It Bugs Me: Phantom World Episode 3

And we’re back, with more Phantom World. Just a reminder to check out the It Bugs Me for episodes one and two as well!

So let me tell you, I’ve had people around me dropping this show left and right, and after watching this third episode, I had people ask me why. “I started blogging about it,” I said. “Now I’m stuck with it.” So if you’re reading this…thank you. I’m doing this for you. You’d better appreciate it.

Let me just get this little confession out of the way up front first, though…this episode wasn’t as bad. I mean, it wasn’t good, but it didn’t send me into a rage again. You’ll get to see a little praise from me alongside all the hatred! So with that, let’s launch right into the episode.

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Yes, let’s bring up porn ten seconds into the episode. Classy!

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Because implying it once isn’t enough. Let’s have the whole “lol, porn!” thread run through the entire intro.

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Well, at least they’re telling the truth. The episode does focus on memory and the idea of copying or transferring memories. So let’s see where this one goes.

Mai gives an inner monologue about stuff we more or less already know as she meets up with Haruhiko and Izumi. The latter two characters appear together, and Izumi vehemently denies that it was anything other than complete coincidence. Because that’s a way to imply she has a crush on the protagonist that I’ve never seen before in anime. Oh, except from more or less every tsundere character, of which there waaaaay too many.

Mai sees some kids and remembers how she was a quiet, shy crybaby as a child.

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Mai again talks about how shy and quiet she was in order to set up blatant foreshadowing for the end of the episode. It’s a scene that, on the first watch, seems like it’s actually a bit of neat character development, but on a rewatch, when you know how things turn out, makes it obvious that they were telegraphing something with very little payoff really, really hard.

As they travel to their phantom-fighting assignment, we see the Token Loli hanging out with her teddy bear again. Why? Because the writers couldn’t figure out a way to work her into the story yet, so they made sure to shoehorn her in so that we’d all know that there’s a Token Loli in case anyone who chooses shows based on the eye candy is into that. It’s the same reason they introduced Phones last episode.

They don’t have names anymore, by the way. Too much effort to remember them. They’re just Token Loli and Phones now. Also, I’m referring to Kirby-chan as Reina now instead of Izumi because the show seems to using her first name and I like that one better.

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Incidentally, can someone with a bit more knowledge of the series, the Japanese language, or Japanese culture let me know whether this is actual worldbuilding or more trivia bullshit? If it’s the latter, well fuck Haruhiko’s bullshit trivia, but if it’s the former, it  brings up something that’s been bugging me.

In a lot of sci-fi and fantasy settings, it’s common to introduce a character who’s unfamiliar with the world so that they can act as an audience surrogate. That’s why people joke about fantasy heroes always being farm boys: because they usually are. If a character is a bit simple and sheltered, it makes sense that they don’t have a detailed grasp of magic or politics or whatever else is important to the story. Reina is acting in that audience surrogate role, but here’s the thing: that actually makes no fucking sense. She’s lived in that world her whole life and she has phantom-fighting powers. Maybe she’s a little sheltered, and maybe she’s never done a ton of research, but they’ve described a lot of things to her that, within the context of the world, seem like they’d be pretty basic knowledge.

Anyway. They run into a pair of phantoms who have been picking fights with pedestrians. Why? Because they wanted to draw out Mai to fight with her. Specifically Mai. Not one of the many other people who can fight phantoms who might be tasked with this. Just Mai.

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Is it just me, or is this an absurd plan? They attack random pedestrians, then let them go so that they can spread stories that there are phantoms in the area attacking people. Then they just…hope that Mai is the one who shows up? These phantoms can talk, you know. Why don’t they try delivering a message rather than engaging in physical violence so that it might get back to the various groups–of which there seem to be at least a dozen in the area–that fight phantoms and just hoping that the right one shows up? The entire team reacts as if they had no clue the phantoms were after Mai, so either they have been delivering a message and whoever assigned them that mission completely forgot to mention it. The more likely answer? Why don’t you tell them, Reina?

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Ah, yes. I suspected as much.

