Mekakucity Actors – 12 (Fin)

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While I recognize the wide appeal of the music of this show, I found the meandering, anecdotal lyrics to be tiresome and less deep and clever than they thought they were. That, along with a stubborn reluctance to ever let its audience in on its secrets, contributed to the less-than-glamorous scores I’ve been giving the episodes, and why Mekakucity Actors closes with an uneven finale that had me wishing for more.

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I found myself far more engaged with various character portraits than with the over-arching plot centered around Marry, the granddaughter of the “Monster” whose exploits were narrated in the show’s omake sections. That plot is resolved this week, as we learn Marry is the one who, wishing to be with her friends, basically created the world where everyone’s living.

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I will say, I enjoyed how the Mekakushi-dan was finally whole this week and operated as a team, but I still felt a bit short-changed. Considering the time spent thus far on their individual stories, their collaboration is all too brief, and there’s no more time to explore the new dynamics, aside from a couple incidental quips.

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This could be a factor of my watching too much varied anime at once, but I must admit I was a bit confused why not only Ene was in a human body again (I recalled last seeing that body in a liquid-filled tube, but what happened in between?), but also Shintaro just showing up with Ayano. And what exactly happened with Hiyori? I’m not trying to blame the show for my lack of comprehension regarding certain matters, but it really felt like certain things were omitted simply due to lack of time.

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Granted, the animation it pretty good as the snake takes oveer Konoha’s body and becomes “dark Konoha”, and Marry’s transformation and the big moment when she decides not to reset everything back to happier days like the snake wanted, but cancelling her wish, which causes the snake’s existence to cease. But in this case, pretty good animation wasn’t enough to carry it.

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I only ever saw disjointed flashes of excellence in this show, and it doesn’t help that there already has been a Shinbou-directed Shaft series where a cute red-eyed half-medusa girl voiced by Hanazawa Kana is the key to everything. The show did technically wrap up the main plot, but it felt quite rushed and I found much of the shows’ potential to have been kept bottled up. As such, Actors goes into the “Just Okay” pile of Shaft/Shinbou efforts.

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Final Cumulative Score: 7.33
MAL Score: 7.75

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Mekakucity Actors – 11

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Mekakucity continued its freewheeling M.O. of jumping from flashbacks to the present and from one group of characters to another, shedding more light on how they got to where they are, where they’re headed, and how they’ll get there—in a word, as a single united group.

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The snake possessing Kenjirou’s original plan was foiled by Ayano’s suicide, but he’s still at it, and wants to use the group to fulfill his host’s wish. It wants to do this not because it’s necessarily evil (though it doesn’t think much of humans) but because doing so allows it to exist in the first place.

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Still, the snake is a prety wishy-washy and somewhat creul entity, so he doesn’t have my sympathy. If the choice is between letting it continuing existing or letting the Mekukashi-dan, I’m going with the latter. But it’s clear that neither side really had a choice in the matter. When the snake encounters wishes, it’s in its nature to fulfill them, no matter how much chaos it costs.

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As he lingers at his sister’s gravestone, Kano finally lowers his armor and has a good cry in the arms of Seto, who arrived wondering what was up. Kano has a right to be upset; he watched his sister fall into another dimension, never to be seen again, but both his pain of those events and the responsibility to right things isn’t his alone.

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Similarly, when they finally chase him down, Kido and Momo explain to Hibiya that he’s more likely to save Hiyori if working together with them. When they’re captured and imprisoned in a futuristic jail by mysterious enemy in white suits, Momo ups her idol powers to call for help and cheer Hibiya up, all while being concealed by Kido’s powers.

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It works, as it draws not only Kano, Seto, Marry and Haruka to their location, but Takane as well, back in a physical body. The only Actor missing is Shintaro, who spends the episode in his house talking to Shion, then entering the dreamworld where he meets with Ayano and repeats the refrain of the episode: the time for fighting alone is over.

