Duplicitous

A review of the Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin anime series

I’ve found myself saying numerous times before in reviews that how a series starts isn’t necessarily how it continues. Putting aside first episode budget splurges, the tendency to cram as much into those first precious twenty or so minutes means that sometimes story, characterisation and continuity can be left by the wayside. Often this is just an innocent enough attempt to grab attention before settling in to a more measured pace. Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin (Nanana’s Buried Treasure) is only the second series I can think of - the other being the underappreciated Ga-Rei Zero - that purposefully builds up your expectations and then mercilessly subverts them.

Enter Juugo, our slightly meat-headed protagonist who has just run away from home and travelled to the ultra-modern island built according to the vision of one girl genius. When he moves into his modest apartment he finds out, to his horror, that it is already occupied by the ghost of a young, beautiful girl. Whatever will he do? Chair back, spin down brain, prepare for quirky love comedy where Juugo finds out who killed this girl and bittersweet love blossoms. First episode closing credits roll, commence disinterested “hmph”.

Whereas Ga-Rei Zero went ahead and introduced a whole new cast of characters in the second episode, Nanana uses those formative attachments to characters - the whimsical Nanana, the slightly lewd Juugo, the arrogant Tensai - to introduce you to the series real stock and trade: duplicity.

It starts straight forward enough with a double cross but then goes full steam with fluid loyalties, flashbacks, thievery and combat to get across the point that no one is to be trusted and everyone has an agenda. Understandable when the “buried treasure” of the title is a collection of relics and artefacts, themselves gathered by Nanana when she was still corporeal, that bestow upon the wielder a range of different powers. From a stone that reveals when people are lying to a staff that summons whatever the wielder commands to a trinket that can summon chains and bind a person on a whim. By this point of course you’ve come to terms with the fact that Nanana is a ghost in the literal sense of the word, so the juxtaposition of the near-future technology of the island versus the magic of ancient items isn’t so jarring.

What’s clear is that the people who hunt for these treasures will do anything to get their hands on them, including lying, cheating and, yes, double crossing their team. It creates an air of mistrust between all of the different players that is backed up by a viciousness to the story that can catch you off guard. People have and do get grievously hurt searching for these treasures, thanks in part to the gloriously over the top “dungeons” that house them but no more so than by a late stage antagonist who is so brash, rude and savagely powerful you can’t help but want him to be punched in the face. Repeatedly.

Juugo gets enough of that himself though because it seems that his lot in life is to be beaten up as much and as frequently as possible. There is something strangely cathartic about his attitude of just charging ahead, taking the blows but powering through until he reaches his goal; especially so when compared to Tensai, the pint sized genius detective who bears all the hallmarks of a snotty tsundere but makes up for it by being equal parts naive and pragmatic as well as being strangely effective at her profession. That may seem odd to say when there are no end of savant “detectives” kicking around anime series, yet with Tensai she is never omniscient and has a definite process for working things out rather than relying on excruciating leaps of logic. There is still an element of that and her showdown with the villain in the finale does test one’s patience but she is otherwise enjoyably rather than tiresomely smart.

And enjoyable is how the series remains after that first episode, when the cliched pretenses have gone. The quest to find all the hidden treasures feels like an adventure in the same way that The Goonies or National Treasure do, but the story and situations still have some bite to them moving it away from the Sunday afternoon family matinee genre. So as well as the ever present threat of violence, Nanana herself is treated as a full and rounded character rather than just a quest giver, and her relationship with Juugo stretches beyond constant pudding consumption touching on the inevitable sadness due to her death and isolation.

If anything, Nanana as a series is a little understated for the quality it demonstrates. It’s almost entirely free of lasciviousness and although it relies too much on incidental characters being pivotal to later reasoning, it has enough of a twisty turny plot to make you feel pleasantly wrongfooted about what’s coming up next. There are the odd grumbles: the frequent violence does tend to be shrugged off with the application of bandages, somewhat neutering any lasting impact the injuries would have otherwise had; the futuristic island location is woefully underused; and the slips back into anime tropes such as bashful loli or fox-eyed know-it-all are sporadic but frequent enough to seem anachronistic when compared to the other, better, character development.

The visuals certainly aren’t a downside though with gorgeous detail and hypnotising eyes throughout as well as a keen sense heft when it comes to some of the lengthier fights such as that between Juugo and Yukihime. Even if the series, at a petite eleven episodes, doesn’t answer the initial question of who turned Nanana into a ghost, there is still an awful lot between the first and last episodes to enjoy. With a little more confidence and slightly more time spent on fleshing out the world and the characters in it - both more than possible in hopeful second season - this could have been a sleeper hit. Regardless of those niggles though, there’s a lot to appreciate and be entertained by here.