Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider

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Based on the 1996 mystery novel by Hiroshi Mori, The Perfect Insider tells the story of a particularly intelligent professor Sohei Saikawa and his assistant Moe Nishinosono, the wealthy daughter of his mentor. The two are keen to meet a famous genius AI researcher called Shiki Magata who has lived in a locked room for fifteen years since the death of her parents whom she is believed to have killed. Shortly after Saikawa and Nishinosono arrive on the small island where Magata lives they discover that Magata has been murdered. And so begins the psychological investigation – for how could Magata have been killed when she lived alone?

The intelligent Saikawa instinctively steps into the role of the deducing detective, with the curious Nishinosono playing the Watson to his Holmes as the two bounce theories and opposing ideological perspectives off each other in an attempt to solve the mystery of Magata’s death. It is revealed pretty early on that Nishinosono has feelings for Saikawa, who remains oblivious even when she is unable to disguise her jealousy or happiness over his attentions to her and others. Nonethless, their relationship is presented primarily as that of two intelligent companions with a genuine bond, and Nishinosono isn’t afraid to disagree with him or challenge him over his philosophies. Her secret crush is used as light humour occasionally but everything remains within civilised parameters – no wacky anime arm flailing or biffing the oblivious male over the head.

Murder solving requires nicotine
Saikawa spends as much time smoking as he does thinking

Magata offers the most overtly interesting character for the audience. With her long dark hair she evokes imagery both of the delicate doll she refers to in an online interview with Nishinosono and a more unhinged ghostly character reminiscent of the classic Japanese horror film Ringu. Through flashbacks it’s shown that she carried on a relationship with an older man at the age of 14 and has multiple personalities. The archetype fleshed out for her of the crazed temptress could feel cliche, but the show isn’t salacious or exploitative in its approach to either issue. Even one of the more dramatic moments in which young Magata presents the older man with a knife is kept on the brink of a dramatic moment for a later reveal.

Don't you just hate it when you interrupt a couple mid murder spree?
Wait, that’s not how you perform Seppuku…

The Perfect Insider takes a very detached and psychological approach to telling its story, in keeping with the genre. Whilst the muted colour tones and starker animation style keep the focus on the intellectual game unfolding, I found the pared back emotions to be too cold or minimalist at times. For instance, when Magata first emerges from her room and everyone realises she has been murdered, there is a complete lack of reaction. Similarly, when Nishinosono returns to look at the body later we see no disgust, horror or sadness. Once I got over the fact that this was a type of anime that focused so heavily on the rational, it became easier to enjoy it for what it was.

Although the clinical style can be a bit jarring at times, The Perfect Insider provides a fascinating layered mystery, weaving in the psychological, the technological and the downright puzzling to make for a continually intriguing watch. There are plenty of philosophical discussions about death which I expect are even more in depth and interesting in the original novel. Be sure to check out this anime if you’re looking for something cerebral!

Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider is now available on Crunchyroll.

 

 

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Joker Game

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It’s a quiet night in 1937 and a group of young men are sat around a table playing poker. When they reach the end of their game, one of the men realises the others have been cheating. Appalled, he stands up and demands to know why. The men reveal that the game they’ve really been playing is the “joker game”, in which they use subtle gestures to signal to each other and attempt to get men onside to help them win. No one can tell who is deceiving who, or who they can really trust.

Yep, this is all one handy metaphor for the eponymous opening of this anime. These are not just any men, they are spies, working covertly for “D-Agency”, a secret Japanese organisation that places them all over the world to gather intel which will help Japan gain the upper hand politically. With a world on the brink of war, this information is becoming more crucial than ever.

Don't you just love a well timed metaphor?
Don’t you just love a well timed metaphor?

Each episode of Joker Game follows the men working individually on cases. They must use their rigorous training and their wits to master tense, even life-or-death situations, gathering intel whilst ensuring no civilians come to harm or uncover their mission and true identity.

