EDITOR’S NOTE: What Are You Watching? is a feature series that dives deep into why we love the anime we love. You told us what you were watching, and now we’ll dig into why.
By Tom Speelman
There’s no shortage of prolific directors in anime.
From larger-than-life icons like Miyazaki, Watanabe and Takahata to stunning luminaries like Yuasa, Yamamoto and Hosoda, the medium we love is crawling with talented directors who marshal an equally talented team around them to produce great art.
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One director who always commands attention when he shows up is Ei Aoki. In a career that’s seen him co-found the studio Troyca and turn in exciting work on shows like Girls Bravo, Fate/Zero and ALDNOAH.ZERO, Aoki has always kept things fresh and exciting on screen. Thus, when it was announced last year that he, award-winning novelist and screenwriter Otaro Maijo, and studio NAZ (My First Girlfriend is a Gal, Infinite Dendrogram) were teaming up to do an original, high-concept mystery show? Excitement was palpable.
And, over its 13-episode run that aired this past winter season, ID: INVADED delivered on that excitement in spades. Combining cool characters, intriguing world-building and a taut conspiracy plot, the anime original delivered exactly what it set out to. It was a rollicking fun season of TV that offered a satisfying conclusion of its own while still leaving the door open for whatever, if anything, comes next.
“I am here to solve the mystery“
In the near future, the police have technology that allows them to see inside the unconscious mind of a criminal. This is accomplished through two tools: the Mizuhanome and the Wakamusubi.
The former is an all-encompassing VR technology that creates a digital simulacrum of a murderer’s unconscious mind—known as an id well—that an investigator can comb through for clues as to what the killer wants, why they target who they do, and how to save their victims. The latter is a radar-esque tool used in the field to gather “cognition particles,” which are given off by a person’s drive to kill and are used to construct the id well.
The only catch? Not just any upstanding cop can enter an id well and search for clues. Rather, the investigator has to be someone who has taken a life themselves. Once inside the id well, they lose all their memories and adopt the persona of a “brilliant detective,” tasked with solving the mysterious death of a girl named Kaeru (Yume Miyamoto, Sarah Wiedenheft), a hunt which eventually leads them to the truth of who and where the real-world murderer is.
The Kura Department is in charge of investigating id wells to catch killers, and their “brilliant detective” is Sakaido. In the real world, Sakaido is actually Akihito Narihisago (Kenjiro Tsuda, Josh Grelle), a former homicide detective now imprisoned after avenging the murder of his daughter (and, by proxy, the suicide of his wife) by murdering “The Challenger,” a serial killer.
Working for a team led by the no-nonsense Funetaro Momoki (Yoshimasa Hosoya, Christopher Wehkamp), Narihisago/Sakaido work ’round the clock to catch twisted killers like Tamotsu Fukoda (Ryota Takeuchi, Justin Cook), aka “The Perforator,” so nicknamed due to his preferred method of murder being drilling holes through his victims’ skulls (something he first tested on himself) to see if they’ll survive.
In the field, the Kura Department is assisted by investigators like grizzled veteran Kokoryu Matsuoka (Rintaro Nishi, Jarrod Greene) and determined-if-diminutive rookie Koharu Hondomachi (M.A.O, Monica Rial). It’s Hondomachi’s kidnapping by The Perforator that sets in motion a series of events that sees Narihisago confronting his own demons and past en route to confronting the mysterious John Walker, a gentleman with a distorted face who always appears in other killers’ id wells.
…and may be responsible for all their carnage in the first place.
Everything means something
If that plot description sounds like a mash-up of Minority Report and/or The Matrix, that’s likely intentional. By using such influential stories coupled with the police procedural genre as its solid foundation, ID: INVADED is able to put its own unique spin on things.
Above all else, though, are the series’ visuals, beginning with the OP. NAZ is a relatively new studio (like Aoki himself, they’ve only been around for less than a decade) and they go above and beyond here. The CG of things like the Wakamusubi and the various fantastical elements of the various id wells Sakaido and other characters find themselves in—which range from a mysterious desert to burning buildings to a world where everything, including people themselves, are fragmented—are ridiculously impressive and smoothly integrate with crisp, fluid 2D animation.
But flashy visuals don’t mean anything without a compelling story and great characters. Again, the show has this handled very well. Maijo—whose short story, “Drill Hole in My Brain,” published in English in 2008 as part of the Japanese lit anthology Faust 1—was undoubtedly an inspiration.
ID: INVADED starts off slow by giving us a couple of two-episode mysteries that play out perfectly paced, all while giving time to explain the characters in-depth and get us to relate to them. Thus, when the curtain pulls back and the big picture is revealed, it works because the buy-in was pulled off so well.
And yes, like a lot of mystery fiction, there’s a lot of talking: both for exposition’s sake and for expounding on philosophy that underpins the story at hand (if you’ve ever read, say, Edogawa Ranpo, this isn’t too far off). But the combined work of Atsushi Ikariya’s striking character designs, the fluid camerawork and the committed performances by both voice casts never make these scenes boring. Instead, they’re riveting.
Honestly, after burning through the show’s 13 episodes, you’ll probably wish there were more.
But honestly, those are minor quibbles. The fact that something with such a high concept not only manages to make it through its story without drowning in pretentiousness, but manages to be exciting and gripping, is something very few TV shows, let alone original anime, can do.
That ID: INVADED manages to do that, do it well and still whet the appetite for whatever might come next in this setting (a manga by Maijo and Yuki Kodama has been running since last fall, but no English release has been announced, nor have any other projects related to the series) is a feat to behold and, indeed, should be applauded.
You don’t have to be a brilliant detective to deduce that this show is a winner. Try it today and see for yourself; you’ll be glad you did.