It Bugs Me: Phantom World Episode 4

Sometimes you set out to mock a terrible show on an episode-by-episode basis and end up getting an episode that’s not actually terrible. You find yourself faced with a decision: mock the show in a more condensed way, or spare yourself the effort of the write-up by skipping a week and simply apologizing for not having anything for the episode.

Clearly, I’m doing the former.

Yes, Phantom World episode 4 is actually not terrible. I won’t go as far as to say it’s good, and there will still be plenty to nitpick, but this episode is actually a relatively solid one. So this will be more nitpicks and snark, but will hopefully (for my sake) be a bit shorter.

So how does this relatively good episode start?

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Well we’re really off to the racist–races! I mean “off to the races!”

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Five racist Haruhikos going off to war. One dressed himself in drag, and then there were four.

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Oh no. The racist caricatures are multiplying exponentially.

The setup is supposed to be about how language and family are found all around the world, even if the details are different, which is again only tangentially related to the episode. But with the way it’s presented, the whole opening reeks a bit of “Holy shit, guys! Did you know that there are other cultures? And that they’re different?” Throw in a crossdressing Haruhiko and the whole thing gets hugely uncomfortable.

But I dunno. I guess that playing professor in a lab coat isn’t Haruhiko’s only fetish. He’s also into…whatever weird shadow clone no jutsu roleplay this is. How exactly did he awaken to this in the first place? Maybe he was trying to discover new things by looking into what other people are into, misheard or misread something, and assumed that there were a lot of people into “tribalism.”

I’m going to do things a bit differently for this episode and set up the plot pretty quickly. This is so I don’t have to explain things with as much context as I go along since there’s less to cover. Basically, this episode revolves around Reina encountering a bus, then being pulled into the Phantom World, where she ends up hanging out with some rabbit phantoms acting as a fake family. It’s sort of a hypnotism that Reina enters willingly because her relationship with her own parents is currently strained. She loses herself in a delusion because it’s preferable to the reality she’s living. That’s a good plot. I like that. There are a few fumbles, though, and that’s what I’m here for!

The beginning’s pretty routine stuff. Reina provides a bit of recap through internal monologue. The show’s pretty consistent with doing that so I’ll just write it off as a conscious choice of an episodic show. She’s also working on putting an all-you-can-eat meat place out of business.

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Good question. She’s small and petite so it’s not like it’s going directly to her figure. “Who knows? I’m not really sure myself.” isn’t a valid answer, but it’s an acknowledgement that they’re aware that yes, she’s small and cute and it makes no sense for her to stay so small and cute considering how much she eats. And that’s fine with me. You offer an olive branch with “we know it’s bullshit, but don’t worry about it” carved into it, and I happily accept your offering. I’ll take a cute, slim imouto over disgusting cowtits Mai any day.

Besides, she literally eats phantoms, so I can easily justify it with “I dunno, magic?”

After that, a motorcycle drives past, Reina mistakes it for her sister, yells out “Onee-sama!” and then looks again to realize that her eyes were just deceiving her in a scene that’s kind of confusing because Reina calls out in a “hold up, you forgot something” way rather than a “wait, is that really you?” way. They call back to the “omagatoki” thing from last episode (which I’ve been informed was an actual thing and not just worldbuilding), which makes the scene even more confusing because it implies that she just saw a phantom playing tricks on her. In reality, I think it’s supposed to be setting up the arrival of the Vengabus a few moments later.

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We get a lot of trippy visuals when Reina gets on the bus. Images of her walking through a weird void leaving tons of afterimages and stuff. That’s good. The art in this particular episode is fantastic and the show should do more of this stuff.

Anyway, almost immediately, we cut to Reina outside her house. Her family scolds her for being late, telling her she’d better not be getting involved with phantoms. See, she hasn’t actually told her family she’s been phantom-hunting yet. At this point the gates start to do this weird thing.