In keeping with the historical, political and spy thriller genre, the anime adopts a noir style, with a muted colour palette and angular drawn characters. Joker Game is always serious in tone, and character’s personalities are much more subtle and pared back in light of the plot. There are often no over the top facial expressions, and when there are they are of horror or maniacal evil, and used to powerful dramatic effect. Whilst the spies’ emotions would have to be relatively controlled in keeping with their training, some facial hints such as a closeup of a sweating forehead or a twitching mouth might have helped to create some added tension and invest the audience in them further.

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Joker Game produces some unhinged leers with the best of them

Unfortunately, where Joker Game often delivers in action, tension and mystery, it lets itself down with a lack of character development. Episodes focus on individual spies, and never tie them together by creating relationships to each other, or any kind of relationship to an overarching story. This means you could easily pick any episode at random to watch as they pretty much work as stand alone stories. This is fun in its own way but does limit the emotional investment and opportunity for narrative build-up.

Spying is serious business
Spying is serious business

Joker Game is definitely a plot and not character driven anime, with clever twists, turns and deductions that will have you trying to absorb every little detail in an attempt to figure out what’s going on. I really enjoyed waiting to see what shock twist or reveal would happen next, and the aspects of the early twentieth century are beautifully animated, with wonderful attention to detail. Alongside the darker colour palette and ominous musical backing this really helps to cement the spy theme. My main issue with this show is that the majority of the characters are young, dark haired men, and the simplicity of the animation style combined with the subtlety of the plot can make it more confusing to remember who is who. Joker Game plays every scene straight, but some character development alongside a larger story would have really taken this anime from decent to excellent. Nonetheless if you’re looking for a 1930s spy story, this is a sophisticated and intelligent watch.

Two feature length Joker Game animations are also due for release in July and September this year, so if you enjoyed this series you should keep a lookout for those.

 

 

 

 

 

Erased (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi)

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Satoru considers himself to be no one special, but he has a special power that he refers to as “Revival”, which transports him back up to five minutes in time to prevent something bad from happening. When a tragedy from the past comes back to haunt him, he finds himself back almost two decades in time and inhabiting his former 10 year old self.

With his unique knowledge of tragic events and the ability to harness his adult knowledge within his childhood self, Satoru is determined to get to the bottom of a mystery that shadowed his childhood – the abduction of one of his classmates.

Reliving your childhood ain't all it's cracked up to be
Reliving your childhood ain’t all it’s cracked up to be

Erased takes on a mystery thriller style narrative, as Satoru recalls his childhood whilst he relives it, slowly piecing together the facts by weaving his way through his classmates and peers as he attempts to figure out who is more innocent than they seem, and who is less so. The fact that he has already lived his childhood in one linear timeline makes this all the more intriguing and unique, as Satoru can take what he already knows and try to tackle things differently, with the hopes of saving the people who were lost the last time.

If only that was tomato sauce...
Satoru really wished that was tomato sauce…

With mature character designs (nary a pink or green haired girl in sight) and adult themes, Erased offers a slow burn narrative that effectively blends Satoru’s quest for the truth and justice with his own personal journey as he explores what it means to be able to redo his life. All this combined with a bleaker colour palette and the darker elements of crime and human nature means that Erased can often be a stark and difficult watch, but Satoru’s hope and determination help prevent it from becoming relentlessly harrowing.

Erased is offers a unique approach to the crime genre, with some beautiful cinematic animation. It’s dark content makes it unsuitable for young or sensitive viewers, but anyone looking to mix up their anime viewing a bit might enjoy this one as an opportunity to step away from teen characters and linear storytelling.

 

Eden of the East

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Saki doesn’t know what to think when she sees a naked man outside the White House while on a tour of America. Neither does he, for he doesn’t remember what he’s doing there…or anything else about his life.

