This is review number two hundred and eighty. This anime is part of the Spring 2014 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Mekakucity Actors. It’s a twelve episode anime about a bunch of people with red eyes or something stupid like that. I had a hard time writing this review. It took me three days to satisfyingly complete it. Hence, this show challenged me. It’ll challenge you as well for sure so be cautious. Let’s read on.
This is the anime adaptation of JIN’s Kagerou Project. It’s seventeen music videos that tells of a story about a bunch of teenagers with unique powers.
Taking the Pants Off
I honestly did not think much of Mekakucity Actors when I first saw it. It felt like the typical Shaft affair. The first episode was nothing but a long dialogue piece and a visual assault I’ve personally become accustomed to when you’re used to the director’s, Akiyuki Shinbo, style of presenting anime. It wasn’t until the second episode where I find things a bit odd. The episode title is “Kisaragi Attention” and I distinctly remember that being an IA song on youtube. I’m a huge fan of IA like you wouldn’t believe. When I first heard “1,2,3 Seno!!!!”, I wanted to hear more songs sung by IA. Kisaragi Attention was the close best to make IA sound really human. The episode not only had the name. The character in the youtube video was the main character of the episode as well and the song was an insert song of the episode. What the f*ck is going on? It turns out that Mekakucity Actors is the anime version of a series of songs called Kagerou Project released by this guy named JIN. It’s a nico nico douga phenomenon. The Kagerou Project started out as a bunch of videos and then a manga and a light novel was released to connect the videos together because they don’t really make a lot of sense except characters cameo in other videos. The anime comes later as it presents all the things cumulated up to this point. With the success Kagerou Project has garnered, it’s actually no surprise that Mekakucity Actors is one of the most hyped shows of the Spring lineup. This is where things become a bit tricky though. This anime is overwhelming as hell. If you’re watching this anime, you’re one of these two people: someone who is a huge fan of the Kagerou Project series hoping to see exactly what the hell is up with it or you’re like me, a guy who just picked up the anime blindly trusting Shaft in every anime they release. If you’re like me then you’ll also feel the whole show not making any sense and will probably drop it fairly early. I’m the Pantless Anime Blogger though and I simply can’t just quit.
If you’re like me then embrace the fact that the anime doesn’t make sense. That’s alright. You can always trust Akiyuki Shinbo to give you a unique anime experience. He’s incredibly talented. His style is meant to overwhelm you at first but gives you clarity at the end. The overwhelming factor doubles though because JIN’s script is as ambiguous as the Kagerou videos they sprung out of. To better appreciate this show, think of Durarara. Remember that show? The anime is about a bunch of colorful characters in a city. Durarara’s approach was focusing on the characters first and then building a story around them. You understand their background, their relationship with other characters and their eventual role in the story. That’s basically the same thing happening in Mekakucity Actors. The characters are presented first as they were in the music videos they star in and then the anime add more depth to the characters. You soon realize how they relate to other characters and their eventual role in the story. Just like Durarara as well, the large amount of characters will make your head spin but the story soon stabilizes and you’re enjoying the hell out of the characters you’re already attached to. Of course, there is a big difference in quality between the two shows but the approach is pretty much similar. Durarara started out with a headless girl riding a motorcycle and the audience’s reaction is “why”? As it progresses, you no longer care why because she’s an awesome girl that needs more screen time. Mekakucity Actors opened with a Miku look alike trapped in a monitor screen talking to a NEET. I then watched to see “why” but soon no longer cared because Ene is adorable.
If you’re watching this show because you were entranced by the music videos then this is where things get a bit tricky. I also watched those videos for context. They were as vivid and cool as the anime. Shaft and Kagerou Project is a perfect match. Watching them in order, you do get a gist of what the story is about but you still have no idea how a girl struck down by a falling pole that pierced her right through have any relation with a girl in a cool red scarf. Things become doubly complicated because the songs are ambiguous at best. Understanding the songs helps you understand the characters but it’s never really that easy. I personally suck at understanding songs because I have no idea how to approach it. I can’t trust my own subjective opinion because I want to know the singer’s intention first which is hard because I do not know JIN. Most of you probably don’t as well so you’re just drawn in by the cool PVs while the song narrates the story. The songs hold something more the cool music video doesn’t though so it’s not surprising if you go “I don’t get it” like most youtube commenters. Hell, I don’t get it as well. You can’t make sense of any of the music videos if you approach them literally. Ok, some are easy to understand but scratch the surface and it actually goes deeper. Watching the anime provides you with context. That’s really the important thing here if you came watching the music videos. Who are these characters and what the hell is going on? You’re in luck as well because the anime was insanely dedicated to the music videos making sure every slight detail as captured. So you’re now re-watching the videos familiar of the images that flashed through while also understanding the characters a lot more. Watching Mekakucity Actors is a lot of f*cking effort and patience is necessary. It’s really awesome though to see the videos come to life with all the colorful dialogue and the typical Shaft bullsh*t. I think that’s a great pay off for anyone who is a big fan of the music videos.
