We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with [C], a Tatsunoko Production animation that occupies the first of two noitaminA slots on Fuji TV.
Realistically, the Japanese economy has been limping through busted bubbles here and there, but very rarely does national affluence affect anime shows. There have been stories of personal debt, but what if the Japanese economy tanked and greed was dictating human sentiment?
Enter the world of [C] (Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility). While our vigilant hero Kimimaro struggles with two part-time jobs and a college scholarship to pave the way to a gold-plated future as a civil servant, a mysterious world lies on the other side of the ATM screen, one where people in desperate need of cash sacrifice their future for the chance to get paid now. The "Financial District" is a digitized environment where human "Entrepreneurs" fight using their "Assets", powerful horned beings that attack through financial contributions. When a void is created through a suicide, Kimimaro is confronted by Masakaki, a grinning Cheshire representative of the Financial District. He's randomly given the opportunity to become a participant in the game, enticed with the opportunity to abandon his jobs and obtain a girlfriend.
While the background is enticing, I can't get over this idea that we've seen [C] before. That sense of fiscal temptation has been there in gambling shows like Kaiji, but the idea of holding a tournament against other greedy dealers for the sake of escaping debt was used back in Liar Game, as well. The only difference here is that the tournament is more like Tron. I'm certain that [C] will be more than just a Shônen Jump battle show, but it hardly feels that way right now.
Tatsunoko Productions have suddenly been active this season, put in charge of the animation for Sket Dance, Pretty Rhythm, and this series. While there are some creative mixes in animation, particularly in the usage of side-bar subtitles that creep into frame like digital black slime, there are also some awkward moments where computer animation clashes styles. At times, it feels seamless, but it's pretty obvious where more polygonal animation takes center stage. One moment, Masakaki moves fluidly; the next moment, he feels as robotic as a "Money For Nothing" video. There just isn't much consistency.
It's been about a year since Alice In Wonderland hit movie theaters in Japan, but it seems the "Mad Hatter" has been a big influence on character design. Blue Exorcist has already had a top-hatted madman grace its episodes, although he seems to be more a hidden enigma. Masakaki, on the other hand, is played as a terrific tempter by Takahiro Sakurai (Yaichi, House of Five Leaves), while the supporting characters could use their various backgrounds to build up Kimimaro.
The music really does hit all the right notes, if you pardon the pun. While you do get a handful of electronica in the songs, the music manages to be calculating during the dramatic parts and energizing during the action sequences. The opening and ending songs—"Matoryoshka" by NICO Touches the Walls and "RPG" from School Food Punishment (the coolest name for a band ever)—also provide some good melodies.
noitaminA has consistently produced some talented shows over the past few years, so the announcement of [C] really produced some anticipation for a good show. While it doesn't necessarily mean that the end result will be great, the tease of it succeeding has yet to wear off. While director Kenji Nakamura has yet to work in the lead role, he's done some solid work in other noitaminA shows, and screenwriter Noboru Takagi has produced fine works in Durarara!! and Hell Girl.
I'm starting to fear that noitaminA, despite its recent critical successes with Wandering Son, Shiki and Princess Jellyfish, is losing part of its luster. Fractale burned out pretty quickly, and no one has picked up the other noitaminA title for Spring 2011, AnoHana. The tides could change with the two summer titles (No. 6, Usagi Drop), but for now [C] is helping the animation block stay relevant. While the production values are decent and the story has a lot to work with, there's this sinking feeling that we're watching Yu-Gi-Oh! being played with Monopoly money.
Maybe we're all being conned into a good show, but looking at the surface it's hard to tell if [C] is real or counterfeit yet. We're going to need some time.
([C] is simulcast on Funimation every Thursday at 12:45 PM EDT.)