I’m a bit flummoxed by the tepid – though by no means negative – reaction Dimension W seems to have received from many quarters of Western anime fandom. Not only do I think this series was executed in textbook fashion in a number of different ways, but it seems for all the world like it should be pretty approachable too. It was picked up by Toonami and there at least it’s doing quite well in the ratings, as it should – but I would have expected a stronger response from more “serious” Western anime fans.
Part of the problem, I think, is that anime as a fandom is especially prone to short-term memory. Not only are many fans new enough to the medium that anything from three years ago seems old-school, even more tenured fans sometimes seem to forget history awfully quickly (and both groups mock fans outside them as being obsessed with it). No doubt anime is a form that changes pretty quickly, but sometimes to read fan opinion you’d think the world started in 2013 – as witness the wild declarations in some quarters than Spring ’16 should be the best season ever (or the worst).
Dimension W is, I think, a series very wedded to anime history. And as such, I think it prioritizes differently than most shows we see produced these days. If a viewer doesn’t get what a series is trying to accomplish, why should that viewer care if it succeeds or not? And I think Dimension W is indeed very successful in telling the story it sets out to tell. There’s a ton of integrity to the mythology, the world-building is excellent and the pacing consistent.
Perhaps most importantly, I think Dimension W should serve as an example of how to adapt an ongoing manga. As we all know from painful experience, these adaptations can be a bane of anime existence these days, leaving creators with a bunch of untenable choices. Dimension W has managed to tell a coherent and engaging story despite jamming a huge amount of content into 12 episodes, and to devise an ending that feels like an ending without closing the door on the future. I doubt there will be an anime sequel but the manga certainly continues apace, and it would have been wrong to put an artificial stamp of finality on this story. But an ending has to feel like an ending, and this one does. It’s a balance that experience shows us is extremely difficult to achieve.
That ending did exactly what you would have expected given the dexterity director Kamei Kanta and writer Suga Shoutarou have already shown – tie everything together in a logical and coherent fashion. For all the heat this show has taken for the way Kyouma has treated Mira, the reason for it has become perfectly clear – not only is she in the body that was intended for Miyabi, but her very existence is the result of Miyabi’s death and the choice she and Kyouma made. Even if it was buried in his subconscious that memory was surely there, and every time Kyouma looked at Mira he was reminded of what she represented. I don’t mind aspects of a series being puzzling or vexing as long as there’s eventually a good explanation for them – and with Dimension W, there’s always a reason for everything that happens. That’s “old-school” prioritizing for this type of anime.
Possibilities are the key to everything in Dimension W (both italicized and otherwise) – what separates living, thinking beings from objects. And the key to possibility – the reason why its existence changes everything when it comes to the pseudo-science at the heart of this plot – is choice. The choice that matters most here is the one Kyouma – at Miyabi’s urging – made during the first raid on Easter Island. Not knowing the potential cost of using Genesis to try and save her, he destroyed it instead – like Yurizaki Shidou, believing the risks were simply too great for it to ever be used.
The weakest part of the final arc was certainly the Seameyer character. He never quite fit in with the rest of the series with all his grotesque facial callisthenics and cackling (and the performance certainly didn’t help). The best that can be said is that he serves his purpose as a plot catalyst, and his existence fits with the rest of the premise. It’s Seameyer’s villainy that spurs everyone else into heroic action, and there’s saving going on all over the place in the finale – Mira saves Kyouma, Kyouma saves everybody, Lwai saves Kyouma.
In the end, Kyouma not only thanks Mira for what she’s done, but acknowledges that she’s alive – which no doubt won’t be enough to satisfy the critics, but does show that he’s a character capable of growth and acknowledging his own prejudices. I don’t need my characters to pop out of a peach fully formed in the first episode of a series – I think it’s more interesting if they have an actual arc, old-fashioned as that is. It seems to me that the anime has indeed chosen an ideal place to end the story – both Kyouma and Mira have grown considerably, and that growth has left them in a very interesting place in their shared journey. The mythology has been fleshed out considerably, but plenty of tantalizing questions remain. Textbook. It’s just a shame there’s unlikely to be another season to explore all that possibility in anime form.
Seinen is indeed where we most tend to see the stubborn refusal of anime’s old ways to die altogether, and I think anime would be better off if it turned to seinen manga for source material more often. There’s a reason it doesn’t of course – it doesn’t directly satisfy the House of Pies commercial imperative. But perhaps more than any other demographic and genre, seinen sci-fi anime can thrive if anime does indeed focus more on the international market. That’s why when we weigh the pluses and minuses (and there are both) of directly marketing to a world audience the way studios like Bones and Polygon are (not to mention NoitaminA’s exclusive streaming deal with Amazon), I tend to come out in favor. Shows like Dimension W are integral to the fabric of anime, and any developments which make it more likely we’ll see them continue to be produced are a net positive in my book.