Today I’ll be doing a review of one of the more modern animes that I’ve watched this year. When troublesome spirits invade the human world, who you gonna call? High-schoolers, obviously.
Title: Musaigen no Phantom World (Myriad Colors Phantom World)
Original airing: Jan 7, 2016 to Mar 31, 2016
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Duration: 24 minutes per episode
Genres: Action, Comedy, Supernatural, Fantasy, Slice of Life
Source: Musaigen no Fantomu Wārudo light novel by Sōichirō Hatano
Where I watched: Crunchyroll (English subtitle)
Brief Synopsis and First Impressions:
Phantoms: supernatural entities such as ghosts or youkai that, until recently, were thought to be superstition. However, when a virus that infects the brain spreads throughout society, people’s perception of the world changes as the mythical beings are revealed to have been living alongside humanity the entire time. This virus has also affected those of the next generation significantly, allowing them to develop special abilities that they can use to fight against dangerous phantoms.
This was one of those concepts that just sounded like a cool idea. Combining the ancient Japanese folklore of ghosts and yokai with a modern setting is not particularly new, but Phantom World had the added aspect of teenagers with super powers. It sounds almost like Ghostbusters meets X-Men. Throw in a Japanese setting where the plot revolves around the restless spirits of Japanese mutants trying to get revenge on humanity? I’d read that.
Anyway, back to anime.
Prior to my knowing anything about Phantom World, I saw part of an episode during Otaku USA’s Anime Fan Fest in early May. Because the last series I finished was way back in March, I definitely needed an anime fix (especially after a weekend at anime con). The animation for Phantom World seemed full of color and movement, showcasing a technical quality that looked thoroughly modern. The characters seemed a little silly, but with the expectation of some light comedy I thought this series had potential.
The partial episode I saw at Fan Fest was about ten minutes. I thought that brief snippet of an episode were enough to provide me with a fairly decent assumption as to what I could expect to see from the rest of the series. Instead, I ended up feeling duped. The vibrant color and dynamics I witnessed in that short preview was not indicative of the overall quality of the series.
While there was enough of a plot to hold my interest for most of the series, looking back… there were way better anime choices.
Hosea Academy is a private school known for its Neural Error Corrections Curriculum; which has capable high-school students forming teams for the purposes of fighting and sealing phantoms. Completing these “assignments” yields rewards from the school in the form of cash stipends or other goods. It’s in one of these teams that we find our protagonists, Haruhiko Ichijou and Mai Kawakami. The series begins when the pair are joined by a new student, Reina Izumi, who has the unique ability to swallow phantoms in order to seal them away.
The story quickly sets itself up for a standard monster of the week style format. Each episode starts with a brief explanation from Haruhiko, and features one or more battles against a phantom. There are various twists and turns along the way; and it usually ends with the characters improving in skills, knowledge, or power. A few episodes are focused mostly on one character, offering some backstory and delving into any special connection they have with that episode’s phantom.
This stand alone format makes the series very episodic, but there are a few threads that the show tries to maintain. In particular, Haruhiko’s family situation is touched upon at several points, with the amount of attention placed on it increasing as the story progresses. It’s this thread that constitutes the closest thing to a story arc in this anime, but it unfortunately takes shape very late in the series.
Confined to a single season, I ran into the same issue that I faced with My Little Monster. Doing justice to all the characters and completing the story threads to satisfaction is difficult to do in just 13 episodes, especially since Phantom World has a lot more going on than is immediately apparent. The slow lead up throughout the series gave ample time to do some good character building (although my view of some characters was still left incomplete), but it suffered in answering all the questions that were raised in a clean manner. Instead, the show appeared to have suddenly become aware that the season was ending and hurried to tie together all the loose ends.
The world this series created was intriguing to me. I would have loved to see the show explore more about why phantoms exist and the way the human mind works, with regards to bringing memories to life. Unfortunately, the series simply didn’t have either the time or direction to cover all of that.
Phantom World works with a small cast of main characters, but does try to pack a lot into the small episode count. Superficially, the setup isn’t different from most Harem anime in that there is a main male character amid a gaggle of females with varying physical characteristics and personalities (and in this anime’s case, powers). The writers are clearly aware of this trope, even poking fun at it through self-effacing humor regarding this and many other cliches. Regardless, this is still your typical harem anime, with the underlying impression viewers get that all female characters are vying for the attention of a single male protagonist.
