Musaigen no Phantom World is Kyoto Animation’s first show of 2016 following their last show of 2015, Hibike! Euphonium. If I were to have no information about KyoAni and their past work, Phantom World would seem pretty decent and a fair demonstration of a studio’s ability, but knowing what this studio is capable of, I can’t help but be disappointed in this show. Not even the cute girls or the endless amounts of fan-service could make me see this show in a good light.
Musaigen no Phantom World
FLAWLESSY BEAUTIFUL VISUALS WASTED ON A BASELESS NARRATIVE
FANTASY, SLICE OF LIFE | ANIMATED BY KYOTO ANIMATION | DIR: ISHIHARA, TATSUYA
To horribly generalise my opinion of this show, I can say it was the most fun show of the season, this was the show I enjoyed knowing I didn’t have some elaborate storyline to had to engage myself in. KyoAni is undeniably my favourite studio; responsible for my favourite show of all time, Clannad and shows not far behind like K-On!, Hibike! Euphonium and Nichijou. I think it is for that reason that I value Phantom World so much lower than a lot of the people I talk to. Currently rocking a 6.9/10 on MAL and a 6.8/10 on Crunchyroll, this show is receiving decent reception but it doesn’t hold a candle to the other shows of the same studio. “7.9/10”, “8.1/10”, “8.3/10”, these are the kind of scores we expect to see from the guys at KyoAni so although Phantom World seems to be doing okay, it’s not nearly the kind of show we should be expecting.
Ridiculous amount of fanservice
Now instead of just complaining, I’m going to try and explain to you why I think Phantom World is a tarnish on an otherwise fantastic studio. As mentioned prior, this is without a doubt KyoAni’s most fan-service heavy show they’ve ever produced. In the very first episode they toy with the generic harem/ecchi encounters but take a predictable boob grab and turn it on its arse. Quite literally. This sequence pretty much establishes the kind of comedy you get from the show, the dynamics between the protagonist and two of the girls is essentially summed up by this one scene.
Excluding Kurumi who is an incredibly young character, each member of the main cast has a ridiculous amount of fan-service and it gets to distasteful level pretty damn quick. Previous KyoAni shows seemed to have this filter on them which shielded the viewer from any potential fan-service despite the scene clearly setting up to do so. Take Amagi Brilliant Park for example, a great show also made by the same studio. There are multiple occasions where say, the main girl is caught showering or when they’re at the beach, KyoAni limits the fan-service to the bare minimum and it was fine. It feels like they’re trying to make up for the lack of lewd scenes in their previous shows by throwing them all into Phantom World.
Impeccable animation – underwhelming visual direction
As you would expect from the studio, the animation absolutely beautiful. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of starting a show with a fight sequence, I feel like it’s a sloppy way to impress an audience with their visuals and most of the time you don’t care about the characters in the fight yet anyway. Phantom World opened with a fight scene. I cannot deny that the animation was stellar and if you took the scene and make a gif-set out of it or uploaded it as a separate video, it would paint the show in a very good light. I liked how they pixelated areas of damage on the phantom and the fighting was well-choreographed. However, I didn’t care about the characters.
Not only did they constantly cut away from the fight to show us some boring dialogue, the dialogue was between side characters even though they hadn’t really introduced the main cast yet. It feels like the director (Ishihara Tatsuya) doesn’t really know how to present a fight scene, take a look at his past work as a director and it suggests that he has little to no experience on a show like this. To clarify, I think Ishihara is a fantastic director, he’s directed some of my favourite shows for KyoAni, but it feels like there’s a lack of understanding in conveying something that is so different to what he’s used to. This intricately designed and detailed monster is shown to us and we rarely ever get to see it in full, usually you would see a few wide shots which stay on the screen longer than 2 seconds so that the audience can take in the sheer size and power of the phantom.
Despite this, animating poorly designed characters still leaves a lot to be desired. Personally, I really dislike Mai’s visual design. Her yellow vest looks atrocious and is a constant eyesore to look at, all it does it draw more attention to her breasts and it’s often accompanied by what might as well be underwear – just in case you forgot that she’s portrayed as an attractive character. Also let’s not forget that for her ability to work she has to rub parts of her body to channel specific elements to her fists. “Hold on, just need to rub my chest so I can channel water to my hands”, yeah that seems convenient doesn’t it…
Most of the other characters wear the school uniform which is fine, it’s just a simple white uniform with assorted green stripes and black buttons. The characters clearly have most of their details in the face and hair, having simple clothing means that the audience can understand the characters from the few things they can change. If Koito never wore her signature headphones you would have no idea that her ability is music related and that she is somewhat of a social outcast. Kurumi’s hair looks stupid but it gives her a way of looking different to the rest of the cast. This character is ten years old for god’s sake, of course her design is going to look childish and irregular, it accompanies the pink teddy bear she uses to fight phantoms.
