Always loved this particular piece of imagery from the moment I saw it. How delightfully creepy!
So I suppose I shouldn’t avoid the elephant in the room for too long, but I at least would like to say I’m not at all interested in the mass reaction to the visuals, positive or negative. The entire exercise of posturing at extremes got dull and tiresome rather quickly from my view, whether it was those slinging shit at the visuals without thought (and ignoring what the episode actually does well) or those demonizing people who disliked the visuals as haters who want only cute characters (and ignoring actual valid criticisms of the visual style). Both extremes are disingenuous and silly, but hey, people get silly about their cartoons! (I include myself in this, mind, as I’m sure everything I’ve written — serious and not serious — reflects.)
Anyway, that’s more words than that argument deserves, but I thought I would nip that shit in the bud beforehand. To opinions!
So, hey, the rotoscoping! Might as well get that out of the way early. I’m of two minds about it. The visual style strikes me as providing its own particular eeriness to what is known as a totally screwed up manga. (It is perhaps worth pointing out that I have read very little of the manga — basically what is covered in this episode, which is about 17 pages (a number that amuses me) — but do own the first four volumes and plan to tackle it eventually!) The most unnerving effect to me is that the characters seem like adults (or, at least, older high schoolers) inhabiting the lives of middle schoolers. I don’t believe the creators overlooked this, particularly since of the main themes of this first episode is stagnation (note that the initial walk to school is repeated basically in its entirely, and I doubt it’s totally due to budgetary concerns). What better way to illustrate that than literal adults (or people who look close to it) acting the part of youngsters?
And stuff like this is eerie in an interesting way. It definitely feels false and strange in a way that works. I’d extend that to the world surrounding everyone, as well. It struck me as being reminiscent of a Hollywood backlot, where it’s constructed to look like a city and almost looks the part . . . but if you look closely, there’s something undeniably off about it. Again, it contributes to the overwhelming sense of drudgery and stagnation, where people feel like they’re pulling themselves through lives that barely matter in a world that doesn’t totally feel alive. That’s also what I like Takao’s brief ventures into his fantasy worlds: He’s leaving a somewhat dead world behind for something that feels more alive, though like any middle schooler getting into this stuff, he’s kind of a smug asshat. Hey, man, you just don’t understand Baudelaire! I can’t make too much fun, though, since that was basically me in high school (well, the burying myself in books part, anyway; I was too timid to be an ass to anyone).
But it’s not all metaphorical sunshines and roses . . .
This is meant to be an intimidating shot, but it’s mostly laughable. I checked out the corresponding image in the manga, and it has more of the, “Holy shit, what is up with this girl??” vibe that this scene aims for. (Also, positive points for the great use of “shit bug.”) It works because it’s a middle school girl looking creepy and intimidating. In the anime, though I otherwise like the “adults play acting middle schoolers” vibe, it’s too silly to make this shot anything but ridiculous. I can imagine this being a problem down the line, though of course, I don’t know how the tone of the story develops.
There are also a few spots where the visuals look straight-up bad rather than intentionally creepy bad. Like, I could excuse some of the blank face shots with some artistic explanation like, “Well, the series is just representing the sameness of humanity” because I am of course a Serious Business writer and anime analyzer, but for real, the way the faces pop in is janky as fuck, like I’m playing a Nintendo 64 game or something. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of the way everything looks in motion, either; it’s not great, but it’s also not weird enough to be totally eerie, either. There’s a bad cheap feel to the visuals, whereas in, say, Kemonozume, the show looked “ugly” but it definitely didn’t look bad (which is an important distinction).
But, hey, it’s not bad enough to send me run screaming for the hills. I’m definitely interested to see more, particularly because I’m intrigued by the choice to make this a mood-setting episode. I’ve got no problem with that; hell, I’m a David Lynch fan, and the man is nothing if not ludicrously in love with the idea of movies entirely about mood, so I’m all in on that. I totally dug the music and those scenes of Takao listlessly wandering alone for hours after school. And that ending credits theme bleed! It’s like the art house version of “Roundabout” in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Score.