Genius programmer Shiki Magata has been living in an isolation for 15 years on a solitary island after she murdered her parents and was judged to be mentally unsound. Professor of architecture Sohei Saikawa and his student Moe Nishinosono, a maths prodigy, take a vacation to the island to meet the convicted genius. However, when the two end up finding a corpse, they are caught up in a series of serial murders and must untangle a complex web of clues and events in order to identify the killer and how it connects to the events 15 years prior.
Based on the Japanese novel Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider, this anime adaptation from A-1 Pictures, the studio behind Sword Art Online, Your Lie in April and Aldnoah Zero, proves to be a competent mystery anime that has some interesting ideas that are marred by flaws in the overall execution.
Although I think I’d hesitate to call The Perfect Insider a boring show, one of the biggest problems the show has is in how it’s paced. At only 11 episodes long, it’s a little shorter than other single cour anime, most of which are around 12 or 13 episodes, however it still feels a little dragged out due to the very slow pacing. Not only are there almost two whole episodes of set-up before the first murder, which happens at the tail end of the second episode, the progression to solving the overall mystery feels pretty glacial. The overall gist of each episode after the murder is that Saikawa, Nishinosono and people from the research lab go around looking for clues, then when they find the clues, hypothesise about what the clue means in relation to the murder. The issue with this is that all the hypothesising rarely leads to any immediate advancement of identifying of the killer, and it just feels like the show is treading water. It’s very telling when a character in the sixth episode, more than halfway into the series, says “We haven’t even solved a single mystery yet”.
As you might might expect from all the hypothesising, most of the show is taken up almost entirely with scenes of dialogue. Now, this isn’t inherently a bad thing, and despite what I’ve said about it up to this point, I actually found each episode to be quite engaging, and it certainly held my interest every episode until the end, but, with that being said, director Mamoru Kanbe (Series Director of Elfen Lied and Episode Director on anime such as Cardcaptor Sakura and Baccano!) probably could have done a little more to make these scenes more visually interesting. When it comes to dialogue-heavy anime, the benchmark will always be the ever popular Monogatari Series. As a franchise, it is almost entirely made up of scenes of dialogue between the characters, with some sparse scenes of action thrown in. Despite most scenes just being two people talking, it is never boring to look at for even a single frame, and it’s all the more interesting and engaging for it. Of course, it would be silly to want the unique and wacky visuals of something like Monogatari for a series that takes itself much more seriously like The Perfect Insider but Monogatari has really set my expectations high for how visually appealing something as mundane as dialogue scenes can be in the hands of the right director and studio, and this show just really doesn’t live up to that bar. Even if it was just more variety of camera angles or adding some interesting or distinct camera movement, it would have been an improvement over what we got. The way the dialogue scenes in The Perfect Insider are presented is perfectly functional, and the dialogue itself is still interesting, but I still can’t help but feel I wanted a little more out of it. Towards the end, there is one scene of dialogue that does exactly this (which I can’t discuss in detail because of spoilers) but even so, I can’t help but feel it’s too little, too late.
As well as the story about the series of murders at the research facility, there is also a B plot that explores the backstory of Shiki Magata, set 15 years prior to the events set in current day, that shows her killing her parents, why she did it, and the aftermath. Even though it takes up a relatively small amount of time in each episode, this story definitely feels as if it could potentially put a lot of people off the series entirely. Without going too much into spoilers, it deals very directly with two incredibly taboo topics, and it’s very likely to make most people uncomfortable watching the series. This element of the show is introduced fairly early on, and it’s pretty blatant to see the direction in which it’s heading, so if you do feel uncomfortable with what you see, I’d advise you stop watching, because it only gets more extreme as the episodes progress. If like me, however, you aren’t so easily scared off by an anime trying to breach controversial subject matter, then there’s a good chance you might find this more involving than the mystery itself. Being a young genius, with mental capability well beyond her years makes Magata very interesting to watch and the show explores the character well considering just how little screen time this side of the plot actually gets, only taking up two or three minutes of each episode, usually at the end. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have been upset if this was the main story and all the mystery bit was more of an aside, as I almost always found these parts way more interesting than anything else in the show.
Even though Magata is a great character with plenty of backstory and depth, the same unfortunately can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Protagonists Saikawa and Nishinosono are two very forgettable characters and don’t really get a lot in terms of development throughout the series, which is focused almost entirely on Magata. I wouldn’t say they’re totally bland, Saikawa in particular is quite intriguing, being pretty cold and calculating, but I don’t think it’s anything that I haven’t seen before. We do learn a bit about Nishinosono’s past, but ultimately I think it adds little to her character. There is something of a relationship between the two leads but it’s not very interesting and the two have very little chemistry. The blandness also extends to the supporting cast, although to an even worse degree, with not a single one of them having anything vaguely memorable or interesting about them in the least.
Famed studio A-1 Pictures handle animation for this series, and this is a pretty big departure from their usual fare. The majority of anime that A-1 produce tend to be very colourful and vibrant productions, like fantasy series Sword Art Online or The Seven Deadly Sins, even extending to their other works such as SaeKano and The iDOLM@STER, but The Perfect Insider is an incredibly subdued affair. Everything has a very washed out and desaturated look to it, and it’s certainly a look that suits the tone to a tee. It’s nice to see some variety from the studio, as a lot of their shows tend to look rather similar. I think that perhaps the best visuals in the show, however, aren’t in the actual show itself, but rather in the opening and closing. Both are incredibly unique, visually impressive, not to mention stylish. If any of the energy or style displayed in these opening and closing had made its way into the show itself, I think it really would have improved it a lot. The fantastic Opening and Ending are paired with equally fantastic music, with the opening song, ‘talking’ by KANA-BOON being infectiously catchy, and the ending song, ‘Nana Hitsuji’ by ScenarioArt being equally good. Even though I thought both Opening and Ending are great, I can’t help but feel that they don’t quite match the tone of the show, but they’re still enjoyable nonetheless.
Animatsu’s release of The Perfect Insider only contains Japanese audio with English subtitles, and the voice cast all give solid performances. Leading the show are Yasuyuki Kase (Bleach, Durarara x2, Code Geass), Ibuki Kido (Bladedance of the Elementalers, Pan de Peace!, Golden Time) and Atsumi Tanezaki (Terror in Resonance, Seraph of the End, High School Fleet) as Saikawa, Nishinosono and Magata respectively, with Kase probably being the best of the bunch, giving a convincing performance of someone very detached from the world. The series music is contributed by Kenji Kawai (who also scored Ghost in the Shell, Fate/Stay Night (2006) and Eden of the East) and I thought he did a great job. The use of music is fairly sparse, which only makes it more effective in context.
Although it suffers from some pacing issues and some rather mundane presentation in places, The Perfect Insider is still a pretty solid mystery anime, although it’s definitely not one for the easily offended.