Review/discussion about: Musaigen no Phantom World
My brother, while he was growing up, had an imaginary friend: Ghost Friend. Not so imaginative.
I never had one myself, but my brother always made sure Ghost Friend was around. Playing outside, eating at the dinner table, and sitting around the house. They were inseparable.
At some point, though, my brother no longer had Ghost Friend with him. I am not saying he stopped believing because that is not what happened. What happened was that Ghost Friend took a “permanent vacation” elsewhere. Nobody knows where. He just went away to live his own life (which is weird wording for the supernatural).
Musaigen no Phantom World (Phantom World for short) does not have Ghost Friend, but it does have a myriad of ghostly creatures. They come together to create quite the toss-up of an anime.
Phantom World may seem to imply that the tales it tells are scary. Phantoms are, after all, usually spooky in nature.Phantom World does have pinches of scariness, but, for the most part, the anime looks to provide a pleasant time.
To this end, the narrative is largely comprised of slice-of-life material. One episode follows the group helping out the drama club on its quest for stage stardom. Another episode has the girls trekking through a haunted mansion to find the source of their catlike curse. Another still has them dealing with a UFO that annoys the women of a college dorm.
However, the anime is not always a happy experience. Indeed, many parts of the show have a melancholic undertone. Episode eleven has the best example. Mai must babysit Haruhiko. It’s not the Phantom or the peculiar situation or even the letter that make the episode. It’s the elongated scene at night, where Mai comforts Haruhiko through empathy, that demonstrates Phantom World’s capability to create heartfelt moments through saddened scenarios.
But what about the Phantoms themselves? For the most part, they are some combination of goofy and dangerous. At times, seemingly little more than one-off plot points. But they harbor a theme that is found not just here in the narrative but also in the art and in the characters: isolation.
Many (not all) of the Phantoms manifest from feelings of neglect. The electric poles in the beginning danced for themselves because nobody else did. The bunny mother and bunny father wanted a daughter of their own. The giant, pink monkey in the sauna at school had his wife leave him.
A common thread exists between these “nonexistent” manifestations. But what ties them all together is their representation. The anime does not go into deep detail, but it is believed that Phantoms are hallucinations, born from one’s own imagination.
That is, they’re man-made creations.
Phantoms are thoughts plucked from people’s brains. Thoughts born from darker depths. A lot of power is stored in the idea that these Phantoms, who are seemingly unreal, highlight these very real, very human, feelings.
The most impressive aspect, though, is how the cast deals with these Phantoms. Yes, they punch them up or eat them whole from time to time. But to get to that point, they usually do so through non-combative means. Those poles are defeated with dance. The bunnies are beat with persuasion. The monkey is sated with accompaniment.
To put it differently, the Phantoms lose to togetherness. Camaraderie. Understanding. Love. From the drama club to the gargantuan cat to even the final boss, what ultimately saves the day is not a kick to the face but a kind gesture towards another.
Defeating the Phantoms is more than just getting rid of them or helping them out, though. It also has the implication that isolation is not a permanent state. That it is possible to find comfort, safety, or happiness with others no matter how dire the situation.
This dichotomy even hearkens back to the narrative’s structural dichotomy of slice-of-life and melancholy. Those happy times are made when others are around and vice versa.
And so Phantom World’s main message forms: togetherness supersedes loneliness.
This somewhat intricate parallelism is not readily seen because it is unfortunately hidden behind many a problem in the other areas of the narrative.
Trouble begins on that structural level. Since almost none of the different episodes play off each other, it makes each outcome feel inconsequential. Worse still, the anime tries to include an overarching plotline, but it’s so minimal in its impact that it fails to be meaningful to the scenes at large.
Attempts at romance and action take damage, too. Romantically, the girls rarely show signs of affection. As for the action, the abilities lack importance since some almost never seem to work (Koito’s scream), are used for niche purposes (Reina’s swallow), or do not even stem from the characters themselves (Haruhiko and Kurumi let their summons do the fighting).
Even Phantom World’s ecchi material has problems. Mainly in that it does not feel appropriate to the tale at hand. Reina seductively sucking on a finger or Mai having her butt painted are certainly alluring. But, for an anime that focuses on Phantoms and isolation, having Mai inadvertently grope herself while powering up serves very little purpose.
Altogether, the narrative does have a deeper side to it. But in order to reach this depth, a lot of shoddiness has to be waded through first.
Phantom World carries its main theme into its art. But it’s best experienced rather than explained (but it is worth pointing out anyway): isolation. As the characters move about the world they are in, they seem separate from it. Be it at school or in the city, hardly any other students or people cross their paths. It comes off as isolated and unnatural – much like the Phantoms themselves.
