Musaigen no Phantom World – 07

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Aaaaaand I think I’ve about had my fill of Phantom World! It’s a show with lush visuals beyond reproach that for some reason seems intent on out-twee-ing and out-moe-ing itself with each passing week. This week, which opens with the seventeen-millionth adoption of Schrodinger’s Cat in an anime (and presented as if it’s being used for the first time), and devolves from there, was the breaking point.

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When the kitten of one of Kurumi’s friends goes missing, everyone at school starts acting like, then slowly transforming into, cats. Due to Haruhiko’s pre-OP explanation, we knew this was what was happening, but it still takes the crew, including Haruhiko himself, one entire half of the episode to figure it out.

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Look, the sight of a whole school of students curling up and napping, or Mai and Reina stretching like felines, or getting excited by fish or toys is cute and all, but there isn’t any substance to any of it. It’s just pure eye candy, and the characters are just along for the ride. I frankly just couldn’t roll with it this time.

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Their investigations, if you want to call it that, lead them to a bizarrely abandoned mansion near the school (why?) and the gang ends up hopelessly lost, their senses inundated with confusingly trippy scenes. These visuals would be a lot more engaging if there was anything profound behind them, but it seems the artists just wanted to draw cool stuff, and stuffed it all into this episode with a cat theme slapped on.

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They finally determine the entire mansion is a giant cat-house phantom, which is manifested in a form lifted straight out of Howl’s Moving Castle. How does the lost and quickly catifying group overcome this phantom? All too easily and neatly, unfortunately. Kurumi literally meows at it to give up the kitten in drew in, and the phantom just kinda vanishes, apparently satisfied…for some reason. It sure went through a lot of trouble only to fold like a cheap catsuit!

This was a mansion owned by a wealthy couple that loved cats, and after they died, you expect me to believe their valuable property was simply left to rot? Why wasn’t the building inherited by someone, or fall into public trust or something? How is it they’re able to clean the place up so quickly, when it had sat abandoned and dilapidated for years? You expect me to believe some mops and elbow grease will fix the foundation, wiring, plumbing, etc.?

You see, I’m so disenchanted with this show, I’m resorting to bestowing unfairly lofty expectations of practical logic on it. Definitely time to say so long and thanks for all the fish.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 06

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Like Reina’s phantom-created illusory ideal world, this week takes place predominantly takes place in a world other than the one in which are characters usually spend time. It’s not nearly as trippy, despite the Alice & Wonderland aesthetic of the inside of Kurumi’s head.

It’s “cuter” too, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s very nearly too precious; too overt in its efforts to melt our hearts. Then again, this episode’s heroine is only in the fourth grade, so the more childish innocent milieu is understandable.

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Setting aside issues of why a fourth grader needs to fight beside high schoolers, the fact is Kurumi is so painfully shy and introverted and dependent on the constant presence of her “security blanket” Albrecht, when Haruhiko simply trying to keep her from falling in the street triggers a phenomenon that sends bother him and her into the depths of her mind.

There are bears everywhere because the word “bear” is present in nearly every aspect of her life, and she’s also recently read a fairy tale. Here, Albrecht is an amplified version of what he is in real life: a protector. A literal knight who walks and talks rather than a symbolic shield in her arms. With, as Ruru says, a damn smooth voice!

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Her fears are manifested in a rival clan that seeks to gain dominion over her, but when Albrecht is wounded by the clan’s archer, she must choose to either continue relying on him, which may lead to his demise, or start to stand on her own and protect him for a change.

It’s a pretty obvious choice, considering Kurumi feels indebted to Albrecht for being her bear for virtually the entirety of her life. Keeping him close, she slowly learned how to talk to others and make friends, but when the opportunity arises here to take one big next step towards facing her fears and fighting them alone, she takes it.

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When the rival clan leader (also a bear) shows up in a great big mecha, Kurumi’s rake necklace grows into a weapon she can wield, while she undergoes a classic Sailor Moon-esque transformation into a magical girl.

There’s no escaping the fact that this is all pretty derivative, but the design and animation is solid as always, and Kuno Misaki, who is one of the seiyus specializing in voicing young kids, turns in a decent enough performance.

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Kurumi fights, Kurumi wins, and Kurumi and Haruhiko exit her head and end up back in that crosswalk. Kurumi accompanies Haruhiko in joining Mai, Reina, and Koito (largely out of the picture this week), who are about to go on a phantom hunt. Haruhiko worries that Kurumi is exhausted from her ordeal, but she insists on coming, confident she can hold her own with them.

