Now that’s NoitaminA…
OP: “talking” by KANA-BOON
I find it almost hard to believe that Manglobe didn’t produce Subete ga F ni Naru, so perfectly does it seem designed to be unpopular. But it also seems perfectly suited for NoitaminA – the middle-aged NoitaminA of the 2009-2012 era, when it seemed a perpetual landing spot for oddball series of any genre that challenged the audience and didn’t check off any commercial boxes. There have been recent NoitaminA series I’ve liked a lot, but it’s been a long time since there’s been one that so seamlessly fits.
It’s also been a while since I’ve seen a first episode that excited me intellectually the way The Perfect Insider did – Death Parade maybe, but in a different way. I love shows that throw a lot of ideas at the audience and trust them to sort them out, and this show did exactly that. For me it’s clearly the best premiere of the season along with One Punch Man – though I think this series is a far bigger risk to blow up at some point during its run.
One might be tempted to say that Everything Becomes F and OPM are polar opposites, but I think that applies only to style – I don’t know this story very well, but it seems to me that both shows are focused very much on the ennui of existence. This is a big issue in modern Japan, where small towns are dying everywhere and young people seem increasingly disinterested not just in marriage and kids, but in sex. It unsurprisingly makes its way as a theme into anime and manga fairly often, but it’s rare to have a series that’s really willing to tackle it in a mature and thoughtful way. Based on one episode, I think this one is.
Even when your series composer is the peerless Kawai Kenji (Seirei no Moribito) you could do a hell of a lot worse than starting your series with Bach’s “Cello Suite in G Major #1”. It’s a beautiful piece of music that instantly grabs hold of you and transports you into the moment, and it makes for a marvelous introduction to this series and its two central characters. There’s so much atmosphere in this episode, so much creativity and daring – the cinematography and lighting choices are spectacular, and the facial animations some of the best I’ve seen in anime this year. In addition to the other stellar names on the staff, the Art Director is a legendary figure that goes all the way back to the likes of Akira, Kai Masatoshi, and his set designs and backgrounds are haunting and memorable.
Let’s look at the rest of the staff for a minute. The director is a good and experienced one, Kanbe Mamoru, but the interesting names to me here are the writers – Oono Toshiya adapting a novel by Mori Hiroshi. Mori is a strange and idiosyncratic writer of science-driven mysteries, and Oono is of course the author of the sublime Tsuritama and the sublimely inconsistent Gatchaman Crowds. This is not, as Midousuji-kun would say, a mass-produced model – this is not “warring states” anime designed to inspire the legions to display and purchase at Comiket. And given how rare that is these days even at NoitaminA, I love that.
The heroine of the piece is not especially likeable, but she’s a commanding presence. She’s Nishinosono Moe (Tanezaki Atsumi), a very rich (she drives a supercar) college student studying under her father’s “last pupil”, Saikawa Souhei (Kase Yosuyuki). He’s every bit as riveting as she is – a disheveled chain-smoker who dreams of “escaping life”. Nishinosono is obviously in love with Saikawa-sensei – her fellow students Hamanaka Fukashi (Murata Taishi) and Kuneida Mamoko (Kuwashima Houko) know it, and it seems he does too. There may or may not be more to his weary indulgence towards her that it seems, but when a girl named Gidou Setsuko (Horie Yui) shows up looking for Saikawa, she mentions that Nishinosono is “all he ever talks about”. Just what is Gidou’s relationship to the professor? Nishinosono would certainly like to know, but neither of them is saying.
The other key player here is the mysterious Magata Shiki (Kido Ibuki), a reclusive 29 year-old genius who got her doctorate at 11 and killed her parents at 14. Moe-san has managed to speak with her (via video chat) through her family connections, which is the only thing we see really get a rise out of Saikawa-sensei – who’s desperate to speak with her himself. Magata is a creepy one – she claims a doll killed her parents, a crime she was declared mentally unfit to stand trial for. She speaks in riddles, talking about the loneliness of the number 7, and only shows any real interest in Moe when she asks “Who are you?” as her final question.
All of this is pretty esoteric, I won’t deny, but I loved every minute of it. The dialogue is tremendously interesting, especially that of Saikawa – he talks of our freedom to live being eroded by our desire to stay alive, how we all start as geniuses and become stupid (which allows us to work). The small details – the crack in the coffee carafe, Saikawa’s hapless inability to apply his eye drops – add so much texture to the moment. And it should be noted that the cast is absolutely top-notch – they’re all spot-on in their roles. This is really great stuff, dense and witty and quietly unsettling, and it’s quite unlike anything else airing this season (so far, anyway). Subete ga F ni Naru is certainly taking a lot of risks, and as such it’s impossible to know if the spell will hold – but for now, everything is firing on all cylinders.
ED: “Nana Hitsuji (ナナヒツジ)” by Scenarioart