Tuesday, December 22, 2015

[Anime] The Perfect Insider Review

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider - 6.5/10

"The Perfect Insider" is an anime that is unintentionally self-referential: just like Dr. Magata, it also suffers from multiple personality disorder.  It wants dearly to be a profound metaphysical series while still staying rooted in the practical intrigues of a murder mystery.  Unfortunately, it comes up short on insights, which in turn hurts what otherwise would have been a perfectly good thriller.

In order to understand what the Perfect Insider is attempting to do philosophically, some explanation is necessary.  The story centers on a group of software engineers: Saikawa the reserved professor, Nishinosono his enamored student, and Magata Shiki the unfathomable genius.  Watching the ED you will see that it draws heavily on the imagery of  Conway's Game of Life, which is a program that digitally recreates complex, evolving patterns from simple rules.  This has garnered some interest in the intellectual community.  Some mathematicians, namely Wolfram, have gone so far as to say that this could represent a new way of understanding the world.

The idea then is that these software engineers are, in a sense, plumbing new views of reality in their research.  Dr. Magata is the pinnacle of this detachment from normal reality.  She is reminiscent of the uberman idea, that morals and social trappings are merely fetters for those who are truly profound.  She has committed some acts which are considered unconscionable: sleeping with her married uncle, murdering her parents, and using her daughter's mutilated body as a decoy for her escape.  On top of this, she is additionally removed as she has "taken in" what she valued from the outer reality in the form of her multiple personalities, with each one representing something she lost on the "outside."  And finally, she has cut herself off from for 15 years and has even invented a virtual reality chamber to allow the inner world to be projected as though it were the real one.

However, this is also where the series falters.  The process of revealing Magata's background and inner workings is interesting in itself, and along with the mystery could stand alone as a compelling anime.  But then it tries to take one step further by trying to be just a bit too clever, giving contradictory indications as to what it is trying to express.  On one hand it holds up Saikawa and Magata as unfathomable beings, lost in their deep and moving thoughts.  On the other, it has Nishinosono acting as a normal social anchor and the explanation of how Saikawa supported and raised her in her worst times shows how important normal human morality is. Unfortunately I could not detect any indications that it was using this as a subtle conflict, and so was left simply dissatisfied that it ruined a perfectly good mystery with its quibbling.

The Good: The actual, honest-to-goodness mystery at the core of its real world story.  I was really interested to find out what had happened in the past and what was actually happening at the laboratory.  I really think this was the strongest aspect of the series and it's what kept me watching every week.

The execution of more sensitive scenes and topics were also very tastefully handled.  Magata is a minor and basically seduces her uncle.  This has the potential to be a very disgusting topic, but the way the narration is done, how it stays far away from any visual depiction, and the general way that it treats the scene as fundamentally negative keeps it from being any sort of voyeurism.  The same applies to the murders.  They are scenes of horror and confusion, not excitement.  All in all, it managed to have a very dark story in places without using the topics to get cheap views.

To support its story, the art is also top notch with its design and pallet.  The style is, for lack of a better word, antiseptic.  If you pay attention you'll notice that everything looks an unearthly level of clean, as though it's not entirely real.  This supports the general themes that I mentioned above, and overall gives an eerie atmosphere that is perfect for both a philosophical and mystery piece.

Finally the OP and ED were both great and I watched them nearly every time.  They were visually very appealing while at the same time connected firmly with the themes and feel of the series.  As somebody pointed out, in the OP they can never actually touch Magata unless she lets them.  Otherwise she is always elusive.

The Bad: As already mentioned, the biggest issue I took with the series was its attempts at being profound.  In particular some of the final statements made really got to me:

In the last episode, Magata has a philosophical chat with Saikawa and has several statements that were just painful.  The one that really got to me was her statement, "Nobody fears death, just the life and suffering before death."  No, I'm sorry, that's entirely and completely off base.  In fact, if anything a crushing sense of mortality is what scares most people into never thinking about it.  I mean, perhaps Magata is expressing a truth for herself because she is so alien, but she was such a poor observer of humanity (she was locked up for 15 years...) that it made me cringe.

Perhaps it's the biologist in me, but in this day and age I consider any speculation on the nature of humans to require an understanding of and reference to evolution and biology.  They don't explain and account for everything about humans (I'm not a reductionist), but the time for baseless speculation of this sort without science has passed.

What is worse is that in order to make room for some of these musings, the series had to cut short some of its story elements.  Basically we're presented with some of the pivotal story realizations in the forms of flashes or Saikawa staring blankly into space while essentially spanning what were plot holes for the audience.  The scene that got to me was when Saikawa finally figures out that the daughter was brought inside with Magata.  Rather than any sort of reasonable cues as to what he understood, we're treated to a deluge of visual images that would confuse even Picasso.  Apparently the image of ostriches represents that ostrich meat is considered good for mothers, but the fact that I had to go research this to even make sense kind of ruins the impact.  A little more time spent spelling out the steps for the rest of us would have gone a long way to improving the story from a practical stand point.

Finally, I found Nishinosono Moe completely insufferable as a character.  I'm not necessarily saying she was a bad character, but the fact that she went into super-possessive mode of Saikawa every time another female so much as entered the room got really old.  The truth is that she didn't understand him in the slightest the entire time, and the fact that she keeps trying to aggressively foist herself on him romantically was painful.  I contemplated that maybe she was important to the series for some reason, perhaps acting as a foil to the more ethereal characters, but in the end I just couldn't make myself appreciate her.

So in conclusion, The Perfect Insider aimed high with its blend of interesting story and philosophical introspection, but became tangled in its own "complexity" and found itself a bit lost.

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