Every time Judge Josh Rode feels chaos in his head, he takes some ibuprofen.
Those eyes…whose are they?
Chäos;Head started out as a "visual novel" (a sort of static video game) and proved popular enough to get the manga treatment. The anime soon followed, and is now available to American consumers.
Facts of the Case
Loner Takumi Nishijo lives alone in a windowless metal crate on the roof of a building, only bothering to leave when absolutely necessary. He spends his time playing video games, watching anime, and imagining his collection of scantily-clad anime figurines are real (and, naturally, totally in love with him). When a strange person calling himself "The General" starts sending Takumi links to a series of deaths around the city, Takumi is dumped headfirst into a convoluted world of mind-control, murder, and giant-sword-wielding schoolgirls.
The episodes fill two discs and carry Takumi through a self-revelatory journey that challenges his perceptions of reality.
• "Ego"—Takumi is surprised to discover Rimi thinks she's his best friend, since he has no memory of her at all. Another beautiful classmate, Yua Kusunoki, throws herself at Takumi, proving things which seem to be too good to be true usually are.
• "Contact"—Takumi goes to a concert featuring Ayase Kishimoto, who seems to have some sort of connection with the strange happenings.
• "Commencing"—Ayase tells Takumi he needs to find his "Di sword," but won't explain what exactly that means. Takumi meets The General, an old man in a wheelchair.
• "Guidance"—Yua and the police think Takumi might be the killer, forcing him to run. Ayase helps him escape, then shows him her Di sword.
• "Embracement"—Takumi, still trying to find his Di sword, tries to decide if he can trust Ayase, after discovering she was once hospitalized for psychological problems. An earthquake rocks the city, killing several people.
• "Linkage"—Takumi, Sena, and Kozue attack the source of the city's problems…or do they?
• "Rejection"—An elementary school doodle is shown to be the root cause of all the troubles, and a homecoming turns difficult for Takumi.
• "Purification"—Takumi discovers some disturbing things about himself, and another visit from The General shakes him further.
• "Independence"—Faced with evidence about his true self, Takumi decides to take matters into his own hands.
• "Mission"—Takumi and the Di-sword-wielding girls face off against the true source of the city's woes.
Ever wondered what it's like to live the life of a delusional paranoid schizophrenic? Here's your chance. The above attempts to summarize Chäos;Head are but futile grasps at plot. The reality of the show defeats summarization, because at its core this is about someone who simply cannot discern reality from the delusions that constantly insert themselves into his life. The built-in mechanic is that the viewer is likewise trapped in this world, and nothing can be taken at face value. Who can Takumi trust? Are any of his friends just delusions? Are all of them delusions? Does he really face the bad guy and come out victorious, or was the entire thing simply a figment of his own fractured mind? There is no way to know, and the show can never feel truly resolved.
The writing doesn't help. An experienced voice cast does its best and the characters are likeable, but the tortured script ranges from metaphysical mumbo-jumbo to pseudo-intellectual philosophy. (Actual lines: "Every single time a person sheds a tear, they move on to the next stage of life. We cross one river of sadness, and another river waits just on the other side. It never ends. But because of that vicious cycle, we're strong.") When the show attempts to explain what's going on, the explanations come in the form of info-dumping, complete with Takumi rephrasing everything he's been told, just to be sure we get it.
Then there are the notable storyline gaps, especially in the characterization department. We get hints about the girls' pasts, but none are adequately fleshed out. Yua's relationship with her twin sister is brought up out of the blue and then dropped almost immediately. Then there are Ayase's cryptic predictions about Takumi's future (with her, of course) and her insistence their group is a predestined team of "black knights" who are to face off against "the evil King Gladio," a figure who does not exist in anyone else's reality. Even the show's key phrase, "Those eyes…whose are they?" never gets explained.
Pacing is also an issue. The first half of the series features a lot of whining from Takumi, as he tries to figure out what's going on. You could start watching from the halfway point without losing much in the way of comprehension.
The 1.78:1 presentation is clean and sharp, with art and animation average for the anime genre. There is a moderate amount of detail and shading, though facial features (especially noses) lose definition the closer they get to the camera. Colors are balanced but tend toward simplicity. The Dolby 5.1 sound is adequate as well, although more use could have been made from the surrounds and the subwoofer. The dialogue comes through clearly in most cases, but gets buried by the discordant music occasionally. The only extras are textless credits. It should also be noted Chäos;Head is offered as a Blu-ray/DVD combo, but only the standard version was available for review.
Chäos;Head is an aptly named trip inside the skull of a delusional outcast. If that thought appeals to you, and you're okay with the thought that everything you just witnessed may have just been some guy's heroic daydream, by all means watch it. Otherwise, there are better ways to spend your time.
This trial was just a delusion.
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