I legitimately forget if I ever talked about a Kyoani show around here.
There was some buzz going around before Phantom World released at how Kyoani decided to adapt a light novel series like Phantom World. Kyoani hasn’t really touched the harem genre like this in my memory and I guess it was a big deal considering at how Kyoani seems to have its own large gathering of studio-loyal fans. As for me, I haven’t liked how Kyoani made their characters look since Haruhi and I had no idea about Phantom World as a light novel at all so I honestly went in completely blind other than the pretense that Kyoani bothered to adapt a harem not too many people have heard about.
I’m sure everyone saw some reactions and shots from the first episode with the whole limbo thing but did it ever go beyond that? Apparently it does, but in the actual source material.
Sometime in the near future an enormous outbreak of an experimental substance that altered the brain functioning of everyone in the world. This change allowed people to see strange extra dimensional creatures called Phantoms and while most were harmless, some caused some general disturbances. Kids born after this event also gained special abilities that were similar to these phantoms and groups were founded to neutralize phantoms that caused trouble to others. The story revolves around the Phantom Hunting club of Hosea Academy where the team of Ichijo Haruhiko and Kawakami Mai spend time neutralizing phantoms and soon come into contact with more ability-wielding allies and even stranger phantoms to discover.
To be perfectly honest, with where this series went (or rather didn’t) I expected some more metaphysical and more complex involving what perspective and likes do to our heads and go into more detail on what exactly phantoms are. Alas, it did not but that full complaint comes later. As far as settings go, it’s really no different than the average highschool series with some fighting in-between. But with the lack of tournaments and the other go-to tropes, it’s not that bad.
Haruhiko was a pretty decent main character. He was useless as a fighter but had his logistic skills and trivia knowledge on practically everything that gave him some personality which is saying quite a lot with the shows I tend to watch. Add on to that with him being a summoner and having an arc to himself places him pretty favorably. Mai was the season’s biggest hit in the first episode with the whole limbo scene accentuating her body and I remember the complete and utter explosion of content involving on pixiv and the image galleries I regularly browse. That being said, it means something when all that content died down but new stuff with her still pops up every few days. On her actual character, she got the most love of the heroines so there’s a thankfully a bit more to her looks than most other leads. Reina, or just Kirby-chan, was the usual nice girl who got side-lined somewhat early after her implied problem her parents got dealt with rather easily. Honestly, she didn’t do anything other than assist a few times. Koito was the unsocial one of the group who eventually started warming up and her awkwardness got her some pretty decent scenes here and there. I will say that I didn’t like her abilities sound effect but at least she stopped chanting.
Kyoani seems to love adding original characters and this time we’ve got two major ones. Kurumi was just cute and I liked her fascination with bears in that one scene where they off-handedly mentioned the sound “kuma” and she responded to it. She arguably is the most useful in the team with Albrect being the massive powerhouse. Lastly we have Ruru who honestly never struck me all that well. Many people might compare her to Navi from Zelda but for one, I never found Navi annoying, and second, Ruru is another anime-original character. I just never found Ruru all that entertaining or her attire all that appealing, it just didn’t strike me well by any means.
Side characters show up pretty often. We got our sensei who doesn’t have too much on her other than giving some exposition. We got Haruhiko’s best friend with his own squad of ability users but they never really get fleshed out. Then you got the three girls who show up around 2-3 times with their water based abilities. Side characters were for the most, not really that important.
Fitting the localized name, Myriad Colors Phantom World, the series doesn’t hold back on its vibrant color palette with its extremely showy opening and ending sequences. Both were generally catchy and I’ve had the opening stuck in my head quite a few times but the first few seconds get kind of old after a few times. In all other faculties, Phantom World looks visually bright and extremely colorful in nearly every scene it shows. It should go without saying that given Kyoani’s skills, everything else is very well animated, choreographed, and visually impressive where it counts. While the perennial Kyoani face still persists, I still found the faces pretty decent and the pretty backdrops usually divert attention away from noticing the faces. The series also sticks with its ideas visually as well with the distorted effects being its most common effect.
However, where decent characters and great visuals and sound applies, not too many things actually happens in the progression area. Obviously, the first few episodes focus on gathering the main crew but this takes a long while and since this is an episodic series, not too many things from before other than the minimal character arc really ends up mattering. Mai’s arc just showed her loneliness in her childhood, Reina with issues from her austere parents, Koito getting ostracized in her childhood due to her abilities, Kurumi’s attachment to Albrect, and Haruhiko’s childhood growing up alone. Aside from the pilot and the 2-part finale involving Haruhiko and including Ruru’s own episode, that only left around 5 episodes for something to be set up but the series just kept on going with its episodic format. The only real set up was the device the crew found in Koito’s introduction and that only hinted at more interesting things we never got to see, aside from Haruhiko’s own problems.
There’s also the point to consider that a handful of elements were mostly of Kyoani’s own additions. The biggest being Ruru and her importance to the story near the finale and taking an episode for herself (which also applies to Kurumi). Apparently the light novels follow a more stream-lined plot so I’m not exactly sure what Kyoani was going for with their decision to just pace the episodes out into their own separate things with little to hold them together. Smaller elements like the whole phantom onsen episode had Reina be the star of it instead of Mai and several other smaller things were changed as well. However, the biggest light novel information I’ve read up on actually shows that most of the adapted events we saw took place in Volume 1, whereas Volume 2 did a complete bait and switch with a premise switching to a post-apocalypse like world where it features an older Haruhiko. Reading a summary of it makes it sound interesting and I sort of understand Kyoani’s intentions into changing more key plotpoints into something more short and sweet. The entire bits with Haruhiko’s semi-oedipus complex, a phantom being made from his thoughts, and his powers as well actually all tie in together with later plot points.
Phantom World is a visual and in some cases, a nice sounding marvel that holds up to the aged Kyoani standards. But aside from its minimally fleshed out characters and decent observations, there’s really not much else going for it. Whereas episodic series that aren’t strictly comedy usually go for a unified ending route and while Phantom World does that, nothing really led up to it since it was mostly just day to day adventures with only slight implications of the device they retrieved. I certainly didn’t expect Haruhiko to be part of the finale and if anything, I’m glad they bothered with him.
After reading up a bit on the more serious notes of the story, I find myself wishing that Kyoani took some more risk with the series as it sounds vastly more entertaining in a cohesive way than what we ended up getting but the final product itself is not completely bad, just uneventful. Since Volume 2 is definitely a genre shift, they could have at least went with the regular adaptation and attempt to gauge some interest for the more serious stuff. Because to me, their decision to use more anime original content and not hinting at anything beyond what they already did only goes to show me that they’re not keen on the more serious the stuff the series had to offer. While regrettable, the anime is only means of actually getting into the series and by means is it completely unfaithful as apparently most of the plot points were kept intact just executed differently. But with the changes in the adaptation, the series doesn’t really offer anything more than just a colorful romp with episodic adventures.