Mekakucity Actors -or- Monsters and Hoodies and Snakes, Oh My!

Spoilers, o’course.

I’ve mentioned Mekakucity Actors a couple of times so far, I think, comparing other shows to it (generally, unfavorably). It is, by the way, Mekakucity (all one word, from mekakushi [blindfold] and city). It is perhaps the most well-plotted show I’ve ever seen, some kind of anime mash-up between Hot Fuzz‘s attention to detail and Pulp Fiction‘s nonlinear style of storytelling. The art, classic Shaft, is stark and evocative, with bold, simple colors used to tell a story in a glance. From the first moment (or at least, the first moment where the environment is recognizable), you can tell that Mekakucity Actors is going to be anything but normal.

And you’d be right. Each character–from NEET Shintarou to devious and grinning Kano–has a depth to them that is only supported (as opposed to defined outright) by his or her backstory. In addition, there is a great deal left unsaid, in much the same way as I describe in my Chaika review. The difference here is, what’s implied is the depth of character interaction.

For example, Shintarou (in one of the somewhat confusing music video scenes I’ll be discussing in a bit) rebuffs the advances of his friend Ayano…shortly before she kills herself. Unbeknownst to him, her suicide is part of a plot she has concocted to oppose the main antagonist of the show (her own father, in a way). But: Shintarou doesn’t know that, and it’s this irony that causes him to lock himself away for two years, whereupon he meets Ene, and what eventually drives him down a particular path…

But I think you see my point. Is the previous paragraph stated outright in the show? Yes, but not clearly (in a very good way). Mekakucity Actors is a masterpiece of implication. This works to its benefit…and its detriment.

Anyway. The show begins most of the way through the plot, then switches immediately to a little way into the timeline, then back, up again, sideways, back again, up again, back again…you get the picture. This Tarantino-esque style manages never to feel disruptive or confusing, as there is still a linear progression of questions that are answered. It is a show where people talk more than move–some entire scenes are held where the only significant motion is done by the camera–and episode 3 sets up a premise that, while properly utilized, mustn’t be mistaken for the premise of the show itself, but that is by no means a problem. The dialogue (unlike this season’s absolutely dreadfully boring The Irregular at Magic High School) swells with the personality of each character, and the way they interact (explicit or otherwise) comes across in the slightest movements.

The plot, for all its circuitousness, is tight and well-told. It kept me guessing up until the very last minute and delivered spectacularly. Its art is emotive, its characters shine with depth, and with every episode my interest grew deeper. It is, quite nearly, a perfect cerebral show.

Nearly.

See, I can’t quite give this show a perfect score. It’s important to know that it’s not built (entirely) from a visual novel or a manga. Mekakucity Actors started life as a series of Vocaloid music videos, and this works for it (the sparse, lyrical style gives it a sense of clarity) and against it (except when they shove one of the most important scenes into the end credits of one episode). I can’t say for certain whether the inclusion of some of the music videos is enough to convey the plot–they go by so quickly I’d need to watch the show at least once more on slow-motion to capture all of the details–but suffice it to say I needed some Wiki help to understand what was going on the first time, which isn’t good for a show with so much going on. If I spoke Japanese it might be easier to follow than reading the subtitles, but I don’t, so it’s at least a detriment of cultural mismatch that could have been handled a little less hurriedly.

The biggest flaw of this show, such as said flaw is a big one, is that it does a bit too much showing and not telling. Shintarou’s arc especially requires a little more reviewing than feels necessary. In addition, some of its characters feel a little shoehorned in, the youngest member of the gang especially (his one major action in the final ascent towards the climax is little more than getting directions when they’re lost), though it could be argued that his primary role in the narrative is to show how the Heat Haze world works.

In short, it’s a show that needs a little more care in viewing than feels necessary, but that’s hardly a major impediment. It has clean art, a complex and intricately-woven storyline that lets the characters be who they are, and deep and interesting characters themselves. It could use a little polishing (we will not even get into the CGI bit except to say that it hurts), but nothing so significant that another viewing couldn’t put it to rights. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so now. And then again, so you can really get it. Make sure your remote has frame-by-frame, because you’re going to need it at least once.

Mekakucity Actors is on Crunchyroll.

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