Shibuya, Japan, 2008. Takumi Nishijou, a high school student at the Private Suimei Academy, one day hears about the 'New Gen' murders that have been occurring around the city. Although dismissing the subject because it doesn't involve him, Takumi begins to experience strange mishaps around him, from a horrific picture he received while on his PC, to a mysterious Pink-Haired girl standing at a murder scene.
From there on Takumi struggles to cope with the events unfolding around him, and is soon unaware of what is real or a delusion. As his fate opens up before him, the perpetrator behind the 'New Gen' events attempts to find him, leading him into a world where nothing is as it seems.
I went into viewing ChäoS;HEAd without a great deal of expectations. Having read through many of the reviews and hearing some firsthand accounts on it I got the impression that it was going to be an average at best experience. However this was a show that I had been very interested in seeing since it started airing. For me it’s a great example of not believing everything you hear.
The story starts out as a pretty interesting mystery involving a number of grisly murders and a high school boy who believes he has witnessed one of them and is being fed information about
future killings before they happen. The boy is Takumi, a severely disturbed and socially awkward individual who is terrorized by delusions and paranoia. The plot feels genuinely creepy at times but doesn’t manage to sustain this over the course of the entire series. Because of Takumi's delusions the viewer is not always sure what is real or what isn’t. It does take some significant detours and while it’s not the smartest thing I have ever seen, in my opinion it managed to be interesting through the end. However one might feel about how the story changed focus over the course of the show, I did feel that it ended very nicely with most of the loose ends tied off.
Takumi's character for me was extremely interesting. Sure he is a stereotype of a socially awkward otaku, but what makes him a great character is his personality. He is an extremely disturbed person. His inability at times to know what is real or what isn’t made him fascinating. I enjoyed how he coped with his fear of others by imagining his favorite anime character as a companion. I felt the story did a great job in developing him and having him overcome his fears and questions about his own existence.
Sadly as good as I felt Takumi was as a character, the rest of the cast is quite uninspired. The girls all fall into the usual patterns that we see in every anime, from the moe sugar sweet best girlfriend to the brainy and to the cold hearted swordsman. Still despite this I still enjoyed most of them, particularly Yua and even though they weren’t that groundbreaking. The villains are equally stale from an originality standpoint. Their motivations are 2-dimensional and boring and really were a poor foil overall for the heroes to overcome.
The artwork is good for the most part but a little inconsistent at times. I felt the colors were kind of flat and the styles seemed awfully dated looking. In addition the character models felt.. familiar. It didn’t seem like there was any originality in designing them and some of them actually looked like they were ripped directly out of other anime. I did like the music, the opening was good and I felt set the tone, but the ending while a good song felt out of place considering the subject matter of many of the episodes.
Despite a number of faults I just can’t say that I didn’t like this show. It’s not great at anything it does. The thriller elements of the plot fall a bit flat and the action scenes really aren’t that interesting either. My interest in the main character and a decent storyline made this an enjoyable experience for me. I would recommend it, however if you looking for a superb suspense thriller or a great action you’re probably going to be disappointed.
Chaos;Head is a prime example of an anime that collapsed under the weight of its own ambition. In trying so desperately to separate itself from a myriad of other suspenseful thrillers while catering to a pre-selected audience, Chaos;Head spreads itself all of the place, so much so that everything about it is thin, flimsy, and overall disappointing. The end result, however, is stuff of unintended comic gold.
Chaos;Head starts fantastic with a very adventurous first episode brimming with possibilities. The play on otaku falling victim to their own delusions, coupled with a series of bizarre homicides was intriguing enough to keep me watching it repeatedly, but
then trouble began to surface. The series began to breach the mysteries it had established with theoretical existentialism, leading into discussions using made-up terminology that goes entirely unexplained and becomes even more convoluted as its short but utterly incomprehensible run comes closer to a finish.
Even more irritating, all of the mysteries and delusions established in the first episode are cast aside as convenient attention-getters. Nothing established in the first episode even matters to the big picture. Also, plot twists, while numerous, are established without any prior knowledge as to what they entail for the cast and revelations do not have any gravitas. The only reason I give the story any points is for the first few episodes alone, before it careened into self-destruction.