This anime has three main plot points. Understand that every music video is unique and it focused on one character. They all have different situations and they have different themes to them. Basically, it’s like pairing an alarm clock to an apple. The two aren’t the same except they’re all a music video of JIN. The anime now has the task to fill in the gaps with more background story for the situations and the characters to help connect each one together. It’s not an easy task and making sense of it all is hard. Let’s all take it one step at a time though. The first plot point is about the Blindfold Gang. The anime starts out with a guy trying to buy a keyboard. He is then caught in a robbery that was spoiled by a group of people with unique powers. This group of people is called the Blindfold Gang. They are people with unique eyes that have special powers. They are now trying to recruit people like them as well. Their powers are unwanted and the group is trying to find a way to escape this situation they are in. Basically, every music video eventually leads back to the Blindfold Gang. The people they recruit and the unique situations all of them experienced eventually connect to the Blindfold Gang. There is a wide range of characters that are related to this gang so the focus is really widespread. The show first introduces the characters and the events that happened in their music video then slowly adds the Blindfold Gang in the mix. This is all hard to take in because, keep in mind, we have ten characters to entertain. Yes, there are ten main characters in the anime that all connects to the group. From high school students to orphan children to even a pop idol, the story somehow leads back to this Gang. The structure of the show is really complex. They can’t abandon the music videos because it’s the very heart of the anime but it’s also the music videos that make it absolutely hard to comprehend the show. The anime has a story to tell but it needs the music videos to tell it. I personally would’ve preferred it if they just hinted at the music videos while making a more centralized story but then I realized that the confusion and the lack of details is part of what makes the Kagerou Project, as a whole, unique. I personally think that JIN was a bit ambitious for his project and he basically didn’t how to keep it going. The last video is a clear sign of that.
The first plot point has six subplots. Let’s properly present everything this hot mess unleashed. At first, it really is a hard show to watch because it requires a lot of effort on your end. The subplots are all insanely disjointed as well. The first subplot is about the music video Jinzou Enemy. It’s about a NEET who has a girl looking out for him. This girl is behind a monitor screen though. The guy is Shintaro and the cyber girl is Ene. They were the ones that got caught up in the mall robbery. Shintaro is extremely caught up in the death of a certain girl though. Ene is doing her best to console him but even he tries to push her away. I guess Shintaro really loved the girl. He was an active guy that soon became a NEET because he can’t overcome the passing of this important girl. It was a chance meeting to run into the Blindfold Gang though during that mall robbery. Meeting new people, Ene hopes that Shintaro can go back to his normal self. Shintaro just wants to go home though but, as luck would have it, his important girl is actually a former member of this gang.
The second subplot is the music video “Kisaragi Attention”. It’s about an idol that just attracts attention. Remember how the Blindfold Gang recruits people who have powers like theirs. Kisaragi has had one nagging thing about her that she wishes would just go away as well. Still, a clumsy idol with the power to grab people’s attention is trouble. It’s a good thing the Blindfold Gang welcomes eccentrics like her.
The third subplot is “Heat Haze Days”. It’s about a guy who watches his dear friend get run over by a truck. It’s the most popular song in the Kagerou Project and also the most grim. It’s also the one that really needs the most explanation. You see, the boy relieves August 15th again and again. Every time, he witnesses his friend named Hiyori die in front of him. The Blindfold Gang eventually saw his red eye and they just knew his power is just manifesting. I personally find this particular entry in the Kagerou Project to be the most disjointed one of all. I mean, it’s so out of left field that it makes my head spin. As it turns out though, a girl dying and August 15th are some of the key elements that bind the whole story together. So, it’s actually one of the most integral parts of the overall story but you had to go through listening to Miku sing about a girl being pierced by an iron pole for no reason other than to scar you forever.
