Reclusive anime nerd Takumi’s life script is flipped hardcore when he’s eyed as the possible suspect in a series of gruesome murders happening across Tokyo. His sense of what’s real and what’s delusion comes under assault, and soon he finds himself at the epicenter of a nefarious plot to control reality itself.
But all that’s nothing compared to the struggle the viewer will experience trying to make head or tail of this series, which has many potentially interesting ideas but in the end settles for being a lot more mundane than it lets on at first.
The original story was derived from a video game, and it shows.
- Flirts with some intriguing ideas.
- Intriguing ideas don't make up for the shallow story.
- Animation production is on the low end of the scale.
- Director: Takaaki Ishiyama
- Animation Studio: MADHOUSE
- Released By: MADHOUSE
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation Entertainment
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-MA (violence)
- List Price: $64.98 (Blu-ray / DVD combo)
- Science Fiction
What's real? You tell me
The other day some friends of mine got into a frustrating and somewhat circular discussion about the nature of reality. To wit: how do we know our universe isn’t “real” and is in fact some kind of elaborate simulation? Questions like this always seemed a little belabored to me—after all, if dropping a brick on my foot is just as painful either way, what’s the difference?
It takes a lot of forethought, insight and creativity to take concepts like that and turn them into an absorbing story.
The makers of Chaos;HEAd had a whole grab bag of concepts at hand, but the final product is still a grab bag. It’s adapted, not surprisingly, from a video game / visual novel sporting the same name and storyline, courtesy of Nitro plus (the same folks who worked on Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~) and game studio 5pb. Given all that, perhaps it’s also not surprising the end result is halfway between a harem comedy like Shuffle (many girls, one guy) and a stab at some of the same territory covered by The Matrix. It's every bit as jumbled as such a description might imply.
We told you those weird websites were dangerous
At least the kickoff is promising. Takumi Nishijo’s a young man still inching his way through school, preferring instead to spend as much time as possible in his apartment, a converted shipping container on top of a building somewhere. (There’s no plumbing, which makes you wonder what the poor kid does after he drinks all that soda stored in his fridge.) He’s a borderline hikikomori or compulsive social recluse, preferring the company of “2D” women—anime characters, figurines, game mascots—to the endlessly threatening, confusing and menacing “3D” variety. His favorite anime character, Seira, she of endless wardrobe changes and a boundless source of comfort without attachments, has a tendency to manifest in the room in front of him and steer him that much further away from anything like real life. He’s had a history of mental problems—the title of the show should be a tipoff to that—and so this latest round of lunacy is actually nothing new for him.
Maybe it’s for the best for Takumi to stay bottled up, because outside the walls of his little cubicle, real life just got that much nastier. A wave of brutal and theatrically imaginative crimes called the “New Generation Events” is receiving lurid coverage in the news and becoming the source of much chatter on the message boards. One night in a chatroom Takumi is offered a link to what looks like a murder scene. It’s the newest of these crimes. That’s disturbing enough to get him out of his chair—but later that night in a back alley, he witnesses the exact same thing unfolding in front of him. He also sees the murderer, a sweet young girl named Rimi … who happens to be one of his classmates, and who of course has no recollection of pinning someone to a wall with dozens of metal stakes.
She’s only the first of a whole slew of (3D) girls who come crashing sidelong into Takumi’s life and make it very, very complicated indeed. Along comes Yua, for instance, whom Takumi is convinced is stalking him, and whose sweet demeanor (she cozzens up to Takumi as a fellow anime fan) abruptly implodes when he discovers she’s amassed a giant personal dossier about the New Generation crimes. Nanami, Takumi’s younger sister, periodically pops in to try and drag her brother back to something resembling reality, although not always successfully. And then there’s the ominous Sena, the perky (and telepathic) Kozue, the incognito goth-rocker Ayase … all of whom add population to the story and convolutions to the goings-on, but not necessarily depth or interest, since a busier story isn’t always a more intriguing one.
Complicated doesn't mean complex
But tell that to the screenwriters, who pile convolution on top of plot twist on top of reams of pseudoscientific gibberish in the name of making the story that much more sophisticated. We learn that many of the other people Takumi meets—mostly the women—are “Gigalomaniacs,” or people with the power to “project their delusions onto others,” and thus make what they imagine real. Or at least real enough that everyone else around them agrees that it’s real. This is done with a weapon called a Di-Sword, which each Gigalomaniac must discover independently. Needless to say, Takumi hasn’t figured out how to do this, and so is at the mercy of the other girls who have when the agents of NOZOMI come calling. NOZOMI is the Big Bad Corporation behind all this horrible reality-twisting, and so it falls to Takumi and his circle of female friends to stop them from giving the whole of humanity a terminal headache.
I just now looked back over these last few paragraphs, and realized I’ve made the mistake of allowing all this stuff to sound far more interesting than it actually is. Chaos;HEAd: works far better on paper, and perhaps also as a game, than it does as a twelve-episode TV series. Plot twists that work well in a game mechanic come off as cheesy and stilted in a show. They’re credible—or at least palatable—in the context of the game’s play, but put them on a screen where they have to stand or fall on their own merit as drama, and more often than not they keel over.
By the time this story’s played all of its cards, it’s revealed itself to be surprisingly thin. There’s a Big Bad, the hero has to summon up the nerve to believe in himself and say yes to his one true love, and everything’s solved with a big fight. Even the animation’s a corner-cutting, low-end job.
It’s disappointing, in large part because so much of what’s tackled here has been done far better elsewhere. The implications of living in an always-on, full-digital world are better examined in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex or Summer Wars; the what-is-real-and-what-isn’t stuff in Paranoia Agent; the harem material, Ouran High School Host Club (or even the aforementioned Shuffle).
I don’t doubt for a moment there are people who’ll find a story that basic (however outwardly complicated) to be worth the ride—but sound and fury and harem aside, this show’s still about a lot less than you might think.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.