Mekaku City Actors as a Kagerou Project Commercial

sunset yesterday, kagepro, kagerou project, mekaku city actors, mekakushi dan

It is impossible to spend any amount of time blogging about or discussing anime on the internet without running into a mention of Hatsune Miku and the Vocaloid program. Miku’s visage is ubiquitous in many social media circles. This is thanks, in large part, to an aggressive marketing campaign from her Crypton Future Media creators, who developed her character using Yamaha’s Vocaloid 2 and Vocaloid 3 software. Armed with a cute character design from manga artist Kei Garou, Miku exploded onto the scene with professional and amateur producers alike. Her image is peppered frequently throughout various anime, which is how I came to know of her. In spite of learning who and what she was, it never inspired me to seek out music made with the Vocaloid software.

This all changed with the recent production Mekaku City Actors. Little did I know that this series would be the catalyst for my personal descent into the world of Vocaloid.

kagerou project, kagepro, mekaku city actors, mekakushi dan

Mekaku City Actors caught my eye for the admittedly shallow reason of enjoying the promotional artwork. Additionally, I do try to keep up with what SHAFT is doing, even with speculation that the infamous Akiyuki Shinbo is simply sitting at home on a pile of Monogatari money, occasionally mailing in a production sketch or two to earn his title of Director with whomever is actually directing the series: Tomoyuki Itamura (Monogatari Second Season), Naoyuki Tatsuwa- (Nisekoi), and now Yuuki Yase (Mekaku City Actors). The series debuts a predictably stylized and inexpensive first episode, with the second episode following suit.

Visual trademarks that one can easily associate with Studio SHAFT bombard the viewer from the opening sequence and continue throughout the progression of the series. Sharp, swift cuts designed to cover up a lack of movement, use of icons and signs, odd-looking city-scapes, empty streets, and the signature head-tilt; this entire project oozes SHAFT from every pixel. It also oozes the music videos of Kagerou Project.

momo kisaragi, kisaragi attention, shinzen no teki-p, jin, vocaloid, IA, kagerou project, kagepro

Upon watching Mekaku City Actors‘ second installment, I was struck by the transparency of marketing within the episode. Titled “Kisaragi Attention,” the series had seemingly created an entire episode to promote the Jin (Shizen no Teki-P) original, albeit with more quick cuts and only slightly less animation. The screentone and Ben-Day dots ascribed to SHAFT – specifically Hidamari Sketch, which Director Yuuki Yase has also directed a season of – were also present in Jin’s videos.

kisaragi attention PV, kisaragi attention, kisaragi momo, jin, shizen no teki-p, kagepro, kagerou project kisaragi momo, kisaragi, kisaragi attention, kisaragi attention PV, kagerou project, kagepro

kisaragi momo, kisaragi attention, mekaku city actors, mekaku city kisaragi attention, mekaku city actors, mekaku city, kisaragi momo

It is hardly outlandish to suggest that an anime series take visual cues from its source material – this happens with nearly every animated production that is an adaptation of something else be that manga, a visual novel, light novel, etc. – however, specific visual quirks that one would typically note as being “of SHAFT” in Mekaku City Actors were already present in their original Vocaloid music video counterparts. The pastel-colored, be-dotted background characters shown above, first in the original video and then in the second episode of Mekaku City Actors, are only one example of many. Replacing would-be classmates with objects, aforementioned vacant city streets, and focus on icons or street signs are all present in the Jin prototypes.

headphone actor headphone actor

For a more general comparison, a common editing technique for an amateur music video is to quickly cut between still photographs or artwork, interspersed with frames of specific words and lines from the song. The videos of The Kagerou Project are no exception, and provide easy, highly-stylized cuts (as shown above with one shot from the first episode of Mekaku City Actors followed by a shot from Jin’s “Headphone Actor”). This is something SHAFT has used – and often been much-maligned for – in nearly every single one of their series to cut costs. It’s not a case of SHAFT specifically adapting the original material, but the circumstance of both the animation production studio and creator using similar techniques from the get-go. Even SHAFT’s tendency to focus on eyes with close-up shots naturally fits with The Kagerou Project, as it’s about a group of social misfits with secret eye powers.