The fourth one is “Imagination Forest”. It’s about this girl named Marry who lives alone in a house completely isolated from the rest of the world. Her powers are apparently so troublesome that she doesn’t want people to get hurt and for people to hurt her as well. She longs for human connection though. Then this guy named Seto just happened to stumble into the secluded area. With his powers, he found a way to convince Marry to trust him enough to reconnect with the rest of the world. It’s a cute entry for the Kagerou lineup.
The fifth one is “Konoha’s State of the World”. This one is ambiguous at best. It details the events of Heat Haze Days but in the point of view of this guy named Konoha. He appears to be a different being for some reason and he is unable to stop the tragedies that befall Hiyori and the boy. It claims that he wanted to save them but his current body isn’t able to do so. I don’t really get it. This was a late entry into the Kagerou Project and I think it’s just there to confuse the hell out of us. It has elements of a time loop and other stuff that doesn’t really fit the overall story. Even the anime did a different version of the events. Basically though, wandering about eventually led him to meet the Blindfold Gang.
Lastly, there is “Mekakushi Code”. It’s told in Kido’s point of view. She’s the girl with the hoodie and it tells of the powers she basically has. The music video also introduces all the characters. From the three current members to all the rest that joined later. I think it’s like a brief summary of the first plot point but also a teaser for the rest to come since this music video was the second one released.
Anyways, take all the subplots of the first plot point in. Understand each individual and unique story that each one possess. After doing that, completely abandon it and focus on the main story. The subplots are there to introduce the characters. You already know the characters at this point and anything revealed in their subplot has very little to do with the actual story. With the overwhelming factor subdued, you can now focus on the mission the Blindfold Gang is undertaking and the slow revelation of how they got their powers. The show is whacky that way. It requires a lot of effort and you’re often given very little pay off for it. Each subplot does have bits and pieces of the overall story though. As I said, August 15th and death are some of them. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll see other things that are similar in some videos besides being connected to the Blindfold Gang. It’s all up to you but the first plot point is about the Blindfold Gang. It focuses on how the characters join the gang and the slow process of it being complete.
The second plot point is basically a prologue of the main story. That’s how it was suggested as anyways. It’s about the music videos “Transparent Answer”, “Lost Time Memories”, “Yuukei Yesterday”, “Ayano’s Theory of Happiness” and to a murky degree, “Headphone Actor”. It basically tells of four high school student that seem to know each other and their connection happened before the Blindfold Gang was formed. It basically introduced two more unique subplots into the story that gives foundation to the events that transpire in the show. The first one is about these two students from this special class. They’re the only students and the story follows their plan into making a booth for the school festival. They’re the cute couple in Yuukei Yesterday that seems to have a very hot cold relationship. The take away here is that the characters do not appear in the first plot point and the audience is asked to figure out why. I’m not really sure what happened to them. The anime didn’t fill the gaps that well. It’s open for interpretation but their disappearance revealed certain answers about the situation of the show. Yuukei Yesterday is also my favorite song in the lineup because IA sounds very human in the song. JIN knows how to play with IA’s voice and he spun a bubbly romantic story with two enigmatic characters you are just dying to be introduced to. Next to Heat Haze Days, I think Headphone Actor is the second most confusing video in the list. The world ended and the girl put on a headphone where she heard herself pointing a safe place that isn’t affected by the apocalypse. I’m guessing it entails the faith of the girl in the Yuukei Yesterday video. In the story, she blacked out and we didn’t see what happened. Maybe Headphone Actor happened. I’m not really sure.
The second subplot of the second plot point (seriously insane) is about the girl with the cool long scarf. Her gentle smile in Transparent Answer really makes you want to know her better. Unfortunately, just like the two couple in the first subplot, this girl didn’t appear in the first plot point as well. You are then asked to figure out what happened to her. The anime reveals it ever so slightly in a really endearing way that you really feel for her. Apparently, this girl has a deep connection with the original three members of the Blindfold Gang and she influenced them into not giving in to the miserable life their powers gave them. She is also the first to discover some background about the origins of their power and she paid a lot to obtain that information. Of course, pay close attention to the other guy in the second plot point as well. He is part of the first plot point and it helps bring the two plot points into a complete circle. Lost Time Memories is my favorite video in this list because it had the most intricate of animations and I also love knowing more about the girl in the scarf. I’m not fond of the song. I’m too drawn into the video to care. Also, Ayano’s Theory of Happiness is the saddest song in the list excluding the album exclusive Shinigami Record.
