Over the past few years, I have been a witness to the rapid decline of KyoAni. First came Chuu2, a middling but otherwise inoffensive rom-com. Then came Kyoukai no Kanata, an absolute disaster of writing, and the creaking of KyoAni's creative efforts could start to be heard. And now, several more mediocre series later, we have Musaigen no Phantom World, a title so vapid and effortless that I believe KyoAni has finally reached the point of being irredeemable. KyoAni is over. It is over, and it's not coming back.
If not for the KyoAni name—now worthless— nobody would have cared about what Phantom World has to offer. It is your typical, uninspired rom-com that we get in the dozens every single year. There is nothing you have not seen here before, and nothing to inspire a viewing aside from the fact that it 'looks and sounds nice'. They stayed KyoAni on the outside, but on the inside they are merely a shallow, rotting husk of what they used to be.
It is not even worth the time to discuss the art of Phantom World. Anyone who has seen even a single KyoAni anime knows exactly what they're getting here. Their art no longer impresses me. I am also getting tired of forgiving their shows' terrible plots and characters just because they happen to look pretty. If all they are now capable of is drawing cute characters and flashy OPs and EDs, then perhaps they should leave anime and go work on manga and TV commercials instead?
KyoAni seems to have forgotten what made previous titles like K-ON and Haruhi so successful: characters. There is not a character within the show who is developed in any meaningful way, and only one—Kurumi— is even worth a damn, and that's not just because I love twintails and wish to be surrounded by twintailed beauties for the rest of my days. Kurumi is the only one who actually feels like a person and not just an assortment of tropes slapped together ('cool', 'big boobs', 'tsundere'). She acts remarkably her age; her seiyuu even goes as far as to stutter and poorly enunciate her words, as a girl in primary school would. Minase? I had to look through the character listing to even remember her name.
Phantom World has another one of those 'dumb male friend' characters, similar to Ishiki from Chuu2, but manages to do so little with him that you forget he even exists. Not only is he a waste of space like just about every character in this show, but it is real tiring seeing all these pseudo-harem anime incapable of making a second male character who is actually a competent person and not just background fodder or some dumb, running gag.
Ruru, the show's mascot character, clearly exists only to sell merchandise and figures. Unlike, say, Tamako Market's Dera-chan, who was actually a unique and amusing character, the little fairy here is nothing but an annoyance. Her small size is quite fitting, being little more than a fly buzzing around in the protagonist's and the viewer's faces. It is also quite pathetic how the show attempts to make us care for her suddenly, the protagonist stretching his hand out towards the sky and screaming! Tears! Drama! Give me a break.
Phantom World regularly treats its audience like it is a mass of buffoons who have never been to school. It uses—you guessed it— Schrodinger's Cat in a vain attempt to seem more philosophical and meaningful than it actually is. Yes, we know what Schrodinger's Cat is. We are not idiots. It does not need to be explained to us for the umpteenth time in anime. The show even goes as far as to explain what a trojan horse is, as if we know absolutely nothing about the world and have been sitting on our mommy's lap sucking our thumb since the day we were born.
Not only does Phantom World pull the awful transfer student trope, but the character is literally accepted into the school within hours of attaining their 'human form', and they do so without any form of identification or previous educational experience that would, you know, be necessary in a school transfer? It is true that the series is not attempting to be perfectly realistic, but if it wants to use the high school setting then at the very least it should actually try to have its high school resemble a high school.
Nothing interesting is done with the premise, aside from, say, creating excuses for nonsense like all the characters suddenly turning into cats. I'm sorry, but giving the girls cat ears and tail and making them end all their sentences with "nyan" does not do anything to improve the quality of the show. I enjoy cuteness in anime quite a bit, but the least KyoAni could do is try to make it more natural and less artificial, less like they are writing and structuring the anime by checking off boxes for everything that has ever been considered 'cute'. I half-expected there to be an episode where everyone starts calling the protagonist "onii-chan".
There are regular doses of fanservice, in scenes such as the main heroine, Mai, doing the limbo dance, her boobs jiggling and bouncing all over the place for the viewer's apparent satisfaction. Fanservice as a whole really needs to go away from anime, at least as far as its sexual incarnation is concerned. There exist hentai, doujins, eroge and other forms of pornography for a reason. If I wanted to feel aroused, I would watch or read one of the above-mentioned media—they do it far better. I do not come to anime to see butts and panties and girls being licked by slimy monster tongues as if I am a child who does not know what porn or sex actually is. I love sexy things about as much as I love the story-driven stuff, but the two really need to not mix unless it is absolutely necessary. I can count on one hand the times an anime has been able to pull that off successfully.
At least Kyoukai no Kanata, as poorly-written as it was, could be given the slightest bit of credit for trying. Phantom World doesn't even do that much. It is as if KyoAni has accepted that their best days are forever behind them, and have now resigned themselves solely to producing lifeless, mediocre rubbish that will be forgotten after a month's time. Even producing something completely middling like Chuu2 now seems to be beyond their reach. Their in-house writers are so incompetent that they may as well just go back to adapting visual novels again; they've clearly demonstrated how incapable they are of doing anything themselves.
People will still watch Phantom World because it is made by KyoAni. There are many people who still hold fond memories of the anime KyoAni used to make, and there are those who have only just started watching their more successful titles and do not yet know what the KyoAni of today is like. These fans are being manipulated and lured into watching a bad anime merely because it looks and sounds like a KyoAni title, and not because it is actually a worthwhile story on its own merits. It is a husk. Shiny it may be, but empty it is and will ever be. A sad sight indeed.
But the anime industry is a big place, and it will live on regardless, even if one of its most influential studios has withered away. Anime doesn't need KyoAni anymore. It's time to move on. I already have.