marry, kagerou project, kagepro, imagination forest, daydream forest

Inspired by “Kisaragi Attention” the episode, I sought out “Kisaragi Attention” the source material: a music video by Jin (Shizen no Teki-P) featuring IA of Vocaloid 3. This quickly led to the downwards spiral of watching all 22 music videos in a row. The advertising of SHAFT’s Mekaku City Actors worked in a way that seeing the ubiquitous Miku’s likeness in countless anime had not. It propelled me to look up The Kagerou Project, introducing me to an entire world of enjoyable, addictive, and entertaining music. I know little of the manga or light novel that followed Jin’s music series; however, for better or for worse, SHAFT’s adaptation of the Kagerou Project videos themselves is a perfect fit. If Mekaku City Actors‘ goal is to be a 12-episode commercial for the Vocaloid music videos, then I would argue that the series is working exactly as designed.

16 comments

  1. Hah, I thought you were the person on my twitter feed who mentioned humming Kisaragi Attention at work, although I can’t really laugh since right before I saw this post I was skimming tvtropes to try and figure out how everything fit together (since it’s sort of a multimedia project right now). I’m of mixed feelings about it being a commerical for the videos, on the one hand I’ve tried the videos and while I’ve liked a few (Mary’s and Headphone Actor) the others I tried left me completely lost and without the anime I wouldn’t be able to figure out anything that’s going on. But on the other hand, the anime has gotten me interested in the series in a way that those music videos alone haven’t and I’ll probably also end up binging through all 22 of them, just not until the series is over (even if the word on the street is that this is going to “diverge” from the videos around episode five or so).

    1. I was!

      Like you, the videos didn’t really make all that much sense to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed the energy and actual songs. That being said, in my research for this post I did spoil myself on several plot details (I don’t really care enough about the series for spoilers to matter) and all of them came not from the videos, but subsequent works based on the videos. As you say, it’s a multimedia project; however, I think that a lot of the “meat” of the story will come from the world that is further fleshed out in the manga and light novels that followed.

      Regardless of how the anime/story turns out, I’m grateful to this series for introducing me to such a cool project.

      Thanks for commenting. ^ ^

  2. In a sort of related story, I was introduced to Vocaloid through the series Black Rock Shooter. I had always known of the software and the Vocaloid scene itself, but never really immersed myself into the content or whatnot. What struck me as interesting (albeit at the same time incredibly confusing) about the franchise was that it was a multimedia franchise, spawning between different platforms such as manga, anime, game, and eventually the eponymous song by supercell. I still to this day don’t know much about BRS or Vocaloid in general, but it was still the OVA that got me interested in supercell, which from there, catapulted into ClariS, Egoist and the rabbit hole that is the doujin music scene, vocaloid a huge presence therein.

    1. Oh man, Black Rock Shooter the anime could not hold my attention for more than one episode, although I heard some crazy stuff went down with macarons. ^ ^

      Like BRS, Kagerou Project spans many different things – a manga, light novel, video series, and now anime – which seems somewhat standard for doujin music projects. A lot of it has to do with the fan scene that springs up around various properties (like Kagerou Project or BRS).

      It remains to be seen whether I’ll branch out into other Vocaloid series. I’m definitely curious to hear other things produced with the IA Vocaloid (based on singer LIA’s voice). I enjoy listening to her a lot more than, say, Miku.

  3. Exactly. Everybody complaining about how self-indulgently Shaft-y Mekaku City Actors is should see the Kagerou Project music videos and see how similar in style it already was. That’s a perfect match between studio and source material if I’ve ever seen one. (Not that that would stop the complaints about Shaft. They’d just go ahead and dislike the music videos as well.)

    1. Shaft deserves to receive complaints, since they are a low quality studio with a bad work environment that produces bad anime.

      And Mekaku is self-indulgent as hell. Similarities between it and Kagerou Project music vids doesn’t change that. Hopefully, Mekaku’s failure will be a sign to SHAFT that they can’t keep making the same anime over and over again.