The last plot point is about a monster that ventured into the human world. At the end of every episode in the first half, you are treated to a story of a monster that wanted to know more about humans. It’s honestly too drawn out for its own good but it had a Jun Maeda charm to it that I personally gravitate too. It feels like a fluffy wicked dream with the way a certain girl tells the story. As the show progresses though, it starts to take form and have a solid body of its own. This story apparently is the very center of this anime. If the first two plot points create a full circle then inside that circle is the third plot point. As more of this plot point is introduced, we get more clarity from the show. This is one convoluted mess of a plot point though because of how much clutter it had. I did not appreciate how over ambitious this particular part of the story was. It had supernatural elements, romance, over simplified characters and the idea of f*cking time travel. It’s absolutely dreadful but it does tie the whole show together so you can’t hate it that much.
I’ve spent five pages of a word document to explain the story. You know the thing that sucks about this anime? It’s mediocre. Going back to Durarara, once all the characters are introduced, an overarching story is then established. The gangs controlling the city is setup to fight each other with Izaya holding all the chess pieces. As for Mekakucity Actors, once all the characters are introduced, the show simply shut down. All the plot points converged into this one incident that felt really lackluster. After all the apocalypse, the girl dying again and again, this girl in red scarf twisting your heart and this convoluted story of a monster, the ending was pretty unsatisfying. It just went too smoothly. The unique characters are utilized rather pathetically without any of their subplots being fairly incorporated into the story. The characters weren’t able to grow some new connections after meeting each other. I was hoping Shintaro would atleast find a connection with Hibiya after the similar pain they both experienced. I was hoping Marry and Seto could have some more fluffy screen time together. I was hoping for a deep conversation between Kisaragi and Kido who has rather related powers. I was hoping for Konoha and Ene to meet. The show build you up for so much cool possibilities then just dropped you ice cold with a rather sour aftertaste in your mouth. Seriously, after all that overwhelming bullsh*t, this is all we get. We just see a nudge of happy ending? That’s it? It’s like running a marathon and the prize is a box of half eaten chocolates. Horrible.
I think the show went downhill towards the end. The ending just felt a bit lacking. It was rushed and a few explanations were skipped. Crucial events are barely explained and the show soon started to gloss over certain things. Some important details are ignored and it just feels like something underserving of the awesomeness that is Mekakucity Actors. The last few videos basically filled in some gaps ironically but, after all that hard work understanding this show, I personally feel like I needed more than the unfulfilling last episodes the anime gave us. It’s no surprise the ending was weak though. The last video, Summer Time Record, shares the same unfulfilling experience the anime had. It’s a shame. A really beautiful ending was in the anime’s reach. I’m surprised they decided to give us such a disappointing one. Maybe the whole point of the show is to just connect all the videos and, to that extent, it did a good job of it. The anime simply was a weak experience though in terms of story. It made you crave for so much cool things yet it barely gave us anything it promised. I appreciate giving clarity to the Kagerou Project videos but it’s really not enough. Maybe a few more episodes and this anime might mean something more. Overall, it’s just mediocre at best. Ene is still cool though so that’s alright.
It’s been a long time since I tried a Shaft anime. I think the last one I had was Sasami@Ganbaranai. I think Mekakucity Actors is pretty much like that show. The amount of visual assault by Shinbo isn’t as overwhelming as his other works. I think he is slowly dialing things back a notch which is good because his style should be more friendly, I think. JIN’s story is still damn hard to understand though. I guess you’re getting what you expect from a music composer trying to write an ambitious story. You can tell he lacks substance in some of his situations and he mostly go for cool things without any context. Maybe the manga is better but he is definitely rough around the edges. Plus, he relies on too much cliché. I guess I’m OK with people with powers but I find it funny that their powers are barely a part of the show. He then felt it was needed to have snakes, time loops, time travel and misplaced romance in his stories. Kagerou Project is what it is. It’s a bunch of individual videos with little relation. JIN is basically forcing them to connect. I dunno. I’m not impressed with the overall idea. JIN is a damn good song writer though but I think he needs more experience to be a really good storyteller. That’s just my opinion though.
