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Mekakucity Actors – Review

by Anthony Sulwer

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Perhaps there is some logical explanation for the twelve-episode story arc of Mekakucity Actors. Perhaps I’m entirely too ‘American’ or ‘Western’ to appreciate the intentionally misleading plot. Perhaps the show dealt with themes or tones I myself have never experienced and am therefore woefully unqualified to give such a show an unbiased critique. Or, perhaps – just maybe – the first season of Mekakucity Actors was simply mishandled from start to finish, or should have never been made into an anime in the first place.

Full disclosure may be necessary here. I went into Mekakucity Actors with no prior knowledge of the concept’s history. The anime – as well as the Light Novel series and Manga – is the result of a popular online Vocaloid series on a video-sharing website. If it sounds like an odd premise to base an anime series around, well, you’d be right. At the end of the season I’m fairly sure it is a show created for a very devoted fan base and no one else.

For the purposes of this review I will be viewing the show as its own, unique entity; separate from any other medium the characters exist in. As such, the first season of Mekakucity Actors fails on just about every level in regards to character, plot, and any kind of coherent story telling device.

The first season of Mekakucity Actors plays out over the course of two days – August 14th and 15th – in a surreal double world. Trying to follow the individual storylines of the multiple characters, as well as the overall arc of the series, proved to be impossible for this particular Yank. As each episode of the first season ended I found myself sighing heavily and then striking my forehead so hard in irritated confusion I’m fairly sure I knocked my brain pan back a quarter of an inch. After each episode the plot became more puzzling, not less. The character interactions are equally bizarre – seeming to come from nothing and form within moments.

The most positive aspect of Mekakucity Actors is the superb animation. Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo (Monogatari, Dance in the Vampire Bund) and animated by Shaft Inc. animation studio, the characters are well defined; the few action sequences in the season are slick, clean, and intense. Unfortunately, the source material the animation studio had to work with left way too much to be desired.

The first episode, “Artificial Enemy,” begins with Shintaro Kisaragi. Shintaro is an 18-year-old shut-in who hasn’t left his apartment in two years. He spends his days on his computer, surfing the web and dealing with the artificial intelligence inside his computer. The A.I. is named Ene and is able to jump from device to device and has become something of a permanent companion to Shinataro. He complains about her presence and constantly wishes her away but there is something insincere about his claims.

On August 14th, Ene distracts Shintaro in a way that causes him to spill soda on his keyboard. With the keyboard ruined, Ene convinces Shintaro to leave his apartment for the first time in two years because there is no way he can live without his computer. Due to the Obon holiday, Ene points out it will be at least three days before a keyboard could be delivered. He is going to have to leave his apartment if he wants to obtain a keyboard quickly.

Shintaro arrives at the mall and the store he needs to get a new keyboard. As soon as he walks into the store armed men looking to hold everyone in the store for ransom overrun it. Sitting with his hands tied along with the other hostages Shintaro is befriended by a young boy who seems completely nonplussed by the whole affair. The odd stranger asks Shintaro if he has a plan to escape. Shintaro replies if he can get a distraction he has a plan guaranteed to succeed. Almost immediately a distraction is provided and Shintaro plugs his phone – and Ene – into the store’s security system. Ene takes over, saving the day, and Shintaro passes out.

Beginning with the second episode all sense of congruency is thrown out the window. The series takes one bizarre, unexplained turn after another. There are prologues, prologues to the prologues, and characters who seem to occur in each other’s lives at various points between the two worlds they occupy. These two worlds, by the way, are either never explained in a way which helps the viewer understand the difference between the two, or this particular viewer experienced a stroke every twenty-two minutes while watching the first season.

There are several characters who make up the Mekakushi Dan – or Blindfold Gang – that Shintaro ends up becoming a part of. The majority of Mekakucity Actors is about this group. How everyone in the gang becomes a part of the group and the strange double world they all occupy becomes the skewed center of attention throughout the first season.

I have watched a considerable amount of anime in my almost forty years. Often, I can compare certain kinds of animation to others for my friends who like anime but don’t quite have the volumes of episodes and movies I’ve seen. I can say things like, “If you like Princes Monoke you’ll probably like Howl’s Moving Castle,” or “If you liked Ghost in the Shell you should check out Ninja Scroll.” I find myself completely void of any comparisons to make for Mekakucity Actors. This is both a negative and a positive in regard to the show.

Being unable to compare Mekakucity Actors to something else means the show is truly unique. It follows its own warped logic, odd characters, and allows its many, many plot holes to become as much a part of the show as the protagonist. Not being able to compare Mekakucity Actors to something else means you’ll likely only follow the first season because you like something completely different, requiring multiple viewings of the season as a whole in order to understand what’s going on. Unfortunately, for me, I have no desire to put myself through another twelve episodes of slapping my forehead whilst cursing mercilessly under my breath, hoping something, at some point, will make a modicum of sense.

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Author: Anthony Sulwer

A freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado, Anthony fell in love with anime while working part time jobs at video stores in the 90s. Nights off were spent watching Akira, Ninja Scroll, Fist of the North Star, and anything else to appear in the small "Specialty" section of the large chain stores.

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