In/Spectre – Anime Review
Synopsis: Iwanaga Kotoko became the god of wisdom to the supernatural beings and spends her days solving problems for them. However, the boy who she fell head over heels for, Sakuragawa Kuro, is someone that is feared by all supernatural creatures. The two of them face various mysterious incidents involving the supernatural in this love x romance x mystery series. Where will these fantastical incidents lead them and what will happen with Kotoko’s crush? (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: In/Spectre is one of the shows I was looking forward to the most this season, in part being a fan of the manga as well as In/Spectre’s unique mix of the supernatural, mystery, along with a dash of action and drama. It fully embraces the existence of supernatural beings and uses them as catalysts for its plot. But instead of having them solely be the villains of the story, In/Spectre shakes things up by assigning them all kinds of roles. They range from being helpless victims to curious clients, as well as helpful aides to Kotoko as she goes about solving all kinds of supernatural themed problems, keeping the series from feeling one note in its use of Yokai.
Tom: One thing audiences absolutely need to be aware of is that In/Spectre may be a mystery series, but it doesn’t play out in the typical way you’d expect. The show might be better defined as a ‘cerebral’ mystery. Often human world crimes are merely the catalyst for the focus of In/Spectre. A good example is one of the early episodes where Iwanaga converses with a Snake God about why a woman came by to dump a knife in her lake. While there’s a human level crime committed here, with a true conclusion as to motive, the series isn’t so much interested in that, but rather the possible explanations that would satisfy the Snake God, who has trouble following the confusing and often contradictory actions of humans. There’s much more discussion given to possibilities of the woman’s actions than there is providing concrete answers as to her motives. In that way the series feels quite unique, but is bound to frustrate mystery fans who want conclusive answers to be the primary focus.
Linny: Episode 1 and 2 are one off tales that help to establish In/Spectre’s basic concept and characters. But Episode 3 onwards is devoted to a singular plot line, the Steel Lady Nanase arc. The Steel Lady Nanase arc makes up the rest of the series, leaving zero room for additional one off narratives. This is where viewers’ patience could be tested. Even when reading the manga version (an adaptation of the ongoing novel series), I, at times, found myself frustrated by how often the series loves to rehash information over and over, as if stuck on repeat. Don’t get me wrong. The ideas at play are interesting, and the arc takes a number of wild and fun turns, but the way everything plays out as more a never ending discussion of ideas and concepts feels draining. The anime does present these discussions in a more active format, visualizing the concepts and ideas discussed in dynamic ways, yet it still feels like a never ending story compared to the early single episode tales. Not only is the Steel Lady Nanase story line drawn out, the final major confrontation takes place solely through text chat in an online forum. While there is combat going on at the same time, most of the screen time is spent on monologues, which is definitely not the most dynamic way to end such a major story. It’s a risky move and one that could cost the series potential fans if they end up disengaged from the time consuming discussion and low levels of action.
Tom: This where I think it’s important to bring up In/Spectre’s production values. Not only is the series a consistent looker, with few dips in visual quality, but it also boasts solid direction. It’s that visual direction and visualization of Iwanaga’s deductions, summations and ponderings that keep this talkative anime from feeling hum-drum and dull. As someone unfamiliar with In/Specter prior to the anime I can honestly say that the show’s depiction of Iwanaga’s efforts to stop Steel Lady Nanase by essentially arguing her out of existence via an online forum is actually gripping and had me enthralled, even episode to episode as it went on. There are times when the series drops the ball, rehashing talking points to the point you’re begging the anime to move on, but those moments are few and far between.
Linny: I’ve mentioned this before in my earlier reviews for In/Spectre but I feel it worth mentioning again for any new readers. Kotoko Iwanaga, our female protagonist is drawn to look much smaller and younger than her boyfriend and male protagonist, Kuro Sakuragawa. The show claims this is because a certain event in her past has caused her body to stop/slow down aging. Anime and manga is often derided for having scandalously prepubescent looking, or just plain prepubescent, female characters and the whole ‘magically/supernaturally de-aged’ explanation is one equally mocked for its overuse. It doesn’t help matters that Kotoko is very upfront and aggressive, even passing innuendos aimed at Kuro on occasion. While Kuro is always a perfect gentleman and the show never offers any scandalous camera angles or shots of Kotoko, it’s still understandable if her behaviour combined with her physical appearance is extremely off-putting to some people and why I feel it necessary to mention as a heads up to anyone who might like a warning about this content.
Tom: Overall, despite In/Spectre’s penchant for over discussion, I really enjoy its more cerebral take on the mystery genre. I think it really succeeds as turning attention from concrete answers and instead into an in depth discussion about possibilities. Iwanaga, despite her more tropey issues, is a fun character, both confident and charming and makes for excellent lead ‘detective.’ If you’re looking for a mystery series a bit outside the norm, I think it’d be hard to go wrong with In/Spectre.
Linny: In/Spectre is a show that’s likely to impress and engage anyone who wants a supernatural mystery show that approaches its mysteries through a new angle. As Tom mentioned earlier, often the crimes committed in this show are just the catalyst for other mysteries. For example, it’s not about who committed the murder but why it happened or finding a different explanation for something that’s already been ‘solved’. The show uses competent animation and engaging narration to keep itself interesting and fun to follow, boosting it further with a restrained but well executed sprinkle of comedy. Yes, it does have some issues like a main overarching plot that could be too stretched out and a less than visually dynamic finale but they do not completely overshadow its positives. If you’re looking for a mostly serious supernatural mystery show, you might do well to check In/Spectre out, keeping in mind the caveats we’ve discussed above.
In/Spectre is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.