Characters are a little better, but only in certain instances. Main character Takumi is entrancing throughout the first half. His reactions to the mania around him are painfully crafted with a sense of realism so as to have Takumi's reaction become the mirror of the viewer, and it works very well. However, he betrays this reality of self when the series enters into its convoluted style of existentialism and he becomes a living deus ex machina.
The girls of the series are handled just as carelessly, often with vain attempts at giving them personality quirks but failing to capitalize on them. The only real exception to this is Kozue, but her traits are so forced and intruding, that by "cutesyfing" her the staff made her more off-putting than any other girl. Moreso, the series can only focus on one or two girls at a time, meaning that all the other girls suddenly disappear from the picture. This would be fine, except they often return with a wealth of new information we are forced to assume they learned off-scene.
Technical aspects are far better than anything the series offers otherwise, but not exceedingly so. The art is fairly average of the typical series these days. Madhouse obviously didn't break the bank, but the looks is acceptable. Takumi's character design, especially his face, is often hard to look at, but the girls all look acceptable. The animation flows well-enough but it's nothing to write home about. An all around average job.
The sound was good too, but only in some parts. Namely the theme songs; the first being a catchy Kanako Itou number with lyrics that make no sense but are befitting of the series' storyline, and the closer being an impossibly upbeat tune with lyrics that resemble bad stalker poetry. Sound effects and vocal performances also highlight various sequences. The prior are easily arguable, but the BGM is horribly composed. Not ear-bleedingly so, but still quite bad.
Yet for as sharp and horrible a nosedive as Chaos;Head took, I reveled in it. I wanted to see how bad the story got and how awful the characterization became. It may have been a poor series, but it reaches on "so bad its good" territory in the same way a handful of cult classics and B-movies do. It's not for everyone, but you can definitely have a lot of fun laughing at just how awful this series becomes.
Ever since Neon Genesis Evangelion's debut in the late 90's philosophically charged mind-frags have been a staple of anime. Many of these mind-twisting series are pretty brilliant, despite being exceedingly obtuse. Chaos;HEAd is definitely not one of these. Filled with nonsensical metaphysical babble, flimsy internal logic, and clearly not as smart as it thinks it is; this show is the perfect example of what happens when a psychological thriller goes completely wrong.
The show follows a socially inept (to put it VERY lightly) and barely sane anime obsessed recluse named Takumi Nishijou as he is pulled into a reality bending battle with the fate of the
world at stake. Grisly murders and suicides are taking place around the city, throwing it into confusion and fear. Takumi witnesses one murder being committed by a pink haired girl; a girl who appears to him at his school claiming to be his friend and classmate, something that all his acquaintances affirm even though Takumi has no recollection of her. This drives the already unstable Takumi into a paranoid panic, but the more he struggles to get back to his hermit lifestyle, the further he is sucked into a world of conspiracy theories and horrific happenings; as well as running into more cute yet strange girls.
This animated adaptation of a visual novel seems to be trying to do a lot of things. It tries to deconstruct or at least put a dark twist on the harem trend by giving its gaggle of girls twisted or scarred personalities. It tries to bring forth existential ideas with theories of how the mind perceives things and mind-powered reality bending abilities. It tries to be an intricately plotted suspense thriller, filled with hallucinatory imagery and cryptic ominousness concerning a prophesy, an evil organization, and a mysterious man in a wheelchair. The problem here is not a lack of ambition, the problem is that the show fails to execute well on anything it attempts.
Despite giving most of the cast damaged and twisted psyches, the story fails to make any of its characters compelling because they are just not believable. To put it simply, the characters do not act or behave like actual people. Takunm is so far gone that it pretty much impossible to relate to him. Imagine taking Satou from Welcome to the NHK and stripping him of the humanity which made him a compelling character, leaving only his extreme dysfunctions. Now imagine the show playing his insane ineptness as straight drama, rather than dark comedy; and you have Takumi. Takumi is a one dimensional caricature of a crazy otaku rather than a complex fleshed out character; so his turmoil and insecurities ring hollow. The rest of the cast pretty much follows suit. The gaggle of girls that surrounds Takumi is a collection of graphic novel stereotypes, devoid of much personality besides their strange mental dispositions. The main antagonist, who is revealed later in the series, lacks any kind of understandable motive; he's evil and wants to rule the world because the plot needed some kind of bad guy, I guess.