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Mekakucity Actors – 10

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It’s been abundantly clear for some time now that Mekakucity isn’t particularly interested in presenting a linear narrative, preferring to blend episodes of the present with glimpses of the pasts of the characters involved in that present, for us to better understand, or more to the point, care about said characters.

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This week, the present is mostly placed on the back burner in favor of Kozakura Marry’s backstory. Wouldn’t you know it, she’s the granddaughter of the “monster” in the fairy tale. One day, fearful townsfolk come to kill the monster, but she fiercely protects her husband and daughter Shion—Marry’s mom—before leaving them, and the world.

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Marry was raised to believe her eyes would turn others to stone, just like her grandmother Medusa, but her life of lonliness grows intolerable, and she can’t help but cry out for help. Help arrives in the form of Seto Kousuke, who has eyes just like hers, even if they’re embued with a different power. In any case, a connection between two kindred spirits is formed, and the rest is history.

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The entire flashback is neatly framed by a dream the present-day Marry is having while nodding off, when she’s supposed to be keeping an eye on Amamiya Hibiya. This leads to her finding Konoha and bringing him back to HQ, and after seeing Marry’s mom and dad, we couldn’t help but wonder if Honoka’s resemblance to them was intentional. In any case, Akiyuki Shinbou certainly has a thing for manipulative asshole snakes…and now that we know where Marry is coming from, we care about her more than we did before.

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Mekakucity Actors – 09

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The story of Mekakucity Actors is gradually moving forward as more pieces of the central mystery come into focus and fall into place, but it’s a circuitous route forward full of switchbacks, some of which go downhill into the past before coming back up. Along with Ene, we are Kano’s guide as he leads us down one, to the time when he, Seto and Kido became family when Ayano’s parents adopted them.

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At first, this seems like a good thing: two well-off archaeologists bringing disadvantaged children into their home (another very stylish structure studded with vivid full-length stained glass windows). But then Ayaka dies in a landslide, and Ayano finds a journal of her investigations. The entries are brought to life in Ayano’s head with intricate, really gorgeous ink illustrations that have an Aubrey Beardsley thing going on.

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When science and reason failed her, Ayaka began shed those constructs, and entertained the possibility—accompanied by compelling evidence—that the monster fairy tail she often read to Ayano (and snippets of which end each episode) are, in fact, real events. The monster was persuaded by a serpent under an apple tree (a la Genesis) into creating a new world (and eating a fruit from the tree of knowledge did indeed lead to a new world for Adam and Eve).

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But while the fairy tale ends “happily ever after”, the real story predictably doesn’t. It would appear the serpent is trying to recreate Medusa in the real world by gathering children like Seto, Kano, and Kido together. Ene and Haruka were sacrifices to that end. And even more disconcerting, Ayano’s dad seems to have a Jekyll & Hyde condition, in which Hyde is the Serpent.

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So…what to make of all this? We’re certainly very intrigued in this stylish synthesis of folk stories, mythology, and the modern scenario of uniquely-dressed kids with superpowers. Like the Monogatari Series, director Shinbo explores personalities who t and weaves soaring, timeless tales into the contemporary present with lots of panache. Mekakucity has yet to truly wow the way the best moments of Monogatari did, but it has three episodes left, and a strong finish can go a long way.

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P.S. Rentaro’s “first gift” to Ayano is a Coelocanth, a “living fossil” of a fish thought to be extinct but turned out not to be….kind of like Ayano, right?

Mekakucity Actors – 08

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While this episode didn’t quite make all the connections we thought it would (between Takane, Haruka, and Shintaro, for instance), it still confirmed and shed light on a great many things. Granted, it did a lot of this while people were statically lounging around in a room, but that room had a striking design with mod furnishings we see from multiple, schematic-like angles, all Shaft mainstays.

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Prior to discussing with Shintaro what the Mekakushi-dan he’s now a member of know about their “situation” Tsubomi and the others visit the hospital, but don’t see Haruka. They do meet Hibiya, and when his eyes turn red they promptly take him with them to HQ, realizing he’s one of them, in a earlier state of development they all went through in one form or another.

