The title might seem a little nonchalant to those of you who read my earlier impressions of Trapeze/Kuuchuu Buranko, in which I all but drooled over the prospect of an anime with grown-up characters and themes (as opposed to highschool love triangle or magical crystal adventure (or magical high school crystal love triange)). But as E Minor pointed out recently, Trapeze might not have been the worst anime of the season, but it was the most disappointing.
Part of the disappointment is the huge promise Trapeze seemed to show. It seemed to be trying to distance itself from convention in every way; mostly adult characters dealing with realistic situations, wildly colorful art, use of a lot of mixed media. Everything about the presentation suggested that this was a show that would have some real meat to it, a thick, juicy subtext. After all, the foundations of modern psychology are in the examination of the subconscious and the search for deeper meanings therein.
But the more of Trapeze I watched, the clearer it became that all of its distinguishing traits were red herrings. The symbology was crude and incomplete and neither the use of photographs mixed in with the animation nor the crazy polka-dotted backgrounds seemed to have anything to do with the show’s themes. The show’s overlapping narrative never added up to anything more than the sum of its parts; each story bumped up against the others, but only in the most incidental and meaningless way. Why did it matter that the trapeze artist had met the yakuza or been in the restaraunt with the cell phone kid? Each individual episode seemed like it might be part of something larger, but the links between them were tenuous and weak.
The psychology theme never seemed to quite get off the ground either. I spent quite a while trying to think about how Irabu’s three-sided personality fit into Freudian or Jungian ideas about archetypes, but no single explanation seemed to fit all the evidence, and in any case there was nothing about Irabu’s style that suggested psychoanalysis. Quite the opposite, Irabu only ever seems to give them vitamin shots and suggest cures for symptoms. Unlike House, M.D., the patients are the ones who have the brilliant flashes of insight on how to treat the underlying causes of their problems, usually in ways that have nothing to do with psychiatry at all.
The contrast between Trapeze and House highlights what’s probably the show’s biggest weakness: it never explained anything about Dr. Irabu, the supposed main character. Each new patient in turn acts slightly surprised about his underground nursery office and gothic nurse and weird costume, but they never really question it deeply. Nor do they wonder why he suddenly starts following them to work, or why his appearance and personality are constantly changing. At times it seems like the show is about to reveal that Irabu has been a figment of the patient’s imagination all along, but it never quite goes there. The audience, on the other hand, is eager to learn more about the doctor. He’s a shapeshifting crazy person, the most interesting character on the screen! But at the end of the show we know more about patients who only appeared for a single episode than we do him. House uses patients to explore the psychoses of a mad doctor and his underlings. Trapeze seems to use the mad doctor to highlight how banal his patients are.
By all this I don’t mean to suggest that Trapeze is a bad anime. At worst it’s charmingly inoffensive, compared to some of the shit it aired along side it’s positively intellectual. I didn’t mind spending twenty-two minutes a week on it if only for the eye-catching art, which however meaningless was still very pretty. The final episode’s attempt to tie the threads together was limp-wristed, but taken on its own each thread was more or less enjoyable. No matter how much trash I talk, I think I’ll miss Trapeze when the new season starts. But not as much as I would have missed the much, much better show that it could have been.