DVD Review: Chaos; Head Collection
From the mind that brought you Death Note comes a schizophrenic anime experience!
Based on a virtual novel developed for the PC (and later Playstation and XBox systems) by 5pb and Nitroplus and consequent Manga adaptation, Chaos Head (also known as the stylised ChäoS;HEAd) is a psychological thriller with sci-fi and fantasy elements.
The story follows Takumi Nishijō, an otaku with a love of action figures and dolls, specifically of his favourite anime heroine, Orgel Seira. He is reclusive and a self confessed ‘hermit’ with most of his social integration taking place online and with an imaginary ‘delusion’ of Orgel Seira, with whom he has a relationship. His deluded state as well as his fear of the ‘3D world’ and especially 3D girls, causes the audience to wonder from the offset how much of what we are seeing is reality and how much is actually taking place inside Takumi’s head.
While browsing a chat room, Takumi is approached by a user named ‘The General’, who, after a very cryptic conversation, sends him a photograph of a murder scene for a murder that has yet to take place. After stumbling across the murder scene, part of a case known as the New Generation murders, Takumi’s delusions are kicked into overdrive and he is soon confronted by women who he has no recollection of becoming friends with as well as some wielding supernatural swords known as ‘Di-Swords’. While constantly questioning his own sanity, including whether or not he has psychic abilities or if this is the result of high-tech mind-altering machinery, Takumi is consumed by the fear that one of these girls is actually the New Gen murderer and out to kill him.
The storyline is complex and intriguing, with the interesting theme of sanity and delusion running throughout the series. Despite the characters being high school teenagers, the use of fan service is minimal, even in the scenes with Orgel Seira; who, while blatantly a sexualized fantasy, also acts as a conscience and helper to Takumi with his 3D world problems. She acts as a way to safeguard him from the horrors of the real world, encouraging him to ignore 3D girls, characters who may cause him harm and correspondence with dangerous characters. In this way, while she is obviously his fictional ‘girlfriend’, she is also a part of his mind that wishes to keep him safe from the truth, or harmful delusions (depending on if you believe he is imagining events or not).
The animation is smooth with characters showing a good range of emotion despite the minimal physicality. The character design is more pointed and angular than many anime with the female characters having smaller feminine features than many teenage or high school stories, making it far more realistic and focusing more on the story than the fan service. The soundtrack is suspenseful with a lone piano performing most of the crucial scenes adding a psychological thriller edge to many of the episodes.
With a brilliantly realistic mixture of fantasy and sci-fi, the story is reminiscent of The Matrix or Ghost In The Shell with the theme of reality versus imagination being forefront, an important theme for the fans of video games and ‘otaku’ who would be the target market for such a series. By taking place in a high school environment, with teenagers as the protagonist, we are taken out of the cyber-heavy worlds of other psychological and dramatic action series which would usually deal with such themes, and thrust into a far more enveloping, real world that we are familiar with. This world is actually far more relevant in a high school setting due to the self consciousness of teenagers and the use of imagination as a defence mechanism when one doesn’t fit into the ‘real world’.
The voice acting and English translation is very well handled, with all of the difficult plot points and inner monologues well explained for a Western audience. While the English voices used in the dubbing are generic, they are also emotional enough that we feel for the protagonist. Unfortunately, the character development seems to stop there. While Takumi is a well rounded character who we can understand due to his inner monologues and excerpts from his home life, the women around him are two dimensional, ironically considering they are the 3-D girls he is so afraid of. We also never see a glimpse of Takumi’s home life beyond the presence of his sister, his only domestic scenes being shown in his single room, making him less believable as a high school student – ‘hermit’ or not.
Overall Chaos Head seems out of place for the high school setting it has created. While it is refreshing to see such a complex psychological drama with elements of fantasy and sci-fi conducted in a believable, real world, rather than a futuristic dystopia, or mech heavy future; this could have equally been achieved by having adults in the lead roles. While it is understandable that this is based on a popular game which pandered to the popular theme of ‘girls in school uniforms’, the rest of the story and world lore is so rich and mature, that as a stand-alone series it could have benefited by breaking the mould a bit more.
Released by: Manga Entertainment
Release Date: 22nd October 2012
Running Time: 300 mins
Director: Ishiyama Takaaki
Genre: Anime, Drama, Sci-Fi, Psychological
Anastasia Catris is a freelance illustrator, writer and actress based in South Wales. After graduating in English Literature from Royal Holloway, University of London she studied for a year in comic book art and design in The Kubert School where she nurtured her love of Japanese animation and cartooning as well as its cinema, video games and culture. You can keep up to date with Anastasia’s activity via her website www.anastasiacatris.com or her Facebook page www.facebook.com/acatris. You may also follow her on Twitter at @acatris. View Anastasia’s showreel here.