Haruhiko Ichijou is the main character and serves, sometimes blatantly, as the series’ narrator. As mentioned in the Story section above, almost every episode starts with an introduction from Haruhiko that explains the theme of the episode and sometimes related history or mythology. Even during the episode, he sometimes launches into explanations to either provide background information or something important about the current situation. These explanations are often prefaced by him saying “this is probably common knowledge,” playing off the idea that the other characters are likely to know what he’s talking about, but that the viewer would be lost without him as a guide. This cements his place in the series as a big nerd, as the other characters are not nearly as bookish. His powers (invoked through an incantation referred to as a ‘parole’) are also generally non-combative; centered around a sketchbook he carries with ties to his childhood hobby.
What I found most interesting about Haruhiko is how he starts out a great deal weaker than the other characters. When compared to other male protagonists, Haruhiko is a humorous exception to the rule. Many series depict male protagonists as strong and powerful; almost indestructible. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but more often than not. Despite this, Haruhiko is intelligent and determined; always looking for ways to improve his abilities and become a greater asset to the team. His analytical nature and thirst for knowledge are his strongest tools.
By comparison, his second year partner, Mai Kawakami, could be considered the group’s muscle. By utilizing martial arts and Wu Xing elemental energy, that she draws upon from her internal organs, Mai is able to battle and weaken phantoms for capture. The way in which the series portrays–
Okay. Fine. If you’ve seen some of this show or looked it up at all, I can guess what you’re thinking. I’m not going to address the limbo scene any further than this sentence. We can’t talk about Mai if we can’t move past that. This is probably a good time to admit that this series is not shy when it comes to fanservice (content meant to “excite” the viewer, and I don’t mean the awesome fight scenes). This anime does have some redeeming qualities if you can accept this and go forward. At least she’s not overtly provocative when she channels the Wood element. Besides, after the initial attention given to Mai’s parts and poses, the show doesn’t seem to focus on them over and over… so there’s that at least.
For all her teasing toward her junior partners, Mai does have a compassionate side that belies her aggressive nature. She is intensely protective of her friends and can often find the most emotionally intelligent response to a problem when the other characters falter.
Other eventual team members like Reina Izumi and Koito Minase are unfortunately lightly touched upon with regards to their backstory and motivations. They are seemingly meant to provide more personality and power to the team, as they hardly seem fleshed out enough to offer much more to the story. Again, I think it’s the episode count that really limits the series here, rather than the appeal of the characters themselves. Instead of focusing on fleshing out the characters that are original to the light novel, the writers decided to include a new character, Kurumi Kumamakura, and devote an entire episode to her. This makes me seriously question the writing choices.
Along these same lines is the friendly phantom, Ruru, who has been with Haruhiko since the beginning. Her presence in this series seems to be entirely for comedic effect, as her Tinkerbell-like antics don’t initially add much to the show. If viewers can disregard the more annoying antics of this character or view her as the adorable, humorous fairy she is meant to be, then putting up with her for 13 episodes isn’t so bad. In the end (and I mean VERY end), the character becomes relevant to the story.
I feel like I’ve been hard on the series thus far, but if I had to pick its best aspect, I think this would be it. I mentioned in the introduction that this is a fairly new anime, and Kyoto Animation’s work certainly indicates that. This show looks great, bringing together color, movement, and eye-catching CGI in an impressive display that leaves you wanting more. Anime sometimes struggles with action, especially on a lower budget, thanks to its tendency to limit frames as much as possible. With the high likelihood of a fight in each episode, however, Phantom World gives viewers some real treats. It succeeds in delivering some great action, producing fluid and dynamic scenes, and avoids making fights look jarring (as they do in so many other animes).
The series does a great job in making use of CGI as well, and though some may denounce it as cheap or indicative of the loss of artistry in anime, I feel that it complements Phantom World very nicely. The virus mentioned in the show’s description makes phantoms and other supernatural phenomenon take on a ‘glitchy’ effect, almost like watching a distorted video. These effects, as well as the characters’ powers, simply wouldn’t look right with hand-drawn animation alone, so I’m glad that the series put in the effort to make the CGI look as nice as it did.
Another plus point for me is how well this series did in the sound department. Naked Dive is a great song choice for the opening; giving off a feel of high energy with a catchy beat. Although the opening visuals are iffy (what’s up with the Ruru cosplay?) and the full version of the song doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing at all, I wasn’t compelled to fast forward past the intro even once. Junshin Always is also cheerfully upbeat, but fittingly mellow enough for an ending theme. For BGMs, none seem to stand out more than Welcome to the Phantom World. It accompanies many of Haruhiko’s introductions, and has a fun and whimsical melody.