The show also tries way too hard to build tension. To be fair, the techniques it uses are pretty commonplace in psychological thrillers. Strange camera angles and hallucinatory are very useful tools to create an effective chiller. Unfortunately, the staff of Chaos;HEAd lacks the skill to use them effectively. There is no subtly to the suspense in the series, and as a result it is often ends up being unintentionally funny. Moments of high tension and sinister revelations happen sporadically with no rhyme or reason, making the plot unfold very unnaturally.
Just as bad is all the meta-physical babble in the series, in fact, that is probably the worst part. The shows has some 'interesting' concepts about the world, and how the mind can perceive and influence it, which are so far from reality they barely make sense at all. Unfortunately, the show is intent on trying pass off this confused jumble of ideas as something poignant. Worse yet, some of the concepts in the show are so implausible that the show spends a good amount of time with exposition to explain the convoluted logic behind them. Underneath all of this is a rather basic plot involving an evil organization bent on taking over the world and the unlikely heroes who must stop them that is over-complicated by all the nonsense the show puts us through.
On the technical side of things, Chaos;HEAd doesn't look bad, just woefully uninspired. The character designs are the placid moe-fied girls and plain looking guys; they are neither particularly appealing or hideous, but just kind of boring to look at because we see characters that look like this all the time. Backgrounds are fairly well detailed, but just like the characters, there is just nothing eye catching. The animation is standard quality for TV anime, nothing flashy with moments of choppiness, but nothing horrendous. Obscure camera angles and other effects are used quite frequently, but seldom effectively. The show does such a poor job at properly setting the mood that the effects come across as an obnoxious, failed attempt to be artsy. The soundtrack is sparingly used and when it is used, it hits a lukewarm semi-successful at best. There are many scenes in the show without music, but even in scenes with a track playing, the music just kind of fades away in the back ground, or is played at a blurring high volume. There are moments when the soundtrack is used to good effect, but they are rare and far between.
Chaos;HEAd is an exceptionally bad waste of 12 episodes. It is a show that takes half-baked ideas and tries to present them as something intelligent with endless psychological babble. Behind all the quasi-philosophical mumbo jumbo is a generic, and honestly, rather dull plot. Despite all the pretense of depth, Chaos;HEAd is poorly conceived creation devoid of believable characters, compelling storytelling, and worst of all, intelligence.
Chaos;Head is the most incompetent anime I've ever seen. I'll just put that out right here at the beginning. It's a prime example of how to mess up a potentially good premise. Now in case you were wondering, Chaos;Head is based off the now famous visual novel Chaos;Head created by 5pb x NitroPlus, who also created the popular Steins;Gate and Robotic;Notes visuals novels. Due to its popularity in Japan, it was eventually made into an anime by masters of anime Madhouse studios, and aired from October 9th, 2008 to December 25, 2008 (Wow it finished on Christmas Day, what a present that would be). Since
then it's been largely considered one of the biggest anime disasters of the 2000's. Why is this? Well let's start the review!
Our tale begins with our main character Takumi Nishijo, a pathetic and delusional otaku who lives in the Shibuya district in Tokyo. In his free time he plays MMORPG's and imagines his favorite anime character Seira talking to him. Seira keeps him company, but he often has to force himself to go to school, which is something that gives him great pain.
One day however Takumi's shut in life is changed for the worse when a mysterious user called the General sends him a link to a picture of a New Gen murder. The New Gen murders are strange killings that have been occurring in Shibuya lately, and the next day Takumi accidently finds one of the murders in progress. A mysterious young girl with pink hair and red eyes stands there, covered in blood smiling melancholically at Takumi. From this moment on Takumi's life only becomes more confusing. Strange girls start talking to him including the one from the murder scene, and he finds himself caught up in a strange conspiracy of murders, psychic abilities, and lots of trippy mind fuck sequences.
Chaos;Head's story has a great concept, one that I honestly think could have been good if executed properly. Not only does it have the ability to be a subversion of visual novel tropes, but it also has murders, suspense, and mysteries around every corner. However it seems Madhouse really did not want to make this show, because the production team only got 12 episodes to work with. This ends up very poorly for the concept as a whole since, not only does the story need to be cut down, but it gives the team more trouble adapting it.
