The funny thing about NoitaminA is that when it comes back with a series like Subete ga F ni Naru, it’s easy to imagine it’s never really left – you just slide right back into the mode of looking forward to Thursday nights with a challenging and complex series. The truth of course is that most of the past several years have seen NoitaminA either missing the mark altogether or serving up good shows that could just as easily fit in anywhere else on the schedule, but a show like this is a reminder of just how precious a commodity the block has been over its existence (though not so much lately).
It’s no coincidence that the last really great NoitaminA block was in the spring of 2012, and the last truly great NoitaminA series was Tsuritama. That series like this one was written by Oono Toshiya, though they could hardly be more difference in tone, style and genre. It’s great to see him back in stellar form after Gatchaman really made me question whether he was as suited for anime as Tsuritama made it seem he was. Of course this time around he’s adapting the work of Mori Hiroshi, and he’s again working with a strong director, this time Kanbe Mamoru. But I can’t help think it’s Oono’s vision that’s most crucial to this show’s success.
There’s obviously a mystery at the heart of Subete ga F ni Naru, and it’s a really good take on the beloved locked-room murder trope. But truth be told, I’m not as interested in the mystery of Magata Shiki’s death as I am in the interplay of the characters. The dialogue here is really smart and nuanced, and the way Kanbe is shooting the series exceptionally interesting. Mori and Oono aren’t going out of their way to make any of the characters conventionally sympathetic, but they’re exceptionally interesting people.
To start with Moe-kun, she’s certainly proof that you don’t have to like a character to find them compelling. She’s a pretty grating persons, frankly. And Saikawa-sensei’s morose existentialism isn’t exactly the life of the party. But that’s just the nature of the characters – they’re supposed to be that way, and the writing trusts the audience to see what makes them interesting. Moe is like many smart young people in that she thinks she has everything figured out but is actually in way over her head. Her reason for liking Saikawa (as told to Magata) was that he was the first adult she ever met who was smarter than her – a fabulously arrogant thing to say. But Magata tops her – her response is that she’s not yet met anyone smarter than her.
So just what is going on with that mystery, anyway? Saikawa’s low blood pressure can’t totally hide his curiosity in probing the mystery of how Magata-sensei could have been killed and dismembered with no one entering or leaving her room. His theory that someone could have escaped during the commotion when Magata’s body emerged from the room via robot seems to be disproved by the security video, but it seems as if one possible reason for cutting off Magata’s arms and legs and putting her in a wedding dress would be to make room for a person to sneak out hidden beneath it.
Then there’s Red Magic, the “infallible” OS that the geniuses at the lab have designed to never fail and be impervious to viruses, but which fails at the moment of Magata’s unveiling. Saikawa’s notion is that someone has been planning this murder for a long time – since the creation of the software in fact – and the most likely suspect to do something like that is Magata herself. Would it be some form of elaborate suicide ritual – or could it have something to do with her sister Miki? A younger sister than looks like a twin is certainly suspicious, and it makes me wonder who was in that room, and whose body was on that cart.
I share Saikawa’s hilariously-revealed distaste for expository dialogue, even if it is a staple of the mystery genre. I much prefer exposition the way Subete does it – slowly and patiently, leaving the audience to connect the dots. Just who was Saikawa with in those flashbacks – was it Miki (or perhaps Setsuko)? And who killed the lab director, and how? There are secrets still to be revealed everywhere you look, and the one surrounding the pasts of the still-living characters are if anything even more interesting that the riddle of the dead ones.