As someone who likes to look for hybrids of murder mysteries and a combo of Urban Legends, Folklore and the Supernatural; In/Spectre caught my attention before it was even released, and in the process I ended up watching it as a feature of my Saturday nights or Sunday Afternoons. So lets get right to it.
Set in a Japan where Shinto spiritualism plays an active role in the characters’ universe, our story revolves around 2 characters: Kotoko Iwanaga, a young woman who lost an eye and leg when she was 11 to become an intermediary between the real world and the spirit world (and a “Goddess of Wisdom” to the various beings), and Kuro Sakuragawa, a young man who can’t be killed or destroyed (for very long) after he ate Mermaid flesh when he too was 11, and unlike Iwanaga, is highly feared and infamous among the Spirits (despite his desire to be normal). On the surface it appears that she is the Brain & he is the Muscle – however it’s greyer than that. After solving a small series of unusual paranormal cases; the partner of Kuro’s ex-fiance, police officer Saki Yumihara, is murdered by a mysterious Ghost woman of internet lore. From this; the trio has to find out how to stop the Ghost or stop the killings.
Now into the divine comedy combo:
If there’s 1 thing that really stands out about the art style of In/Spectre, it would be how tidy the designs are, and how soft the colour palette is, compared to other anime in this era. Colour saturation is more muted, but warm for about 90% of the feature, with the brightest and most vibrant colours being from the Yokai (Demons/Spirits). The animation is well produced, but very much with an accent, as action scenes aren’t as prevalent as one might expect. There are occasional distortions as part of the humour, mostly on Iwanaga’s part. One other thing, and I thought this was quite ingenious on part of the design choices and ways to make characters stand out from other anime out there…blonde eyelashes. Iwanaga has blonde eyelashes. In an industry were blondes usually have dark lashes, it’s a refreshing and original detail.
The voice acting is very good, in both the original Japanese and English dubs. Iwanaga has about 70% of the dialogue, so it was good to get a voice that not only matched her petite design, but also carried an authority of a character that converses with more than just humans…while also clearly being a horny young woman when it comes to Kuro.
The characters are quite complex in their own right, as you not only have at least 1 murder mystery story to tell, but also a romance were a girl is so forward that despite not being “his type”, insists that they be a couple. Kuro’s type are tall brunettes – something that Iwanaga is far from ‘achieving’ – however, what she doesn’t make up in ‘type’ she outshines in an understanding and acceptance that isn’t always returned. The show tends to be rather humorous about their relationship
The story is good, and gets stronger in a second viewing. It consists of several ‘cases’ to solve, primarily as a way to show you how these characters get to work. The cases go from lasting an episode or 2 until we come to the main case, the 1 that sees Saki’s partner on the Force brutally murdered at a petrol station by a J-pop singer with no face (the Internet Ghost woman I mentioned earlier). The pacing is also very casual and is a slow burner for the most part. Some might be put off by this, as there may have been certain expectations by some going into this. But I got my joyful share out of it nonetheless.
The music doesn’t have as large an emphasis as other aspects of the show, to the point that you probably have about 20 minutes of music across 12 episodes. They would be the opening theme, closing theme, intermission jiggles and about 3-4 scores that add to the comedy or the moments of pondering. The opening theme has an air of mischief while the ending theme tries to convey the romantic element of the show. From time to time you’ll hear what sounds like a medieval lute – whether that’s to add to the fantasy element in another question, but I think it works well.
The themes are easily the strongest thing going for it, as it can be best described as either philosophical or theological in nature (or both) – a thinking person’s anime. Reason? Because everything revolves around either alternative perspectives or whether or not the ‘truth’ on a matter can be believed. Murder could be suicide. Ghosts could be scapegoats. Jealousy could lead to someone going full-on ‘Gone Girl’ (if you’ve seen that movie, you’ll understand). It also, to a small degree, follows the fears of romance and whether or not we can receive acceptance. In Kuro’s case, he was rejected when he was seen for who he was capable of becoming, while at the same time, He is rejecting Iwanaga’s advances, even though she accepts him for his unique ‘gift’.
Would I recommend In/Spectre? Yes, but you need to be in the mood for it. This is 1 of the most dialogue-heavy shows I have ever seen, let alone the most dialogue-heavy anime. So much information is conveyed in the written or spoken word, much more than in action. In terms of the best way to watch it, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for pure exposition, the Japanese with english subtitles works well and is perhaps the most accurate interpretation. However in viewing it this way, your eyes will be reading a lot more than watching. In the english dub, it might take some liberties as a means to fit the dubbing with moving lips, but it, at least, has you watching the whole screen and enjoying the visuals and animation to their fullest. I also found myself enjoying the humour more in the english dub, so don’t shun it until you hear it, and see it play out.
Art style: ****1/2
Voice Acting: ****1/4