Oh, those noitaminA prestige shows. Some of my all time favorite anime, from Katanagatari to The Tatami Galaxy, have been in this time slot. It’s become a pretty safe bet for me every season (even if the last one didn’t live up to my hopes). When I first learned about Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider, I knew I had found my show for the season. Before even watching the premier, it had two big things going for it: based on an award-winning mystery novel ( like Moryo no Hako, holla) and character designs by Oyasumi Punpun’s Inio Asano. Needless to say I had high expectations. We’re five weeks in and I’m happy to report that so far, The Perfect Insider isn’t letting me down.

** mostly non-spoiler discussion to follow but if you are sensitive to spoilers read at your own risk**

Gendo?

This is a mystery show, but like most of my favorite mysteries, whodunnit is not the driving force of the narrative. The mystery itself is compelling enough, but The Perfect Insider excels as a character study. Like many a Big Idea anime before it, it’s concerned with how people connect (or can’t connect) to others and how they try and fail to understand themselves. Like in Satoshi Kon’s amazing Perfect Blue, the hardest hitting question again seems to be “who are you?” The characters are mysteries to themselves and each other and the futility of language abounds, even among a main cast who are all defined to some extent by their brilliant intelligence. The three main characters are eccentric researcher Souhei Saikawa, his 19 year old mentee/groupie/friend/unbalanced partner Moe Nishinosono, and the prodigy programmer Shiki Magata. These characters are tied together both by their pasts and the weird infatuation triangle they inhabit: Moe is attracted to Saikawa, Saikawa is obsessed with the idea of Dr. Magata, but Magata seems interested in Moe. The larger-than-life but enigmatic person of Dr. Magata looms over the mystery both in the literal sense and of the characters figuring their personal questions out.

Exhibit A: possibly complete tripe that I have found myself thinking before in my lifetime

The main characters, all three of them, are not easy to like, but there’s a realness to them that makes even their more mundane interactions super watchable. Saikawa is full of shit at least a lot of the time. He’s (as I’ve said before) the anime version of Guy in Philosophy Class Needs to Shut the Fuck Up. But here’s the thing. I find myself sort of agreeing with a lot of what he spouts. His self indulgent waxing existential, while obnoxious, is something that might hit close to home for many of us. He’s full of it, but in a way that a lot of people are sometimes. It takes self awareness for people to realize when they need to tone it down and stop with masturbatory philosophizing. It’s a process!

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Moe is less insufferable but she has the misfortune of being in love with an insufferable man, who was also the student of her late father. Her reason, given in a flashback to a meeting with Dr. Magata, is kind of cute: Saikawa was the first adult that Moe didn’t feel she could easily outsmart. It’s relatable to remember feeling, as a child, that adults were BS’ing you but you were mostly not able or equipped to call them on it. I can’t say that at 19, if given the opportunity, I wouldn’t have also been into a man like Saikawa. That’s a process, too.

Is this shot from the OP hinting at Magata being a fractured person?

Then there’s Shiki Magata. Genius, unstable, beautiful, always thinking, and possibly the murderer of her parents at 14. Living as a recluse, shut away in her labs, Magata gives interviews via an imposing screen. She’s real but untouchable, and that makes the duo of Saikawa and Moe fixated on her. For Saikawa, her strange existence is a paragon of being true to self. He seems to think that to be connected to oneself, you must sever connections with others. Moe, who at 19 still wears the effects of being an orphaned child, craves connection. The emotional development of these characters is done in small, subtle, and pretty true to life ways - conversations, gestures, confused flirtations, etc. I didn’t know I could get this excited to watch people talk to each other every week.

Perfect Insider is also unflinchingly adult. No, I don’t mean in the ecchi sense. In a series of flashbacks to Shiki’s childhood leading up to the murder of her parents, we see a familiar figure to anime: an almost uncomfortably beautiful child. The young Shiki Magata is not a fuzzy lolicon fantasy (it’s more Lolita with a much less charismatic Humbert), but a terrifyingly self-possessed young person who is, genius and all, still 13 (“and afterwards, I want to try alcohol”). The flashbacks chronicle the relationship between Shiki and her uncle, Director of Magata Labs. These quickly veer into dark territory that I probably don’t need to spell out for you. These scenes are hard to watch. There’s nothing moe about preteen Shiki: she knows what she wants, and is portrayed through the narration of the Director as the one in control of the situation. The Director does make a pathetic and shrinking figure beside his calculating niece, but we must remember that he is the adult caretaker here. Falling prey to his point of view is almost tempting, and a real triumph of the delicacy in Perfect Insider’s writing. If we sympathize too much with the Director, we fall into the same trap as Saikawa - mythologizing Dr. Magata as an elevated being who is somehow not confined by the rules of the rest of humanity.

IT MEANS EVERYTHING, DUH. We are all F.

To touch briefly on the actual murder mystery - it’s pretty damn good! The slow unpeeling of the unanswered questions in the plot is done at the same measured pace as the conversations between characters. It’s all very balanced. At least at this point in the season, I think the tools to “solve” the show are there for viewers who love thinking and overthinking things. I’m happy to discuss my (and Nomadic Dec’s) theory on what is going on to anyone who wants to hear it ;) It’s been a long time since I’ve had an anime to discuss for hours, excitedly, with lots of small details, all caps flailing, and re-watching scenes to fine tune theories with other invested fans.

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Of course, this is only episode 5, so The Perfect Insider could always fall apart on its way to a conclusion. But I don’t think it will.