Recently, the Winter 2016 anime season kicked off with the airing of the first episodes for Madhouse’s Prince of Stride, Kyoto Animation’s Myriad Colors Phantom World, and P.A. Works’ Haruchika. As the internet anime fandom has spent much of the day commenting with their opinions on all three shows, I noticed a trend of discussion, especially surrounding Myriad Colors Phantom World, in which many people would critique the show based on its perceived quality relative to previous Kyoto Animation productions. I think that this isn’t the best way to discuss this series. In fact, I think that it’s not a very fair way to evaluate any show’s merit, because it often can miss the fundamental point of both the production itself and even the concept of criticism.
Myriad Colors Phantom World takes place in an alternate version of reality where a leak of a virus in a secret laboratory causes the perceptive abilities of humans to change, making us all able to see all manner of phantoms. Because of this, many children during this time gain abilities that can be used to fight and subdue phantoms, and are recruited at prestigious academies to form teams of similarly powerful students. In other words, Phantom World is another ‘magical high school’ show that has become quite commonplace in anime as of late. It has many of the tropes common to the genre: the hapless protagonist who is surrounded by women, the team he belongs to that is supposedly the worst in the school, the bouncing breasts and frequent fanservice. It also has stunningly detailed and colorful animation. However, one of the most common complaints I’ve seen about the anime is that it is perceived as not up to par with Kyoto Animation’s previous works.
Here’s the problem: the quality of Phantom World has nothing to do with how good it is compared to Kyoto Animation’s other projects such as Clannad and Hyouka or the more recent Sound! Euphonium. Phantom World has a target audience, and thus a goal, that is different from those shows. Fans of previous shows are hoping for a continuous stream of series that are targeted at and interest them in the same way, but that’s just not how studios operate. Phantom World is aimed at fans of the ‘magical high school’ genre, and thus it sets out to tell a story that appeals to this group of viewers. Whether or not it is a good magical high school show is another discussion entirely, but at the end of the day it shouldn’t be slammed purely for being one. This isn’t a critique of an entire genre, this is one show.
It’s definitely not bad to take into consideration the studio producing an anime when you are trying to guess if the show is likely to have quality animation. That being said, when you take it too far and start having unreasonable expectations, it’s too much. Assuming that Phantom World is somehow going to be amazing for fans of other KyoAni series even though both the description and source material clearly do not target the same group of people is merely going to leave you disappointed.
Doing this brings out one of my pet peeves in discussion: a relativity complex, or critiquing a work almost entirely on its perceived worth relative to others instead of on its own merit. A relativity complex breaks the primary rule for criticism of any show: that to a certain extent you need to accept the premise if you want to offer critique. You can say that you don’t like a show because the premise doesn’t appeal to you, but in the more complex discussion of a show’s quality, you have to accept the premise and move on to discuss whether or not the series actually uses it effectively and reaches its target audience. By obsessing over the animation studio, in effect you are relentlessly comparing shows such as Phantom World to other often dissimilar series, and this frequently leads to an analysis of a show that discusses the actual series itself very little.
At the end of the day, there are going to be different people who either like or dislike Myriad Colors Phantom World. However, we will be doing a great disservice to the show, regardless of anyone’s opinion of it, if all the conversations focus on Kyoto Animation’s reputation and how this series stacks up to others done by the studio even though they have little to no bearing on the individual quality of the work. Kyoto Animation has a goal in mind with Phantom World, and it’s unlikely to be the same one it had with Hyouka.
Myriad Colors Phantom World is currently available for free and legal streaming on Crunchyroll, with a new episode airing every Wednesday.
This article is part of my impression series for the Winter 2016 anime season. If my ravings and/or general depravity haven’t scared you off yet, be sure to check out the rest of this series and keep an eye out on AniTAY for more articles by Michael Burns. I tend to write my fair share of anime/manga/light novel reviews, among other things. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on my kinja page.
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