Myriad Colors Phantom World
Episodes 1-3

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Myriad Colors Phantom World ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Myriad Colors Phantom World ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Myriad Colors Phantom World ?

Phantom World is Kyoto Animation's project for this season, which naturally means that it got a lot of initial attention. So far, though, reactions have been more negative than positive. A common complaint that I have heard is that this series is following in the footsteps of 2013's Beyond the Boundary in terms of being a disappointment. But is that a fair comparison?

Overall, yes. In many regards the first three episodes of Phantom World have a similar tenor, flow, and feel to Beyond the Boundary, enough that I was a little surprised they don't actually have the same director. The look of the series is fairly similar, too. However, I had a more neutral than negative impression of Boundary, and that carries over to this series as well. Hence I think it's going to be very common for a viewer's reaction to both to be similar.

The basic sensibility of this series is that Haruhiko and Mai are the lowest-performing duo in a club which specializes in dealing with Phantoms, otherworldly critters which have come into human perception range due to changes in the human brain's structure which were first documented a few years ago – in other words, a very thin excuse for justifying their existence. Big-chested Mai is the melee type and Haruhiko can both summon and seal Phantoms by accurately drawing them. (He's also knowledgeable to the point of not knowing when to shut up.) They are accompanied by a fairy-sized Phantom Ruru, who seems to exist mostly just to be cute and prattle on, as she has demonstrated no actual powers or useful aspects so far. To bolster their standing they recruit Reina, a girl who can seal Phantoms by eating them, and try to recruit Koito, a headset-sporting loner with sonic-based powers. Even though they end up working well with Koito to defeat a type of Phantom that seems to have figured out how to thwart her powers, she is still standoffish for the moment, but the opener suggests that Koito will join the group eventually. An elementary school girl with a teddy bear, who is also shown prominently in the opener, has also popped up a couple of times now to spy on the group and will presumably get involved eventually, too.

That's actually about all there is to the plot so far. The story has much more emphasized the characters and various one-off Phantom-hunting missions, with very little hint about any kind of overarching plot. Character actions and interactions have mostly been light-hearted to the point of goofiness, such as the limbo-dancing power line poles in episode 1, how the first creature Haruhiko successfully summons turns out in episode 2 (think Naruto), or the way Mai's memories of herself as a little girl contrast starkly with how she actually was in episode 3 (possibly the funniest scene so far). Sometimes these are used to delve into bigger and/or more sentimental points, such as how rewriting memories to serve certain purposes is a common phenomenon in humans, but the writing has yet to settle on a smooth and comfortable way to do this.

So far Phantom World isn't a fan service fest or a harem series – at least not in a conventional sense, anyway. Though there are some hints that Mai might be sweet on Haruhiko, episode 3 strongly suggests that Reina is more interested in Mai; at the very least Mai, much more than Haruhiko, is the reason for Reina agreeing to be part of the group. The girl with the teddy bear seems more focused on them as a group than Haruhiko specifically, too. What fan service the series has shown so far has been much less about showing skin or undergarments and much more about exploiting Mai's build; her breasts are practically a character unto themselves. In fact, director Tatsuya Ishihara seems to be actively playing with fan service expectations, as on a few occasions in these three episodes a scenario plays out which seems like it is headed towards a stock fan service scene but then changes direction at the last second. For instance, acrobatics are involved in one scene to avoid a crotch-plant to Haruhiko's face, while in another Haruhiko stumbles into Reina and looks for all the world like he is going to give her an accidental grope, but instead he winds up hugging her to regain his stability. This might not be obvious if you don't regularly watch heavy fan service titles, but as someone who does, it is a refreshingly fun little gimmick.

Beyond that gimmick and the occasional successful bit of humor, the only interesting aspect to the series so far is its visuals. This is standard KyoAni quality, which means strong background designs and characters who have a richness and depth to them not commonly seen in works by other studios. Animation quality is also a step above and sometimes creative on small details, such as the distorted way that Reina opens her mouth when she is using her power or some uses of digital effects on the Phantoms. Episode 3 even gives us a fight scene which is partially done from a first-person perspective. (Curiously, it's only the second series in the past week to do that; see also GATE.) Both the opener and closer also feature animated dancing.

At the least, I have to give Phantom World some credit for trying to play against expectations and function at least a little out of the standard mold. The problem is that it lacks a certain spark necessary to truly make it stand out. If it finds that spark at some point during the season then this could wind up being a good series, but right now it is just muddling along.

Rating: C+

Myriad Colors Phantom World is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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