Voice acting was also well done, with Hiro Shimono (Connie from Attack on Titan and Yuji from Gintama) taking on the leading role alongside relatively newer actors. His vocal skills shine in the various situations Haruhiko finds himself in, covering a wide range of emotions and tones. While the rest of the cast aren’t well known in terms of high profile animes, I thought voice actors were able to make the characters feel very genuine.
The action scenes and strange abilities exhibited by the characters and phantoms presented a challenge in terms of sound effects, but this series pulled it off very well. In the animation section above, I mentioned some scenes that featured glitchy pixelation, owing to the strange way in which people can see phantoms. These effects aren’t limited only to the visual, however, and the series does a nice job of accenting these scenes with reverbs and other electronic effects. The normal fighting sounds weren’t neglected either, making each quick dash or powerful hit all the more satisfying to watch because of it.
If this series never tried to be anything more than an action comedy, I would have been alright. Had I thought that this was just going to end up being a better version of Digimon, that also would have been enough for me. The high production values gave me the impression that there would be so much more. After hooking me on a very cool concept, I gave this series my attention in hopes of experiencing a compelling world where humanity struggled to fight and understand these mysterious phantoms.What I got instead feels like a let down. I kept watching Phantom World in hopes of some riveting conclusion, and while the series did sum things up, the ending was entirely too bland for my liking.
As I stated earlier, the artwork was very attractive, and the sometimes bizarre settings that the characters found themselves in were fun to watch. Each episode delivered some great comedic elements as well, ranging from abuse piled upon Haruhiko to Ruru’s overenthusiastic responses to the human world. Almost every cliched trope that the show features is also lampshaded, which provides some chuckles along the way.
It was nice to see the show also allude to a fair bit of mythology; be it the Egyptian god Thoth, ancient Chinese elemental theory, or even modern creations like Cthulu. Unfortunately these concepts were used in too shallow a manner to garner any special interest and became another missed opportunity for this series.
Summary and Recommendations
Myriad Colors Phantom World is at its core a comedic action anime and will provide good entertainment for anyone watching it with that expectation in mind. The premise is deceptively interesting and ultimately does not deliver in a satisfactory manner. With that stated, there are enjoyable elements in this anime for those inclined to give it a shot.
Humorous in its understanding of its own cliches, the series will make you laugh without trying too hard to be funny, while at the same time providing some charm from its different characters: Peter, Ray, Egon, Winston, and Slimer (Er…. Mai, Koito, Haruhiko, Reina, and Ruru). Without any significant development for most of the characters, however, it’s hard to connect with them on much more than a surface level.
With gorgeous art and intense fight scenes, this series provides a great visual experience for those who like a lot of action. The phantoms are strange and varied, with only a few generic looking designs, and provide interesting challenges to overcome. No single challenge seems to be too much to handle, though, as the episodic nature of the show quickly moves the viewer along to the next problem that needs handling.
Watch if you:
Enjoy good animation
Like a lot of variety in the story
Like ‘monster capture’ themes
Don’t watch if you:
Get annoyed by rushed plots
Expect depth with characters
Are bothered by fanservice
Boasting a cool premise but missing so many opportunities to take a basic anime and make it memorable, the animation and generally funny episodes are the best parts of this anime. My final rating is 3 out of 5 Haruhikos.
It’s a shame that I didn’t enjoy this more, because I really did want to. I should have known not to expect much out of 13 episodes, but I do strive not to be hastily judgmental.
I did faithfully stick to this series and watched every episode with genuine interest in the plot. Holding onto a few key threads, it did seem to be going somewhere interesting. I had reached episode 12 before realizing that time was running out, and the show seemed to share my urgency. The last arc tries to tie the show up in a nice and neat package, but the rushed nature of these last two episodes, and the rather ridiculous deus ex machina elements involved in the story’s conclusion, ruined much of the appeal for me. While I was certainly entertained by some of the more wacky episodes, I think the time could have been better spent in fleshing out the overall plot and characters.
I don’t know if another season had ever been envisioned for this show, as the ending leaves that possibility somewhat open, but after addressing everything from the first season in such a haphazard manner, I don’t know where they could go with it.