      1. Well, look. I’m not particularly taking to this show either (yet?), but if it pleases the people working on it and the fanbase its directed at, good for them. And Shaft has been at it for years with middling to poor sales before hitting the Madoka/Monogatari jackpots. A few flops (like last year’s Sasami-san) are hardly gonna stop them, and Internet complaints less so. Though by your first statement that demonstrates an opinion of the studio so low I wonder that you should even care, I suspect your beef is with the people who enjoy their works…

        Nah, not gonna continue on a pointless conversation. Just personally jaded by the “self-indulgent” buzzword already. Rather, we should aim for more useful, analytical posts like this one Emily has produced so diligently for us here.

        1. Why did you mark out the better part of your reply?

          Pleasing a fanbase with low standards isn’t really a goal worth striving for. Mekaku can and should be criticized for being bad if it is bad (and it is).

          I don’t think internet comments are gonna stop SHAFT, and I don’t know where you are getting that from lol, but it’s undeniable that SHAFT’s work environment is unsustainable. They are suffering from serious brain-drain (see: Silver Link and recent productions by DEEN), their arrangement with Aniplex is making it hard to actually profit from the Madoka/Monogatari jackpots, and their poor scheduling is hindering their ability to get shows out the door (Mekaku’s PV didn’t turn up till like a week before airing iirc). In 2004 anyone would’ve thought adding Shinbo to a no-name studio like SHAFT would be a good idea, but surprisingly Shinbo was a lazy ass and poisoned their entire work culture.

          I have no problem saying that people that enjoy SHAFT works should seriously question why they do. There is some indefensibly gross pedo fanservice in stuff like Bakemonogatari, SZS, Dance in the Vampire Bund etc., stuff I could never imagine publicly defending. Is the “SHAFT style” worth stomaching shit like that?

          1. I marked it out because I actually am a fan of many Shaft works, including the ones that have “indefensibly gross pedo fanservice”, but am too afraid of confrontation with someone I don’t really know online to fully commit to an argument that would lead to me being called out for it, yet you went ahead and called me out for it, CAN’T YOU TAKE A HINT, BAKA—! [runs out of room tears streaming]

            [red scene]

            Ahem. To be honest, I understand and respect your viewpoint, if not the one-sided and insulting way you chose to communicate it. Of course, this being the Internet, I should grow a thicker skin in regards to such. As for the topic of the post, which is not about the inherent merits of the Shaft style but how it fits in relation to Mekaku City Actor’s source material, I have nothing else to say.

      2. SHAFT does deserve to receive complaints regarding their work environment, but not much more than the average anime studio, although please correct me if you have evidence to the contrary. The only studio I know of currently producing anime with somewhat reasonable living/working conditions is Kyoto Animation, which speaks ill of not only SHAFT but the anime industry as a whole in terms of production schedules and overall employee experience.

        For me, SHAFT is like an honors student who refuses to do more but the bare minimum requirement to pass. One knows that they are more than capable of producing something amazing if only they would put in the effort, and it makes you want to paste them up against a wall and shake some ambition into them somehow.

        My criticism of the studio in this particular case of Kagerou Project lies not in their adaptation but in their ambition. As I stated in this post, I think the marriage of SHAFT and Kagerou Project is a perfect fit. The problem lies in the fact that they’re pretty much producing half-hour long music videos that are amazingly close to their original counterparts, which is a worthwhile endeavor if one only wants to advertise, but hardly going to light the world on fire.

        1. KyotoAni isn’t the only good one out there: Bones, Mappa, Kinema Citrus, Brain’s Base, Studio 4C, Ghibli, (formerly) Madhouse, Production IG, and more I’m forgetting, all have decent working conditions and give their talented animators chances to head up creative projects moreso than SHAFT. Poor working conditions are undesirable, but not getting any chances for creative freedom is perhaps just as bad for the average animator/director. Hence why so many of SHAFT’s top storyboarders have jumped ship. Natsu no Arashi, a show pretty much entirely directed by Shin Oonuma and not as derivative of Shinbo’s style as the rest of SHAFT’s catalogue, still had the Shinbo name plastered on it. Shinichi Omata, probably the most talented of the Shinbo school, was relegated to the most minor of roles during his tenure there.