You see adapting visual novels is really hard since there are many ways you can do it. There's the Key-Kyoto-Ani method used in shows like Clannad and Angel Beats, were all arcs are present but only one is made romantic. If you're feeling risky you could turn it into a love triangle with other arcs being, once again, unromantic. Then finally there's the lazy method used in shows like Amnesia or Photo Kano, where you use a convoluted plot device made up by the show to reset the timeline as many times as you want to show off every arc in its complete form.
Chaos;Head talks a very different approach to the whole matter however, and it's one that turns out rather poorly. Instead of doing any of the smart options, it takes a very who gives a crap method of adaptation, shoving in all of the arcs from the visual novel, but not really doing anything with them. Seriously Chaos;Head could give less of a crap about the romance, in fact you often find it making fun of the whole visual novel concept. So throughout most of the show the girls are just kind of there. They don't develop their relationships with Takumi very much, and I found the only relationship that gets any remote exploration is Rimi and Takumi's, and that's just because she's the main heroine. The girls are just pretty objects who spout exposition and get involved when necessary. A primary example of this in Nanami, Takumi's younger sister, who is pretty much ignored until the final three episodes when she's suddenly used as a damsel in distress to move the plot forward. This may have been effective if I actually cared about her, or any of the girls for that matter, but since she had only had 10 minutes of screen time up to that point it was almost laughable.
This leaves Chaos;Head to focus on the story, which is a complete mess. Shoving all the arcs into one messy blob was already a terrible idea, but combining that with the short 12 episode run time leaves the complicated story of murders and psychic powers jumbled. The show constantly throws around terms like Di-Sword, Gigalomaniac, Ir2, and so on and this leaves the whole story feeling more complicated than it needs to be. You constantly have to remind yourself what certain things are in the middle of scenes because everything's so cluttered. There will be a fight scene going on, for example, when a character suddenly remarks that Sena sent an image to Norose's dead spot, and you'll be like, "Wait, what's a dead spot again, and why should I care?" Really a lot of these things could be explained much simplier. For example you don't have to call a Di-Sword a Di-Sword, you could just tell the audience it's a sword that's summoned from your mind and you wouldn't haven't to label it such a weird term.
Oh and don't even get me started on how these things are explained! These concepts are often introduced through some of the most boring and annoying exposition talks from a girl from Takumi's harem. Some go on for five minutes of pure confusion, followed by Takumi saying stuff like, "What are you talking about?" Yeah I agree with Takumi, what are you talking about? I mean so many of these concepts could just be explained through small exposition! Look at show like Noragami for example, it had a world with its own terminology to build up also, and it did it very well. All it needed to do was say something like, "The far shore is the place where dead people go and the near shore is where living people are," and there you'd have it! The near shore is the real world and far shore is the afterlife. Instead Chaos;Head has long scenes spouting stuff that sounds like a complete confusing mess of words delivered through the mouths of boring and uninteresting visual novel girls.
Once again, the concept here isn't bad in theory. The New Gen murders and trippy plot elements could have provided a very interesting thriller, and the main protagonist could have lead to an interesting twist on the typical visual novel ideas. Chaos;Head sadly was not able to bring any of that to the table, not only because of the running time, but also because the team clearly had no idea of how to adapt the material or properly deliver the exposition in an easy to understand way. If the series had been 26 episodes maybe the show would have turned out better, but the product we have is a huge mess in its current state.
I wish I had nice things to say about the characters, but, as I said before, all the girls in this show are very boring. Rimi, Yua, Sena, Kozue, Ayase, and Nanami aren't very interesting as characters. Throughout the show they get very short back stories and often have tragic pasts to make them more relatable, but these attempts never really work. I think that's because, at the end of the day, these girls have little to no personality to speak of. Yes there character designs and voices are different, but otherwise I can't really think of any distinguishing personalities for them. I guess they have some archetypal harem traits, like Rimi being happy go lucky, Sena being a tsundere, and Ayase being the mysterious quiet one, but otherwise I've got nothing. Even Nanami, the oni-chan bait of the series is uninteresting. She's not over the top enough to really be memorable. This may be one of the rare times I wish anime archetypes had been employed better, because otherwise these girls aren't remotely interesting.
