Scene 001: Shimishitashika park: Some name you won't remember
Anime reviewer: Um... what was that?
Okay, not sure that worked, let's try the serious approach. See there's a mad doctor injecting monster making medicine into people. But that's because there's an escaped servant of a secret organisation that resists change. But he has the memories of a human and tries to protect a hidden love from evolving into a danger. Then a monster is trapped and killed releasing a mysterious energy over the city. This energy interferes with the cosmic nature of reality to cause time to form into layers that bleed into one another. Or was it a psycho-magnetic barrier. Or perhaps it could be from the brain damaged child of the amnesiac mother infected by the medicine who can release butterflies of light that dredge memories from the past (which can be eaten like bugs incidentally) who has created a companion from the heart of an insane nihilist. And that companion is gathering a gang made from the inner child that the adults have forgotten because they really hate piano lessons. Anyway within the city a number of schoolkids, all of them tragic and flawed in some manner, suddenly find the world pregnant with monstrous demons summoned up from within their own weaknesses or their twisted hopes. If they don't take their own life, or go insane, then the spirit of death, the servants of the secret or the monster reborn will probably kill them. It's all rather dramatic though.
Anime Reviewer: ... At least with the first one I could imagine that it made sense.
I'm going to get into so much trouble for that synopsis. See this is perhaps the series that most strongly rewards me for having a weird category. The show can be taken as containing some of the most powerful dramatic scenes ever represented in an anime, each montage filled with hidden meaning and unresolved angst or regret. Or it could be seen as a confused and ultimately pointless narrative sequence that bends itself so as to create these potent but somewhat artificial scenes. Or, more truly, it's a little bit of both.
There's more than enough story threads scattered about, that's for sure. Through emphasis and interpretation I've no doubt that you could make at least 5-6 seperate versions of what happens in this show. All of them will have supporting evidence, some things that don't fit but can be discounted and more than likely will all be irreconcilable. It is the sort of thing that will keep fans of the series occupied for many hours as they put together the pieces in a variety of ways and debate the merits of each. For myself I don't think they're going to come to much of a conclusion, the anime doesn't seem to be particularly guided or even interested by a coherent story and is quite happy to just spray clues all over the place. It's not really the main focus after all.
In fact, once the pseudo science is removed, what we really have here is a Japanese ghost story. I'm going to assume it's some part of Japanese mythology, because i've seen it before in other anime (for example Vampire Princess Miyu), that to become possessed by a malign spirit there must be a weakness within the person to be exploited. This is a wonderful dramatic device, invent a cast of characters and let the nature of the haunting drive insights into the events and flaws which have driven them to what they've become. And then have a resolution, ideally surprising, shocking, deep and insightful... but always clearing the stage for the next story. This works best with schoolchildren, ideally females, because they are expected to be uncertain, unsure and vulnerable. Although there are also male themes of failure and loss to be explored.
These scenes are variable, and disconnected, but on the whole rather powerful. The show has a fine dramatic flair and style that really sets up the atmosphere and environment. It uses all sorts of theatrical props, darkness, sound, movement and voice to drive the intensity of the scene. It even uses cuts to announce when, where and who is involved in the scene. And the story is of a person who is collapsing within themselves, seemingly normal but we get to peer into their minds and pasts to see the pressures that they are losing control of. Many stories lead to death, some to murder, some even take place after death and murder has occurred. But all of them give an intense insight into the character, who is a representative of us all. As such it has both an immediate power in itself and makes us think about our own reaction to the events depicted.
So how to make a critical assessment of such a creation? There will not be a simple answer because it depends a lot on the tolerance and empathy of the viewer with the scenes depicted. The tolerance coming from the fact that it is intentionally confusing, choppy and fragmented. They do this either because they will not allow story to dominate scene, because they lost control of the script or because they don't want you to have any solid ground on which to stand within the series. If you are tolerant of arty, fragmented and instrospective drama then you might well enjoy this. If you are looking for a fun story with good characters then avoid this, although there is one female (who looks an awful lot like priss from Bubblegum Crisis) who tries hard to provide a continuous and heroic presence. For myself I found enough scenes with power that I enjoyed watching it. But at the same time I knew I was being manipulated and wished for some enduring story and characters to sink my teeth into. I can't really imagine having any desire to own or frequently re-watch it either. It's tiring to watch and once the surprise is known there's little pleasure in re-visiting the events.
The production values share the same dichotomy. They're actually pretty awful. If you look closely at the motion scenes you'll see some shocking animation, the character designs also lack originality or distinctiveness and the design work is very basic. The trick is that they use what they have very well. The very normal looking character designs and washed out colors give a quite mundane appearance at times but can quickly switch to being dreamlike and ethereal. Darkness is used every bit as much as light, concealing detail, shrouding and focusing our vision at once, it's really rather good. The low detail on much of the design actually ends up drawing our attention to where they want it to be. Meanwhile voice (including voice effects), ambient sound and the music all work well to enhance the scene. The music especially, sometimes acting to break or emphasise the flow of the story, is particularly impressive. The style makes up for the technical limits if you allow it to, but if you came here to see awesome animated effects you're unlikely to be impressed.
In case it's not obvious from the review this tape is not for the sensitive. There's no sex, but there's quite a bit of violence and horror emphasizing the outcome of the internal turmoil. The show is not afraid to splash some blood and death around to emphasize the intensity of this. Not frequently enough to please the splatter fans though. And as the violence tends to be very one sided there's not actually much action per se.
I'm actually going to rewrite the way in which this page handles citations, but i'll make some temporary notes here while the anime is still fresh in my mind.