by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 9 of
After weeks of buildup, Kotoko, Kuro, and Saki finally start their battle against Rikka and her imaginary ghost idol friend. While Kuro engages in hand-to-hand (and i-beam-to-face) combat with an unkillable monster who grows more powerful with each passing day, Kotoko has the arguably more difficult task of convincing an entire online forum that they're wrong. Consequently, although we occasionally check in with how Kuro's face is doing (spoilers: it's usually bad), we spend the vast majority of this episode following Kotoko as she parries and ripostes the questions and accusations that arise as she argues for her own narrative. And this makes sense—In/Spectre's unique selling point has never been its action, but rather its commitment to detailing the minutiae of its mysteries, and more broadly, breaking down its many theses about human behavior as it relates to the concepts of fact and fiction.
As detailed in the prior episodes, Kotoko has four plans of attack when it comes to chipping away at the Steel Lady's credibility, and this week revolves entirely around her first salvo: questioning the credibility of Terada's supernatural murder. This is a good place for her to start, since it's the most recent incident, and it's the most concrete evidence available that a vengeful idol's spirit is indeed patrolling the streets at night looking for victims. It's also worth stressing In/Spectre's way of twisting around the truths and lies of this arc. Ghosts don't exist, so under normal circumstances, Kotoko's conjectures here would not only be logical, but inherently closer to the truth than anything circulated by a bunch of anonymous posters on a message board. In In/Spectre's reality, however, the Steel Lady did in fact commit these crimes, so Kotoko is really just spinning the most plausible lies she can, based on what should be their reality. Going one step further, the conflict here is a conflict between a yokai-infested reality and our normal boring one. Yokai do exist in In/Spectre, but they may as well not to the vast majority of the population who cannot perceive them. Kotoko, therefore, is using that disconnect to her advantage, even if it contradicts her own truth. Our preconceptions dictate what we perceive as fact or fiction a lot more so than any supposed immutability that the “truth” contains.
Kotoko's lies are also mutable, and this episode's dramatic tension stems from the way she has to constantly revise her story in response to the skepticism thrust in her direction. This is where Saki marvels at her improvisatory skills, and by extension, the audience is also invited to enjoy Kotoko's mental litheness. I can't imagine this winning over people who are already frustrated by her character, since she hardly anything less than almost unnaturally composed here, but it's a boon for people like me who just love to hear her talk. Ironically and impressively, she manages to incorporate her audience's doubts into a more detailed and ultimately more compelling story than the one she started out with. Part of that is the inherent advantage of fiction—she can change/revise anything to best fit her motive, i.e. weakening the Steel Lady. Of course, it's not quite that easy, since she's still bound by her previous statements and by the individual gullibilities of the forum members, but that's why she begins with a more general outline of the crime scene and lets the flow of the questions dictate the specifics. This is the same structure a typical mystery follows, with an amorphous presupposed solution gradually shaped by the discovery of further clues. The important difference here is that In/Spectre disposes with the notion of veracity and instead concerns itself with the tumultuous psychology of the internet.
Consequently, this episode also helped me appreciate what In/Spectre is doing with Rikka a lot more. I'd previously bemoaned the inclusion of a singular “villain” in a story that had previously appeared to be about the internet's collective unconsciousness, but upon further reflection, the image In/Spectre now paints is a much more accurate one. As I was growing up, it was tempting to think of the internet as vast body of water, full of waves and currents dictated by unseen and untamable forces. It was strange and chaotic, but chaos, by definition, cannot be controlled, so for all of its harmful qualities, it was comforting to believe that there was no rhyme or reason to its actions. I was, of course, completely wrong. One needs look no further than any major social media platform to see how frequently large communities can be weaponized to the advantage of one person and/or the misfortune or another. This doesn't happen in a vacuum; it happens at the direction of some person or group, and it happens under the complacency of a platform's leaders. In theory, this power can be used for good—whipping people into a frenzy about a social justice issue that might otherwise be frequently overlooked, for example. But more frequently, it seems, this power is wielded by bad actors who sling misinformation appealing to people's worst prejudices in order to spread harmful, regressive, and specific agendas. This has happened to some extent throughout human history, but it's hard not to think of Gamergate as the modern turning point where the full, terrible potential of social media was realized in the name of attacking marginalized groups. And things have only gotten worse since then.
In that light, In/Spectre's treatment of truth and fiction is doggedly optimistic. It doesn't resort to the mawkish notion that the truth will always prevail, but it does purport that the forces of good can wrangle lies in order to fight evil and save lives. That's the kind of complicated and fascinating morality that I can really sink my philosophical teeth into. In/Spectre humorously acknowledges this concern with its delayed punchline about Saki being the most likely suspect in Kotoko's web of deceit. I was very amused once I saw it coming, but it also brings up a good conundrum: even if it's false, would it be better for Saki to be suspected of murder if it meant that the Steel Lady could no longer kill anyone? There's not an easy answer to that question! In/Spectre sidesteps it for now with Kotoko's acknowledgement that the forum is too skeptical to accept this one story, but I'm sure similar conundrums will arise as she explores her other options.
In/Spectre's pace continues to be quite deliberate, but now its wheels are undoubtedly grinding towards this arc's conclusion, which injects some direly-needed momentum into its narrative. As if to unequivocally drive home its point, Kotoko doesn't move from her seat at all this entire episode, but verbally and mentally, she bobs, weaves, and counters with the fluidity of a professional boxer. While her fight has just begun, it's already compelling and thoughtful enough that I don't mind spending the next few episodes going further down this rabbit hole of logical fiction. If I have one major complaint, however, it's that I'm suffering from a drought of funny Kotoko faces this week, and I hope next week delivers one I can use for that review's thumbnail.
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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