Anime Review: Mekaku City Actors

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When it comes to Japanese media, it seems that Vocaloid technology has become quite a huge hit in Japanese pop culture. By synthesizing voices and creating 3-D holograms, Japan has seen some growth in the possibility of idols that never age and have average users create music through them. There are actually a fair amount of characters within the Vocaloid lineup, including Hatsune Miku (Hatsune being her surname), and despite fans’ countless attempts to have them recreate other popular songs, real musicians likewise have also attempted to recreate their songs!

But even though the Vocaloid programs have visual appearances of an animated idol and are quite popular in J-Pop, they don’t officially have an anime… or do they?

That’s when I discovered Mekaku City Actors, an anime that at first seemed somewhat out of place and to the untrained viewer, was on the border between melodramatic or just too bizarre. And yet I discovered that despite how strange and confusing the premise was, this series was extremely popular, even on a global scale of simulcasters like me! And why is that? Because this anime is adapted from a manga, adapted from a music collection, of a certain other title: Kagerou Days by the Vocaloids!

Hiyori Asahina

Hiyori Asahina, as portrayed in the anime. Her cover is Heat-Haze Days, otherwise known as Kagerou Days

Now because I’m not a huge follower on the Vocaloid trends, I will explain this in the best way possible for a guy who knows almost nothing. Mekaku City Actors follows an ensemble cast of characters who are all connected to a certain event that happened on August 15 of their timeline. The episodes do not necessarily come out in chronological order, as some episodes occur in their timeline simultaneously or even before; and their use of jump-cut scenes also add to the frustration. But don’t worry. “Days” is a pun for “Daze” in this series, and since we are in the dead of summer heat, I might as well be in a daze these days, too!

Confused enough yet? It gets better. From what I’ve been told, if you were to actually listen to the Kagerou Project collection, the songs found there are quite bizarre as they are less metaphorical and more literal; so when they’re talking about running around in track pants or watching black cats cross paths or whatever it was because I can’t remember the lyrics myself, they mean all of that quite literally in order to tell this story!

Shintaro Kisaragi

You don’t even know the half of it yet, Shintaro!

I suppose the style of storytelling in this anime reminds me of a theatrical style that seems to be somewhat popular in Western culture, where one takes a “Greatest Hits” album of some music artist and make a story around it. Only this time, the music was made specifically for that intent.

But enough about back story, because I’m not doing it any justice to how I truly felt about this series. Mekaku City Actors is made quite beautifully for what it is; it has a bunch of wonderful characters that I have grown attached to gradually but certainly, it made me laugh at times and cry at others, and it incorporates the story with covers from many (but not all) of the Kagerou Project album sung not by the Vocaloids, but by real Japanese artists! I believe we have come full circle when it comes to making fine music, as people imitate synthesized idols.

Akane "Ene" Enomoto

When I first saw Ene, I was thinking of a certain other digital idol.

I know this series is considered a comedy, since the situations here are just too bizarre, but it’s a dark comedy. That means there are a lot of times when you will probably not be laughing hysterically; but of course, if you are, that’s cool too. You would just have one very sophisticated, but strange, sense of humor. Of course, it does have its share of the funnies too.

Momo Kisaragi

Ouch! Way to kick a big brother down!

I know this series can get kind of crazy, as it includes all of the various elements I mentioned earlier, plus some fantasy, plus a puppet drama about a monster, plus some pretty messed up things that happen to our vast number of protagonists; but at least the series ended on a happy note. I commend the creators for doing that much, at least. And despite my normal opinions about what’s hot and what’s not in anime, this is one of those rare moments when I might actually agree with the consensus.

Mekaku City Actors is worthy of being considered the Anime of the Year.

Heroes

Heroes always wear Red.

So if you’re looking for something quite original, looking for something that will play with your emotions, or you simply like Vocaloid stuff, check out Mekaku City Actors. It pulled me in slowly at first; and I’m a little mad at myself for not appreciating it right away. This series deserves a rewatch!

ADDENDUM:

There is technically no such thing as a “Vocaloid” song, as all of their music is composed by other musicians who use them as programs or “instruments.” However, all of the songs from the Kagerou Project were performed by Vocaloids.

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