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Mekaku City Actors (2014)

A school tragedy has led Shintaro Kisaragi to drop out of high school and take the life of a Hikikomori, or a shut in. He was content to live this way for the rest of his life, until one day he opened a strange email and downloaded an artificial girl by the name of Ene into his computer. Much to his chagrin, she finds pleasure in annoying him and making his life miserable. But on one hot summer day, he is forced to leave the sanctuary of his home in order to buy a new keyboard. It is on this day that he meets a group of kids, who call themselves the Blindfold Gang, who all possess strange eye-related super powers. What is the story behind these powers and how does this power connect to Shintaro's past?

Mekaku City Actors is a 12 episode anime directed by Akiyuiki Shinbo and produced by Shaft. The series began as a series of Vocaloid music videos created by Jin (also known as Shizen no Teki-P) which initially became popular on the video sharing site, Niconico. After it's third video Kagerou Days, reached over 3 million views and subsequent releases gained enough of a following, Jin began to release a series of light novels. With six volumes currently released, the light novels tell the complete story, elaborating on character interactions and developments that the music videos didn't have time to cover. As an added bonus, the songs themselves were put on several different albums which were released along with the novels to the general public.  There was also a manga adaptation which eventually lead to the anime adaptation, Mekaku City Actors. The series was aired from April 12 and June 28 of 2014.

The title image of the song "Kagerou Days".
It's hard to talk about this series and my overall impression from watching it without first talking about the Vocaloid videos which started it all. So I'm going to jump right in.

When I was introduced to the series through a close friend, I didn't know what to make of it. “Kagerou Days” was the first of the videos I saw and being the sensitive person I am, the disturbingly dark story the song covered really confounded me.

How and why was this so popular?

Through my friend's constant insistence that the videos would get even better, I begrudgingly watched more. Happy to find there were a few more light-hearted stories in the various albums. But what really started to draw me in wasn't the tone of the song's story, it was that the more songs/videos came out, we would see characters from the other videos were connected to each other and trying to tell a cohesive narrative. Kinda like a rock/pop opera.

Image from the PV of the Kagerou Project song, "Children's Record"
The story itself, when you get to the real mystery surrounding it, is very good. The characters are likable and unique in their own way and the stories of how they got their powers, while dark, is fascinating. I can't count how many hours my friends and I would speculate on where the series was going to go or what the next song and video was going to be like. It even had two songs to represent both a good and bad ending, leaving some events up to interpretation on how the characters got in either situation. So after enjoying the music videos, I was very excited to see how the anime would handle filling the gaps in the story that the songs didn't cover.

However, the experience I had while watching the 12 episodes on a whole was sadly underwhelming. Not to say that it was a bad show, I still enjoyed a lot of different ideas that this anime presented. It truly tried to give the plot of the story the focus it deserved, though in the end it didn't present it in the best way possible. What I mean by that is, the fact that the anime only had 12 episodes to cover the whole story made the whole thing feel rushed. The first few episodes have great build up and will make you excited on where it is going to go, but by the time the climax comes around the payoff may not be enough to satisfy.

That being said, a lot of the best elements of the series do make Mekaku City Actors a fun anime to watch. The characters are fleshed out, and have more than a few genuinely funny moments when they interact off each other. Ene is annoying, but in a surprisingly funny way in how she is constantly making Shintaro's home life a living hell. Thus leading him to go outside and become involved in the Blindfold Gang's escapades. The animation, courtesy of Shaft's production, is consistently good. Also providing a ton of awesome background shots, either of the city itself and several eerily surreal settings. You can really feel a serene but oppressive atmosphere in some of the shots, much like the heat of an actual summer day. The music that made the series popular in the first place is also included. All of which are remastered and are played at the appropriate moments. One of the major highlights for me, however, is the short, continuous fairy tale segments that are told after the credits. Ultimately telling a story that eventually intersects with the main plot with absolutely gorgeous animation to boot.

This is a very artsy show, but this can sometimes be to its detriment Some of the decisions they made in regards to certain sequences left me more confused than anything. One such song sequence, the animators opted to do completely in a kind of jilted 3D style as opposed to the show's normal animation. Another sequence, one very important to the story's main plot and Shintaro's character development, is cut and edited together with various images from the manga, novel and of course the music videos themselves. An interesting idea to be sure when you grasp its significance, but again I was left wondering if it was really necessary.

That being said, I would still say this is a series that should be seen at least once. The story, while not being adapted in best way it could, is still very compelling and the characters are fun to watch. It is a shame that there couldn't be more time devoted to their development but what the show has is good enough to hold an audience's attention. The music and animation are well done and I admire the artistic direction, even if it isn't 100% successful. It may not be perfect, but Mekaku City Actors is a good excuse to stay inside and escape the summer heat wave.

Mekaku City Actors is available for streaming on Crunchyroll. The Vocaloid videos can be found on Youtube.