Tuesday, 20 September 2011

No. 6

A few things held No. 6 back from becoming the classic series it could have been. But chief amongst them was the thing I thought would be its greatest boon: being part of the increasingly famous noitaminA time slot on Fuji TV at quarter to one in the morning on Thursdays. (‘noitaminA’ is ‘Animation’ backwards, and sadly pronounced as one word – I had hoped it would be like ‘Vitimin A’!) A series of extremely popular anime have been aired in the slot, including Honey and Clover and Eden of the East, and when Black Rock Shooter takes over in 2012 I expect it to go stellar.

The problem is that it has become traditional for noitaminA anime to have just 11 episodes in a half-season, as opposed to the more usual 13. And 11 episodes quite simply was not enough for No. 6 to breathe. They had two options, with the source novels as they are: to rush the character building to get a convincing overarching storyline, or to flesh the characters out well and have a quick, unsatisfying ending. Neither choice is great, and they plumped for option 2.

Shion was a nice, normal kid in the near-future city No. 6 until a chance encounter with a wild fugitive boy who called himself ‘Nezumi’, which means ‘mouse’ or ‘rat’, changed everything. For giving the suspicious boy shelter and food, Shion and his mother are penalised by the Orwellian authorities in the city and Shion loses his right to a privileged education. Four years later, Shion is working a low-wage job hoping to fund himself into a comfortable middle-class life when he sees a coworker mysteriously die. It is Nezumi who comes to save him from the corrupt investigation, but the only place to run is out of the city, where there is a whole different world for him to discover, and it soon becomes apparent his utopian city is not so perfect after all.

At the heart of No. 6 is the relationship between Shion and Nezumi. The first episode, when they are children, is sweet to the point it is almost romantic. A few episodes later, even before Shion’s hair colour is changed when he almost dies just as his coworker did, it is clear there is going to be a homoerotic theme to this story, and that Shion and Nezumi are going to get very close. Of course, this lost No. 6 some insecure male audience members, but I can’t help thinking that’s not much of a loss. Nor, obviousness aside, is it a first for noitaminA (see Jyu-Oh-Sei). Then again, it took me a while to shake the annoying impression that because Shion and Nezumi were drawn so absurdly like Allen and Kanda, the whole thing was a strange alternate universe D.Gray-Man fanfiction. Still, the romance is quite subtle, very sweet and makes both characters much more sympathetic, so was well-judged, and the image of a kiss meaning farewell becomes perhaps the most powerful of the whole concept.

No. 6 would have been vastly improved were its plot simply that Shion and Nezumi have to rescue Shion’s friend Safu (also his female love interest, rather mistreated by events here and gotten out of the way of the central relationship in an artificial way, but with arguably a fate better than anyone else’s), with Nezumi going ahead with his ulterior agenda when they infiltrate the Correctional Facility. It could have kept the best of the plot and those great character moments in the last episode where Nezumi decides he’ll protect Shion by playing the bad guy and pushing him away, but would have removed the things that didn’t work, which were the bits of supernatural nonsense. We didn’t need daft killer bees to give the message scientists playing god is wrong. We could have seen huge walls torn down without stupid yellow cyclones. We most definitely didn’t need death reversed by a literal deus ex machina, tacked on for an emotional suckerpunch but far more a swing and a miss.

No. 6 was an excellent 9, even 10 episodes of build-up. Interacting with the fun tsundere wildgirl Inukashi; struggling to prove his independence to Nezumi and finding out his side-job; getting messages back to his mother and learning the truth of the city he was raised in – those were the things that made No. 6 great, and Bones did a very nice job with the design and world-building, especially in that everyone’s lives were believably normal and repetitive beyond the action of the series.

This is just an example of supernatural concepts introduced to try and make a series more high-minded. If anything, though, they made it seem lazy and made emotions more hollow. But that doesn’t stop No. 6 being very, very close to greatness.

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