So they fight. It looks good. Say what you want about the show, KyoAni generally doesn’t slack on the animation. Mai has trouble handling both of them at once, so Haruhiko decides to do a summon to help out. If you remember, summoning requires a sketch and some blood in order to–

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…no. No, you are not allowed to fucking do that. You can not establish that you need blood to summon and then substitute it with red paint.

Do you know why magic systems that are fueled by blood use it as a catalyst? Here’s a hint: it’s not because of the color. It’s because it’s representative of the body and of life. Your blood contains your DNA, which is a large part of your identity. Your blood constantly flows through your body, which is why you’re alive. Lose too much blood and you die. Have your heart stop pumping blood throughout your body, you also die. Blood is used for summoning because it’s either symbolic of sacrifice or, in some cases, actual literal sacrifice.

Remember in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure when Dio became a vampire after he splattered red paint across the stone mask? Hell, remember human history when people made red paint sacrifices to their gods or made pacts sealed by red paint? Of course you don’t because it doesn’t fucking work like that. Red paint has nothing to do with blood apart from the color, which is the least important element of blood.

“But Buggy, Haruhiko summons through a sketchbook so color is clearly linked–”

Stop. That’s stupid and you know it. If it just required the color red to activate, he would have done that the first time it appeared. He never would have said that it required blood in the first place if it actually required the color red. This is egregiously bad worldbuilding if they’re going to completely contradict something they said one episode prior.

“But Buggy, clearly using paint doesn’t work as he summoned the dog instead of–”

Oh, you mean the exact same thing he summoned last time using blood and a much better sketch? Yes, clearly the summoning worked absolutely perfectly when he did it properly.

So he summons Wingpup again who serves only as a distraction so that the team can grab Mai and get away. Which implies that they leave him behind. What exactly happens to Wingpup? Does he just kind of…fade out of the world after a certain amount of time? Does he just go about his doggy life until he’s summoned again and pulled back into battle? Is it like a race instead of a single being, so every time Haruhiko summons him, there’s just a new one wandering around the world from then on? I kind of assumed they took him on as a pet but that’s clearly not the case. Word of warning, Phantom World: stuff like this is ultimately unimportant, but if you give me room to speculate you can bet your ass I will speculate the shit out of it.

So because Mai can’t fight 2-on-1, she begins training them in martial arts so that they can help her out. They dress up in Chinese outfits, and Reina Li looks adorable.

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Her adorable face and voice are a bright spot in this nightmare I’m putting myself through. A shame her characterization doesn’t follow suit.

During training, Haruhiko slips and…

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Are we going to go back to this well every fucking episode? Haruhiko does something vaguely pervy to Reina that is clearly accidental, and she responds with physical violence. That joke was tired back when I saw it in other shows, let alone three episodes in a row in this one. It’s too generic to even be considered a running gag because the joke doesn’t just run though this show. It runs through all of bad anime.

Mai decides that their skills won’t be much help, and Haruhiko offers up an idea.

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Ha. Cute joke there. Yeah, I’m sure you can tota–wait no Haruhiko what are you doing don’t launch into another monologue.

Okay, so Haruhiko goes on about the different types of memory. You have semantic memories, which are basically memories of how to do things, episodic memories, which relate to your identity and relationships with others, and procedural memories, which are more or less muscle memories. I don’t know why I bring this up considering that the different types of memories don’t really have any sort of bearing on the episode at all.

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Wait, what? Are you taking him seriously? You obviously can’t–

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Okay, so I get the idea of certain behaviors being the result of genetic memories, but a shared human consciousness? I’m pretty sure that’s not how neurons wo–

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No. Stop. Please stop.

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Mai gets it.

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Oh, New Age, you say. Well that explains everything.

But then their teacher or club adviser or whatever exactly she is comes in and explains how Haruhiko’s abilities relate to communication with the metaphysical and he may be able to copy Mai’s skills through that talent. Okay. Magic. Got it. You could have just said that in the first–

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No.

