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.
The 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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