The elephant in the room whenever I’m talking about a series like Monogatari, ef, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai or, in this case, Mekakucity Actors, is the director Akiyuki Shinbo. I have tried and usually failed to address that elephant when reviewing his shows yet each one he does without sharing directing duties is indelibly stamped with his unique vision. My issue being that despite his obvious talent and corruscating view of the world, it takes an enormously strong story to match that style. Mekakucity Actors does not have that.
an obnoxious mash-up of a vocaloid and the Microsoft Word paperclip
Madoka did which is why it’s difficult not to maintain the niggling suspicion that it was so successful despite the director rather than because of him. He is consistently strong when it comes to aesthetics, with allegories and metaphors bubbling contentedly beneath the surface but with Mekaku it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. There’s the fascination with time and cogs with crooked clock towers and giant hourglasses littering the landscape and drenched in neon like a futuristic Salvador Dali. Sunsets and stained glass windows frame moody looking teenagers holding books and cocking their heads with signature aloofness.
On paper Outbreak Company is, frankly, bobbins. An otaku is transported to a fantasy realm of elven maids, busty werewolves and a pint-sized queen in order to spread the otaku way to them. But of course paper is exactly where it started with a series of ongoing light novels and manga preceding the twelve episode anime which is not only funny in a dorky, self-aware kind of way but also surprisingly sensitive to the panoply of topics it touched upon.
The first it tackles is cultural imperialism: the male protagonist Shinichi, and by extension Japan through his, what else, busty BL-loving JSDF aide, are shown to be sensitive to steamrollering their ideals and morals on the populace of the fantasy realm of Eldant. This creates some oddly atypical situations such as when the diminutive queen verbally and almost physically attacks the lead half-elf maid, a situation defused not by posturing and proselytising but by a measure of understanding. From a western point of view this very pointed approach to diplomacy could be taken as a dig towards the jingoism of real-world recent conflicts and occupations but is more likely aimed inward and towards Japan’s recent past.
Sasami-san@Ganbaranai (Sasami@Unmotivated) is very SHAFT. A useless description as everything the studio produces is by definition very SHAFT, but as an adjective it encapsulates the studio's infamous approach: an unwavering confidence in delivery, a devotion to pop-culture and often a production led by designers rather than artists and script writers rather than story. In the pantheon of its shows then, Sasami-san has far less protracted banter than Bakemonogatari but a stronger narrative than Tsukuyomi.
But it's still inescapably SHAFT, and it may be the tired old man in me, but I really wish it wasn't.
time travelling golems and family members repeatedly rising from the underworld
As a modern take on the the collage of stories from Japan's spiritual history it's fascinating and barrels through the often mercurial Shinto "religion" with its rich pool of deities and paraphernalia, from Amaterasu to Kagusutchi. This isn't however My-HiME's naming of super-powered critters, or the sword naming scheme of innumerable JRPGs, but a fresh story with these multifarious gods and demons set in modern day and all its trappings. Coupled with a dreamy pastel art-style and animation that shoots precipitously from "we'll fix this in the Blu-ray release" to "three animators died producing this" and all the pieces are in place for a must-watch bonanza.