At a more general level, the anime does well. While the fights do not last long, the animation remains high. Mai jumps, punches, and kicks as the elements surround her. Haruhiko’s summons bark and entangle. And Reina gobbles up their foes with a spaghetti spectacle. Downtime sees the same level of quality with deft eye, hair, and facial movements that make the characters feel alive. Similar attention to detail can be seen with the Phantoms.
Art likewise sees elevated attention. Backgrounds are realistic in their portrayal and detailed in their presentation. Lighting paints the field of view. And the myriad colors (easy wordplay intended) used throughout make the anime pop.
Though the best part of the art comes from the character designs. They have a lot of detail: individual strands of air, crinkled clothing, and so on. Color symbolism also exists: Mai has yellow for happiness, Koito has red for anger, and so on. Standard connections, but they add another layer to the designs nonetheless.
Looking at their designs more closely, they continue to stand tall. Mai’s side ponytail, large bust, and purple eyes (with both public and private beauty spots) skyrocket her attractiveness. Reina’s long, black hair and thin frame bolster her cuteness. And Koito’s short red hair, alongside her tie and large headphones, make her into the tomboy of the team.
(Truthfully, Kurumi’s frontal hairdo is a bit silly.)
Ruru gets a special shout-out. Not for her red-genie clothes or her teal hair that ends in a giant ball. Instead, her shout-out is for constantly changing forms throughout the season. From an old man with hemorrhoids to donning a bear costume, her outfit switches made it apparent just how focused on fun she truly was.
While the art is arguably the strongest aspect of Phantom World, the cast does have strength of their own. Strength seen through the parallels and themes on an individual and group basis. But, even more so than with the story, it is difficult to find.
Starting individually, Mai receives the most attention from the anime. Using hand-to-hand combat, Mai takes the fights to the Phantoms directly. She channels different parts of her body to infuse her fists with the elements – fire, water, and so on – in order to amplify her damage output.
What the audience learns is that her combative attitude existed even when she was a child (much to her astonishment). She later empathizes with Haruhiko when she hears that he (similar to her) did not have a mother in his life, becoming just that for him.
Moving on, Reina, a kind girl, has the ability to eat Phantoms. By doing so, she defeats the apparitions, making her a valuable asset to the team.
For her, at-home troubles make life difficult as a set of strict parents hound her. More so than ever since her older sister (their eldest daughter) left the household. Her wanting a loving home nets her in a precarious situation where she must choose between the ideal and the real. Luckily, she chooses the latter when she realizes (thanks to Haruhiko) that she means a lot to those that love her. Namely, her parents, her sister, and her closest friends.
Next comes Koito. She is lauded as one of the more powerful ability users. She controls her voice to emit tuned waves that damage and seal harmful Phantoms.
However, her strength was also her weakness. The people around her – from her fellow students to her teachers to even her parents – were afraid of the power she held. To the point that she “shut herself off” as Phantom World puts it. In other words, she’s lonely. Her loneliness explained her do-it-herself mentality as well as her tendency to act icy towards others.
Kurumi, on the other hand, is an elementary school student whose cuteness defines her. That, and her toy-bear-turned-behemoth named Albrecht who fights for her when she calls upon him.
Her episode showcases this strangeness to an elevated degree when she and Haruhiko are brought into a fantastical land within her own mind. The reason for her attachment to Albrecht and for her apparent escapism stems from a lack of self-esteem. Because she’s a kid, because she feels as though she’s useless, she does not have confidence in herself. Hence, she saves them from the dreamscape through recompense for Albrecht, giving her the wherewithal to believe in her own capabilities.
Ruru also gets an episode all to herself. The energetic Phantom that follows Haruhiko around finds herself wishing to be human – a wish she gets granted. But as she discovers, she’s a wanted member of the group exactly as she is. Small or otherwise.
As for Haruhiko, he is a bookworm. Besides having knowledge of many different topics, he draws, using his pictures to both create and seal Phantoms. Later on, his abilities get the group into massive trouble with Enigma, the rogue and experimented-on enemy.
Much of his character revolves around the separation of his parents. More specifically, the lack of a mother in his life. He connects with Mai when she acts as his mother. He persuades Reina away from joining the Phantoms when he empathizes with her situation. And the arrival of his “mother” makes him happier than he’s ever been.
Looking at the cast in this individual fashion, they come off as rather weak. Phantom World did what it could – setting aside one episode per character – but it doesn’t feel like enough. Hardly anything comes of the developments the characters receive, and most of the time the developments are hardly investigated any further following their specific episode.
At the minimum, each cast member’s ability has both contrasting and parallel qualities to them.
Mai fights with fists, matching her in-your-face personality yet not matching her loving tenderness.
Reina devours Phantoms similar to how she consumes food and dissimilar to her respectful nature.
Koito sings forth power as she listens to her music and as she remains not very vocal.
