I want a stuffed Albrecht plushie. Stat!
The word I’ve been hearing about Phantom World is that the KyoAni fans set it on fire whilst the KyoAni haters took their word for it and used their cries as fuel to light an even bigger fire. And after sitting through the whole thing, the only feeling I have regarding the overall reaction is confusion. Seriously guys, this show isn’t that bad. It’s not all that good, but almost none of the complaints I’ve heard tossed in its direction are really valid. I mean what smug self-awareness? What excessive fanservice? What exactly is supposed to be awful about this show that you couldn’t also say about Konosuba and Dagashi Kashi? Is it the fact that until the little kid showed up, there wasn’t enough moe to tide you guys?
Okay, I’m pretty sure it was the first two or so episodes that pretty much dug the show’s grave because they did have bad meta humor and stupid sexualization jokes – although the reaction to them was so overblown I couldn’t be bothered to look at the stupid nicknames people gave. If the initial (very low) scores for Classroom Crisis, Punch Line, and Concrete Revolutio have shown anything, it’s that anime fans are very unforgiving of poor first impressions, along with the fact that they are very forgiving when you make a good first impression even when the rest of the show is shit…unless your name is Coppelion I mean. And “KyoAni light novel adaptation” has sort of become a curse word in fandom these days, so no one was really willing to give the show a chance from the very start besides naive diehards and…there’s no “and” after that. Of course, it would have helped if the start of your show was actually indicative of the rest of said show because it feels like the first two episodes and the remaining eleven were made by completely different writing teams. Maybe there was some muppets-like change in staff during pre-production but they didn’t have enough time to rewrite the premiere or something.
Phantom World is KyoAni’s second attempt at writing a Rumiko Takahashi-like gag anime based on a light novel in that it takes place in a seemingly normal school setting that just so happens to house the supernatural after some scientific nonsense involving the human senses that I’m pretty sure our main lead, Haruhiko Ichijou, pulled out of his ass happened more than a decade ago. For the most part, each episode follows a certain formula. At the beginning, Haruhiko will give an annoying speech about Japanese culture/high philosophy and how it relates to the episodic scenario at hand whilst his flying phantom tag-along, Ruru, does some “hilarious” side commentary on the side. After that, a phantom shows up to cause trouble for Haruhiko and his female (and only female, unless you count the giant teddy bear) friends. A mixture of character humor and feels occur, usually ending in the phantom’s defeat. And depending on the episode, the final few minutes will either depict our characters feeling happy about themselves or getting screwed by a last-minute twist that will be ignored come next week.
Now I said Phantom World reminds me of Urusei Yatsura, but to be more precise, it reminds me of that show’s more serious side rather than its comedic side. Only a handful of the episodes go for straight-up gag plots, whilst the majority of them resemble episodes like when Lum travelled different dimensions to find the real Ataru or when Ataru’s mother has a weird psychedelic “Mamoru Oshii-style” dream after a mall accident. Basically, they’re self-contained character episodes that try to make you feel for the cast whilst keeping its light-hearted tone the entire way through so that you can laugh at the absurdity of our main character being trapped in a world of talking teddy bears whilst feeling sad when said teddy bear gets wounded in battle and the little kid character gathers her courage in the form of a magical girl uniform in order to fight off a giant bear mecha. And considering this is a KyoAni anime, the animation is good for the most part, with the studio even splurging a bit on the atmospheric set pieces here. From the aforementioned teddy bear world to the giant cat who looks like he came from Howl’s Moving Castle to that weird dream world of bunnies where toilets are apparently considered portals to another dimension in Japanese folklore, I guess KyoAni learned from Chuunibyou that you don’t have to take yourself too seriously to convey feels.
What I like about Phantom World’s humor over, say, Osomatsu-san’s or Active Raid’s is that there’s almost no self-awareness at all in either the direction or the characters – again, a stark contrast to the show’s initial episodes which was nothing but bad self-aware meta humor. Seriously, I have no idea why those first two episodes even exist (besides introducing the characters I mean) if the rest if the show wasn’t going to follow their formula. But even when the show aims for a more gag-related plot during its later installments, it always puts on a straight face whilst delivering the jokes, allowing for some actual fucking irony to show up and make things funny. It also helps that without Amagi’s lackluster overarching narrative burdening things and the comedic timing being as quick and energetic as Cats Don’t Dance’s (no gags that get drawn out far past the point where the humor is lost. It’s a miracle!), Phantom World is able to execute its mixture of humor and character drama fairly evenly without either side dominating the other.
Where the show falters, besides its crappy start I mean, is that the characters are stereotypes. It’ll take too long to explain why, but besides the comedic situations that they’re put into, there’s not really much to them, which I think is the main reason why I never found this show as funny or engaging as Urusei Yatsura even at its best. The cast of Yatsura may not be the most sophisticated bunch, but there character traits are inherently ironic by nature (ex. Lum is a sweet-tempered naive girl who’ll nevertheless put her man in place with electric shocks), whereas Mai is just a tsundere girl with big boobs who’s good at fighting and has a low opinion of her only male friend. And if you don’t like the humor, then you’re not going to appreciate the character drama either, because it never grows beyond the quality expected of a Disney Afternoon show and certainly doesn’t compare to more current “comedic cartoons” like Steven Universe or Gravity Falls. There’s a reason a good chunk of this show’s watchers prefer episodes where Haruhiko is turned into a kid whilst not being so kind to the episode when Ruru is given a human body, is all I’m saying.
It also doesn’t help that the show falls under that stupid “let’s get serious for the final act” syndrome most light novel/gag anime go through. Without spoiling anything, the final two episodes introduce a new monster of the week in order to prey on Haruhiko’s mother issues, but unlike when Ranma did the whole mother thing for its finale in the 90s, it’s incredibly rushed, takes itself too seriously compared to Phantom World’s usual “serious” tone, and what little gags do show up in those episodes are nothing more than cheap stuff that acknowledges its light novel roots without actually doing anything with them, which wasn’t funny when Konosuba did it either. So basically, you’ve got a show where the first two episodes and the last two episodes are pure crap, whilst the remaining nine…well they’re not exactly gold, but they never dip below bronze level and I’d say the amount of silver amongst them combined with the lack of real continuity keeps the show afloat enough to the point where I didn’t leave disappointed.
As far as LN adaptations/KyoAni stuff goes, Phantom World is a functional gag anime you can tolerate whilst waiting for the Euphonium sequel to blow your mind. It’s nothing you should go back and give another try now that the season is winding down if you’re one of the many who dropped it early on, but being ranked lower than fucking Undefeated Bahamut Chronicles whilst airing is just irrational no matter how you look at it guys. Seriously, how on earth did it score lower than that mess? But anyways, as long as you don’t take the show’s drama too seriously and start at Episode 3 since it’s not really the kind of show where you have to see every episode, you’ll probably have a fun time – as well as more proof that you should never hang out in anime communities if you value your free time.
- Honestly, the best thing to come from this show was to make me rewatch some of Urusei Yatsura.
- Just to clear up any misunderstandings, I’d still recommend ERASED or the new Daredevil over this. It’s just in this show’s case, what worked about it was more interesting to write about than what didn’t, plus the violent negative reaction kinda swayed me over to the other side.
- I was disappointed they weren’t selling any Albrecht merchandise at Anime Boston.