Playing catch-up: Musaigen no Phantom World Eps 2 & 3

I’m feeling a strong disconnect with Phantom World so far. A main problem is that these two episodes try to give more insight into two of its characters, Mirase Koito and Kawakami Mai, respectively, but it doesn’t change the fact that their characters were mainly being used to introduce more of the science fiction concepts that Phantom World is trying really hard to sell.

phantom world ep2-1

Professor, I don’t remember signing up for this class.

Unfortunately, the writers aren’t doing great in making those concepts any less obtuse. Each episode actually started off with Haruhiko breaking down the high-brow concept of the day, making me wonder if I was watching a lecture instead of an anime. In their defense, the ideas that they’re putting forward are quite thought-provoking. Have Phantoms always existed or are they just a figment of the human subconscious? How much of our own memories are actually and can they be trusted? These are fascinating but abstract ideas, and any one of those ideas could easily be a central theme for a single series. Phantom World is ambitiously trying to tackle all these themes while introducing its world’s mythologies, but the excessive info dumps and clunky character exposition is making for a shallow viewing experience.

I do think that there’s a lot of interesting mythology (tsukumogami, invocations to the elements, etc.) that’s being incorporated in this anime, and some might argue that you need to make a little effort to acquaint yourself with the lore of the story. But that doesn’t excuse poor storytelling. Smart world-building means showing the audience the facets of your world through visual captions and character vignettes. Smart world-building shouldn’t involve characters explaining the world through drawn-out monologues, because who actually does that in real life? We’ve all heard that golden rule of storytelling — show, don’t tell, but the truth is that every story needs a balance of both. You don’t want your story to become microscopically subtle, but you can’t present a story as an encyclopedia either.

phantom world ep2-3

Excuse #254358 for fanservice: have the girls fight a Phantom peeper who refuses to appear until the girls strip down to their towels.

On the plus side, the fanservice was taken down a notch (the showdown at the girls’ dormitory was funnier than I expected it to be). Mai still has a large chest but the camera is at least more focused on her face than her bosom. The Phantoms and the Phantom-fighting skills are still a big mystery, and the confirmation that some Phantoms are actually sentient beings and not always inanimate objects come to life asks intriguing questions. If only the show could make me care just a little more about its elements and characters…

Random observations:

  • Ruru-chan picks up an old-school game console after one of the team’s battles, which will obviously become a major plot device for future episodes.
  • Speaking of Ruru-chan, she’s the other big mystery of this series. We know that she’s a Phantom of sorts, but why did she choose to hang around Haruhiko? Do sentient Phantoms normally get attached to humans? On the other hand, her only role so far has been to provide snarky commentary, which has been walking the fine line between grating and amusing.
  • Mirase Koito didn’t leave much of an impression, did she?
  • I can’t decide if I like those nonsensical rhythmical incantations that are chanted before each Phantom attack.
  • Every phantom-fighting team needs to have a loli stalker fangirl.
phantom world ep3-2

Every loli stalker fangirl needs to have a stuffed bear named Albrecht.

  • I actually can’t tell whether Reina is crushing on Haruhiko or Mai. I’m hoping that it’s Mai, just because a less conventional pairing would help spice things up a bit.
phantom world ep3-1

Jealous Reina is cute Reina.

  • That finger suck might mean something for future episodes but it was still too much.
phantom world ep2-2

…why not?

  • Reina’s greatest desire is to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, making her my favorite character of the show by far.

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