Earlier this year Manga Entertainment treated UK anime viewers with Chaos;Head, a twelve episode series based on a popular visual novel. For those of you not aware, visual novels are stories that use video game technology to tell their tales. The medium beats crusty paperbacks by enhancing the narrative text with stylish graphics and sound. Seems like a neat idea to me, but alas visual novels are rarely seen outside of their native Japan. Western readers seem to have a hard time letting go of traditional books (only now are we seeing digital reading get accepted by the mainstream after heavy marketing by the likes of Amazon keen to turn their Kindle into the next iPod.)
Chaos;Head like most visual novels began life as a PC title, but its popularity has seen it get ported over to consoles and some mobile devices. The story has been deemed rich enough to be turned into three different manga comic books in addition to the anime show I am reviewing today. Manga Entertainment's release will set you back around twenty quid delivering the entire series spread across a two disc set. Not too bad in terms of value for money, although the package is sorely lacking in meaningful extra content. Aside for the cartoon all prospective buyers will find are "clean" text-less versions of the opening/closing theme songs (FDD and Super Special.)
The story follows high school student Takumi Nishijo who is someone, dare I say, the stereotypical anime fan may relate to. He's a reclusive dork who spends his days playing online video games and chatting with an imaginary girlfriend based on the heroine of an anime he enjoys. Takumi's isolationist tendencies do however put hermits, like myself, to shame. He hides away in a shipping container equipped with life's essentials (a computer, fridge stocked with cola and a collection of anime figurines.) Takumi only leaves his humble abode to attend the minimum number of classes needed to graduate or to visit a local cybercafe.
Nishijo's humdrum existence is turned upside down when he is sent a webpage link containing a photo of a man pinned to a bloody alley wall. The hapless chap pictured in the image is the latest victim of the infamous New Gen serial killer. That's spooky enough, but the real kicker is that the following day Takumi inadvertently ends up in said alley and sees the deceased who appears to have been recently killed by a pink haired girl. How is it possible that he was sent a photograph of a murder that actually took place the following day? If that's not bizarre enough the pink haired girl in question turns out to be a fellow class mate of Takumi even though he has no memory of her whatsoever.
Thus Takumi becomes embroiled in the New Gen crimes and all the madness surrounding them. Hot on his heels are the police who have made him a prime suspect in the killings after CC footage captured him fleeing from the scene of the above-mentioned murder. To complicate matters, the usually unpopular Takumi, begins to attract the attention of a number of crazy chicks. The list of lasses after him include the sister of one of the New Gen victims, a singer whose song lyrics seem to predict the New Gen homicides, a girl who brandishes a phantom sword only he can see and a mute cutie who can communicate via telepathy.
Overall I liked Chaos;Head, but I didn't love it. I'll start of by listing the good stuff. In terms of presentation I think Mad House studios did a good job bringing the visual novel to life. The characters retain the look of the static images found in the novel, but the visuals themselves are enhanced with greater detail. The writers did a good job of balancing out the story with some lighthearted moments preventing the narrative from becoming too dark. I also think both sets of voice actors performed their parts well. Hardcore anime purists won't settle for anything less than the original Japanese audio, but if you have an aversion to subtitles I can report that the English language dub is perfectably passable.
I cannot however give the series more than three stars due to how it ends. The finale answers all the questions posed by the plot early on, but I didn't care for the change in tone the story takes. The show starts strong as an intriguing psychological murder mystery with supernatural elements to it, which reminded me a little of Paranoia Agent. Viewers will be hooked trying to decipher the identity of the New Gen killer. Could it be the pink haired Rimi Sakihata or one of the other girls in Takumi's life? Heck even Takumi himself could be the murderer given that he is prone to bouts of delusion.
Unfortunately the manner in which the wickedly warped story pans out sees the suspenseful yarn devolve into a cheesy battle of girls with magic swords taking on an evil corporation. Kudos to the writers, I would never have guessed that outcome... but I was hoping for something a bit more meaningful given the original setup. Chaos;Head ends up being an anime of two halves - a captivating premise that messes with your "head" culminating in a "chaotic" mess of wasted potential.