I’ve mostly enjoyed Kaminai so far, occasionally very much indeed. The show has some of the best world-building of any this year, and while the animation itself is only decent, the art is truly beautiful. The narrative tack has been an odd one indeed, though – effectively, it feels as if two one-cour series have already been completed in three episodes each, apparently an effort to encompass an entire LN volume in each mini-arc. This encompassed the killing off of the best character in the third episode, among other things. I would say that for the most part the series has gotten away with this – while Hampnie was missed, I generally thought the Ortus arc very interesting. The biggest problem so far is that each “final” episode has been quite rushed, robbing it of some emotional impact.
It’s a bold strategy, trying to do a complete series in three episodes – and it certainly makes you wonder what might have been if Kaminai had two or more cours to adapt the source material. I think the show has finally crapped out with the “Gora Academy” arc, though, because the first episode of this arc is easily the weakest of the series so far. There’s the fundamental problem that Ai – and Toyosaki’s Aki’s performance – are among the weakest elements in the series, and she’s the focus of this arc. Further, it had lots of comedy that wasn’t funny, a breakneck introduction of characters who made no immediate impact, and asks us to care about a plot we’ve really been given no reason to care about.
Again – as always – Kaminai has built around an interesting idea. A world where no children are born means that as children grow, there’s no one to replace them. Elementary schools are gone, there’s only one middle school left, and high schools will soon follow suit. Yuri wanting Ai to experience school while she still can is in-character for him, but once the premise has been established it’s a pretty precipitous downhill slide. Ai’s kidnapping to Gora Academy – a kind of prison-school where “special abilities” kids are kept against their will so the school can keep receiving government money – seems mostly a pretense to play out the aforementioned weak attempts at humor and to try and cram some moe fanservice into the equation. There’s a plot surrounding an escape attempt led by a possessed boy, Alis (Uchiyama Kouki) and the witch/ghost who possesses him, Dee (Kitamura Eri) but the whole scenario feels extremely rushed, and none of it really works either dramatically or comedically.
I really, really want this show to succeed – it has some genuinely special elements that make it stand out from the crowd. But it’s an uphill climb trying to do what it’s doing, and I can’t help but think it would’ve been better off building the entire series around the Hampnie and Ortus arcs, perhaps with a one-episode requiem at the end – or even making the entire series the events of the first three eps. What happened at the end of the third ep would have been a hell of an emotional finale, especially if it had been given even more build-up. If there’s a bright side, it’s that the structure of the series means the school arc is likely to end in another week or two, and we might still end on a high note (as we used to say in Chicago, if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it’ll change). I hope that happens, because Kaminai is built around a genuinely fascinating premise and has demonstrated the ability to connect emotionally in a big way, and it’d be a shame to see it go out with a whimper.