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.