Musaigen no Phantom World – 13 [END]

Haru and Ruru Part Two

So what do the masters of the 22 minute movie do with the second part a two-part finale? They do a damn good job, is what they do…Settle in, I’m going long…

Fighting the True Enigma

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Phantoms are easy, people are complicated

Actually, this was the last of a three or four part finale/arc when you get right down to it, and maybe one of four plot arcs; yeah, I know, in a character driven and episodic show, I’m saying plot!!! But more on that when I cover the my feelings on the whole of the series. I opened up with this idea last time,”I don’t think it takes any careful or special attention to the show to see that it’s always told things in a continuity”, and that still holds true here. There are easy to follow, guided by numbers, check-boxed plots, and then there is something much more compelling and interesting; that being a character driven narrative. Which is what I think KyoAni was going for with this series all along.

Phantoms are much easier to read than people

It was the characters, and indeed the people in the background as well, that created this world, and developed the plot. From the very beginning we are dealing with Creatures of the Human Imagination given shape. It was never said you had to be anyone special to create, or should I say distill, the phantoms, nor did it really endorse any silly “chosen one” nonsense about who get’s what power and why. “This is who you are, this is what you got, go out and deal with the world” is the name of the game. Imagination, by the way? Full of hopes and fears, which are two brilliant ingredients in fantasy storytelling.

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Three cute girls and a big teddy bear…this should be a rock band!

Without going into to much detail (I still think scene by scene review is kinda tepid), the basics of this arc was the reconciliation of the self. When you get right down to it, people are the biggest enigmas; weird, power grabbing monster need not apply, but since one did, let’s apply what it has. We have a reconciliation of these basic tropes. It’s basically everything people complain about with light novels; pretty much written to factory standard, repetitive, samey, let’s not deviate from ridiculous fan-service, bombastic yet still disconnected action, and derp plots that center around savior male exceptional leads who’s sole motivation is at first if you don’t succeed by dip-shitting, dip-shit even more. But again, I’ll hit the nature of light novels up come the series review. But in this respect the main conflict of this arc is laid bare: Defeat the evil parent that separates you from your friends and takes you away from your stuff. So yeah, there is some pure escapism there…

Oh, yeah, well I evolved my ‘mons!!!!

I rather like the lead in this arc had built with the previous episodes. Since we know what Ruru looks like “embiggened”, and since that resemblance to the genderbent Haru is all but cinched, that she is a facet of his personality is now much more approachable, personal, and believable. Haru’s feelings for his departed mother were already explored with Mai a couple of episodes back, where we also witnessed her deepening feelings for him. This allows her something to fight for as well, and she step up as first among the “harem” without any obvious broadcasting on the shows part. This rounded out both characters very well. So the emotional release he had with his mother was shared with Mai. They had the money in the bank, and then some, to cash that check. With that as the goal, the fight, or what could have been the thing of any other show, was really just some damn good animation, showing KyoAni is getting freaking awesome at this combat animation thing, while already being tops at all the fundamental stuff….

We know who won the HaruBowl….

A few more favorites…

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Now it would have been easy, from a direction point of view, to just slap all those tropes I mentioned above around, and make a press release that said it was all satire all along, and then just let that be the dog’s lunch. Instead, Kyoto Animation embraced these well worn cliches and approached them with tongue firmly planted in cheek. They played it well with a series of short games. In other words, they knew when to make fan service something evocative and remotely suggestive, without really allowing it to overstay it’s welcome. So many mistook the content for the context. Content is just raw material, context is how the artist makes the piece come alive.

This is where they are the master of the craft in my opinion. Where as so many LN’s, and by extension the adaptations, are recycled from season to season – with little authorial intent to make the work stand out as a statement beyond a publishers bank book – KyoAni took those tropes back to basics and made them hum in their own unique way. Character, not empty characterization, came first. We were dealing with real people, or at least as real as a 22 minute piece can allow. Given those provisions I have a much easier time relating to this crop of characters than a lot of other actiony shows; based on LNs, manga, or original idea….

Now to get into the broader arcs the series explored: The first two episodes established the very easy to understand rules of the world, and since then it was just finding the cool crunchy bits and evolving them. The second arc was pure character building, while furthering the established rules, the crunch bits. This gets us up to episode seven. Then you had the two completely random, fun, yet silly fanservice episodes, cat themed and school swimsuit themed, but still continued to build on what came before. Then you had this final four episode Haru and Ruru (and sometimes Mai) arc to bring us to a conclusion. Damn good stuff really.

I’ve been seeing a ton of nay-sayers across the web saying their nays about this one. It’s not really all that surprising, as it takes all kinds to make negative opinions, and that is just the nature of the game. But to see long time KyoAni enthusiasts call foul on it really made me scratch me head. These were the fans that encouraged other’s to give shows like K-ON or Tamako Market a fair shake, those who wouldn’t let the moe content be the just whole of the rub that the hater’s dished on, also those that encouraged other’s to watch them for context. I kept seeing the concern – or more accurately in this argument, conceit – that Phantom World was “beneath the studio“; and the tone of those conceits told me that they only watched the first episode with what had to be eyes half-closed, if all they could do was dismiss it due to “fanservice”.

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Yes, I set this up to savor the irony, why do you ask?

That’s a long tail to track, and I hope that I at least touched upon some examples to counter that. But to sum up I have one simple message, and it’s a paraphrase of Neil Gaiman talking about George RR Martin to a rather hard to please fan: Kyoto Animation isn’t your bitch. Seriously, they aren’t. Comparing it to Hibike! Euphoium (to name just their most recent show, and arguably most acclaimed) is to put both in places they don’t deserve to be, and honestly won’t create a space where you enjoy/hate either one any more than you already do/don’t.

