I am not one of those people that hate everything that Kyoto Animation has produced in the last X number of years, nor, am I one of those people that unconditionally love everything that KyoAni makes. I do, however, fall closer to the latter extreme than the former, but, that is to be expected since they’ve been delighting me for over 10 years now with very few missteps in that time period.
This good will allowed me to bend my appraisal of Myriad Colors Phantom World in that I watched the whole series (though I dragged my feet to finish it) when a similar effort done by almost any other animation studio would have been dropped by the third or fourth episode. It did not, nor would I allow it to, go so far as to color my final verdict of the series which is very low.
If you discount the Munto TV series, which I’m still not sure what KyoAni was trying to accomplish by half-expanding their earlier OVAs (that worked out to about 6 TV episodes in length) into a 9 episode TV series, Kyoto Animation was never failed so badly and so thoroughly as they did with Myriad Colors Phantom World.
I had thought KyoAni mastered the art of making TV series enough that their series would never go below the “watchable” level of quality. I was wrong. The two most egregious aspects to this show were the horrible, terrible characters and the fighting scenes that showed the studio lacks animators who know how to animate such scenes.
I can’t believe Tatsuya Ishihara, the director of Air and Kanon and Clannad and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Nichijou and Hibike! Euphonium, apparently never looked at the characters of Phantom World without realizing they could never carry a tune, much less a show.
There were other problems with Phantom World, like the introduction scenes to each episode and the tepid use of fan service, but these would have been more bearable if the show featured interesting characters and fight scenes that matched the quality of raw animation in those scenes.
Whilst pondering the problems of Phantom World I realized which anime series it was most strongly reminiscent of: Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta. The remake series from 2013 and not the earlier, vastly inferior, version. Yozakura Quartet is about a group of super-powered teenagers that are tasked with keeping the peace in a town where humans and youkai live together; and, it succeeded doing what Phantom World tried to do and failed at.
I never finished my year end Best Anime of 2013 posts, so, I never got the chance to talk about how Yozakura Quartet earned the number 6 spot on my top anime of the year list. What impressed me most about this show was how it was able to tell a serious story while maintaining a light-hearted feel to the show. This delicate balancing act needed so many things to work just right and sometimes it wasn’t initially apparent how the different pieces worked together to achieve this.
For example, the villains in Yozakura Quartet are rarely, if ever, truly evil characters – my gut tells me that it will eventually be revealed that the big bad villain of the series isn’t even truly evil. This isn’t apparent at the beginning; only once a few story arcs are completed with villains living reformed lives does it become more apparent. One of the ways then that Yozakura Quartet keeps the seriousness in check, because the show is not building to nor wants it’s viewers to expect a vanquishing of an evil villain, is the very healthy amount of fan service in it. This is employed, either, because it is meant to distract the viewer or because, on a meta level, everyone knows that series that employ fan service are almost never serious series or probably for both reasons, and in the context of the whole series it works here.
That’s right, I’m saying Phantom World needed more fan service.
Having a series that succeeds doing what Phantom World wanted to but failed at really clarifies the problems with Phantom World. Perhaps the strangest problem, because we are talking about KyoAni, is the action scenes. There is a lot of high quality raw animation that gets thrown at these scenes, but, the end result makes it obvious that the people doing the animation don’t have the experience to harness that animation to really sell these scenes. To those that disagree go watch Yozakura Quartet. It featured gorgeous action animation thanks to the efforts of the director ryo-timo (a stellar animator who worked his magic on such works as Noein, Birdy the Mighty Decode, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time before becoming a director) and is superior to anything found in Phantom World. This makes sense, if one thinks about it, talent in animation is not interchangeable. It takes a long time to master a certain type of animation and KyoAni’s mastery of character animation as seen in last year’s Hibike! Euphonium does not make them masters of other types of animation. KyoAni should have brought in some outside expertise to help them.
I could go down the line comparing the two series but the point has been made and proved. (Could the setting of Phantom World been any more generic; sorry, just had to say it.)
Actually, that’s what I want the takeaway to be. To those reading this, if you are among the nearly 93% of the people on MAL that gave Myriad Colors Phantom World a score of 5 – Average or better then please go watch Yozakura Quartet and then reflect on your score for Phantom World. I’m not saying your wrong, but, if KyoAni’s Phantom World hadn’t failed so badly then it would have been a unique treat, in the vein of Yozakura Quartet, and would deserve all the good scores it received. It also would have shown that KyoAni can work miracles with even the most questionable of source material. Instead, it’s another series that gets consigned to a particular dark dank corner of anime full of like-minded series – hopefully to be forgotten very quickly – and it doesn’t even have the consolation of being slightly better than it’s peers. At least Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei knew how to inadvertently make it’s audience laugh.