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Also, the giant snake void portal thing we’ve witnessed is something they all have in common: they all experienced life-threatening events with loved ones; both were sucked in, but only one came out, and with superpowers. We catch a glimpse Tsubomi’s pivotal event in the cold open. Striking stained glass windows also depict it, as well as those of Kano, Seto, and Momo.

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These windows had us equating the past, present, and future Mekakushi-dan members as something very similar to “saints”, once-ordinary people who were touched by something very similar to a “god”, and can now perform something very similar to “miracles.” But they—and those lost in the “void”—could also be described as martyrs; their past wishes having ended their lives as normal humans.

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One more connection made this week, and quite by accident: while checking in on Marry (who was supposed to be watching Hibiya but dozed off), he spots a photo of Kido, Kano, and Seto with none other than Ayano. As of yet, Shintaro hasn’t displayed a power, nor do we know of a time when his life was in danger that would cause them one to be bestowed upon him.

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But in the non-standard ED (with more anecdotal lyrics), we see what seems to be his last encounter with Ayano, who loved him, and he definitely seems to make a wish: for her not to die. Is she, and the others’ loved ones in the void, really dead, or can they be retrieved, perhaps in exchange for returning their powers? We’ll see…at least I hope we will.

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Mekakucity Actors – 07

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Last week’s episode started with Takane running as fast as she could (though not swinging her arms the way you’re supposed to), apparently worried for Haruka. To illustrate her state of mind, the entire town around her was blowing up and crumbling to dust. It was as if her world could not exist without him. Ultimately, it wasn’t a case of the world that disappeared around her that day, but of her disappearing from the world, at least in her corporeal state.

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After a meaningful discussion with the extremely perceptive Ayano in the hallway, Takane realizes she loves Haruka. I was fully prepared for Haruka to end up dead when she returned to the hospital. But before she can even leave the school, she collapses, and that’s the end of Takane That Was. It’s a horrifying and profoundly sad moment in an episode full of bad things happening to good people, possibly due to hasty decisions they make.

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During her transformation to the avatar we were first introduced to, we catch a glimpse of a small girl in black, who is most likely responsible. She also seemed to speak with Haruka in the hospital and hastily struck a deal that put him in a new body as well. Did Ene transform as a result of her wish to be with Haruka, who had just lost his body too? That small girl in black also resembles the “monster” in the post-credit “fairy-tales” (this week’s almost moved us to tears). She kinda reminds me of Shinobu so far.

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Obviously, this monster girl is up to something, messing with the lives of people who used to be normal. But more and more connections are being made between those people, suggesting they may be able to figure a way to respond to what’s been done to them. These “small world” connections needn’t necessarily be over shared supernatural powers.

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A primary purpose of friendship in general is to enrich one’s life, as well as affirm it through continued contact and familiarity with others. Takane, Haruka, Ayano and Shintaro were once ordinary friends. Takane is now in Shintaro’s phone and computer, trying to be the girl “he needs” Ayano couldn’t, but now she’s on the cusp of reuniting with Haruka. On the one hand, she’s been cursed. On the other, she has a second chance.

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Mekakucity Actors – 06

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Did you go into this week thinking we’d see what became of Shintaro, Konoha, Hibiya and Ayano? I did, but I forgot that this show has exhibited a penchant for non-linear storytelling, and further reinforces that this week with an intriguing flashback.

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A big part of its intrigue is the fact that it centers on two close friends (and potentially something more), Enomoto Takane and Kokonose Haruka. We’ve seen these two before, but in this flashback, Takane isn’t a digital avatar and Haruka isn’t a futuristic-looking fellow with superpowers. They’re just normal high schoolers, the only two members of the club they’re in.

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They decide to hold a shoot-em-up video game challenge for the school festival, and Takane dominates everyone who steps up to challenge her, eventually revealing that she is the celebrity gaming sensation “Ene” on the web. Already, we see her building what may become her future digital self.

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She’s been something of a one-note character since the beginning of the show, but this episode fleshes her out more, showing her as just as shy, insecure, and vulnerable as many of the other folks we’ve come across. The events this week shed some light on how she came to become a constant “companion” of Shintaro, as she promises to serve him and call him “master” if she loses to him.

