(warning: this is slightly long. If you wanna read something grab to munch on or drink while reading)
If you either watch Anime regularly, or at least dappled into its online world; chance are, you have heard of Vocaloid or seen its icon, Hatsune Miku. One of the biggest confusions that I faced when first entering the online world was that whether Vocaloid was a show or not.
And it turns out, it isn't; and instead, it is a popular program used to create artificial voice to sing and much more. With a devoted fanbase promoting its artworks all over the web, it is one of the most recognizable icons of the Anime online culture.
Naturally, I was consistently interested in what would happen if a show were made out "Vocaloid," or any of the alike franchises; even though I was not a regular listener of any of the artists that use the program.
In 2013, when it was announced that "Kagerou Project," a series of songs created by Jin(Musician) will be animated by Studio SHAFT - a studio known for its unique style - it was an exciting thing. Although I knew nothing about it aside from its success, I was hyped to see just what kind of a show a Song series could produce.
But the result, was also one of the most disappointing. In this review I will review several aspect of the show, and suggest whether you should watch it based on the criterial.
One of the more important things of Anime with a story to tell is how it handles its pacing.
The allocation of its episodes and what happens in them, and the handling of the pacing was probably the most disastrous aspect of the series.
The story starts with an ambiguous tone of playful interactions between the cyber-girl Ene and her "master" Shintaro, then it quickly delved into a hostage situation, which brought about the Mekakushi-dan, a group of supernatural ability users. Then, the story uses an arc pattern to advance each episode, with each character given about 1 episode of time for their background story.
Several placements of important story aspects resulted in ineffective communication. For example, Ayano's appearance in the beginning of a few episodes was brief and abstract, followed by the story shifting ina radically different direction, making it hard to remember that she was even there. Then there is the "story of the monster," a segment placed in the end of each episode telling a story in a abstract, fairy-tale slideshow manner. That story was one of the most important aspect of the series, but it was placed AFTER the ending theme, resulting in it easily being skipped. Another problem came along the monster story seems to be the abilities themselves. They were never fully explained in the early stages of the series, and thus had to be fastly explained near the ending.
Secondly, much of the character arcs were taken up by humorous interactions. Which is in most cases, fine and important for developing believable relations between characters. But due to the slow pace of the series, the humorous interaction defocused the story from the plot and resulted in a large infodump around the end of the series, showing its poor allocation. Some inappropriate interactions, such as the battle between Ene and Kano did more to detract the mood rather than anything else. Though it is noted, some of the light hearted moments were truly entertaining to watch.
Third, some of the more important characters were ignored/not given an arc/had a counterproductive airtime. Marry, an important character to the "monster story" was virtually not given any background information until near the end of the story. Seto also came off as boring and rather forced into relevancy due to him hardly given any memorable lines in the show, and the nature of his meeting with Marry. And Shintaro just spends his time roaming around most of the series, hardly interacting with the rest of the Mekakushi-dan. More important, Hiyori, whose character displayed a fowl mouth towards Hibiya that would make one less sympathetic towards her and puzzling to those that wonder why in the world did Hibiya like her.
The conclusion: the Cohesion is a jumbled mess that does not focus on the story that the series ends up centering around, and added with poorly placed foreshadowing and detracting character interaction makes the series hard to comprehend, and resulted in a condensed ending that shows poor pacing.
Coming from Studio Shaft, the series is animated with a focus on the main characters in a simplified, Metro style artwork(Just as the popular Monogatari series has). Most of the world is simplified into single colors filling a shape, such as the background characters. But that doesn't stop it from having complex artwork, such as the ink-drawn detailed animation that Ayano's mother's diary received, and the video game world with the complex colors.
The animation isn't very fluid - that is not to say it is clunky - but it follows the Shaft style. Examples such as slowly zooming up to a character's face as he/she talks, sudden cut-scenes within seconds. Some poor choices were made such as using CGI to animate the infamous episode 8 opening, but all in all, it was mostly stylistic.
However, a cost also came to the unique animation that Studio Shaft offered. Most of the dialogue exchanges were uncomplicated, unlike that of the Monogatari series'. In fact, there series dialogue was so uncomplicated, that at times it felt boring to watch the uniform landscape. Another problem was the character designs, they at times, felt too simplified as well, and lacked the finished touch of some of other Shaft's works.
In short, there is a wide variety of animation style in a generally flat design of the scenaries, but at times, it could feel boring, with the combination of its next aspect.
Most of the episodes were named after the Songs themselves made by Jin, and were at times inserted into the episodes. However, in the first half of the series, a noticeable flaw was the lack of background music(BGM). This, combined with the simplified visuals, made a boring experience to watch as ill-developed characters interact with each other, while not exchanging anything particular interesting. The songs and OP/ED are all fine, especially if you are already a fan of the Kagerou Project. For the most part, the Sound does a suitable job.
The character is composed of a relative large central cast(10), as did Baccano and Durarara. Where the latter 2 series handled their character development and interaction with mastery, Mekakucity Actors did not. Due to time restraints, some characters were left feeling dull such as Marry and Seto's, and others would likely confuse you as to whether you should feel sorry about or not(Hiyori).
While Shintaro and the Dan's interactions was handled fine, there was a sense of purposelessness at the end of the series to him being the central character; their interactions almost felt like they had no reason to exist, and calls in question whether he is the protagonist or not.
The villain is even weaker. Until episode 10, there wasn't even a clear villain.
Moreover, the villain's motivations were weak and cliched, weakening the story(and the poorly explained abilities).
Some characters' feelings did not resonate nearly as much as they would with the Kagerou Project songs, such as Haruka's feeling of loneliness. Most of the characters, all in all, came off as unmemorable and weak(possibly due to time constraints and allocation).
This was an interesting attempt to translate popular works of songs into animation. Some of the other successful franchises, such as Black Rocket Shooter, Vocaloid, Touhou franchise, and the Kantai Collection, in my postulation, mained garnered such a large fandom thanks to the non-linear nature of their franchises. Most of the characters were simply nice designs, with plenty of room for the viewer's personal interpretation of the character, resulting in the plethora of fanarts that can be found across Pixiv.
Mekakucity Project failed to live up to the expectations of fans mainly due to its poor explanation of abilities as well as the background for the finale of the story, the constrained timeline, the poorly presented characters and the lack of some, the combination of simplified animation and lack of engaging BGM during some of the isolated scenes across the series, resulting in a poorly produced, and apparently rushed anime.
But it is still watchable for those interested in the characters themselves mostly, and would like to see them interacting together, as well as the modern animation style of Studio Shaft along with some quality Kagerou Project songs. For the average viewer, this could be a fresh approach to Anime.
The Final score: 6/10