Warning: The episode contains blood, violence, death and child abduction. These things will be discussed in the review. That is the trigger warning. Leave now if you wish.
Also Spoilers ahead for the first episode.
Okay first off I might as well state that this one of my favorite anime. It belongs however to a very dark genre of science fiction. That being the Dystopian future. The humans of the future have telekinetic powers. But must go to great lengths to control these same powers. Especially when children begin to develop their telekinesis. It also contains representation of same sex attraction both male and female. However their society views sexuality very differently to our own. This complicates matters in calling these character bi, straight, gay or any other label.
Recap: The opening is a shot of Japan from a bird’s eye view. The next few images are distorted and blur at times. But we can tell that it is the modern day world we know. However what follows next are people using their telekinetic to attack and kill others. Blood, screams and panic quickly surface and then the scene cuts out.
The next scene is of a bunch of children playing a game on a hillside. These six are called Saki, Satoru, Shun, Maria, Mamoru and Reiko. In the end their game has to be cut short because their curfew has arrived. They have to go home and thus they argue about who has run. Shun the referee is not even watching the game but looking in the other direction. In the end the other children give up and leave. But Saki approaches Shun wondering what has grabbed his attention. He points out to her a creature down by the fields called a ‘Minoshiro’. Whatever this creature is we’re not told because the scene changes again.
Next we have Saki in a temple with Priest. A series of strange rituals are performed on her to test and control her powers. During this she has a flashback to when she first started manifesting her powers (called a blessing spirit). Her possessions fly around the room while she sleeps. Saki’s parents rush in over joyed that their daughter is finally an ‘adult’. But what is said next is even more strange. Saki’s mother says ‘You’ve finally graduated Harmony Elementary, you can now join the unified class. I’m so happy you don’t have to worry about a thing anymore’.
After the episode goes back to the strange temple and the rituals. Once these strange rituals are over she now joins her new class and meets up with her friends. She also meets Mamoru for the first time. The characters interact and bits about who they are come to the foreground. Strange things happen in their conversation. Suki is apparently the last kid from Harmony. A statement she contradicts saying there are still other kids their waiting to graduate. Everyone is silent and then a white mask appears on screen only to vanish after it. Mari then changes the conversation telling her about the class. Suki then says the Unification class reminds her of a dairy farm she and the other visited. When asked why she says because ‘it feels the same’.
The next scene is what seems to be a history class. The students read out loud legends about beings called Ogres and Karmic Demons. What are these creatures exactly? We don’t know. Next there is series of scenes of the characters learning to control their powers. But one of them is weaker then the others: Reiko. The others particularly Satoru are aware of this. They exclude her from their group and later scenes show her alone.
The others go to the lake where they sit and talk. Saki says she hears some children never graduate from Harmony Elementary. No one ever hears of these children again, they vanish. Shun says it is a rumor. The other kids have heard things too for example Satoru who claims that someone saw the school courtyard had graves in it. Shun contradicts this saying they are storage barrows not graves. Next comes up the subject of a shadow of a huge cat spotted in Harmony Elementary. This being is called the trickster cat. Rumor has it the cat preys on children and stalks them.
We then learn that Saki has seen the Trickster Cat. From a flashback we seen her tell her mother. Her mother denies it but Saki is certain. We then see some images and background dialogue of them playing on the hill again. Suki goes home to her parents where they have dinner. They ask about her day but her mind is else where. We then have another flashback. Saki overheard her parents talking about how her mother was worried saying the deadline was coming up. Her mother fears the Education Committee. Her father tries to calm her mother but her mother becomes agitated and says ‘I don’t want to lose anymore of my children’. Her husbands tries quieten her but she continues ‘how can I be quiet when Saki says she saw the Impure Cat?’ We cut back to dinner. Saki challenges her parents asking why they are relieved she finally joined the Unification class. But she gets no answers her parents dodge her questions. The episodes ends with an older Saki narrating ‘Several days later, without so much as a word of explanation, Reiki Amano vanished from the school. Never to be seen again’.
The episode cuts to credits
Analysis: Well firstly let focus on the things the episode didn’t do well and then get to the things it did. First off the timeline of the story was all over the place. The amount of flashbacks is confusing. Why not simply show these in the order they happen. Instead we get important information and then a flashback as to why it is important.
The second problem is more of a story element, Reiko is basically more of a tool then a character. She vanishes and we barely know anything about her. We know she does not come back because of Saki’s narrating. The cruelty the world these characters live is indeed horrible and the disappearance of such a young girl is terrible. But what the audience will not feel is a sense of loss because of this character. Killing a character is a powerful thing in a story and killing a character before any development is using that power to soon. We don’t know this person. We don’t know what we lost in the character because she died too soon to really effect the story. Instead she is more part of the world building.
So what would I have done instead ? Have Reiko be around for a while, have the audience get to know her. What is her relationship with the other characters? Who is she close to? This would have made her death more of an impact on the story rather then ‘it’s the type of series were anyone can die’.
Things that the episode did well include establishing the world they are in, giving us an introduction to the important characters and their powers. The character designs are good, it’s easy to tell who is who unlike in some anime. The backgrounds are well done and never empty with attention paid to detail. The pallet is rather dark but it suits the mood of the anime so it is a good choice. The animation is well done, fluid and mobile each will serve it. The voice acting is good, they sound like real kids even if they are a little mature. Overall the episode is pretty good even with some flaws. It accomplishes a lot in the space of time it has. (Maybe if it was longer some of the problems above could have been Ironed out though). I will review episode two tomorrow.