A number of months ago I said I wasn’t going to be looking at first episodes, or writing about single episodes at any length, However, Island has disrupted that train of thought with a massive fist being slammed onto my desk. This is because Island had one of the worst first episodes I’ve seen since watching seasonal anime, and anyone who watches seasonal anime knows that it’d hard to top the hard-hitters.
What actually is… Island?
Alright, I understand it is only the first episode, and it would be silly to base my consensus of an entire show on those 20-odd minutes. However, I firmly believe first episodes are by far the most important for any show – anime or otherwise. If one falls way below expectation, then so does my expectations for the remainder of the show. It is the foundation for everything, and if episode has to fail, it can’t be the first. Unfortunately for Island, that’s exactly what has happened.
After watching, I found out that Island has been adapted from a visual novel of the same name. Whilst watching I had a feeling that this was the case. Each scene appeared out-of-place, as though the glue linking them all together was never applied. Translating this over into visual novel format would pose no problem – there are few moving images, often little spoken dialogue, and most importantly, the player is able to determine the speed of progression.
The narrative is a huge mess…
This is where Island’s biggest problem arises – in how the story and presentation hasn’t been made to fit with the different format, not because all anime sourced from visual novels are terrible, because we know for a fact they aren’t.
Where it all Falls Apart
First episodes are all about introductions: characters, themes, plot, worldbuilding and styles. This being said… Island introduces far too much. Too many characters. Too many narrative elements. Too much bloat that needn’t be realised in the first episode. Just give us a few faces, a brief intro to the story, and a view, but no explanation of the world. By offering so much at the start, not only is it confusing, but little is left to the imagination. In a show like Island, this seems like the opposite of what should be the desired effect. Something which may even be more important if subsequent episodes rely on information ‘given’ in the first. Because, the majority of my time spent watching felt like I was in an ocean of Vaseline-based plot points and exposition.
However, all of this assumes these elements are of high quality in the first instance, which unfortunately for Island they aren’t. Its characters are copy/pasted from every other anime we’ve seen; in both design and personality. As are the elements that attempt to construct a story – time travel, memory loss, harem, loli… something resembling Isekai… With this in mind, we all know these tropes are neither negative nor positive viewed alone, except in how they are implemented. I may write about ‘tropes’ a lot, but that’s because I think they’re integral to anime. In helping the audience to understand, through things/ideas/representations we’ve seen numerous times before. Instead, Island crams them all into one acrid pile of trope vomit, expecting us to understand what the hell is happening at any one moment inside its cacophony of madness.
It’s SIMPLY not possible!
Not to mention how it’s all constructed… Why in Seven Hells are the jump cuts so fast!? Randomly cutting from the characters Setsuna or Karen to a completely unrelated background image of the Island, over and over again. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad if the background art was actually pleasurable to look at, but… it isn’t. This adds to the lack of structure. How are we meant to keep a hold of one moment when they are all so fleeting and disjointed, even in the editing?
Island… Fitting Into the ‘Times’
I know people talk about the current state of anime a lot – just in the same way they talk about film, music, literature, art… e.t.c. Everything always seems worse in the present than it was in the past. For the most part, this isn’t true. Things – whatever they are – experienced in the past almost always feels better when looked at through rose-tinted glasses, because it’s a nostalgia trip. It brings up not only the experience, but all the experiences that surround them. Things evolve, they become inherently worse. Sure, there may be high points; people generally regard the late 90s in anime as that time. But it would be silly to say everything following is… worse. Like all times and all things, there’s good amongst the bad.
It just so happens Island is the bad.
Obviously there is a market for anime like Island, and that’s fine. If people enjoy it, they enjoy it – that’s how entertainment works after all. As a visual thing, it’s not hard to see the attraction, of course, cute girls make for a good portion of this; something I don’t have a problem with, cute girls are one foundation of anime, that’s not going to change. It’s the lack of everything else which tickles me in all the wrong places. Build a complete product instead of relying on a single feature to carry the weight, and as an excuse for the incoherency. If we’re going to spend our time watching anime – which of course we are – there are better things to watch than Island, be it this season or otherwise.
What did you think of Island’s first episode?
Thanks for reading, as always !
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter and consider supporting Peach’s Almanac on Patreon)