Akanesasu Shoujo (Which I will refer to henceforth by its English title, Girl in Twilight) is one of the more fascinating pieces I've watched lately, a curious mixture that both knows what it wants to be and somehow manages to be a little bit of everything alongside. It might not be what it appears to be at first, but when you get down to it, the truth is more than worthy.
Let's talk about the story – we're centered around the Radio Research Club, a group of five high-school girls who like hanging out with each other (sort of) and messing with crystal radios when they have the time. One of them, Asuka, seems to have some passion for both the hobby and an odd little practice called the ritual of 4:44, a mysterious invocation to be performed at twilight. Sure enough, despite who knows how many attempts before, the ritual finally works, and transports the girls to another world, a space of golden light and drifting sand, inhabited by strange creatures that quickly prove hostile. The girls are rescued by an alternate universe version of Asuka, and from there the story really begins.
Girl in Twilight, though, is not what it seems on the surface. Which is to say, it's not a dimension-hopping action/adventure. OK, the characters do hop dimensions, and there is occassionally some action and it's decent when it occurs (more on that later) but the pacing and conceits are more about character drama than they are sci-fi exploration or beating up monsters.
The pattern for the show is this: The girls travel to a new world – one of countless alternate branching timelines that somehow have all the same people in different roles – with one of them serving as the “link”, merging with their alternate dimension self rather than simply traveling. The world they go to will be some kind of dystopia where the girls, spearheaded by the Link who will gain new powers through self-realization, will battle a minion of the Twilight, a force of stasis and emptiness that consumes dimensions because... well, basically the Twilight is to space what the Langoliers are to time.
Here's the thing: each time the show actually runs its pattern, it takes two episodes to do it, not one as you might expect. The show uses the extra time in order to do what it's really good at, the character drama.
In the end, Girl In Twilight isn't about the struggle of transforming heroes known as Equalizers against the forces of Twilight, it's about our five leads and how they can grow to understand and accept themselves in ways they didn't to begin with. As such, each iteration of the show's pattern is mostly about one character's personal issues. While all five characters start off looking like they could be fairly flat, each and every one of them grows dimensional when explored over the course of an arc.
There is, however, that meta-story. I'd describe it as... serviceable. The Twilight is a pretty easily understood threat. Even if it has deeper implications, it's pretty easy to get that this world-consuming force is bad. And while the individual arcs and their dystopian visions don't always hit the mark, in that they mostly don't feel like real might-have-been scenarios, the larger plot does land, mostly because it takes its sweet time building it up bit by bit. It's good throughout. The moments work, and the whole works, and the ideas are potentially dynamite, so I can't ask for a lot more.
The art, however, is a topic I'm split on. Some of this show is absolutely gorgeous. The Twilight's golden glow is stylish, and the colors and backgrounds overall are very pretty. The character designs are good, they express a lot in small details, and actually mostly fit into their various scenarios. When we get into the action scenes, though, things aren't quite so good. The action itself is nice: there are only a couple enemies involved, but there are only a couple fights in the show so that works out, and the choreography of the fights is... it's decent, at least. Some of the enemies and monsters lend themselves to more dynamic battles than others, but there's always at least a good sense of motion and a good ebb and flow. The CGI though can be kind of conspicuous and detracts overall, while the designs of the super modes of the characters are a real mixed bag. Some of them look decent all the time, some can look amazing at times but goofy at others, and at least one is just an unintentional laugh riot. Granted, the characters aren't transformed long (because, again, not a lot of combat; it isn't the point) but I feel like a little more care could have been taken here. The sound is good, but not amazing, I didn't find fault with any of the voices at least.
Then there are the characters and... they're probably the best reason to watch this show. The characters are, in the end, very real. You feel the pain they're going through, and want to see them reach their resolutions. Talking about each one in depth is something I could do, something I would love to do... but more than anything, that's what would count as a spoiler. The show is at its best when the characters are feeling things, or realizing things about themselves, expressing and communicating their emotions. The show has some advantage that they seem like real people with real problems in their “main universe” lives, so the relatively tropey alternate universe versions we see work not as a replacement for their real issues, but as a lens to understand those issues by them being expressed in less subtle scenarios.
Girl in Twilight isn't here for transforming monster fights. It's here for conversations and explorations of what makes people who they are, and how they can deal with their problems and move forward. That's what makes the show strong.
