The Lost Village
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Lost Village ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
The Lost Village ?
How would you rate episode 3 of
The Lost Village ?
The Lost Village is an extremely ridiculous show. I feel you have to accept that as a given to interact with it; the show's ridiculousness is its medium, the background radiation that defines its environment. The first episode features an exploding basketball and a bus driver who nearly kills thirty people while ranting about not getting eggs on his ramen. The third episode contains an attempted execution, and what may or may not have been a bear attack. In its more lucid moments, its ridiculousness seems intentional and dryly funny, like when the show's absurdly oversized cast start arguing over the correct words for rock-paper-scissors. In its more surreal moments, it becomes more difficult to tell whether the show actually expects you to take lines like “your name Jack and my name Hyoketsu no Judgeness are too similar" seriously.
While the actual narrative presents its own questions, the main question I find myself struggling with so far is “is this show in on the joke?” The show's director, Tsutomu Mizushima, is actually one of the most talented working anime directors. His shows don't have the ostentatious style tics that add a clear signature to the works of directors like Kunihiko Ikuhara or Rie Matsumoto; his strengths are more workmanly, and come through in the sense of fun and consistent momentum exhibited by shows like Shirobako, Girls und Panzer, and Witch Craft Works. What black marks exist on his record largely take the form of horror shows, like the equally “is this actually trying to be bad?” Another. So there's at least some ambiguity there, as to whether Mizushima isn't aware he is bad at directing horror anime, or simply enjoys creating works that evoke the feeling of a B-list or even student-produced horror movie.
If he's going for that style, he's certainly nailing it. The Lost Village is full of shots that seem weirdly amateurish, to the point where the student film effect seems clearly intentional. Shots linger too long on awkward stills, and alternately fail to convey information (like when a character runs off-screen but we don't actually see where they're running) or convey information in a graceless way (like when a character says “look, a bear print!” and then we get a silly closeup of that bear print). Mizushima's works are generally noteworthy precisely for how well the director's hand disappears into the production, so the fact that The Lost Village seems so visibly clumsy indicates he may be having fun making a purposefully camp horror story.
Having the show's writer be Mari Okada only heightens the ambiguity. Okada can create excellent shows, but her favored modes of dramatism lean heavily towards the melodramatic. Okada clearly believes in the emotive power of outsized reactions, and her consistent employment of heightened theatrics means her shows can actually feel a little emotionally flat. When everything's super-dramatic, a show's emotional register ends up being that much more limited, and nothing truly feels momentous. And on top of that, Okada's shows often end up rambling - in contrast to Mizushima's structurally tight productions, hers are generally defined by creative peaks separated by poorly drafted valleys.
All of this adds up to a production that I not only have trouble taking seriously, but have trouble knowing if I'm supposed to take seriously. Nobody in this show is likable, and nearly every single character is absurdly written. The first episode introduces a slew of thirty distinct participants in a “new life tour,” where those who've given up on the world are ostensibly given a new chance in a mysterious hidden village. Some of these characters are ridiculous collections of traits, like the girl who speaks in a catgirl affectation and loves guns. Others are simply balls of madness, like Lovepon, the girl who keeps insisting they execute their more suspicious members. Others still are novel but inhuman gimmicks, like the couple who only speak in affectionate baby talk to each other, or the bombshell lady who makes all her lines into sex euphemisms.
Characters like that don't invite investment, and it's unclear whether the show actually cares. The titular lost village is a device seemingly tailor-made for murder and betrayal, with mysterious deaths likely leading into Lord of the Flies-style group judgments. Most of the show's major characters have already had a few reflections on trust, making it more than likely the party will eventually splinter into suspicious fragments. This setup is typically the sort of thing that starts low-key and then ratchets up into crazytown, but since The Lost Village's characters all grew up in crazytown, it's still an open question just how ridiculous things will get. Three episodes in, the bodies are only just beginning to hit the floor.
Given all this ambiguity, the final question becomes “so is this rambling mess actually fun?” Well, so far, sort of. A significant amount of my enjoyment of the first two episodes came down to just how ridiculous everything was, while the actual plot didn't really provide much to engage me. The show's actual narrative hooks are focused on the mysteries of the village, but when a story's writing is this absurd, it's hard to feel invested in the specifics of its world. The third episode goes some distance to mitigate the show's problems, if only because we've finally reached the plot's boiling point. Awful things are clearly about to happen, and the show can only get more exciting from here.
So far, I can't say I'd actually recommend The Lost Village. I personally find it interesting because it's such a weird production, and because seeing two gifted creators collaborate on it is a pretty novel experience. But the writing is ostentatiously bad, the aesthetics are just acceptable, and the story has been pretty slow to actually get to the good stuff. The Lost Village may turn into a bloody, ridiculous good time, but it's not there yet.
The Lost Village is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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