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We haven’t seen this cube effect much since episode 1, and I have no clue what it’s being used for. It seems phantom-related, making this scene (where we don’t actually see Reina talking to her family, only hear them) seem really surreal, as if they’re not actually in the real world. They are. So what the hell is this effect used for? It only serves to look cool and confuse the audience in the process.

The next day nothing really happens apart from the team discussing what happened to Reina. Ruru is annoying as usual. Headphones reveals that she saw the whole thing happen last night but did literally nothing. They watch to see what happens this time.

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Which gives me an opportunity to rant about something I’ve somehow missed until now. So let’s assume Haruhiko and Reina wear the stock uniforms, right? Even assuming Phones there manages to get away with wearing the male uniform because the teachers are like “yeah whatever I guess that works,” how is Mai able to wear that ugly yellow thing to school each day? It looks nothing like the female or male uniform apart from the bow. I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s purely for fanservice since, you know…sweater puppies. The point of a uniform is that it’s, well, uniform. You don’t expect me to believe that they have the option of choosing that outfit instead, do you?

Right. Back to the plot. The Crazy Bus shows up. Reina gets on. Haruhiko goes after her. They end up here.

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Very pretty art. I like it. Music goes from surreal to a more happy, carefree, almost silly tune. Also, this is where we meet Reina’s bunny parents.

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Haruhiko tries to interfere, but they give him food and that pulls him into their hypnotism. This whole thing is a nice scene because Reina is really, really cute and plays up the imouto aspects of her character a ton, referring to Haruhiko as “onii-chan” and dropping a bunch of stock tropes you’d expect from an anime little sister.

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And you know what? I’m okay with this. I’m totally cool with it. Because this? This is clearly the result of phantoms feeding her delusions because they know her current home life sucks so they’re trying to give her something she’ll enjoy more. She’s playing out these cliches because who hasn’t wanted to play out these cliches now and then? I’m surprised that, when they left to take the bus to school, they didn’t run out the door with toast in their mouths. I would have found that acceptable. I would have liked that. See, this is how you use a cliche. If you’re going to present it straight, do so in a context where that’s justified. This whole scene is just cute, fluffy, trope-based fanservice and it works because it’s what Reina wants and possibly even what Haruhiko wants. And you can bet your ass that, at that point, it’s what the audience wants because it involves Best Girl being as cute as possible and we don’t have to worry about it seeming manufactured because that’s the entire point.

Anyway, they wake up on the bus and materialize outside Reina’s house and almost no time has passed. The next day, Reina explains things. She tells them that she hasn’t been able to tell her parents she joined the club because they’re essentially this world’s equivalent of overbearing conservative parents. They think phantoms are obscene and don’t want her getting involved with them at all. She also drops this.

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As a side note, once you hear that as “Mayonnaise-sama,” you will never unhear it. You’re welcome.

So they wait for the bus in the rain in the rain again and this time everyone gets roped in except for Headphones (because she’s having none of their shit) and Token Loli (because she hasn’t showed up at all this episode HEY PHANTOM WORLD WE’RE A THIRD OF THE WAY THROUGH THE SERIES WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO FUCKING INTRODUCE THE CHARACTER YOU’VE BEEN TEASING US WITH ALL SEASON, HUH?). Reina and Haruhiko go right back into their hypnotized state, but at least Ruru and Mai will…well, at least Mai will be able to help, right?

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Fucking Ruru. Fucking Ruru.

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Fucking Ruru.

Haruhiko has to use the pooper and dropping trou causes his bunny ears to vanish and him to snap out of his hypnotism. He quickly grabs Reina and drags her into turdland.

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Well, uh…I guess I can’t argue with that. I mean, I’m assuming they didn’t just make that up because otherwise it probably wouldn’t be in the story and as obnoxious as Haruhiko’s trivia is, it’s generally accurate. So I guess I learned something new. Bathrooms are portals to other worlds. Maybe that’s why hot showers and long pees feel so heavenly?

