Noitamina has had a rough year. After starting off strong with two commercially successful TV shows and the ticket selling Psycho Pass movie, the programming block’s epic plans fell apart pretty quickly. One of the three Project Itoh movies was delayed due to Studio Manglobe’s bankruptcy, The Empire of Corpses’ ending was rushed out the production door, and Ranpo Kitan and Punch Line absolutely bombed with their blu-ray sales. So with things looking bleak, Noitamina watchers like me looked towards the nearest source of optimism, aka The Perfect Insider. Was this final show of the Fall 2015 season enough to save a year of otherwise disappointing Noitamina projects, or was it just another failure?
Well, yes and no. In a year where Punch Line was one of their better offerings (I’m not saying Punch Line was bad, I just don’t think it’s really the best this program can do), The Perfect Insider stands leagues above all the rest, but it isn’t without some major issues. Not only is it the most artistically ambitious out of all the projects that started airing this year, but it’s also the one that hurts the most to watch. Rarely do you get a project that has so many components ready to create something great, only to have it fall back onto its lazier tendencies and collapse just as reaches the finish line.
Anyways, before I dive into the nitty gritty of this anime, here’s another plot summary you could have easily looked up on Google. The story of The Perfect Insider follows college student Moe Nishinosono and her professor Sohei Saikawa as they decide to visit the laboratory headquarters of the mysterious Dr. Shiki Magata. Dr. Magata is both a respected genius and a feared criminal, since she murdered her parent’s and charged with insanity at the young age of 14. Sohei , a narcissistic nihilist, admires her skill and craft greatly, while Moe is immediately fascinated and disturbed by her cold exterior. Their feelings only get more complicated when they discover Dr. Magata’s body trapped in her room and dressed in a bright white wedding gown. It’s a locked room mystery, and now it’s up to the professor and his student to crack the case!
Now, as many anime bloggers have deduced before me, mystery anime usually aren’t very good. So I don’t think I’m going to surprise anyone reading this post when I say the best part of this show is easily the character writing. Then again, the writing may not be the right thing to praise here. I mean yes, at their core Sohei and Moe are compelling and decently written characters with hidden motivations, understandable backstories, etc. But to me the truly great thing that sets them apart from most other characters is the way the show frames them visually.
Whether it be the contrasting shots of Shiki Magata and Moe Nishinosono in a cold interview room, or the shot compostion distancing two characters, director Mamoru Kanbe knows how to make the cinematography striking on both a visual and symbolic level. The scene that always sticks out to me on this front would have to be the dream like sequence in episode 7, where memories of Moe’s tragic childhood unfold in blurs and crumbling lego blocks. This scene not only is perfect at really expressing the pain of Moe’s past, but the way it cuts off people’s faces creates a sense of claustrophobia and personality that’s almost beautiful in it’s eeriness.
In general though, The Perfect Insider is a really nice looking show. Inio Asano’s original character designs help give a distinctly modern flair to an otherwise very 90’s-esque mystery, with hipster like shirts, buzz cut + swooping hair combos, and thigh high socks dominating the fashion sense of these characters. As for animation consistency, A-1 Pictures does a pretty good job here. The visual direction is the main selling point, but it also helps that characters rarely go off model; though that could just be because most scenes are very dialogue driven. Sadly the color palette and use of CGI is a little less impressive. There’s an ever present filter of grey over most of the environments, and the occasional interjection of CGI jellyfish is almost groan worthy. There were a few zoom shots that impressed me with their subtle use of 3D modeling, but yeah don’t expect anything truly amazing here. Also did I forget to mention Kenji Kawai composed the soundtrack? Well he did and it’s pretty good, even if it is understated.
So with all of these compliments, you’d think that I would have nothing really awful to say about The Perfect Insider. After all, watching Sohei and Moe bond over their past, while the sun rises up from the ocean is always a joy. Sohei may be a bit of an asshole, and Moe may be a bit over her head, but they bring out the best in each other. It’s moments like these that really showcase the strengths of each character, making Sohei more than just a slightly nihilistic and prudish professor, and making Moe more than just a lovestruck college girl. So what if it has a weak mystery? The character drama here is way above average!
However, to my surprise, it turns out that even I have a limit with these things. To put it bluntly, The Perfect Insider’s main mystery is pretty generic… And kind of stupid… And not very interesting– But we’re not here to just list off vague descriptors, so let me get into some specifics.
I think one of the main problems with The Perfect Insider’s mystery is that you’ve probably seen it all before. Shiki Magata has multiple personalities, the boring locked room mystery with no traces of a criminal, the vague philosophical statements found on empty computers, it’s just all very familiar. It would be one thing if the show did anything unique with these tropes, but it doesn’t. Besides a few conversations that connect back to the character’s own inner struggles, most of it is boring philosophical dreck.
What if humans are just computers? What does it mean to be truly alone? All of these questions only truly become interesting when they’re put into the context of Shiki Magata’s life, which thankfully happens quite a bit. Otherwise though, the mystery didn’t really hook me. I wanted to know where it was going I guess, but only because it would reveal more twists about Magata’s inner psyche, and the connections between that and the other cast members. It was never because I was incredibly interested in who the killer was, which is fine, like I said before the characters are the best part of this show… But then the ending happens.
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an ending that jumps the shark as much as The Perfect Insider. I won’t spoil it here obviously, but if I had to pinpoint what makes the final two episodes a let down, it’s how they start to take Sohei and Magata seriously. Throughout the show, I liked how it had never once gone out of it’s way to make Sohei seem like a cool guy. Sure, he could be kind and occasionally nice toward Moe, but the show consistently never took a side on his lame, anti-emotional world views. The same goes for Magata, who I thought was being presented in a tragic light. The Perfect Insider acknowledged her genius, but also pointed out how that genius is what drove her into her claustrophobic environment, eventually leading to her killing her parents and her messed up philosophy.
The finale doesn’t seem to get this. Instead it tries to paint Sohei and Magata in the smartest light possible, essentially validating some of their arguments. I will admit that this is a bit of nitpick, after all not every show is going to appeal to my world view, but the way the show had been presenting Magata’s world view before hand was way more compelling! It was a harsh character study, and it made her more relatable than anything in the finale ever did. The only point where the show even comes close to challenging her views in the finale is with Moe and Sohei’s relationship, which clearly shows the benefits of having emotional bonds with others; but even that wasn’t enough to save the final episode.
Still, I wouldn’t call The Perfect Insider a bad show. It may have missed the landing, but the character drama and direction throughout the series was stunning. The show may have not been the perfect gem I was looking for to end off my year, but I legitimately enjoyed many of the things it did. Looking back on it, I can’t say I regret watching it; though I’d recommend that if you’re interested in this one, you may want to prepare for a rocky ride. There may be a beautiful journey ahead of you, but the final stretch is a bit of disappointment.