Strong visual direction doesn’t simply look beautiful, although that’s certainly an aim. The strongest of visuals lead one’s eye down a specific path, telling a story just as well as any dialogue or script. In some cases, like that of The Perfect Insider, they do the heavy narrative lifting, making parts of the script seem rote and tedious in comparison.
In spite of a few animation and perspective struggles, The Perfect Insider is a slow burn of an anime series that relies more on its visual direction and cinematography than its writing or dialogue, which is somewhat surprising considering that it’s based on a mystery novel. Where one would expect the series to focus primarily on the verbal sparring between two would-be detectives – Professor Souhei Saikawa and his student, Moe Nishinosono – the audience’s eye is instead drawn to the aforementioned Moe and Dr. Shiki Magata.
“There were too many people around her who treated her as a genius, but to me she was just a thirteen year-old girl. No, I had thought of her as a girl but, whenever I was alone with her, there was always a slight sense of terror. She ruled my life. She toyed with it. Or perhaps, I wanted her to rule it, and to toy with it.”
-ending narration on Dr. Shiki Magata, The Perfect Insider, Episode 2
Placing these two leading ladies side-by-side results in an undercurrent of emotional manipulation throughout the series’ second episode. Scenes of the thirteen year-old Shiki Magata and her older male caretaker are interspersed with Moe’s present-day outburst to her older male professor, Saikawa.
Their conversations mirror each other, with similar lines of dialogue repeated. They want to see the beach at night – to the confusion of their specific guardians. They feel trapped by how they’re treated like children by their male peers, each wanting more from their relationships that neither respective man is fully committed to reciprocating. When their individual advances are brushed aside, both lament, “This is the worst.” The young Shiki Magata sinks down in the seat of her caretaker’s car like a child, while Moe tries to storm off towards the laboratory ahead of Professor Saikawa.
In both instances, there’s a desperate sense to be taken seriously, or be seen as something else other than a child genius, in the case of Shiki Magata, or a student, in the case of Moe Nishinosono. Running these conversations parallel to one another shows how these women are trapped by their circumstances.
More interestingly are the following emotional machinations that each try to manipulate or wield to their advantage. Shiki capitalizes on her caretaker’s strained relationship with his wife – his wedding ring has been prominently featured in both episodes – inspiring fear and awe in the object of her affection. In contrast, Moe is far less successful. She is shown to be quite adept at manipulating people into doing her bidding, but these attempts are consistently stymied by the person whom she wants to impress, or control, the most: Professor Saikawa. Interestingly enough, as societal mores would have it, he’s technically the more accessible of the two, due to his unattached status.
Throughout these scenes, Shiki Magata and Moe Nishinosono’s faces are shown intermittently in the darkness thanks to car headlights and a flashlight respectively. This allows their emotions to display more prominently on their faces, which is especially interesting in the case of the young Dr. Magata. Often, in pursuit of intelligence, people are shown throughout various media that disregarding their emotions is the correct way to go about becoming smarter. Professor Saikawa reiterates this himself, espousing that people grow increasingly stupid as they age and interact with one another. He cites Dr. Magata’s acquiescence to see Moe at all as a sign of this.
The older, present-day Magata shows very little emotion, to the point where the series hints that she might be an AI or robot from conversations between Professor Saikawa and Magata Labs’ Yamane Yukihiro. Yet her younger self, shown at age five in the first episode and thirteen in this episode, willingly expressed emotion, curiosity, and interest, all while presumably at the “height” of her genius. Dr. Magata’s emotions are muted in comparison to Moe’s vivaciousness but present, actively refuting the AI theory until The Perfect Insider provides more information.
“I shall start by saying that I did not come here of my own free will. But, many things inside me have taken on lives of their own. You could say, in a sense, that has stabilized me.”
-Dr. Shiki Magata to Moe Nishinosono, The Perfect Insider, Episode 2
In her conversation with Moe, Dr. Magata also says that things began to change, presumably within her own body, which allowed her to denote the passage of time in spite of having no access to the outside world. The two then speak of how necessary, or unnecessary, physical contact is for a human being. Dr. Magata tells Moe that, in time, physical contact will become a luxury as opposed to an everyday occurrence. Interestingly enough, Dr. Magata’s younger self is later shown using physical contact as another means of emotional manipulation or expression.
The climax of The Perfect Insider‘s second episode shows a doll-like figure moving on an automated service tray that was shown previously in the same episode. This adds further mystery to the character of Dr. Magata, who had repeatedly said that a doll had killed her parents. Not-so-coincidentally, Moe Nishinosono is the one person who identifies the “doll” as Dr. Magata. Once again, both women are shown in alternating brightness and darkness as the lights at the Magata Laboratory flicker on and off.
Moe’s initial video conversation with Dr. Magata – as established by Yamane – was an outlier. There, Dr. Magata spoke of things unrelated to her work, and opened up, ever so briefly, about her personal life and general outlook. The visual direction constantly places these two women side-by-side, and the true mystery of The Perfect Insider is how exactly they’re related to one another.