Being one of the most hyped up shows for this Spring season, both by its preexisting fanbase and by Aniplex’s masterful (regardless of how annoying it is) minimalistic marketing, it’s almost unsurprising to see how divisive the reactions to the first episode were. The reasons are a little less easy to pinpoint, though, but a big part of it is perhaps how SHAFT didn’t bother at all with making this accessible for newcomers.
Mekaku City Actors is an anime based on a series of songs composed by Jin, also know as Shizen no Teki-P – the Kagerou Project. Due to the success of the songs, which tell a story that comes together bit by bit, the franchise soon grew, spanning light novels, which were soon topping the charts. A manga adaptation followed and now here we are with an anime one.
It’s actually not supposed to be an adaptation per se, considering it was said to be a different “route” from the LNs, but, so far, that’s basically what this first episode was – an adaptation of the first chapter of the first LN. Where some shows start by introducing most of the relevant cast, Mekaku seems to be taking it slow, this episode having focused almost solely on Shintarou and Ene. Shintarou is a very intelligent guy who has, despite that, dropped out of school in his first year of high school and has now been a shut in for almost 3 years. He’s the entitled protagonist of the series, despite the series’ nature of multiple perspectives making the main character status a little less relevant. Ene is a cyber girl who lives in his computer. A piece of software weighting 2MB and sporting an impressive height of 640px, Ene is a rather annoying companion who somehow ended up livening up Shintarou’s bland days from the moment he received a strange email.
Honestly, some of my favorite details in this episode were directly related with Shintarou and his behavior. For instance, one can’t help but notice how Shintarou’s room is completely clean in the present time – something clearly not natural for a hikikomori, yet when we get the flashback to when he first installed Ene, the room was much darker and much more unruly and full of trash. In other words, more like one would expect of a hiki. I find it a nice detail since it comes to show just how much the difference the simple company of another can make to one’s interest in one’s own life conditions. It’s always different when you have someone watching you. Another detail would be when he goes out and he’s crossing the street. It’s a very simple visual detail but one I like the fact they paid attention to – Shintarou walks slower than anyone else who’s crossing the street. Pretty self-explainable, but nonetheless a nice detail to have been included.
It was pretty good for what it was, albeit not as impactful as some other first episodes this season, such as No Game No Life’s. Shintarou’s lines and his conflicts as a hikiNEET were somewhat relatable to an (actually not too small) extent, and his bickering with Ene was a lot of fun to listen to.
Its opening lines and the ending scene, along with the puppet show sequence after the OP (playing as ED) was shown, also provided plenty of foreshadowing along with very pleasing and interesting visual choices one has come to expect from SHAFT. That’s where it ends, though, which is where lies part of the problem. Clever sequences to represent the haze and clock hands moving backwards are pretty much the extent of the visual ingenuity in this episode. The rest of it was just typical SHAFT. And while there really isn’t a problem with typical SHAFT, the minimalistic Monogatari-like style used in the Shintarou and Ene scenes being something I actually think fits this kind of segments from the show quite a bit, it was too much typical SHAFT…at what appears to have been a terrible budget. The terrorist scene wasn’t particularly good for the viewers’ eyes, and it was a choice I certainly wasn’t expecting, and one I didn’t like. However, besides the things that will undoubtedly be explained in the latter half of the next episode (or maybe the beginning of episode 3), including animation-related quirks, this style choice might actually turn out to be justified, in which case I’ll just have to sing SHAFT praises rather than criticize them for it. So for now it’s a matter of waiting and seeing how things go, considering not all there is to this scene was covered yet.
Speaking of the terrorist scene, that brings me to what I meant by how hard this might have been to understand by some. Unlike the decidedly mysterious first scene or certain other elements, the terrorist scene seems like something that was resolved in this episode, yet half of it probably doesn’t make sense for newcomers to the series. I can’t do much for them but to admit that yes, it wasn’t made easy as a first episode in that regard, but there is another perspective of the scene which will be coming up soon and things will make sense.
Going into the sound aspect, I really liked the OP. As a fan of the songs, but not a vocaloid fan at all, it’s great to have something composed by Jin being sung by a real person for once, MARiA from GARNiDELiA, no less (think Ambiguous, Kill la Kill’s 2nd OP, if you don’t know them). Unfortunately, I can’t praise the OP’s visuals in the same way. It’s definitely not a bad one, but it’s probably too simple for an anime OP. Shidu has done better before, not sure why opt for this style here. I don’t dislike it, though.
As for the background music, I can’t say it was unfitting, but so far I can’t say it was anything special either, barring the little sequence in the beginning where most characters are shown unmoving, in which I think the music that played until the crows took flight was oddly appropriate in a great way.
Overall, I did enjoy the episode quite a lot, despite what seems to have been a rushed production job (SHAFT, you’re yet again doing too many things at once, for a studio who simply can’t into scheduling), and this being basically the worst material the series has to offer. It’s only uphill from here and I’ll still put my trust in Jin and SHAFT.