Also to keep paraphrasing Mr. Gaiman, “as if your buying into the series you liked by them was a contract with them: that you would pay over your money and attention, and KyoAni for their part would spend every waking hour making the exact the thing you think you want.” As a fan, I think the less sense of entitlement you have, the more you enjoy something. I mean, seriously, why haul that baggage around?

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Keep that male MC in his place, girls….

But in closing, since I’ve gone on quite long. This was a very character driven program that challenged a bunch of tired light novel tropes and succeeded within the storytelling parameters they set and the height they shot for. In retrospect a few bits and pieces could have been better executed, but not by much really. With just a bit of natural hesitancy I can easily name this my second favorite show this season. But I’m sure you have your opinion on the matter. So chime in!

Oh, and I keep losing track of this thing whenever I have made a new post the past couple of times. But – this is my 307th solo post and the end of my second full year. Thank you to everyone for their support, I appreciate the hits and comments. And that’s me for the Winter 2016 season. I’ll see you soon with some Spring goodies. So ’til then….

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Thanks for Watching!

…Oh, and keep your eye out for the real fanservice. C’mon KyoAni! You’re not making my arguments to the punters go any easier…


All around nerd that enjoys just about any anime genre. I love history, politics, public policy, the sciences, literature, arts...pretty much anything can make me geeky...except sports. Follow me @theskylion
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9 Responses to “Musaigen no Phantom World – 13 [END]”

  1. Highway says:

    I agree with you: despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there was never anything wrong with this show. Much like my recent defense of PA Works with HaruChika, Phantom World is a show that did exactly what it did, and did it really well. It was always fun to watch, it always brought a good story, and it always knew where it was going. The fact that people put their own expectations on KyoAni as far as what their shows should be is not the fault of Kyoto Animation, it’s the fault of the people who can’t just watch the show that’s in front of them without projecting what it ‘should’ be.

    And this is a different criticism from the one I made about Luck & Logic yesterday. The criticisms that Phantom World has suffered haven’t been “I wish they would have expanded on X more, even if it meant cutting out Y.” They are complaints about the fundamental presentation of the show, with the message of “This is beneath KyoAni. They should not have made this show.” This isn’t about the show. This is about the same kind of “I should be able to tell you how to live your life” thing that infects so much of life, from vile otaku creepers making threats to seiyuu and idols about having a boyfriend to criminalization of sex work to complaints about the sincere consumption of ideas from other cultures as ‘appropriation’. It’s all “I don’t like what you’re doing, so you should stop it and you are a bad person” and that kind of argumentation is just wrong.

    • skylion says:

      I’m actually perfectly fine if people have negative feelings about things, and I’m pretty much OK if they feel the need to project those negative feelings onto a television program. I’m not OK with the “splash factor” that sometimes accompanies those projections; on some occasions I’m very patient as to the splash that reaches me, other occasions not so much. The reaction to this show and my counter-reaction has been one of those “not so much” occasions.

      • Highway says:

        Eh, I do tend to have a problem when people project their personal hangups onto things. It’s been my experience that it gives them the opportunity to rationalize and externalize those problems that should be internalized, and should be corrected by them, not blamed on the rest of the world. Unfortunately, nobody’s perfect, but we should try to be, and by doing things like that, you’re not trying.

  2. BlackBriar says:

    To my surprise, this was a stronger end for Phantom World than expected. It had me pulled more than before that the last few episodes prior felt shorter. Not that there were problems with the episodic setting, I feel I’d have been more into it if this thrill were present more often through small arcs.

    Either way, I had no qualms with this series. Neither do I base my expectations on a show just because of what studio is behind it. Nothing’s perfect and it’s always a hit or miss affair. Hell, I watched Kill la Kill from Trigger but scrapped Ninja Slayer because each one gave a different reason.

    Poor Haruhiko. All the time and effort put into repairing that device and he gets shown up by a kid’s stuffed bear. How’s that for insult to injury?

    • skylion says:

      LOL. Well, with Haru not being able to hack that device? That’s another subversion of those silly light novel tropes, “The Hero does it All!!!”. Nope, not this time, let the bear do it.

  3. sonicsenryaku says:

    who wants to see a spin-off to this series starring the beach angels??? so does mai wear her gym panties under everything? those are her gym panties right? that fanservice shot sort of seemed like a callback to ep 1

    • skylion says:

      I would be up for a second series/season of just regular Phantom World, the Beach Angels can be part of it. But then, aren’t ardent fans always wanting more?

      RE: fanservice. I think this show did a pretty good job presenting fanservice in a cheeky manner. Also, what’s the one thing people will remember from that fight? Her red panties/bloomers…..not that the fact that she held her own against a more powerful opponent and was part of a working team against that opponent.

      But then, this series did that quite a bit. Even with Haru. They could have found out about the server quite some time ago if he didn’t just assume he would be the only one to solve it. So yeah, take that LN tropes!!!!

      • sonicsenryaku says:

        i was actually glad mai ended up being central towards the end; she was the one able to get haruhiko out of his funk because she truly understood his pain, she was a badass against enigma, and was technically the one who got “the final blow” against enigma. Regardless of the fact that i felt that the characters never truly stood out (except mai and haru…ehh slightly) it was nice to see that these teens have really come into their own. Seeing them work together the way they did was satisfying. They really have become a team

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