The same can be said of the other side characters such as the police detective and the villain Genichi Norose. Sure the show gives them screen time, but can you really say they're memorable? Detective guy Yasuji Ban barely has his name said throughout the show and is only there to say exposition, and Norose is just bland. Maybe Norose would be interesting if he, oh I don't know, had any real motivation. Seriously, throughout the entire run of the show I had a really hard time trying to figure out what his motivation was. I guess in the final episode it said he had a god complex and was going to bring eternal peace to the world... But then that only makes it more confusing! If he's going to bring world peace, why would he destroy cities to test the machine that was going to bring that peace?
In the end the only interesting character is the protagonist, Takumi Nishijo, but he isn't without his fair share of flaws. As I said before, Takumi is a shut-in otaku, a pathetic guy who hallucinates anime girls and sits around all day on the internet. This made him a very interesting protagonist from the beginning for me. A visual novel protagonist who is a complete loser and is portrayed that way in the anime, it's a miracle! It isn't all sunshine for long though because, even though Takumi's personality and character is conveyed well throughout the show, they don't seem to understand how to make him seem attractive to woman, or even someone who would be likable enough to hang out with. I guess you could argue they start talking to him because they want his Di-Sword, I mean, want him to unlock his Di-Sword, but then that doesn't explain why they start getting crushes on him. Okay, I do use the term crush very lightly here, as I said before Chaos;Head does not care about the romance so even the girls blushing or showing hints at liking Takumi are a rarity. Then again I guess Rimi says at the end she likes how pathetic he is... So I guess that means the girls fall in love with Takumi because they like submissive men? Either way it doesn't matter, because by the end of the show Takumi has barely developed anyways, so he just becomes unlikable.
The soundtrack is probably the only thing about Chaos;Head that isn't completely incompetent. I know that's a shock right! Now that being said the soundtrack composed by tOkyO isn't great, there are basically no stand out tracks here; but the show does know where and how to use its songs. Messy guitar chords and faded piano keys backed by eerie ambient noises and synthesizers, infect the chaotic mind fuck scenes perfectly, and during the normal scenes it provides the right tracks when needed. However a small nitpick I have is that there didn't really seem to be that many songs in the soundtrack overall. I found myself recognizing certain tracks a lot since they were used in similar scenes throughout the show, and that's not a good thing.
Then there are the bland opening and ending animations. They're not awful, but they are overall not very memorable, except for the ending theme which was sung almost entirely in English. The opening is especially boring since it's filled with all the generic points in most visual novel adaptation openings, without any real panache to make it look good. Sure it introduces all the characters and provides some interesting visuals, but overall it's the kind of opening you'll forget very quickly.
Out of all the bad parts of this show the animation confuses me the most. While I thought the story and characters could have been good, if there was one thing I thought would have been a guarantee going in, it would have been good animation. Madhouse is not really known for having bad animation quality in their work, and even there lower budget stuff tends to at least obtain some form of consistency to make it look good. The animation of Chaos;Head however is really lackluster, the character designs themselves are gaudy and uninteresting visual novel crap, and as soon as you move a few feet away from them in a shot they become piles of goop. Motion is also very stiff here, especially in the blandly directed fight scenes in the latter half of the show. Overall I'm really disappointed by this animation. While Madhouse couldn't have fixed the annoying character designs, I thought they at least would have but more effort into the actual fluidity of the show. Geez, Madhouse must have really not wanted to make this Chaos;Head! I mean a short run time is one thing, but lack luster animation from them is really a sign of hatred.
Like I said at the beginning of this review, Chaos;Head is the most incompetent anime I have seen to date. The story is rushed and badly adapted, the characters are uninteresting except for the main lead who ends up becoming a nuisance, and the animation is some of the worst I've seen from Madhouse. The only good things I can say about it are that it has a decent soundtrack and that it's at least not a boring disaster. As much as I hate to admit it, I was completely engrossed and entertained by how bad the show was throughout my time watching it, and I guess that counts for something. I still recommend you stay far away from this mess though.
Chaos;Head is available for purchase from Funimation Entertainment. It's also available for free streaming on Netflix (Dubbed and Subbed), Funimation.com, and Hulu, though for the latter two you'll have to have a premium subscription. There's also the visual novel created by 5pb x Nitroplus, which is not available in English at this time.
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