Formulaic and tedious episodic structure
I feel like I’m saying this for most shows this season, but every episode follows a clear structure which occasionally ends with some character development so that you don’t feel like your time has been completely wasted. I don’t mean to sound bitter, I get that it’s a show about fighting phantoms so of course there’s going to be a different phantom they have to fight every episode, but that doesn’t mean the show has to be so obvious about it. Every episode opens with this scene in Haruhiko’s room where he and Ruru will talk about what the episode is going to be about. They don’t cleverly forge it into the plot, the literally break the fourth wall and say “This episode is gonna be about ___” and you insert the phantom there.
This can sometimes work where the comedy in the sequence works but, for me, most of the time it felt like lazy writing. If you just have your protagonist tell the audience what the episode is going to be about, then where’s the room for creativity. I get that in some situations they discuss contextual relevance. For example: if you don’t know about Japanese folklore then it would help for you to know about it if the phantom works around folklore rules. However, I feel like a studio like Kyoto Animation knows how to embed context like this into the core narrative, hell I know nothing about brass music but that didn’t effect my viewing experience for Hibike! Euphonium.
Irritating dialogue and Ruru’s “annoying companion” setup
I honestly don’t know where the majority of the fans stand with this point, but I was not a fan of Ruru’s character as a whole. She was quite clearly a comic relief character which I’ve never been a big fan of but I know that it’s a very personal gripe so I can’t judge the show too harshly for her character. While not only creating ambiguity in the ideas of “all phantoms should be captured” ideology that the story bases itself around, Ruru often just feels like a nuisance to the main cast and rarely provided anything of worth. She is a mascot character, she is implemented in the text of the title card and was created to give a cute and quirky mascot to an otherwise forgettable show.
I will admit that her character is the reason I found out about this show, this Shantae-esque character was suddenly all over social media and it was how I was introduced to this new KyoAni show. I will also give credit where credit is due, episode 10 gives some character development to Ruru and it was nice to see her actually not be irritating for an episode. Despite this, she reverts back to the way she was in the previous 9 episodes directly after which personally ruined it for me.
I want to quickly discuss the final episode so spoiler warning in this paragraph. Skip to the Final Thoughts section if you don’t want the finale to be spoiled!
So I thought the finale was just as if not less engaging than the rest of the season but people seem to be praising it and I can’t see why. It ended up being a big battle which was beautifully animated as usual but it was also just a ridiculous dump of information at the same time. Prior to the battle, we see an upset Haruhiko meeting his mother’s new husband for the first time so we’re treated to some more character development of our protagonist.
It’s a touching scene which ends when his
harem, I mean, his friends go to visit Ruru. By the way the Mai and Haruhiko shippers will love this episode because they do the whole “almost kiss” thing like 5 times. So now Ruru is all bashful and clumsy for a reason that’s explained later. Now a quarter of the episode in, we finally found out that someone is trying to stop Enigma as opposed to babysitting the crushed protagonist and suddenly, you remember that plot device that was literally the only thing that was referenced in more than one episode? Yeah turns out that’s relevant now, who would’ve guessed?
Sarcasm aside, I liked how Alberecht fixed everything – while a thoughtless way to progress – it was quite entertaining to me. We find that a research facility is testing on phantoms to try and enhance and control them for the benefit of humans. If you’ve ever seen the first Pokemon movie, you can predict the last 15 minutes of the episode because it’s literally just that. Powerful being overthrows owners, fights team of strong humans, humans win through the power of phantom incest and the episode ends. (Okay the phantom incest wasn’t in Pokemon but just go with it). It just ends… It feels so anti-climactic and was just as dull in terms of storytelling as the rest of the season. That ends the pseudo rant on the finale, it really isn’t very good.
I hope this didn’t sound too much like a hate rant but I just feel like a studio of this level could be and should be producing content of a higher quality. I did enjoy this show at points, as I said, the animation really is a gem and for me was the only redeemable quality of the show. Like in the first episode there’s a sequence where Haruhiko first sees Reina swallow phantoms, that sequence is beautiful to look at and it gave me hope for the rest of the show. I feel like had this project been given to a different director the fate of the show may have varied.
The uncomfortable amounts of fan-service, forgettable main cast and tedious episodic plot lines just didn’t do it for me. If you did enjoy this show then I feel like I can understand why, it does have remnants of that KyoAni flare and the motion is always so fluid that it can have the occasional redeemable sequence. I was very harsh on this show because of the team behind it and had it be developed by a team of nobodies I might be more lenient to some of the issues with it. Probably not though.