As the year 2016 began, Kyoto Animation presented another adaptation of a light novel that has been published under their KA Esuma Bunko imprint. Written by Sōichirō Hatano with illustrations by Shirabi, Musaigen no Phantom World or Myriad Colors Phantom World received an honorable mention in the Kyoto Animation Award in 2013 for the novel category. The animated adaptation is directed by Tatsuya Ishihara (Love, Chūnibyō, and Other Delusions, Haruhi Suzumiya), with scripts from Fumihiko Shimo (Amagi Brilliant Park, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Engaged to the Unidentified), and featuring Kazumi Ikeda (Love, Chūnibyō, and Other Delusions, Clannad, Kanon) as the character designer and chief animation director.

In this story, a biohazard incident had released an experimental virus to the general population, which caused every person to become able to see supernatural creatures called “phantom”. In addition, some children who were born after the incident developed supernatural powers that can be used to fight or seal phantoms. Haruhiko Ichijō and his senior, Mai Kawakami, are school students who possess such powers. They use their powers to hunt phantoms that are disturbing human activities as an extracurricular activity to obtain some goods in return. Their track record in hunting phantoms is poor, though, which prompts Haruhiko to recruit another member for the team.

Musaigen 10The story of Phantom World doesn’t appear to be outstandingly unique, but it’s still enjoyable and actually quite interesting to think about if you know how to read into it. It exemplifies how a dense field of information and references can be organized together into fictional scenarios that enables affect in the medium of light novels and animated adaptations. This article will discuss this further using Thomas Lamarre’s concept of multiple frames of reference (Lamarre, 2009), by examining how the multiplication of frames of reference is played out in the Phantom World anime, until it leads into a series of small narratives that can resonate with the viewer’s own personal narratives.

Multiple Frames of Reference World

“Multiple frames of reference” is one of the effects that otaku perception has on the production and reception of anime. For Lamarre, otaku is more about a set of activities that constructs personalized worlds from interaction with media rather than about a category of person. He likened the otaku perception to the exploded view, a kind of assembly diagram where the elements are broken apart, and yet, arranged in such a way that how the elements connect together as a whole can be seen. In such perception, layers of information are flattened together on a similar plane, producing an image dense with dehierarchized information elements. This otaku perception allows the audience to disassemble and reassemble the media they consume into various forms that resonate with them and generate affect.

This mode of perception has influenced the production of anime, including the structures of narrative that they presented through multiplication of the frames of reference. A story is typically thought to have one main narrative theme that serves as the master or grand narrative. However, otaku mode of perception tends to produce anime narratives that incorporate together a broad array of narrative themes, genres, tropes, mythologies, and even references to other popular culture works. As those narrative elements are flattened together into the story, their relations become dehierarchized. It becomes unclear which element is the master element, as each comes to possess equal potential to be important and meaningful part of the story.

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  1. You always seem to go back to Lamarre for your references, but aren’t theory of narrative consumption concerning loss of grand narrative and database model of small narratives consumption originate from Eiji Otsuka and Hiroki Azuma?

    Aside from that, what you wrote in this article could apply to a number of different anime. I don’t see how this is a review of Phantom World in particular. Words have meanings, and using the word review creates a certain amount of expectations (that may be different to each people). And to me that means a discussion on what makes a particular work unique or interesting. But in this review that only comes down to one sentence, “But the show actually manages to make the flattening of banal and fantastic elements into a fairly coherent and consistent combination,” that I feel does not adequately explain that. It would be different if the article was titled, for example, “Phantom World as an Example of Personal Narratives.”

  2. Thanks for the response.

    Yes, I’m aware about Otsuka and Azuma. Those were part of Lamarre’s references too. Maybe I should have mentioned that? But I don’t want the text to get too cluttered. And I also want to raise readers’ interest to read the book because it seems to be less known than Azuma’s Database Animals, despite having been published two years before the English edition of Azuma’s book. There’s also some critique to Azuma’s theory in the book, so I’ll leave it to the book to do that job.

    What’s unique about the anime? I guess there aren’t anything notable, really. But does it have to be unique to be able to connect to the audience? What I intend to do is explaining why anime like this work the way they do, that there are some meaning to what they do. And those meanings emerge from the engagement between the stories and the audience’s own knowledge and experiences.

    Which brings to another thing that I’ve learned from a recent training. There’s a theory in language teaching that posits that reading is not a passive activity, but rather, an active one that involves interaction between the text and the readers’ prior knowledge and experiences. Then, can we consider watching anime to be similar to that? Thus, another purpose for me to write like this is to broaden the readers’ knowledge base a bit with some readings that can help to understand why Phantom World anime can be like that, which can also be applied to a broad range of anime as well.

    In the end, our chief here always stressed that the purpose of review is to help people make informed decision, rather than persuading people to watch or not watch something. I hope that what I write can help readers understand what Phantom World is actually about, what it performs, and from that, decide for themselves if they want to engage with it. And if they do, I hope this writing can provide hint on how to engage with it enjoyably.

    I hope that makes things clear.

  3. Personally I haven’t read what Lamarre said, but while mostly I approve what Halimun said in this review, I don’t think the fanservice bit is the Achilles heel for this anime. Instead, it was a part of the beautiful engineering, cleverly designed to appeal the otaku audience (Azuma with his moe-agare character design). Yet I still don’t get why some self-proclaimed otaku feel disgusted with this anime.

    By reading once more of this article, I got details I missed from what I saw. Just like what Otsuka said, the example of capturing the small narratives is the art of enjoying this anime. And by giving this anime such deep exploration like this, I think it’s a nod to the many – both explicit and implicit – references to the many theories referenced here. Even more, it’s injustice if people only write this anime’s review based from their watching experiences alone.

    (I’m not proficient in writing in English)

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