Kurumi’s giant bear guardian accentuates her tininess and highlights her massive courage.
Ruru being a Phantom goes along with her eccentric self and goes against her inclusion among her human friends.
And Haruhiko draws, drawing on his vast knowledge of facts to create creatures of fiction.
On a group basis, Haruhiko and crew find more strength than they do individually. Initially, the major theme threading them together appears to be that of family. After all, parents play a part in nearly every character’s backstory.
Family, however, is not quite the focus. It’s more broad than that. Instead, it’s about supporting or helping each other when others (e.g., family) won’t. Mai, Reina, Koito, Kurumi, Ruru, and Haruhiko are a tight team not just because they complement one another well but also because they support one another when people in their lives won’t. Mai and Haruhiko go without mothers, Reina goes without a sister, Koito goes without anybody, Kurumi mostly has her stuffed animal, and Ruru only has Haruhiko.
In other words, they are a family for each other, connecting back to that theme on togetherness.
Sadly, they do not reach that level. For while they do support one another, they rarely interact with one another. Reina throws Haruhiko sometimes. Mai and Koito butt heads every so often. But, for the most part, they do not do much with, for, or between themselves. It makes their group dynamic feel weak. As though they are not so much a group of friends, let alone a family, but merely a club that just-so-happened to come together due to peculiar circumstances.
It also would have been nice if their teacher would have had a slightly bigger role to play. But that is a small gripe compared to the larger inadequacies of the characters.
The opening track is quite peppy, using a fast beat, techno sound-effects, and both regular singing and rapping. The beginning and ending, when the instruments do more work than in the middle, are the stronger portions. It’s technically a happy song, and it fits the show well, but it’s not one worth listening to outside of the anime.
The ending track takes the happy route as well, but it cranks it up even more so. While the rock band supports the song nicely with drums and guitar, the vocalist comes out on top. Her control and different pacing throughout the piece make the song better than it should be. The multiple-singers near the end helps, too. Again, like the OP, the song is fitting but not necessarily a worthwhile one.
While the rest of the original soundtrack does not have many stand-out pieces, many are well-composed, forming tunes inspired by fast battles, circus romps, and cultural originations. “Fan Tom World He Youkoso” (besides having a funny translation) makes the mood mysterious. “Sowasowa…” sounds both serious and not. And “Soredemo Ashitahe” is bittersweet throughout. A nice OST, ending up stronger than its OP and ED counterparts.
Phantom World’s voice acting performances are of a similar quality. The entire main cast did well, but a couple of them more so than the rest. Most notable are Misaki Kuno as Kurumi (who produced an undeniably cute voice) and Azusa Tadokoro as Ruru (whose energy and teasing could be heard at all times).
This one is a little all over the place for me in terms of entertainment.
On the low end, I don’t much care for many of the cast members. Reina is innocent and I like her Haruhiko-tossing gag, but she lacks impact and intrigue. Koito is cool, but half the time she barely contributed to the festivities. Kurumi is cute, but Albrecht overshadows her (figuratively and literally).
Haruhiko is a small step up if only because he gave many factoids that I have never heard before. I wish he was a bit more competent, and I was not moved by his reunion with his mother. But he still had more presence than the others.
At the high end, Mai and Ruru are very fun. Mai’s attractiveness and ecchi moments are a plus, but I like seeing her as the kindhearted, mature person that she can be. Ruru is big ball of excitement and hilarity that (almost) always made the situations as lighthearted and comedic as possible.
Thinking back to the episodes’ events themselves, again, a lot of hit-or-miss is had. Reina’s episode with the bunnies and Koito’s with the Phantom from her past (but not really) missed. Mai’s episode with little Haruhiko hit. The rest fall somewhere in-between.
To be fair, the comedy and cuteness were at least more consistent. Some scenes, like Mai bouncing her breasts beneath a limbo pole or the group defeating a Phantom because it couldn’t turn around, were funny due to their silliness. And the different reaction faces were cute in their depictions. But both aspects were not enough to make the entire experience a grand one.
Musaigen no Phantom World encounters a mishmash in terms of execution. Art and animation find strength as does the show’s deeper theme on isolation. But the problems with the narrative, the lackluster cast, and the unengaging content hamper much of what it tries to do. This one will not be bringing Ghost Friend back from his vacation any time soon.
Story: Fine, a theme on togetherness and loneliness is hidden behind weak narrative elements
Animation: Great, nice animation, art, and character designs alongside thematic isolation
Characters: Bad, despite keeping with the theme of togetherness, the characters on both an individual and a group basis are just too weak
Sound: Fine, okay OP, okay ED, nice OST, and nice VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, a mixture of fun and boring characters with a mixture of fun and boring events
Final Score: 5/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3