Sight and Sound
The character design is credited to “Shidu” who is apparently a bunch of people sharing the name. They also did the music videos so they’re really the one’s providing a point of view for JIN’s song. Storyboarding most of these videos must be hard. Anyways, the character design for Kagerou Project is pretty flashy. I think they wanted to create characters that are as flashy as video game characters but are as familiar as the Vocaloid characters. This is evident by the way Ene looks like Miku and Shintaro looking that guy from “Just Be Friends”. Do you see the similarities? There is also Kisaragi who is an idol and she wears similar outfits you’d expect from a Vocaloid. I think it’s an interesting thing to try and study the Nico Nico Douga culture. They have creative minds unlike anything I’ve seen. Most of the characters are mostly urban in their design. The outfits are mostly hoodies, jackets and anything looking modern. Some characters are defined by their outfit like Kido who has an iPod play button on her hoodie or Takane who sports huge headphones with a twin tail while she rocks a cool school uniform with a short skirt. There is also Marry who has a light blue dress and an apron over it that highlights her blond hair and pink eyes. There are some characters that have simple designs with one stand out element that makes them memorable. I’m talking about Ayano and her cool scarf. There is also Shintaro and his red jacket and even Haruka who has a plain school uniform on but has this gentle smile that you can’t help but admire. There aren’t a lot of side characters but they also look pretty flashy as well. From the monster in the story to Hibiya, they share the same detail work as our main characters. The visual assault of Shaft also works well for the characters because the PV they starred in has bright color palettes and an artsy approach to it reminiscent of Akiyuki Shinbo’s style. You can actually appreciate the characters a lot better thanks to the mind rape of Shaft.
The animation is the same Akiyuki Shinbo style that made Shaft famous. His approach to animation is to let the dialogue be the main focus. With that being said though, there is a lot of room for the visuals to just go dick around for no reason. He employs different camera angles, split second scenes, impressive animations on top of vomit colored surroundings, and characters tilting their head way over the human capacity. He is also very self-indulgent in the way he approach a story. He lets the visuals go rampant at first intentionally making sure his audience is lost then gives a sound explanation at the end. His style requires a lot of effort to enjoy but the overall experience you obtain from them is unmatched by any other director you’ll come across in the industry. He did a good job of staying true to the music videos though. They are like promising Akiyuiki Shinbo shorts so he just added a few of his eccentric touches but making sure never to out stage the stuff that the music video provided. The visual assaults are what stand out the most but there are also some decent animations in this show. From a girl being hit a truck to a bunch of snakes devouring a person, the animation was good enough to tell the story without out staging the dialogue. It doesn’t have some flashy moments like his other shows but I think you’re too busy figuring out the story of the anime to even care about the animation.
The anime’s OP is “daze” by Jin ft. MARiA from GARNiDELiA. It’s an ambiguous song. I already admit that I suck at critiquing songs and JIN’s songs just take the cake. He puts more importance on the beat and the rhythm and fills in the lyrics later so this one is a bit hard for me to understand. I think it’s a brief summary of the anime with each point of view inter mingling in each lyric and dialogue sung. Who the hell knows? The OP sequence is pretty awesome though as it gives us a nice montage of the events of the anime. Minus points for the spoilers though. The third plot point was given away too early and I think it ruined the surprise for me a bit. The anime’s ED is “days” by Jin ft. Lia. I think this is a really sad song about letting go. Lia’s voice gives the song a really chilling factor as each line is punctuated by a really amazing voice. Much like the OP song though, I have no idea what it’s about. The ED sequence is pretty awesome though. It features Hiyori sleeping on a train alone. It ends with her side by side with Hibiya sleeping soundly as if in their own little world. It’s absolutely a masterpiece.
A bunch of Kagerou Project songs are also some insert songs in the anime sung by the main characters. It feels a bit weird not hearing IA but I think they did a good job covering the show. They added emotion to the lines which the original songs lack. You can just feel the voice actors emoting as they sing the lines and I really appreciate that a lot. It would’ve been cool to see all the songs appear in the anime as some sort of musical montage but I’m sure the show was pressed on time making sure everything fit into twelve episodes.
7/10 “It’s an ambitious, convoluted and mediocre story about a bunch of interesting characters.”
My biggest gripe was the lack of explanation for the ending. It just sort of happened and it wasn’t anything impressive. I bet the manga is ten times better so I urge you to try that one instead. Mekakucity Actors is a show that requires a lot of effort for very little pay off resulting in a very disappointing anime experience. I had to google what Shintaro’s power was. After all the bullsh*t the show had, they should’ve at least sneak that important part in. I’m pissed and exhausted. If you love a good challenge and a character driven story then you’ll enjoy this anime. If you’re a fan of Shaft then you should definitely try this one. If you enjoyed Baccano or Durarara’s unique style of storytelling then I’m sure you’ll appreciate this anime. If you loved the music videos then I think it’s fair to check this out as well. This anime is certainly unique and I don’t blame you if you are drawn by it. Just make sure to lower your expectations though because this anime disappoints. Big time.