OP: 極黒のブリュンヒルデ (Gokukoku no Brynhildr) by Tokisawa Nao
I had pretty high expectations for Gokukoku no Brynhildr. Not masterpiece level or anything, but this looked like a series with a spark of originality and wit that would be a nice change of pace from the standard fare on every anime schedule. The big name here isn’t the director or A.D. but the creator of the source material – Okamoto Lynn, who’s best known as the creator of Elfen Lied. I wouldn’t say that’s a great series, but certainly it’s one of the most provocative and shocking anime we’ve seen in the last decade, and it manages to be that while telling a pretty good story with fairly complex characters.
Elfen Lied was also the showpiece for Arms Studio, who’ve had other commercial successes but nothing with the artistic merit of Elfen Lied. So seeing them reunited with Okamoto-sensei (shepherded by inconsistent veteran director Imaizumi Kenichi) is quite the interesting prospect. If we’re seeing a new golden age for sports anime, we might just be in the midst of a horror renaissance as well – there are several more shows on tap for this year, the most intriguing of which are Parasyte and Tokyo Ghoul (I don’t know that I’d call Watanabe Shinichirou’s Terror in Tokyo a horror series based on the early returns).
The first episode of Brynhildr in the Darkness did indeed have some scary moments, but what really struck me in watching it is how funny it was. And then I remembered that you know, Elfen Lied was pretty damn funny sometimes too, in spite (and occasionally even because) of its spectacular levels of violence. My sense all along has been that this series is going to be less graphically brutal and more sad than Elfen Lied, but it’s really too soon to say – the premiere isn’t giving all that much away. What it does illustrate is that Okamoto can write very good dialogue, and the staff and cast assembled for the adaptation seem capable of translating to anime.
We start in the past, with two small children – a boy named Murakami Ryouta (Satou Rina) and the girl he calls Kuroneko (Taneda Risa). The two play together all the time though he doesn’t even know her real name (which is odd, though not impossible). She’s a strange little wisp who has three moles under her arm and believes in aliens, for whom he helps her search. But she senses that deep down he doesn’t believe her, and tells him she knows where a real alien is, even acquiescing to his demand to be taken to see it. This leads to the accident that defines Ryouta’s life. As the two children are tiptoeing across a pipe halfway up the face of a huge dam (don’t ask) he slips and falls – and then makes the decision he’ll always regret, grabbing her hand when she offers it. He lives, she dies (or so they tell him) and he dedicates his life to becoming an astronomer so he can find aliens and prove her right.
In the present, Ryouta is now a brainy (the top-testing 11th-grader in Japan) would-be astronomer played by Ohsaka Ryouta. It’s when the transfer student shows up (it’s always when the transfer student shows up) that things get weird. She’s a dead-ringer for his dead friend, and the teacher introduces her as “Kuroha Neko” (at which I laughed enthusiastically, and I’m confident I was meant to). This starts a chain of events that displays snappy dialogue, clever direction and some very funny gags – the first of which is when Ryouta demands that Kuroha-chan “show me your armpits!” in front of the entire class. A classmate almost dies when her knee is sucked into the pool filter in a rather silly but still quite creepy-in-an-Another sort of way scene. Later, when Ryouta is star-gazing at the school observatory with the 200-inch reflecting telescope (again, don’t ask) Kuroha shows up and tells him that two students were supposed to have died that day – the girl at the pool was the first, and he’s the second. And if he wants to live, he better not miss the last bus.
Reading all that back it sounds kind of silly – but really, would you ever have called Elfen Lied realistic? Okamoto is a highly stylized writer who isn’t striving for photorealism, but a kind of absorbing surrealism in a realistic setting, and it’s working for me here. I love the Hitchcock-style instrumental OP and the over-the-top nature of the pool scene, and the dialogue between Ryouta and Kuroneko (or not) is excellent. She reveals odd things about herself little by little: she thinks multiplication tables are something you eat at. She’s ridiculously strong despite having “squishy” arms (and stomps Ryouta at arm-wrestling to prove it). And she has an old-school military phone in her bag, on which she receives a call telling her that Ryouta is “going to die either way”. At this point she casually tells him “It’s fine if you miss the bus after all”, which is another very funny moment – though she soon reveals she intended to save him anyway.
I smelled the mudslide coming long before it happened, but again, it was well-staged. At this point Kuroha saves Ryouta using some very unnatural abilities, then tells him that she’s a witch who’s escaped from the scientists who made her that way with “surgery and drugs” (which of course implies something other than witchcraft altogether). Is she really Kuroneko? Well, she doesn’t have the moles – but the degree of coincidence is a bit too much to write off here. I’m thinking clone or alien myself, but that will obviously be revealed in the episodes to come, as well as the reason she”s been tasked with “saving the world from ruin”. In any event I’m quite interested in finding out – this was a vastly entertaining premiere, with characters who aren’t idiots, and doesn’t seem to be trading on the nauseatingly familiar clichés and tropes most anime rely on. I still don’t really know whether Gokukoku no Brynhildr is horror, science-fiction or comedy – I suspect a healthy measure of all three – but so far at least it’s working beautifully.
ED:”Ichiban HoshiIchiban Hoshi” by Risa Taneda, Aya Suzaki, MAO, & Azusa Tadokoro