An anime that is quiet by nature. The backgrounds are absolutely beautiful – like watching a painting. For maximum effect, Zenko, my other half, recommends you watch it on snowy or rainy days.
Purpose: Masterpiece. This is about existence. Broadly, it’s about people’s lives and dealing with nature and everyday mysteries. It’s generally told in an episodic format – different stories per episode. Each story “zooms in” on a particular situation and how it’s addressed. Sometimes, it about human relations, sometimes it’s about personality, sometimes it’s about interacting with the world. The order the stories are told aren’t exactly chronological, but chosen in a way that best grows and then builds upon your knowledge of the world. This element really stands out because they always kept an eye on believable realism – everything that happened is the product of forces that we slowly come to understand though the anime.
Characters: Masterpiece. All the characters that appear feel like real people with genuine problems, concerns, and reactions to the unusual events happening around and to them. Most of the characters only have 1 episode that they appear in. In those episodes, they are developed in ways that are relevant to what is going on. Characters make real choices based on their values or beliefs and those choices have consequences. Other characters then may have to deal with the consequences of the decisions. Really, even on a character level, there’s a strong sense of cause and effect – of realism.
Now for the main character. He is an exceptionally strong character, both uniquely human and a unique human. The way that he was built was simply exemplary. We are basically told nothing of him and have to learn about him from how he interacts with the characters and the world. Through his interactions, he indicates a clear personality, a way of approaching and dealing with situations. He has definite beliefs and priorities, but it wasn’t conveyed in a way that could be described as “preachy” or “pushy”. Rather, they took on the nature of being personal beliefs based on experience. Even within the story, he allows others to make their own decisions, regardless of his recommendations – not forcing his views on others. That said, he is far from infallible – he makes mistakes and sometimes has poor bedside manner. He has to make judgment calls about what to do in novel situations based on his experiences. Really, he was built as a believable doctor in that world. On that same theme, it’s not like he’s going from town to town and makes tons of friends on the way. He’s almost always treated as the doctor – here to help right then, and then gone tomorrow.
World: Masterpiece. This world is gigantic. Everything that happens develops our knowledge of what’s going on, which in turn builds the vast world. Certainly, the basic premise is supernatural. However, it’s treated in such a matter of fact way that it conveys a strong sense of realism. It’s not just random mumbo-jumbo, it’s something that we don’t yet understand that’s at work. It has the sense that, with proper training and study, we too could understand how that world works (much like our own). This realism really sells the world because the people living in it have to react to the goings-on. Part of the strong world is the sense of time – no matter what happens, the world will keep on turning. Really, what’s interesting is that everything has to make its place in the world – it’s not exactly treated as a matter of course that you will have a place. This actually creates two different kinds of worlds. The small “world” that people are living in – their communities, villages, and groups, and the big world that includes the knowledge of these things unseen. The interplay between the two worlds is how this anime accomplishes its purpose.
Plot: Excellent. The plots are relatively self-contained, but generally similar. In this anime, it isn’t a bad thing because the contours of the plot change based on the circumstances. Different people react differently or different world forces change the path the plot takes. These differences make the resolutions are highly individualized because the plot marks lasting changes in interaction – how people interact with each other and/or the world.
Storytelling: Masterpiece. This anime is pretty much all well-told stories. The overall feel is as though it were animated folk tales or ghost stories, without actually being either one. The stories were told in such a way that emphasized the everyday quality of the events going on while still maintaining a strong sense of mystery and discovery. Really, through the storytelling, we slowly get to see more about both people and the world. The stories aren’t all told in the same way – sometimes they’ll change a bit of perspective or tell the story in a non-linear fashion. Even the contents within each story are highly varied. Sometimes it’s a sweet story, sometimes bittersweet, sometimes sad, sometimes happy. Even so, there were very few stories explicitly about the main character himself, even though he is in every episode. The stories are all quieter – there’s the sense that even though some people’s troubles mean everything to them, there are other forces at work. The storytelling reinforces the relationships between people and the world in almost a co-dependent way. It’s highly memorable.
Though I talked about the stories being told, the viewer is actually told almost nothing – the viewer learns through what’s going on. Really, this is what is particularly unique about the storytelling in this anime. They develop everything through character and world interaction – what we learn isn’t exactly characters talking for our benefit.
Pace: Masterpiece. Pace is a funny thing. It depends entirely upon the anime. In this case the pace was fairly slow, but not in a bad way. It almost took on a life of its own, controlling the feel of the world and the events that happened. It reinforced the sense of quiet existence, the march of time. In some ways, it was more of a “rural” pace, but such that the events happening were almost a matter of course and that, whatever happened, the world would continue on. Some events happened at a quicker pace, which strongly conveyed a sense of seriousness or urgency, which increased the impact. Really, this is a stellar example of how powerful pace can be in anime.