Like most of MPW, this episode is best described as generally pleasant, often adorable, occasionally chuckle-worthy…but ultimately unexceptional. I’m loath to drop now that the team has finally been fully assembled (and each girl given a focus episode, with Reina’s being the best).

But I’m under no illusions that this is a guilty pleasure. A very pretty show that’s not much deeper than the puddles on that crosswalk.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 04

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It’s very appropriate that this week’s episode of Phantom World begins with a binge session at a restaurant, as it’s Restaurant Week here and I just got back from stuffing myself. The episode then transforms into an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of whimsy focused on the show’s resident eating champion, Izumi Reina.

After dinner, she splits from Haru and Mai and ends up boarding a very unusual bus that takes her…somewhere. Our first go-round with the process is very mysterious, because one minute she’s boarding the bus, the next, she’s outside the front gate of her house. The next morning, Koito (Hi Koito!) confesses to witnessing the whole thing, determining that Reina is possessed by a phantom.

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That assertion proves very true when Haruhiko boards the bus with Reina next time. She’s totally out of it, as if hypnotized, but he’s lucid as the bus transports them, in a sequence that (not accidentally) owes much to the train journey in Spirited Away, to another place; an idealized storybook home complete with adorable bunny caricatures of Reina’s parents (who are a lot stricter in real life.)

As is usually the case in scenarios such as this, eating the food is a bad idea, but Haruhiko realizes this too late, and grows his own bunny ears and a pastel texture to his character design that indicates he’s been “taken” by this place. He acts out Reina’s fantasy as his big brother, until the fantasy breaks and the two are back at the front of her real house, with her real father wanting to know who Haruhiko is. Reina sends him home, promising to explain everything later.

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Turns out Mai reminds Reina very strongly of her real big sister, who got tired of their parent’s tightassery and flew the coop. So after Haruhiko fails miserably in trying to sketch-seal the bus the next time (he’s still under the phantoms’ influence), Mai and Ruru board with Haruhiko and Reina, and end up in the fantasy world with them. Ruru, who is unaffected by the food, ends up accidentally gives Mai a taste, thus bewitching her too.

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It’s not until Haruhiko goes to the bathroom of all things, that he snaps out of it; I imagined the food he ate was the cause of the hypnosis, and when he shat it out, the effects dissipated. He refers to the bathroom as a portal between the real and unreal, or some such. In any case, he takes a chance and ends up successfully snapping Reina out of it by hugging her, a gesture that always elicits a reaction in the form of a martial arts throw.

Once she’s lucid, watching the still-bewitched Mai interact with her “phantom parents” Reina realizes the phantoms fed on her desire for her family to be whole again, creating a world where she could live happily ever after even without that sister.

When the phantoms tell her to make a choice, Haruhiko beseeches her to stay in the world in which she belongs, so she can be there if and when her sister returns home. Reina chooses to reject the phantom world and stay strong beside her senpais. All in all, a very lush, atmospheric episode with heavy Ghibli influence, which taught us a little more about Reina. Though we still don’t know where all that food she eats goes…

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 03

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This was another beautifully rendered KyoAni episode bursting with wonderful character details and kickass action that make a rewatch a must to catch what one might’ve missed. But it did hamper itself somewhat with its overarching theme of memory and all the absurd (and boring) technobabble required to push out an episodic plotline.

The club’s next target is a phantom blocking a bridge, but when Mai, Haruhiko and Reina arrive, they find there are two phantoms, and they’ve both been waiting for Mai. She might’ve been able to take one by herself, but against the two she’s overwhelmed and she has to beat a hasty retreat facilitated by Haruhiko’s use of Marchosias to distract the phants.

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Realizing they’ll need more physical skill and strength against the dual warrior princesses, Mai quickly set sup a martial arts training regimen for Reina and Haruhiko. Everyone even deesses up in Chinese-style outfits for no reason other than it looks cool (gym uniforms could certainly have sufficed, right?).

But it doesn’t go so well; Haruhiko is hopeless, and while Reina is good at self-defense (throwing Haru for the third time in three episodes as a result of sudden too-close-for-comfort contact), Mai is loath to allow a young pretty girl get messed up in what could be a brutal fight. No, she’d rather keep trying with the more malleable Haru, whom she cares less about if he gets messed up.

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Then the rather bizarre idea of Haruhiko somehow copying Mai’s procedural memories of martial arts in order to assist her in the fight. Their teacher Himeno-sensei believes it’s possible due to Haruhiko’s ability to access the metaphysical world in order to summon phantoms.