If there's competition in what the show does best, though, it's ideas. I'll be honest, I underestimated this show right to the end. It's hard not to; it starts off presenting “A world like ours but every X has to Y!” dystopias, which aren't exactly the freshest concepts. But it's not using them for themselves, it's using and discarding them to reach something greater. Throughout the first half of the show, I didn't exactly love it, though I thought it was better than its rating at the time had lead me to expect. In the second half, though? The show really takes off there as we explore the Twilight and the concepts behind it, and in that it has good turn after good turn. Girl in Twilight went to places much more honest, heartfelt, and mature than I would have dreamed it would go, and I have a lot of respect for the show for it.
Now, I want to step back to a moment. I want you to think about the bits of media you really remember from your youth, and the marks they left on you. For me (and a lot of Americans my age) one of those is The Neverending Story. It had evocative imagery and a really grand sense of wonder, and it challenged me as a child for a ton of reasons, two of which were because it didn't shy away from something just because it was sad and because it didn't have a villain you could just punch out. The Nothing wasn't like the Wicked Witch of the West or Darth Vader. It wasn't a person, it was an esoteric idea that would destroy a beautiful world simply because that was its nature. And the struggle against The Nothing is one that's uncompromising, where the losses along the way feel real and heavy. The Nothing is iconic because it forces you to think. It's an idea, and though the destruction it wreaks is very real, the source is something that requires at least a little work to understand.
I think a lot of the things that really stay with you are like that – challenging and uncompromising.
At the start of my review, I compared the Twilight to the Langoliers (of Steven King fame), but when you get down to it, the Twilight here is the closest anything I can think of has come to recapturing what made The Nothing a great nemesis.
This isn't just because it's a somewhat mysterious force that consumes worlds, though the similarity in that nature certainly helps – it's because the Twilight and The Nothing are ultimately both ideas that tie deeply into the stories they find themselves rooted in. The Nothing is a destructive force of void and annihilation that's formed by ennui and dying imagination, loss and despair, and the struggle is ultimately to hold on to wonder and beauty. The Twilight is different – we learn early on that the Twilight is stasis, and for a long time we're just left with that, and don't necessarily make much of it: Stop shiny gold monsters with swirly masks, that's good right? What you don't realize is that there's far, far more to the conflict between the Twilight and our heroes than might initially meet the eye.
I've mentioned before; the characters in this show grow a lot. They're forced to grow, and their experiences cause them to come to terms with their pasts and move forward to the future. But, as an agent of halted time, unmoving in nature, the Twilight would deny that very idea. Stasis is the natural opposite of moving forward. Even the sometimes silly dystopias are anethmatic to the Twilight, because they represent possibilities. In Girl in Twilight, new worlds are created from different possible histories, ways the world could move forward that diverge from one another. And the Twilight is the 'world' that could never diverge, could never spawn any of these new worlds, because it is the world that doesn't change and can't change.
All of this is addressed in the show, at least eventually. And it's addressed very smartly. Asuka and her friends don't need to spell out why the Twilight is bad, or how they're different from the Twilight's ideals; they just interact with their universe and you see it in how that falls out. The show does get a bit esoteric, but I think that's a good thing. There are experiences it wants to convey that aren't easy to understand and the use of non-literal but powerful visuals helps support the sense that there is something very different going on.
Girl in Twilight has the potential, in the end, to be the same kind of challenging as the greats that stick with you. It doesn't tie up everything nicely like a fairy tale, it doesn't answer every question it raises. And I think that's a good thing. There's more than enough hope in the tale and the ending alike to believe in, so even if you don't fix every little thing, even if the characters have to accept their pain and carry their scars rather than erasing them... it feels earned.
I don't think that Girl in Twilight is a masterpiece on the whole. There are too many parts that work only passing well; The individual worlds we visit before really engaging directly with the Twilight are the kind of setups that really need a Rod Serling Twilight Zone narration, and wouldn't necessarily be great even with that treatment. The action is alright, but only just alright, and to an extent I question its necessity (though it is very well used at times) and the designs of the monsters and transformations are a bit hit or miss. I think the deliberate pacing of the show, taking its sweet time to build up its ideas and characters over episode after episode, is fine and even works to the show's advantage, but especially for the first half it means you don't get real gratification. And while the ending is powerful and moving, I have to admit that it doesn't necessarily make literal sense; it would take some work on the part of the viewer to put together what really happened. It's strange... I appreciate the show a lot, but it was not among the most entertaining I've watched.
That said, I do think Girl in Twilight is a show that deserves to be seen. You need to give it your time, rather than relying on a taster of a couple episodes, because it builds steam constantly towards its final episodes. It only gets stronger with every passing movement.
Total: 8.6 (9)
Final Verdict: Akanesasu Shoujo has powerful ideas, deep characters, and a beautifully adult attitude if you let it take the time to get where it needs to go. I'd highly recommend it, even if it's more about how it makes you feel or think than how it can entertain.