Haruhiko tries to snap Reina out of it, but it’s not working. So he has to undergo drastic measures.

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Really? Fucking really? We’re still doing this gag? “Haruhiko has physical contact with Reina and she yells ‘How dare you?’ and engages in physical violence” hasn’t gotten old after four fucking episodes in a row?

This is particularly egregious because if he is, as she believes, her brother, there is no reason she should react that way to a hug. I understand that different families express different levels of physical contact but it’s already been established that this is a pretty clingy family. I mean, don’t half-ass it with a hug. This one you have to full-ass. Have him kiss or grope her. You know, something family wouldn’t do! You want to get your breast-fondling in? Now’s the time! Don’t shy away from it!

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Haruhiko slowly drowning in a toilet. There’s probably a metaphor for the show in here somewhere.

Anyway, Reina has snapped out of it, confronted the fact that she’s willingly escaping into a fake life, and all’s well. Well, almost.

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So the two rabbit phantoms tell Reina that they can’t sustain the fantasy world if she’s awoken to it, and offer her a choice: she can either go back to reality, or she can stay in the dream forever. The choice is up to her, though. They’re cool either way. And of course Reina…begins walking towards them.

See, I like this. I like that she’s not strong enough to make the right choice. Haruhiko has to run after her to stop her. That’s good. But what happens next? That’s bad.

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Well. Um. Well. That is, um…well.

Uh…where did that all come from? That is a hell of a lot to drop on us all at once with absolutely no prior indication of it. Like, that’s heavy, serious stuff. And it all leads up to something good, which is Haruhiko convincing Reina not with “the real world is better,” but with “what if your sister comes home and you’re not there? You’re making the selfish decision and it’s not fair to the people who care about you.” He persuades her by guilting her, which is probably the only thing that would work. But it’s such a heavy thing to drop, again, with absolutely no indication or lead-up to it. Here’s an episode devoted to Reina’s character development that’s done relatively well, and shoehorned into the climax is Haruhiko’s sob story. It’s impossible to feel anything for Haruhiko because we’ve never seen him struggle with this at all and his troubles are kind of glossed over in the process of dealing with Reina’s troubles.

Apart from that, the scene is good. The music is good. It’s powerful. It’s just that there’s this big ol’ moment of bullshit in the middle.

Oh, hey, remember how I said Reina’s character development is handled relatively well? Well, “relatively well” doesn’t actually mean “actually well.”

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Let me get this straight. Your parents, who you’ve said hate anything to do with phantoms, who were extremely suspicious when you showed up with a male friend, who were apparently so stifling that your sister couldn’t handle it and left home…were won over with a simple heart-to-heart?

I’m sorry, but that’s not going to fly. You did not have a conflict with your parents. You had a plot device. There were two conflicts in this episode. The first was the phantom possessing Reina. That was handled well. The second was her deteriorating relationship with her parents. That? That was not even handled. It was hastily resolved offscreen and then given literally three lines of dialogue to establish that it had been solved.

This episode would have been way better as two episodes. Build up Reina’s tension at home a little more. Actually show us interacting with her parents. Have her bring her sister up in a relevant way before instead of just having her go “onee-sama” upon seeing Mai in episode 1. Build it up. Give us the confrontation where she actually talks to them about being in the club so we can see how they respond. Because what we saw of the source of this episode’s conflict was two scenes of her parents being overbearing (in which we only hear her father’s voice), and a few comments from Reina herself. The parts of the episode are good because the presentation is good, but everything outside that dream world is completely devoid of weight.

That’s really all I had for this episode. It’s pretty obvious that most of these issues are just nitpicks or me taking the opportunity to make a joke. But maybe I’m wrong somehow. Did I miss something and is the episode actually really bad? Let me know. Either way, I’ll be back next week as well. And I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but…hopefully, next week’s episode will be worse.

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