The Perfect Story…for a Light Novel!
What’s the Story?
When Iwanaga Kotoko was little, the yokai asked her to become their ‘God of Wisdom’. She agreed and gained the ability to see and interact with all yokai, though she lost an eye and a leg in the process. Now Iwanaga, along with her ‘boyfriend’, Sakuragawa Kuro, who has some strange abilities of his own, travel around and help settle disputes between the various spirits that inhabit Japan. Most of the time this can be accomplished with a discussion and a bit of creative thinking, but not all problems are so easily resolved. When a particularly vicious ghost known as ‘Steel Lady Nanase’ begins attacking people it’s going to take every skill Kotoko and Kuro have to subdue the monster, but there’s something strange about this ghost. Could it, in fact, have been manufactured?
When In/Spectre first started airing I was pretty much convinced it was going to be one of my favourite shows of the season. I mean it looked to have everything, a pair of cool leading characters in Iwanaga and Kuro, a great sense of humour and some impressive visuals. Match that with some interesting dialogue and concepts and we’re surely on to a winner folks (any show that can work in the line ‘Yes, one must never underestimate a goat’ gets bonus points from me, and, no, I’m not giving that line context. Go watch the first episode for yourselves). What more could I really ask for from this show? It’s a mystery series based around the supernatural, it’s a ghost story a week, how could I not love that? Spoiler alert, I didn’t love it, in fact this may just be one of the most infuriating series that I have come across in a long while. Before we get into that though, first I just want to say, if you enjoy this series, I get it. The characters are fun, there’re some brilliant concepts at play and if that is enough to carry you through then that’s perfectly fine and I’m happy for you. Now, that being said, if this series is really beloved to you it’s probably best to move on now. I’m not sure how much I’m going to tear into this one, but either way it’s probably not going to be pretty.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where my ire comes from on this one. Is it the fault of my own expectations, or did the series lead me up the garden path only to shove me off a cliff? (Okay, that metaphor got more violent than even I was planning). As I mentioned when I started watching this series I was convinced it was going to be a mystery-of-the-week style show and the first two episodes definitely fitted into that model. Unfortunately then we get to episode 3 and the ‘Steel Lady Nanase’ saga begins. At first I was completely onboard, the mystery was unfolding at a decent pace and introducing intriguing concepts like the ‘monsters of the imagination’, but then the story went on, and on, and on and on and on and on and on. Eventually I realised this arc was going to take up the rest of the series’ run and all my hopes sank with me into my chair. What was a series of fun little mysteries turned into a non-stop session of talking heads as it crawled its way from one plot point to another. I’ve never wanted to scream at an anime so much to get a move on.
The problems with this story arc go beyond poor pacing though. There are plenty of interesting things going on in this arc, even if sometimes it takes a while to get to them. We’re told the reason behind Kuro’s strange powers, we’re introduced to ‘monsters of the imagination’ as well as have a conversation about the person behind the Steel Lady ghost. That’s without even getting into Iwanaga’s detailed breakdowns of what’s going on and how she’s going to fight back. While I’ll argue that that isn’t quite enough plot to fill 10 whole episodes, it could have been a lot more entertaining if it weren’t for the style of presentation. You might have picked up on this from my word choices, but In/Spectre has a habit of telling you information rather than showing you. So many reveals are done through conversation or as apart of a long string of dialogue, which is fine when you’re just dealing with smaller, one-off mysteries, but when you’ve got ten episodes of people talking about the same problem over and over again, it just becomes dull. If this series had been done in a different format it would be amazing, if this show were a light novel I’d probably adore it, but anime is a visual medium and you need to play into the strengths of your medium.
That brings me to the other problem with the ‘Steel Lady Nanase’ arc and, in truth, this may be the most crippling factor for the whole series, the time skip. The first two episodes set up Kuro and Iwanaga and their relationship, establishing that Iwanaga has a massive crush on Kuro and he’s really not interested. From episode three onwards, Iwanaga and Kuro are in a relationship and have been for a while (it doesn’t help that they have zero chemistry as a couple and the only truly romantic scene between them is in the very last episode of the series). I mean, what was even the point of setting them up with the unrequited crush if you’re just going to shove them into a relationship! What’s more we don’t even get to see the moment were they do make it official! From episode three onwards I lose all connection to the characters, I don’t believe that Iwanaga and Kuro are in a relationship (not until the last episode anyway) and Kuro’s backstory, which should be tragic, just makes me glaze over because we’re told it rather than experiencing it for ourselves. Everything about the ‘Steel Lady Nanase’ arc is just so mishandled and it makes me want to pull my hair out because this show had so much potential.
All in all, In/Spectre is a huge disappointment, to me at least. It had so much potential all right in front of it and squanders what it has on a single story arc that it chooses to tell in completely the wrong format. The ideas are interesting, the characters are fun and, on the whole it looks pretty good. Unfortunately, between the time skip and the constant talking heads, it robs a lot of the moments of the impact they really should have made. Personally, I can’t recommend this series, but there is enough here that maybe, just maybe, you’ll find something to like. Just be prepared for the ‘Steel Lady Nanase’ arc.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.