Nijuu-mensou no Musume 二十面相の娘 -- also known as Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief -- debuted Saturday, starring Hirano Aya. I liked Nijuu-mensou enough that it is now one of my five early-season favorites: Kurenai, Macross Frontier, Vampire Knight, Allison & Lillia, and Nijuu-mensou no Musume. There's still nothing in the class of True Tears, Blue Drop, or ef, for me, but time will tell. Kurenai is the show I like most so far. (click images to enlarge)
Nijuu-mensou has a retro feel. Director Tomizawa Nobuo directed a Lupin III movie, and it shows. But from the first episode, the story seems to me to have some depth. It is full of powerful myths: Robin Hood; Superman; Sherlock Holmes; Cinderella; the myth of the exiled princess; the myth of being in constant mortal danger; the myth of being so unhappy that you long to be anywhere but where you are...and then are rescued by your hero, in the sudden fulfilment of a fantasy. Since I think myths are the heart of anime's appeal, these strong myths are a big plus for me.
The backgrounds and animation are good, if nothing special. Animation is by Telecom, with help from Bones. The show is slated for 22 episodes and is based on a manga that ran to eight volumes between 2002 and 2007. The adaptation is by Tsuchiya Rikei, who also did Major and KimiKiss (as well as Kirarin Revolution).
Director Tomizawa did Futakoi 1 and Kanban Musume, and the sharp direction of the latter is very much in evidence here. The story is told very economically, completing three adventures and setting up the main characters in the first episode. Largely thanks to Hirano Aya's great emoting, we really get a feel of the main character, in moments of great travail.
I'm a fan of Aya's, but even I found her other starring role this spring, Kaoru in Zettai Karen Children, a bit over the top, especially in episode one. In Nijuu-mensou, she returns to the emotion that I think is her greatest strength. I first took notice of her as Layla in NANA, where she almost made me weep every time she spoke. And then I noticed hints of this power in Suzumiya Haruhi, Manabi Straight, and even Sumomomo Momomo. She is not the most naturalistic actress, and some people can't get past what they see as overacting. But for me, she has an ability to communicate real emotion that few other seiyuu can approach.
I particularly liked both the OP, by 369, and the ED, by Aya. From my point of view, Aya's singing is getting better and better. She gives the song energy and rhythm, conveys emotion, has good phrasing, and hits all the notes dead on, unlike many seiyuu/singers, including Aya herself in the past. The OP and ED are both on YouTube.
Now, I appear to be the only blogger with much enthusiasm for this show, or for the ED, so your mileage may vary, but I was involved and entertained throughout.
The Thief With Twenty Faces robs the rich of their treasures. He warns them ahead of time, but still manages to succeed in every heist. He has promised to steal a rich man's golden casket, so the man fills his house with police. The Thief succeeds by infiltrating the guards and then having his zeppelin rip the top off the house, allowing him to escape -- and incidentally revealing an illegal treasure the man has hidden in his attic.
Chizuko is a young girl who is fascinated with the Thief. She lives in a grand house. But she seems to be refusing to eat: she dumps her tea on the table and leaves her cakes untouched. Her parents appear to be baffled by her behavior.
Back in her room, we see that Chizuko is clearly depressed and upset. She wants to be anywhere but where she is. At the next meal, her father grabs her violently and tries to force her to eat, but fails. After every meal, however, the butler comes in to give her something to eat, and she eats it.
We finally learn that these are not Chizuko's real parents, but her father's brother and his wife. Her parents have died somehow. Her aunt and uncle and the butler come into her room to give her some soup, but she refuses even that, after tasting one spoonful. Finally, the butler drops his disguise and reveals himself as the Thief. He tells the aunt and uncle that the food they are offering is good only for pigs, so they should eat it themselves. He produces a bottle of aconite poison and says it is the aunt's "secret spice." The aunt (and uncle?) have been trying to poison Chizuko so that they can inherit her father's company and wealth.
The Thief asks Chizuko if she wants to go with him. She says she does, and runs to him, desperately. Hirano Aya's wild little gulp as she races for him is a magic moment. But once in his car, they have to outrace the police, which they do with the help of a couple of accomplices who join them in the car after blocking the police. One of the accomplices gives Chizuko the nickname Chiko. Then they are chased by a man/youkai called the Tiger, but at the last minute, as they are on a train track with a train bearing down on them, the Thief's zeppelin arives and they climb up a rope ladder to safety, as the train apparently demolishes the Tiger. The Thief observes to Chiko that the world looks small from up in the sky, and they are now off to another country.
We have a good set-up, and now it seems that Chiko will develop into a star member of the Thief's gang. Whether the show fulfils its promise or not will depend on how well they develop the characters, especially Chiko, and how well the capers retain their freshness. The show could look like just a kids' detective show, or it could develop more of the psychological depth I saw glimmers of in episode one.
By the way, I'm not planning to blog this show. I just wanted to express my feelings about the first episode.