by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Talentless Nana ?
I just started playing chess again for the first time in about a decade. I've never been a serious competitor, and I'm only average at best, but I've been having a great time reigniting all of these long-dormant synapses in my brain. I'm also messing up a lot. Nevertheless, I think there's a unique pleasure in all of the prediction and planning—in constructing your contingencies and baiting your opponent into dismantling their own. I even enjoy the bittersweet eureka moments when my opponent blindsides me with an attack I totally missed, because there's always room to learn and improve. And as hackneyed as the chess metaphor may be, these newly familiar feelings rushed back to me while I watched Nana and Kyoya exchange mental blows like a pair of grandmasters in this week's episode of Talentless Nana.
There's fun and schadenfreude aplenty in trying to follow two chess experts exhaustively assaulting each other's defenses, and this episode proves Talentless Nana to be most tense and most compelling in this mode. Unlike her last few encounters, Nana's no longer worried about survival; she's concerned with constructing an alibi airtight enough to throw Kyoya's bloodhound-caliber nose for crime off her scent (ironic, considering he can't actually smell anything). As soon as she declares this, the episode transforms into a puzzle: how much of Nana's plan can you identify, and how many of her blunders can you spot before Kyoya uses them in his climactic logic ballista? For what it's worth, the writing and storyboarding work in tandem to make these clues very hard to miss, but I think that's another ingredient in Talentless Nana's secret sauce. It's not concerned with tricking the audience as much as it's concerned about making the audience feel smart. I rather like this unpretentious side of the series.
Talentless Nana's signature macabre goofiness is also in rare form this week. A lesser story might have stopped at giving Habu her poison spit Talent, but this one makes her eat live snakes in order to do so. I love this. First of all, imagine the series of events that must have led to her discovering this ability. The stipulation that the ingested reptiles must be living also paints an amusing portrait of past trial-and-error involving all kinds of sautéed scaly friends. Finally, I just plain adore the image of a dolled-up gal foraging for critters to snack on, like some kind of incredible mod for Metal Gear Solid 3. This detail doesn't even matter to the plot, because Nana kills Habu almost immediately, but it adds so much to the series' character. RIP Habu. I hope heaven is full of delectable snakes and poisonable boyfriends.
This week's centerpiece murder is pretty galaxy-brained too, even by Nana's standards. Like a modern Medea, her poisoned contact lens plot is gruesome and clever, but I have to give her extra credit for how well she integrates Yuka's now-rotting zombie horde into her machinations. As always, contrivances abound—despite the circumstances, it's a stretch that Kyoya wouldn't force at least a cursory examination of the bodies—yet I still don't think there's anything that stretches to the point of snapping. Again, it helps that Talentless Nana is less concerned with fluffing the ego of its fluffy pink protagonist and more concerned with making her squirm. I knew she was screwed as soon as she effortlessly opened Kaori's window in front of Kyoya, and I spent the remainder of the episode eagerly anticipating when he'd corner her with that. To return to the chess metaphor, she exudes the smugness of a grandmaster able to outflank all of her hapless opponents on the island—except Kyoya. Like her, he can think dozens of moves ahead, but unlike her, he's not bound by a sense of superiority. That's what makes their duels so fun to watch.
Presentation-wise, Talentless Nana continues to be a solid effort, and I've even warmed up to its particular visual tics, i.e. the red filters, overlays of Nana's real/projected emotions, and silly beat panels. They're neither subtle nor inspired, but they do contribute to the anime's spot-on sense of camp. I'm even more pleased when the adaptation goes further over-the-top with these techniques, which happens a few times this episode. For instance, when Nana slips up about the window in front of Kyoya, the framing falls increasingly off-kilter until it flips entirely upside down. In the episode's climax, the chibi comic book recreation of the murder and the speedline-saturated debate between Nana and Kyoya both add a lot of character to the scenes, in addition to invoking and acknowledging the influence of games like Ace Attorney and Danganronpa. It's also worth noting that all this happens in a brightly-lit dorm room, in front of a captive audience of their peers, right next to a cadaver. Even when the stakes are life-or-death, Talentless Nana nevertheless lets itself indulge in a little absurdity, which is a treat.
The pressing question we're left with this week is whether or not Nana was able to dispose of the incriminating evidence in her pocket. Given that the show continues for at least several more weeks, however, I'm going to venture that the answer is “yes.” As eagle-eyed as Kyoya may be, I'm sure there were plenty of opportunities for Nana to use sleight-of-hand and ditch the phone. That doesn't change the fact that Kyoya won the battle today while Nana got thoroughly, wonderfully owned. Every one of her smug reassurances that she had constructed the perfect murder alibi collapses in the face of Kyoya's whip-smart deductions. She's just too suspicious to throw him completely off, and that's why I'm still in her corner. I want to see her get wilier. I want to see her build even more elaborately byzantine death traps. Kyoya's adversity is just molding her into the deadliest teen assassin she can be, and I'm confident that her best is yet to come.
Talentless Nana is currently streaming on Funimation.
Steve is, most unfortunately, still in vtuber hell over on Twitter. We're all praying for his salvation.
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