- RECENT REVIEWS: SHAKUGAN NO SHANA *** FREEZING *** SHANGRI-LA *** ERGO PROXY
- STRIKE WITCHES *** KING OF THORN *** STEINS GATE *** GA-REI-ZERO *** DEADMAN WONDERLAND
- TENCHI UNIVERSE *** ONE PIECE *** WOLF CHILDREN *** RUROUNI KENSHIN
This week I had the pleasure of viewing an anime that took a thoughtful and nuanced approach to an adult topic; something I am feeling especially thankful for (it being that time of the year and all). I’m talking about [C] - CONTROL; also known as C: THE MONEY AND SOUL OF POSSIBILITY CONTROL (one of the awesomest English-ish titles I’ve seen in a long time).
Simultaneously a card battle game and an "Entry to Economics" lecture, [C] - CONTROL is one of the more successful attempts I’ve seen recently to discuss current events through the lens of animated fantasy. Better, by far, than SHANGRI-LA and better, by a lesser extent, than DEADMAN WONDERLAND, [C] - CONTROL uses its of-the-moment metaphor to compelling results, making it an easy recommendation to any regular anime viewer.
A young Tokyo resident, Kimimaro Yoga, is feeling the results of the planet’s current economic downturn. A full-time student in economics, Yoga also holds down two jobs and is still barely getting by. One night, while intending to stay home and study instead of spending his hard-earned cash partying with his friends, he receives a visitor.
The man who shows up is Masakaki, a representative of the Financial District, an alternate reality game-space in which Yoga is welcome to bet his future in an attempt to earn extra cash to spend in the present. Or, he could just go on being another hourly drone, quietly operating a convenience store register until the global markets recover and make his middle-class dream a reality.
Guess which one he picks.
From go, this is a series after my own heart: a mixture of current events, occult fantasy and arcade fighting games with almost no extraneous distractions beyond the core plot and not a single frame of fan-service to speak of.
The Financial District is clearly a place of evil, where 666 second battles decide the fate of otherwise good people who oftentimes want nothing more than to provide for their families with the money they might earn. While the show never delves too deeply in the how or why, the Devil is indeed in the details here. Gamblers are given tarot-like credit cards to carry their financial fates, and prize money is printed on black bills that depict a ghastly image of the shameful King Midas, donkey ears and all.
The battles themselves are exciting to watch, as each gambler (called “Entrepreneurs” or “Entrées” for short) controls a unique avatar known as an “Asset” which fights on their behalf. Some Assets are menacing things like wolves or golems, while some are adorable young girls who breath fire. As long as it looks cool (and it all does), it appears to be legal in the Financial District.
When the fighting is over, the victors get to use their newfound wealth to fund their own bully pulpit and espouse their personal economic theories. Entrées like the powerful Souichirou Mikuni will argue for stimulus, pumping their winnings into Japan’s economy with the intention of carrying it through the Great Recession. Other Entrees, like the altruistic Kō Sennoza, hope to rid the real world of the Financial District’s dark influence by removing so-called Midas Money from existence.
Yoga doesn’t quite know who to believe. You see, economic theory is pretty complicated stuff! And that’s OK, because an easy answer is never suggested to be coming, nor does it ever arrive.
For eleven episodes, the ride is an exciting one. The animation is rather spectacular, flipping between the two distinctly different worlds of dreary modern day Tokyo and the phantasmagorical Financial District, a place where Guillermo del Toro might be feel comfortable hanging out. 2D and 3D animation mix with exciting results - - for once feeling intentional and well executed, rather than a product of budgetary constraints.
Characters like the mystical Masasaki seem to always be in 3D; which is appropriate as he seems to float in and out of scenes, ignoring doors and walls as he passes through. Other characters go back and forth, more likely to break into the third dimension while in the Financial District than back in Tokyo. Even subtitles are done creatively, appearing over a dark pixellated film that creeps into frame and then out again.
That’s not to say [C] CONTROL is flawless.
While I commend the show’s creators for taking on some big issues, they sacrifice a lot of personal drama to get there. The characters end up feeling like devices intended to engage in a pre-conceived economic debate, not like independent beings with any will of their own.
Yoga never approaches the humanity of a character like Kaiji in KAIJI: ULTIMATE SURVIVOR, another young man forced to bet on his own life without fully understanding the consequences of that decision. Nor do Mikuni or Sennoza’s theories benefit as much as they might’ve had their own individual stories gotten more attention and development.
Still, in the time they spent getting there, I find the net achievement of [C] CONTROL far greater than the sum of its disappointments.
Alexei Bochenek is a lifelong tech nerd and film buff based in Los Angeles. He writes for various online publications and edits the Los Angeles events website LALookout.com. Follow his Twitter: @alexeigb.