So her idea in terms of preparing them for sharing memories involves them, well…sharing memories. As in forming new memories that they share by visiting memorable places. I guess that the theory is that, if they have a foundation of shared memories, they may be able to synchronize them somehow?

Of course, the real reason is quite different.

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Okay, say what you want about the show but you can’t tell me that face isn’t adorable.

That’s right! We need to establish that this is, in fact, a harem and that all the girls clearly secretly want Haruhiko’s dick.

We then see Haruhiko and Mai watch a movie together. Mai’s totally invested, but Haruhiko’s not that into it. And of course, it gives us another chance to see Reina being jealous by rapidly eating popcorn.

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The movie blatantly foreshadows something that’s going to happen later in the episode, but I actually want to take a moment to bring up something I think the show actually does well in this episode: giving Mai some characterization. We know she likes martial arts, but we see her using that Chinese garb for training, and this appears to be a Chinese movie of some sort. And we don’t have to be told about Mai’s passion for those things to see it. What I’m getting from this is that either Mai is kind of an otaku for Chinese culture (or at least their martial arts), or that she potentially even has some Chinese heritage. I say that because we find out that she’s been like this since she was young, so she either started training at a young age, or she had some aptitude and naturally gravitated towards Chinese martial arts rather than Japanese ones. We learn of one of Mai’s greatest passions, which is a lens we can view her character as a whole through, without ever having it outright explained to us. So good job, Phantom World. You done good with that one.

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Thank you, Ruru, for providing a nice little segue for me. Fuck you, Ruru, for thinking that you can only occasionally break the fourth wall. I touched on this briefly in episode 2, but I’ll bring it up again. If you’re going to have scenes where there’s no fourth wall, you have to frequently have these scenes rather than just throw short little bits like this or the opening sequences in now and then. Breaking the fourth wall is not something that’s always good. There are two ways to get an audience immersed in a show. You can either have no fourth wall, which actively allows the show to treat viewers like active participants. It’s the show conversing with the audience and making them part of the conversation. Shows that use narrators will often do this. For example, The Tatami Galaxy, the Monogatari Series, or–to use an example that’s not anime–Malcolm in the Middle. More often than not, though, shows attempt to immerse the audience by drawing them into the world and transporting them somewhere else. Shows with great atmosphere, like Mushi-shi or Mononoke, are able to do this best, but pretty much any show that doesn’t break the fourth wall is attempting this. In this case, breaking the fourth wall is bad because it completely shatters any immersion that’s been built up and places the viewer firmly back in their own world.

Sometimes you can blur the line a little. Sometimes you can make a joke that’s a blatant nod to the audience, if you make it either subtle enough or audacious enough. But having a character announce provide exposition directly to the audience when the show doesn’t usually otherwise do that? Bam. Right back in my chair. And right after that little sequence was starting to get me a bit more invested in Mai.

Also, on that note, if the show’s going to just go ahead and break the fourth wall just to explain things to the audience, why does it even need Reina as an audience surrogate? Can’t you just cut out the middleman completely? They’re framed like infodumps anyway. Why not just tell us directly instead of being condescending to Reina, who, again, should by all means know a lot of this information already?

So Mai remembers that she’s been here before and didn’t recognize the area because some of the surroundings had changed, then talks about how timid she was again. Despite that, she managed to befriend two girls with no problem, but never got their names.

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…Seriously? You dense motherfucker.

Anyway, those two phantoms attack again. They didn’t get the chance to actually try to transfer the memories yet, but that’s okay!

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Wait, what?

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Nooooo, no no no no no.

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Uh, no? Yeah, uh…no.

So apparently this fucking memory transfer thing works. Through that, Haruhiko is able to remember that Mai knows those two and–in a twist that no one expected–they were the two she met on that one school trip! They then do…something with magic, I guess? Doesn’t matter. Phantom powers are vague enough to allow that without me caring. It allows Mai to see their memories of the event.