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She does lose to him, decisively, which shakes her confidence, but falling from the pedestal the masses of people she beat is also liberating in its own way. There’s also a bittersweet quality to seeing Takane, Haruka, Shintaro and Ayano (who we know is now gone) hanging out as friends at school, considering what’s become of them in the present.

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Mekakucity Actors – 05

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This episode started off a bit unjustly for Shintaro: he wakes up in a random bedroom (that turns out to be Marry’s) and Ene makes him strip before she’ll tell him anything, and that’s how the other Mekakushi Dan members find him: in his underwear, on Marry’s bed, staring at his phone. For that, he’s tied up and ridiculed. Where is the King’s Justice?

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At any rate, Shintaro is part of something bigger now, whether he’d like to be or not; it’s either become a member or become a hostage, as he knows too much to be neither. It’s obviously a lot to take in for a shut-in meeting five new people all at once. This is also interestingly the first time we’re seeing Shintaro and Momo interacting as bro and sis, and it’s…adequate.

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The entire episode was similarly adequate, filled mostly with sitting or walking around not doing much of anything, but couple new connections were made. When Shintaro went off on his own he bumps into a very memory-challenged Konoha, who spots Hibiya and Hiyori (who ISN’T dead!) getting kidnapped and acts instinctively with some pretty awesome superpowers.

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We also learn that the founding commander of the Mekaushi Dan was Ayano—something Shintaro probably didn’t know. Between Shintaro’s (and Hibiya’s) “dreams” that involve her and the strange fairy-tail like stories about a monster girl that end each episode, there are still many mysteries left to solve.

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Mekakucity Actors – 04

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As of last week seven of the nine “actors” were known to me, so it stood to reason the final two would be unveiled this week. They are Amamiya Hibiya and Konoha, and the episode unfolds almost exclusively from Hibiya’s perspective. He told a string of elaborate lies to his strict father to gain permission to travel to Tokyo to spend the summer with his friend and crush Asahina Hiyori.

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Our first exposure to Hiyori is in Hibiya’s head, an ideal of the girl he loves. In reality, she inivited him to be her slave. Worse still, a third wheel—Konoha—ruins Hibiya’s hopes of being alone with her, and she falls in love with the older albino instantly. Hibiya is shown to be a capable, confident person, but allows Hiyori to run roughshod over him; ironic considering what happens in the episode’s very cryptic second half.

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That’s when Hibiya goes to bed (with Hiyori fawning over Konoha deep into the night) and has a series of eerie, monochromatic nightmares in which he confronts Hiyori in a playground, but a black cat always comes between them and she ends up dead, no matter what he tries in the next “dream”, save the last one, when he pushes her out of the path of a speeding truck and gets hit himself.

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But it’s not exactly clear what’s a dream and what’s reality. Hibiya seemed desperate to tell Hiyori how he felt about her on this summer trip, but his opportunities were ruined by her hostile attitude and the presence of Konoha, and it seems as though she died before he was able to do so. We’re sure future episodes will shine a little bit more light on the events that transpired here, but I must say I found the dreamy, morose atmosphere very absorbing.

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Mekakucity Actors – 03

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After shifting, seemingly randomly, from Shintaro’s story to Momo’s, the show reveals that the events of the past two episodes preceded, then ran concurrently, with those of the first, only from fresh viewpoints. Therefore, the first three episodes comprise thee cohesive story of how the Kisaragi siblings met the Mekakushi-dan.

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I thought this was very clever, and literally and figuratively filled-in the blanks on a first episode that seemed to be a bit too intentionally abstruse at times, while the second episode felt like the first of a series of episodic character portraits. This third episode ties everything together into a satisfying whole that also does a good job formally introducing seven of the nine members in the credits.

