotoko is funny because it's clearly her intrusive fantasy, not his. I also like that Kotoko and Rikka, despite ostensibly being romantic rivals, form their own weird friendship, much like the comradeship she and Saki have been nurturing during this arc. Kotoko's bitterness and possessiveness are played up for laughs, but at its heart, In/Spectre is much more interested in exploring the affection she has for others.
The most interesting facet of her gambit that Kotoko pontificates on this week is the giant faceless lynchpin everything rides on: the whims of the posters. No matter how carefully she prepares, and no matter how clever her potpourri of fact and fiction may be, it all relies on the ebb and flow of the Steel Lady forum community. If you've spent, oh, any amount of time on any social media, you know that online commenters are never unified and rarely swayed by actual arguments. Kotoko's basically dropping four lures into the ocean and hoping she lands a white whale. It's possible, sure, but it's probably more likely her boat will be struck by lightning. While the chaotic nature of the internet is fascinating for sure, it's also more than a little despair-inducing, so I'm glad to see In/Spectre wrestling with that vast, unknowable darkness. Again, intentional timing or not, it certainly behooves In/Spectre for it to be airing during an American presidential election year.
Overall, this installment was more amusing than it was thought-provoking, but In/Spectre continues to skirt by on the momentum of its dialogue in concert with its consistently adequate visual direction. A particularly morbid part of me is curious to see just how much Shirodaira could theoretically stretch out this arc, because honestly I'm still enjoying it and its indulgent metatextual trollishness. However, I also don't want everyone besides me to end up hating this show, so I am glad to see that the forthcoming episode will have Kuro sparring with the Steel Lady as Kotoko has her own battle of posts against Rikka. May the most online win.
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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