A bunch of young, mostly attractive people are on a bus, because they want a do-over, and they think this bus will take them far, far away from their oh-so-terrible lives. If that’s not naive enough for you, they’re headed for some Nanaki Village, a place that is supposedly off-the-grid (except, of course, a whole lot of people on this stupid bus seem to know about it). Money won’t matter in this land of rainbows and unicorns. It’s not on any map, and the police, i.e. our superego, won’t be able to find you and make you return home like some petulant runaway child. No more strict parents, no more familial obligations, no more cram schools, so on and so forth. You can be who you want to be without any worries! As our tour guide promises, once our thirty lucky travelers arrive at their destination, they’ll be “free from the rules and modern constraints of modern society.” That’s nuts, so naturally, most of our thirty idiots are, well, kinda nuts themselves.
The thing that gets me though is how the episode manages to be both intriguing and insanely boring at the same time. It’s quite a feat. First, the intriguing part. There’s so much mystery surrounding the premise. Obviously, this Nanaki Village isn’t going to be the utopia that our characters so desperately want it to be. What is Dahara, our tour guide — our self-proclaimed “Mystery Emperor — up to? Why is he dragging them all out to some unknown location? What horrible machinations do Dahara and his partner-in-crime Koharun have in store for these kids? But you gotta imagine that it goes further than that. After all, these kids can’t really be as gullible as they appear to be. Not all of them, anyway. Speedster, after all, isn’t here because he wants a do-over. Rather, he wanted to confirm that the entire trip is a farce. A bunch of madmen being marched to their deaths by Emperor Madman. But what about the others?
Can’t you imagine a predator catching wind of this do-over nonsense, and deciding to tag along just so they can prey on a bunch of desperate, wide-eyed fools? I mean, let’s grant for a minute that there are people silly enough to hop on a bus just to get away from it all. That takes a certain level of foolish commitment. You want to buy into a dream so badly that you have blinders on, and that’s when you’re the most vulnerable. Take, for instance, when unsuspecting people buy into the American dream. And no, I’m not denying the fact that lots of families have come to this country and improved their lives. Yeah, sure, it happens. But plenty of bad things have happened as well. Just read this article. But I digress. My point is, if you’re on a bus full of crazies, one of them’s bound to be the serial killer sort. I mean, c’mon. Am I rooting for it? Just a little. But honestly, having said all of that, I expect to be disappointed.
I don’t know where Mayoiga is going with all of this yet, and that’s the scariest part. The setup is there. The show can be really dark and fascinating… but this ain’t my first rodeo. And more importantly, it’s Mari Okada, folks. That’s the funniest thing I got from the episode. After watching it, I sat back and I was unsure how I felt about the whole thing. Really unsure. “I like mysteries, and there’s a good chance a lot of people are gonna get slaughtered, but then again, that episode was pretty fucking boring.” So I looked Mayoiga up just to find her name staring right back at me: Mari Okada. She always does this. She always writes these semi-potentially-interesting shows that inevitably fall apart due to execution. Ano Hana, Fractale, WIXOSS, M3… I mean, the list goes on. And naturally, the Okada-isms are all over this one too. The character intros, my god, the fucking character intros. They went on forever, and everyone’s gotta have some kooky shit about them. By the end of it all, I had already forgotten people’s names and faces and what little scant personalities they were supposed to have.
It’s not that the scene doesn’t serve a purpose. Of course it does. You get to see that some of these people — okay, a lot of these people — have a few screws loose up there. You also see that a lot of them are still hiding. They’re on this trip to get away from the real world, so you’d think that people would show their true selves, but they’re still hiding behind gimmicky personas. You don’t get to see who a lot of these people really are. But again, the execution left me wanting. And it’s a classic setup too. It’s very classic. They’re on a bus, and it’s pitch dark outside. It’s raining a little, but not oppressively. They’re driving and driving and driving, but they never encounter another soul. The highways are empty, and even when they make their pit stops, there’s never anyone else there. Is this real life? Sure, they run into Koharun, but she’s part of them; she’s in cahoots with Dahara. So the whole thing is like some descent into hell, and the bus serves as the ferry that will take them there. They all want a first life do-over, but what if their first lives are already over? Not surprisingly, the bus driver threatens to kill them all at one point.
Nevertheless, I’m super bored. Okada tries to inject moments of absurdity into the episode, like the group singing that hippopotamus song, but it doesn’t quite draw the unsettling, this-is-quite-not-right juxtaposition that I feel she was trying to accomplish. I don’t feel like I’m trapped in some surreal Lynchian contradiction, where death and society decay is bracketed by white picket fences and plastic smiles. And why is that? Why does the juxtaposition fail to come through? It’s the characters. They’re super generic. Super anime generic. All of them. They drag me kicking and screaming back into the reality that I’m watching some bog standard anime. Even the fact that Mitsumune has the potential to go nuts despite his cheerful demeanor is terribly unoriginal. And sure, it’s possible that we’re grabbing a bunch of cardboard cutout anime personalities so that we can twist and subvert them later. That’s always a distinct possibility. But again, it’s Mari Okada, and history hasn’t shown me that she can pull this sort of thing off.
But whatever, not like I’ve got much else to watch, right?