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For their parts, the characters we saw hints of in the first episode make a far more lasting impression, and all of them own their roles well: Kido’s quiet angst; Kano’s incorrigible tricksterism; Seto’s affable calmness, and Marry’s clumsy vulnerability. They also all contribute their unique powers (all involving their eyes, which turn red when the powers are active) to the mission to save Momo’s bro.

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Between invisible and super-visible girls, a girl who can stop people with her gaze, a guy who can read minds, and a guy who can make people see illusions, there’s plenty of power to go around. It’s not surprising that once they found each other they decided to form a group dedicated to watching each other’s backs; more family than gang, with a lot of nice interpersonal dynamics.

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Mekakucity Actors – 02

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Mekakucity fields a large, color-coded cast of characters, and through two episodes has chosen to focus on one character at a time: Shintaro last week, his little sister Momo this week. But while the Shintaro episode didn’t delve too deeply into what made Shintaro tick, I got a far more intimate portrait of Momo’s psyche as the episode flitted between her past and present; her memory and imagination.

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In a couple of comedic scenes that I felt hung around a little too long, we learn that Momo isn’t good at taking tests and really fears being held back. But part of her difficulties could be attributed to her ability to gather huge groups of people who center their attention on her, which is why she was recruited from a young age to become an idol. The particulars of her peculiar “curse” aren’t explained in depth, but the practical and psychological drawbacks are.

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Put simply, Momo suffers from the same issues she did in school: an overabundance attention to her style. Because no one has any interest in the substance of her personality—only style—there are those who question its very existence; a doubt that seeps into her own thoughts. But just as Shintaro utilized his “curse” (Ene) to his advantage, Momo’s happiness, or at least sanity, may lie her ability to accept and embrace hers.

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On the periphery of this episode other characters observe her from afar, suggesting her recruitment by the same organization that snagged her brother. Curses are often blessings as well; Shintaro and Momo are both blessed with potentially very useful skills to an organization aiming to do…er…whatever it is it’s aiming to do. Perhaps we’ll be filled in about that if and when the two siblings are…

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Mekakucity Actors – 01

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Kisaragi Shintaro is a hikikomori haunted by two girls. One is a mysterious dark-haired girl in a sailor fuku who talks to him in strange, melancholy dreamscapes. The other is the puckish Ene, a boisterous computer program he downloaded out of curiosity, but has since become a constant (and often quite irritating) presence in his life. When Ene causes him to spill Coke all over his keyboard, he must brave the outside world and a crowded department store to procure a new one.

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That store is taken over by terrorists who hacked the computer-controlled security, and he suddenly finds himself a hostage the first time he’s left his apartment in a year, which seems to confirm many hikikomoris’ worst fears. Despite their apparent proficiency with technology, the crims don’t bother taking away Shintaro’s smartphone, which also contains Ene. When two game fellow hostages arrange a diversion, Shintaro springs into action, hooking Ene into the store’s computers and canceling the lockdown.

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Leaving aside the fact those looked like display units in an electronic store (and hence normally wouldn’t be connected in any way to the store’s security system), this was a low-key yet engrossing introduction to this world, which looks like a city just a few towns over from Naoetsu, the setting for most of the Monogatari Series. Like that and other SHAFT shows, we’re shown a plethora of bumper cards, wide shots, detailed expressive close-ups. I’m a fan of this precise, schematic aesthetic.

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Unlike other first episodes this season that lay out fairly clearly what they’re about through various kinds of exposition, Mekakucity prefers to present most of its first episode without excessive comment or explanation. I know how Shintaro and Ene “met”, that there’s something to that girl in Shintaro’s mind, and that he’ll surely cross paths with the hooded people he meets in the store; but why he’s a hikikomori, who he was before, and where all of this is going are things the show decided not to reveal from the get-go.

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As if to underline its deliberateness, we get what will likely be the show’s OP presented as the ED (a fairly common first episode thing to do), and a rainbow cornucopia of cool-looking characters flash across the screen, most of whom only appeared in this episode for a moment, if that. It’s a little overwhelming, but also enticing and invigorating, like getting used to the interface of a new video game you just cracked open. My questions are many, but answers are sure to come…along with more questions.

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