So begins Eden of the East, a mystery thriller that doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the action. Akira Takizawa had woken up with only two objects to his name, a gun and a phone. Through the phone he learns that he is one of twelve chosen people with 8 billion yen to his name that he can spend by making requests through the phone to a female voice named Juiz. The condition? The twelve people gifted with this phone have been tasked with “saving” Japan from the political corruption that has taken place. They can use the phone however they want, but any expenses deemed unnecessarily selfish will result in their elimination. Whoever is considered the winner will be spared, whilst the other eleven will be eliminated, so the pressure is on. Every phonecall ends with the phrase “Noblesse Oblige, I pray that you will continue to be a saviour”. As noblesse oblige comes from the French phrase “nobility obliges”, the unrelenting reminder that Takizawa can only escape his situation through victory emphasises the stakes at every turn.

Saki's been warned about stranger danger...but she never expected this
Saki’s been warned about stranger danger…but she never expected this

Although Eden of the East won’t win any awards for original ideas, it offers a strong, fast paced narrative, with likeable characters. The basic formula reminded me of Doctor Who, with a young, innocent woman thrown into the frenetic life of a mysterious and charismatic lead. Whilst Takizawa’s appeal extends beyond his intriguing life (you don’t give 10 billion yen to just anybody) as he ponders the weight of what to do with his remaining 8 billion yen, Saki’s purpose seems merely to be to represent the kind of goodness and innocence that Takizawa needs to protect and preserve if he is to save Japan.

Saki’s friends similarly seem to represent an exasperation with the current state of Japan – most self employed or unemployed such as “Underpants”, a hikikomori who has lived indoors for years and earned his nickname from refusing to wear any trousers. Underpants helps to hammer home the message of Eden of the East, he is a talented and intelligent hacker whose skillset was never appreciated by Japan, resulting in his recluse status.

Eden of the East shows how valuable NEETS can be
Eden of the East shows how valuable NEETS can be

Eden of the East gets off to an exciting start and offers some great social commentary to chew on along the way about the treatment of people by public and private corporations, but lets itself down with a disappointing pay-off and not enough time spent fleshing out characters. Saki in particular had the potential to be developed into something interesting and her innocence explored further – one scene early on in which she is invited to a second job interview after missing the first but is treated appallingly by everyone there pulls at the heart strings, especially in light of the show’s coverage of NEETS as overlooked and mistreated by products of society’s corruption, but her character is largely forgotten as Takizawa’s storyline takes over.

With an intricately and beautifully animated city expanse and a fast paced storyline, Eden of the East promises big things. It doesn’t quite deliver, but the ride is so fun and crazy that you might not mind.

Michiko & Hatchin

Any port in a storm right? At least, that’s what orphan Hana thinks when the beautiful and mysterious Michiko Malandro crashes (literally) into her life on a green moped. Faced with a choice between staying with her cold adoptive parents and their cruel offspring or boldly stepping into the unknown, Hana takes her chances on a new life.

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So begins Michiko & Hatchin, a tale of two young women doing their best to survive in a dog eat dog world. Michiko is already on the run from the law, so the pair can never stay in one place for long. Wherever they go they meet with turf wars, gunfire and gang hierarchies as they search for faces from the past in the hopes of finding answers and a brighter future.

This anime is a colourful, sophisticated affair that handles action scenes with playful pizazz, danger with gritty realism and emotional moments with understated and mature honesty. With stylish visuals and a vibey Latina soundtrack, our heroines tumble from one adventure to the next against a background of desert paradises. As the title would suggest, Michiko and Hana and their developing relationship form the heart of this anime. Michiko’s unpredictability and Hana’s need for stability create clashes and conflicts which are skilfully depicted. Hana in particular is impressively presented as a girl on the brink of adolescence, already mature for her age but needing a parent figure in her life which Michiko struggles to be.

If you want to break away from the high school anime tropes of perky introduction sequences, over the top humour and fanservice, check out Michiko & Hatchin.