          The honor student analogy breaks down once you start to look into the SHAFT hierarchy. Shinbo and Nobuyuki Takeuchi are talented no doubt, but the former hasn’t even done episode direction since 2008, and the latter is usually reserved for bits and pieces of sakuga in totally undeserving shows. The rest of their regular animators and directors are highly variable in quality, and when a really good SHAFT anime gets made (Soremachi, Hidemari Sketch), it’s hard to isolate who is truly responsible. Are Yuki Yase and Ryouki Kamitsubo godly auteur directors? Probably not.

    2. Yeah, it’s odd. I’m not sold on the anime myself, but it’s a nice music video to listen/watch at the end of the day. The bulk of criticism/praise I’ve seen of the series has been “OMG SHAFT SO AWESOME” or “SHAFT is RUINING my precious Kagerou Project.” I just wanted to input my take, as it did lead me to some interesting music videos. Additionally, as you said, I do actually think that the studio and source material are a perfect fit. Whether the anime production will elevate the videos/established story in any way remains to be seen.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. I actually got introduced to KagePro through friends who’ve read the manga and have watched the videos (while I think Vocaloid is extremely fascinating in terms of looking at fan culture and its widespread effects, some of the songs are rather hit and miss, though I do particularly love Heat Haze Days) so I did go in knowing a decent amount of information regarding the plot. And so far, I think the show is definitely shaping up to be something enjoyable and interesting, and as you say, it provides neat cues to the actual music videos themselves.

    What I think disconnects me or rather frustrates me, is Shinbo’s style, which of course is extremely YMMV depending how used to his style you are (and I unfortunately, am not as used to it than others). “Self indulgence” – a word I don’t like to use lightly as it connotes pretentiousness – is what I see sometimes in Mekaku City Actors and I feel like overall it’s unbalanced. I wouldn’t go as far as to classify it as “style over substance” because I do think there’s a connecting thread regarding social anxiety and creating a persona in society in Mekaku, but at the same time I feel like there’s a staggering amount of epileptic imagery that feels dissonant and takes away from enjoying the show. As you point out, a large part of that imagery and direction mirrors the music videos, and I do enjoy that part, but I also feel like it’s…manipulative in a way? To the point where I feel like I’m “forced” to watch something through a certain lens rather than “watch” it in my own way, if that makes sense.

    I do speak however, as a person who could not watch the Monogatari series because of this same problem though, so it may just be me! It’s also definitely toned down since the first episode and KagePro fans seem to think it’s a solid adaptation so far, so I’ll be hanging on and seeing what happens next.🙂

    1. Monogatari is a weird beast for me, because I see it as a property that fits in with Shinbo’s masturbatory style in a productive way. The person who Shinbo loves the most is Shinbo, and his efforts at SHAFT reflect this. Similarly, Monogatari’s dialogue, thanks to Nisio Isin, is wholly self-indulgent. It makes for a perfect marriage in the Monogatari series as both parties are equally self-obsessed.

      Mekaku City Actors, on the other hand, while incredibly visually similar to Jin’s original music videos, is bogged down with banter that drags on a bit too long. As you say, it’s unbalanced, and I think a lot of that unbalanced feeling could be corrected with shorter, more concise dialogue. That being said, the script is being written by Jin himself, who seems to be intent on dragging things out in the style of Nisio Isin without the same masturbatory love of reading/hearing his own words.

      It’s odd because Jin’s music videos are very snappy and short, packing a lot in four minutes or less. I’m wondering if he feels the weight of Monogatari and is attempting to emulate it. Either way, this dissonance sticks out to me while watching Mekaku City Actors, and it seems like you feel similarly.

  5. Reblogged this on In air and commented:
    I like how people notice the lack of ambition in MCA. I wouldn’t say there isn’t any but whether you’re fan of the series or not, anyone can see there is some untapped potential in the series.
    (I could say this goes for the actual series as well due to the plot/story execution but I currently think it’s not as bad in this case. We’ll see.)

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