ANIME REVIEW | "Phantom World" A Colorful Delight
Kyoto Animation can be very back-and-forth when it comes to the quality of their anime series. Sometimes it can very good, to the point of it reaching some sort of legendary status (Kanon, Clannad, season one of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya). Other times -- while still visually stunning -- the writing can be very droll and uninspired (K-On!, Nichijou, season two of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya). Myriad Colors Phantom World, the latest from the studio, walks between these two lines, slanting far towards the better side. It's a fun and exciting series, no doubt, but what of its writing? And why does it make me ask more questions rather than answer the more important ones at hand?
Based on the light novel series by Sōichirō Hatano, Myriad Colors Phantom World focuses on a world where an experimental virus is spread throughout the land. Instead of killing mass quantities of people like most of these viruses do, they instead change the chemistry of the brain so that regular humans can perceive extra-dimensional beings known as "phantoms". In the phantom-hunting club of Hosea Academy, Haruhiko (Hiro Shimono), Mai (Sumire Uesaka), Reina (Saori Hayami), and the friendly phantom Ruru (Azura Tadokoro) use their special powers to capture these phantoms.
These special powers can range from Reina's phantom-eating and Mai's ability to control the elements of her body to transfer student Koito (Maaya Uchida) using her voice to stun enemies and Haruhiko sealing them away once they've been drawn in his sketch book. As more of these phantoms appear, the question of why they exist in the first place is placed upon the club. Each episode opens with Haruhiko explaining the science of the realities that are perceived in this world to the ones that are more grounded in the sense of the real-life world.
Surprisingly it's these little openers that reach a level of philosophical breakthrough that not even any of my philosophy classes touched. Granted what Haruhiko says does require an open mind of sorts, especially when it comes to the things regarding what is real and what is fantasy, but when it comes to the ones regarding the never-ending limits of the mind and the Quantum mechanics of Schrödinger's cat these small cold openings can be quite the eye-openers. Granted they can be washed away from the mind thanks in part to some of the more fan-servicey aspects of the show, but you have to give Myriad Colors credit for being smart when it really wants to.
At first look you may not realize it, but Phantom World is somewhat of a harem series disguised as a humorous fantasy comedy. (I know: what's the difference?) Yes, the girls of the phantom-hunting club are never hinted as love interests, but as the bonding between them and Haruhiko becomes stronger you can tell that they somewhat have strong feelings for the guy. It's even brought up via a dinner conversation in the twelfth episode, although I rather not say too much in fear of spoiling something later on in the series.
However, despite it being something of a harem, romantic it is not. Perhaps the thing that keeps it that way is the somewhat professional way they act around one another. Sure, they have fun together when a cool-down period arrives, but when phantom appearances are thrust upon them they do what they can to trap them and keep close-by civilians in check without causing harm. For the most part defeating these phantoms requires some unorthodox methods, which can involve limbo contests, swooning a giant ape, and acting in a play. What may surprise some viewers is that some of these means of defeating phantoms has a heartfelt reason behind it. (One involving Reina and a fantasy family showcases the hardships some kids -- especially in Japan -- have when it comes to claiming their identity from certain helicopter parents.)
And yet, why do I still feel somewhat confused watching Myriad Colors Phantom World? I know a lot is being explained, from the existence of the phantoms to why they seem to do what they do to cause a certain foray of chaos on those around them, but I still feel something is missing from all of this. I enjoy watching these characters week after week, but there feels like a hole that is buried deep within the show that desires being filled. Perhaps it doesn't help that Hatano's original light novels were only two volumes in as of the start of the anime adaptation, with a third published just last month. What the show is lacking remains to be revealed, but for the life of me I can't think of what it could be.
Outside of the writing KyoAni's animation is wonderfully detailed in every step of the way. Whether it's the character expressions or the way they battle their phantoms the way everything is drawn is brought together in a nice ebb and flow. One of the more colorful examples involves the grade school character of Kurumi (Misaki Kuno), as she and Haruhiko find themselves in a fairy tale-based land that serves as her stuffed bear's origin. (The brightness you'll bear witness to is way above the usual suggested amount to consume.) It can be a little moé-looking at times, but it's not as in-your-face as some of the stuff in Kyoto Animation's past archives.
The seiyuu of Myriad Colors Phantom World sound like they're having a fun time recording this show. Shimono's Haruhiko is the brains of the phantom-hunting operation, but he shines brightest whenever he's put into an unexpected situation. Both Uesaka's Mai and Hayami's Reina perform their characters with a great mixture of confidence and self-awareness, showing off their true mentality when caught doing something embarrassing. Uchida can be a little monotonous as Koito, but it's the right amount that fits with her character traits. Lastly Tadokoro and Kuno bring a nice level of adorableness as the phantom Ruru and the young Kurumi, respectively.
Effy's original score is solid, bringing out the right warmth for the light-hearted scenes and the frigidness of despair whenever a dark turn of events approaches the characters. Opening up the show, Screen Mode's "Naked Dive" jumps into the excitement of the new phantom-filled world that the students of Hosea Academy are surrounded by. Ruru's voice actress Tadokoro kicks the positive vibes into overdrive with the peppy and catchy "Junshin Always," a song that I'm sure everyone will be humming for days on end.
Myriad Colors Phantom World may have its flaws when it comes to explaining a few things, but I can admit that the fun tone of the series helps to overshadow these setbacks. While this may not be a top-tier series for Kyoto Animation, it's definitely a big improvement over some of their more recent, less-inspired works. This anime may not be perfect, Myriad Colors Phantom World is still a very enjoyable show to watch.
Final Grade (not an average):
Myriad Colors Phantom World can be viewed on Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-12 were observed for this review.