Content Warning: corporal punishment, corpses
What’s it about? After a strange storm, 36 students find themselves alone in their school with no teachers and no way to leave, as the building itself has been transported into an inky void. Moreover, some students have developed incredible powers…and some have not. In the wake of this mystery, a power struggle begins.
I’m almost struggling for what to say about this one, as it’s the kind of first episode that essentially exists as a precursor to the last two minutes. What is clear is that this is the kind of speculative fiction that has Big Ideas, backed up by prestigious Space Dandy director Natsume Shingo, and in a genre as glutted with uncreative cash-ins as isekai, that might be enough to keep me hooked. A take on being “transported” that leans into Lord of the Flies-style horror? Yes, please.
This premiere is impressively economical, introducing quite a few characters by memorable gimmick if not name: you have the scheming student council president and his two cronies, a delinquent with hidden depths, and a bookish boy investigating the void (who also makes this the third anime of the season to prominently include a dark-skinned character in its cast), in addition to our more-or-less protagonists Nozomi and Nagara. The visuals have a Yuasa-esque flatness, which ties in smartly to those themes about self-determinism and looks pretty damn cool when paired with the world-cracking effect that accompanies characters using their superpowers. It’s distinct, which is another thing I crave constantly in anime these days.
Nozomi was my biggest hurdle on this one. While she’s technically one of the most active in moving the episode’s plot forward, she had such big Manic Pixie Dream Girl energy that I spent half of the first episode expecting her to be shy outcast Nagara’s hallucination. There’s a lot of room for that to change, but I found myself unable to engage with her speeches about anti-conformity when they seemed more or less calculated to jump-start Nagara’s character development.
Because boy howdy, does this have Things to Say about individualism vs conformity, to the point where I feel a little bit unqualified to speak to the depths of it. Between the run-down school and doling out of rations heavily evoking World War II and the extensive dialogues about “joining” and submitting to the proper authority (not to mention the prominence of that sympathetic delinquent character), this is very clearly a show engaging with that cultural concept of “the nail that sticks up gets nailed down.” The result of all those big speeches is that I ended up feeling more intellectually than emotionally engaged, which isn’t an approach that’s going to work for everyone, but it was so deliberately executed that it can’t correctly be called a flaw.
It does arguably feel a little smug in places—Nagara triumphantly declaring that she doesn’t use a smartphone as part of her Cool Girl-ness definitely made me roll my eyes—but there were enough glimpses at deeper nuance in the slow, deliberate, and sometimes arrestingly tense pacing that I’m already eagerly awaiting the next episode.