There’s all kinds of talk about a collective consciousness where all human memory exists in the same metaphysical plane, like some kind of human cloud storage. Ok, fine…but then Himeno “makes” Haruhiko and Mai go on a friggin’ date around places where she has strong memories, to try to synch up his memories with hers.

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Don’t get me wrong; it’s a cute, lovely date, but there isn’t the slightest bit of romantic chemistry between Mai and Haru, giving the proceedings, prettily-rendered they may be (the music is nice too), a somewhat sterile feeling; that these are just motions they’re going through. More interesting is the fact Reina seems pissed whenever Mai and Haru are getting along (and she eats a lot to try to distract herself), but that’s only a bit part of what’s going on.

Eventually, they return to the river and the bridge where they first met the twin warrior princesses, and it dawns on us—well before Mai or even Haruhiko—that the two girls she met at that same spot ten years ago and made instant friends with were actually the princesses. In the rematch, Mai holds her own while Haru goes down instantly. The combat animation, as is to be expected, is top-notch, by the way.

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When Mai gets blasted and Haru rushes to catch her, he twists his ankle, and their two heads bang together, and that’s how he ends up accessing their minds. Excuse me, but WAT? I know this is fantasy, but Mai and Haru having a shared meta-conscious experience wherein Haru is able to perceive her memories as bubbles in a sea? Pretty, and fun, but awfully ridiculous, too.

Less absurd, however, is what he discovers: Mai’s memories of being a quiet, shy little girl are false. In fact, when she met these two girls, she beat the crap out of them, laughing all the way. That led them to train for ten years in order to beat her when she eventually returned to the bridge. The idea that we remember things the way we want—to fit our idea of ourselves, and accurate memories morph into fictions over long stretches of time—is a relatable one.

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Now back to the fantasy silliness. Haru gains Mai’s martial arts skills, but doesn’t have the strength or stamina to keep it up for more than a couple of minutes (this is actually pretty hilarious) Then he uses her five-element power (which was also copied over to him), and the two perform the same finishing move as her favorite movie as a kid, which they watched the re-release of during their date. Yelling, lightning, Itano Circus, victory.

The phantom princesses aren’t defeated for good, but they accept Mai is still stronger than them, for now. They promise they’ll be back when they’re stronger. But the bridge harassment will likely stop so I guess it’s a win for Group E.

What about Minase Koito, you say? Who knows? She wasn’t in this at all. Instead, there was a little girl with a teddy bear voiced by Kuno Misaki stalking and watching the group the whole time, with deep admiration. I’d wager it won’t be long before she formally meets them, and she seems eager to become closer to the group, just as Reina yearns to one day be as close to Mai and Haru as they are to each other.

But more than previous episodes, the characters seemed to be edged out by an overabundance of plot and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Lots of sugar and spice, but too little solid nutrition.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 02

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Some concerns going into week two included “can the show keep me engaged in its elaborate magical mechanics?”; “can Ruru’s schtick be consistently better than silent beats it replaces?”; and “is this a lovely show that’s simply trying too hard, riding the coattails of superior past KyoAni work?” Those concerns were somewhat allayed in an episode that built on the strengths of its first outing.

Haruhiko, Reina, and Mai demonstrate solid teamwork that exploits each of their skills, and this time there’s a fourth potential member added to the mix in Minase Koito. She’s talented, and she’s been talented for a long time, but her teacher wants her to learn how to work with others.

When Minase gives the others the cold shoulder and beats them to their job at an abandoned factory, she learns pretty quickly that going it alone is not always the optimal route.

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To whit, her sound-based attacks on the phantoms are cancelled out in the same way her headphones cancel out noise. To incapacitate the phantoms, the good old-fashioned brawn of Mai is needed. Haruhiko is the one to determine what’s stopping Minase’s attack, and directs Mai to smash it.

That leaves Minase free to use her shout to take out the multipliers, Reina to swallow them, Kirby-style, and Haruhiko to seal the sound-cancelling robot by sketching it in his new sketchbook. Not a bad days work…only it doesn’t have the effect of Minase changing her tune and deciding to join their team, nor should she. She levels modest praise on the others’ efforts (ignoring Haruhiko’s entirely) and slinks off, aloof as ever.

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The battle left Mai and Reina’s uniforms filthy, which leads to them showering at Haruhiko’s, but the show doesn’t go down the easy road of having Haruhiko intentionally or accidentally peeping on them.