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Because of the torment an oblivious girl heaped upon them, the two decide that they must kung fu fight her. Not quite how Mai remembers it. Haruhiko then drops this bomb:

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This idea is one that I actually personally find interesting, and it even actually ties into the theme of perception that the show’s been talking about some. Unfortunately, that makes it all the more disappointing that it’s not handled well. It’s a concept that ties into a theme, but it’s used so half-heartedly that it just makes me wonder what could have been had they explored it properly. The crux of the plot revolves around the fight and Mai transferring her fighting skills to Haruhiko, not on the accuracy of Mai’s memories. Had Mai remembered things perfectly, they’d still have had to fight. So this interesting idea here? Completely irrelevant within the episode. A real shame.

But back to the fight. Haruhiko jumps into the fray using his newly acquired martial arts skills (I still call hax). And, believe it or not, it’s time for me to praise the show again.

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Haruhiko stumbles a bit, finds his footing, and takes a leap…

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…doesn’t quite nail the landing…

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…and then recovers.

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The music swells heroically as Haruhiko realizes he has new skills.

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He takes off with newfound confidence, and launches a kick…

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…that is deftly dodged.

It’s a gag that’s maybe a little predictable, but the execution is actually really good. Because even though they dodge so effortlessly, Haruhiko doesn’t completely wipe out. He lands on his feet, deftly turns, and launches a flurry of punches and kicks.

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Which, again, all miss.

All the while, nothing is given away through musical cues. The score remains a heroic power-up theme, and it’s only after his entire volley of attacks misses and we see him to sweat and breathe heavily that we fully realize that, yes, he is, in fact, getting his ass kicked. Adviser-sensei explains that, while he may have Mai’s skills now, his body hasn’t undergone the necessary training to use those skills properly. The heroic theme fades out only as he’s already collapsed on the ground. Most shows of this nature would just have him wipe out (ideally bouncing a few times) after the phantoms first dodge. But here, the failure is balanced by at least some degree of competence, making it seem like he could still succeed and keeping you from realizing that they’ve made the joke until after it’s already over. I thought it was a good joke. I liked it.

Never say I don’t give credit where credit is due.

So Adviser-sensei suggests Haruhiko use the power of the five elements.

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And again, I’m gonna have to call bullshit. What Haruhiko learned were Mai’s skills, drawn from her memories. To say that these abilities are something that can be transferred with memories is to say that they’re something learned rather than something unique to one person. Haruhiko’s ability to communicate with the metaphysical is described as being “rare,” so it’s already been established–within this very episode–that abilities are unique and theoretically can not simply be learned. Even if you try to justify it by saying that these abilities are mental or spiritual in nature rather than physical, it still doesn’t work because Haruhiko only got Mai’s memories and the mind and spirit consist of more than that.

But we see him try it out, and it still somehow works, against all logic. Of course, this particular Power of the Five Elements sequence is a lot more boring than usual, considering that Haruhiko got Mai’s memories but not Mai’s mammaries.

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I can’t believe it took me over 3000 words to work that one in.

So with the two of them elemented up, they launch a special attack. You know, the one they saw in the movie earlier.

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And it works, the phantoms are defeated, and they share a moment with Mai, promising to come back before turning into flower petals.

In the denouement, they say more stuff that’s not important because it’s just a reiteration of what was brought up in the episode, then Haruhiko makes a comment about still having Mai’s memories. He’ll probably forget soon enough, but in the meantime….

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What a classy note to end on! I’ll see you all next week! And please, if you enjoyed this (or even if you didn’t, I guess?), consider leaving some feedback. Lord knows I’m putting myself through a lot in order to do these posts, so any sort of encouragement is hugely appreciated.

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3 comments

  1. Ben Grant · January 22, 2016

    I lost it at the “No” caption after the teacher started to explain the dumb fuckery of all of it. Also if they are getting viruses from porn sites, they are doing it wrong. Shitty joke that doesn’t even make sense.

    Like

  2. Jon Gillette · January 22, 2016

    its funny seeing how your thoughts on almost every part of this episode reflect exactly what was going through my mind when i watched it… hey, have we bumped heads recently?

    Like

  3. Pingback: It Bugs Me: Phantom World Episode 8 | The Bugblog

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