Content Warning: Blood, Character Death
What’s It About? It’s said that humans use only about 30% of their brains. The other 70%? Well, it’s believed that that’s where mysterious powers lurk, waiting to be unlocked, and also, where the term “Night Head” comes from. It stands for that particular lack of use, for that particular underuse. Enter brothers Kirihara Naoto and Kirihara Naoyo, two boys kept under scientific lock and key in a research lab for psychosis for the past 15 years. When they’re finally freed, they hope to go into a society ready to welcome psychics like themselves, only to find a Tokyo cast twenty minutes into the future with heavy psychic censorship.
Night Head 2041 was a title I picked up because the title tells you absolutely nothing about what this series is going to be about. I had no clue what I was jumping into.
So when I found out that it had motherflippin’ psychics, I was pretty hyped. I’m a fan of shows with psychics, and almost always find them to be a solid kind of character, even in the worst anime. When coupled with flashy, futuristic cyberpunk clothing, they become even more neat… at least I think so. But did my expectations match up to what actually happens in this premiere?
Well, let’s jump right on into Night Head 2041’s premiere and see.
Episode 1, “Barrier -Onset-”, starts off with monologue, setting a rather dismal image of this cyberpunk, glitchy SFF future. In many ways, it echoes Fall 2020’s Akudama Drive, filling the screen with neon colors and futuristic tech, the likes of which exist in SFF… for now. Only, unlike the likes of Akudama Drive, Night Head 2041 is a world that combines our own current, mundane cyberpunk existence with a world steeped in science and the physical.
In fact, even worshipping Buddha–or keeping to any cultural religious norms, superstition, fiction, or anything “unreal”–is forbidden, a feat that definitely is hard to imagine in 2021. When compared to Akudama Drive, it actually makes it stand out: Akudama Drive is structured around shinto and deeply steeped in Japanese cultural superstition and religious belief. Imagining a Japan that bans such a key part of its culture is fascinating, to say the least.
But there’s not much time to contemplate that: Night Head 2041 quickly dives into the plot, introducing us to this episode’s villain, as it were, and picking up the pace for a high-octane ride with two brothers hellbent on surviving, thriving, and unravelling a heck of a lot of mysteries in this forty minutes into the future version of modern Tokyo. Does it maintain that imagined pace?
Well… no. It’s actually kind of slow in a lot of places.
Night Head 2031 is done in CGI for most of its premiere, giving it a slightly gummy feel that actually… looks really good. We still haven’t gotten to the point where CGI anime look good 100% of the time, but Shirogumi Inc., the studio producing Night Head 2041, does well, thanks to Wish (paint on No. 6, Show by Rock!!, and Silver Spoon) and Studio51’s (Girls’ Last Tour) help as well.
Yet despite the nice animation, the solid enough character designs–I’m a big fan of Naoto and Naoya’s looks–as well as the music, which does a solid job, I kept thinking of one of my favorite novels, Mardock Scramble, as I watched. And in many ways, it’s an apt comparison just without an author who beat his wife, regardless of dropped charges. And once again, I kind of hate that I kept comparing Night Head 2041 to other stuff. I really wish this stood more on its own, though there’s definitely some powerful scenes where it absolutely does, pulling me into this version of Tokyo a bit more. I just wish the premier had, well… more engaging scenes.
In the end, Night Head 2041 is… actually quite boring, at least initially. Things pick up when brothers Naoto and Naoya come into play, providing a new point of view that ensures the show will most likely be entertaining as it gets its footing. And while this premiere is nice to look at, has plenty of action, and makes me think of other things, but that’s the problem: it made me think of other things. I’d rather be rewatching Akudama Drive, which goes zero to 100 and never stops until it absolutely flat-out just does.
I suppose that’s the shame here: Night Head 2041’s premise of “even thinking about anything not grounded in hard fact is a crime” is actually interesting, especially as we face more and censorship of “wrong” bodies, “wrong” thought, and “wrong” desires in our actual, everyday society. It could serve as a powerful message that pushes back against limiting ideas of what we should create and think and do… kind of like Akudama Drive did.
And perhaps it isn’t fair of me to compare Night Head 2041 to such a powerful show, especially since this is just episode 1. In fact, I’m willing to bed that Night Head 2041 will grows the beard next week, building up its already fascinating world, as well as Naoto and Naoya, who have the makings of two really neat characters.
That, alone, is enough to keep me watching through to episode 3. I’d like to give Night Head 2041 a fair shake: it’s a three star premiere (out of five, not ten; I’m not brutal) with potential to do so much more. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be all about Night Head 2041 this season. Probably not, but… you never know. Truth is often stranger than fiction.