In fact, the whole scene at his house (the impressive library in which is the source of all his trivial knowledge) was surprisingly innocuous, for what I perceived to be a gift-wrapped harem scenario. Oh, but wasn’t the little sight gag of Ruru sitting among Haruhiko’s figurines just perfect?

Even the next day, with Mai and Reina doing stretches in their bloomers in front of Haruhiko, he’s not sketching them, but a phantom he wishes to summon. He’s only accused of being a creeper when he reacts inappropriately to their next job, which will be at an all-girl’s dorm.

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This dorm, which is ridiculously pink and fuchsia, and its inhabitants are being harassed by a peeping phantom UFO with a camera. They stake out the place, but realize it won’t come until it has something to see, so Mai and Reina kick Haru out and change. Sure enough, the UFO arrives, but it proves a handful, dodging all of Mai’s swipes and stabs and scoring lots of juicy pics in the process.

Haruhiko, meanwhile, is in the catch-22 of his services as a member of the team being required, but the girls being embarrased about being just in towels, which turn out not to be Chekhov’s Towels as they never come off. I loved the physicality and architecture of the sequence, in which he’s constantly going out the window and back up the stairs and into the fray.

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He even uses blood from an inadvertent attack by Reina (for getting tangled up in too exciting a position for him) to summon his phantom, Marchosias. Again the show has a little fun with our expectations, as despite all of Haruhiko’s past accurate sketches of their phantom foes, Marchy turns out to be a fluffy little puppy with wings (that transition from flame-wreathed demon to pink skull cloud to pup was wonderful).

Marchy help—a little, I guess—in rounding up the voyeuristic lil’ stinker, and Reina gobbles him up. The show’s theretofore restraint with amorous material pays off and heightens the sense of surprise when Reina decides to suck on Haruhiko’s finger…and not because she knows her saliva has healing properties, but because she just felt like it.

As for Minase, she peeks her head in, but again claims to be #notimpressed with the team. Sure, they’re not the most professional and efficient, but they get the job done and entertain in the process. If she joined them, a good team might become great. One wonders what will end up swaying her, but I’m glad the show’s not rushing her initiation. Then there’s that strange device Ruru found…

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Winter 2015 season gets off to a whimsical, colorful start with Musaigen no Phantom World, the first episode of which called to mind everything from Haruhi Suzumiya and Charlotte to Chu2Koi and Amaburi. So immediately, then, we have a bit of an issue: this show reminds me of a lot of good shit.

The challenge then, will be to differentiate itself and make its case as a show worth watching for more than the trademarked lovely KyoAni eye candy (though I’ll admit, on Hump Day that might be sufficient anyway). And amidst its familiar setting, themes, character types, animation and dialolgue styles, MPW’s first episode still managed to distinguish itself.

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First, it makes a point to play off our expectations vis-a-vis fanservice. Atletic, busty female lead Kawakami Mai is more concerned with getting the job done than showing a little skin here and there. Shy, impressionable first-year Izumi Reina‘s boob looks ripe for grabbing, but male lead Ichijo Haruhiko manages to course-correct just in time, but thanks to “aid” from his pixie sidekick Ruru, still ends up in a bad position. Finally, Mai has a practical reason for bouncing her boobs up and down: it’s the only way to succeed in a limbo contest.

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Second, all three characters have their positive qualities. Ruru is adorable, obv., but she’s also quite savvy, serving as both a foil and an ally in Haruhiko’s exploits. Mai’s can-do attitude and fighting spirit is tempered by the need to occasionally sigh over dire financial straits (while scolding Haruhiko for sighing along with her). Reina, also frikkin’ cute as all get-out, also sucks stuff up like Kirby, which was very unexpected.

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The phantom-hunting team also gels quickly but believably. All three are competent in very specialized areas, but if one of the three wasn’t present for the utility pole phantom limbo-off, they would not have been able to achieve victory. Haruhiko’s freakish book smarts let the group know what they’re dealing with, Mai’s freakish athleticism appeases the phantoms, and then Reina eats ’em up. Even Reina is sold enough on how good a team the trio makes that she casts aside her initial uncertainty about joining.

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With such good chemistry coming off this trio, one wonders what MPW has in store for the fourth, a rose-haired, perpetually headphones-donning girl who looks like a lone wolf uninterested in teamwork.

So yes, I’m sufficiently charmed by MPW to keep going with it. There was a bit of an infodump rather inelegantly thrown in, and it looks no better or worse than the shows I listed up top, but there’s plenty to like and plenty to tune in to learn.

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