A family can be anything. It can even be an old woman and her pet spectral Garfield. In/Spectre is back with a new setting, new mystery, and new main curmudgeon. This time, we follow Tae, a spry octogenarian and respected elder in a small town affected by a strange plague of dead fish washing ashore each morning. Like all mysteries in this show, the supernatural appears to be involved, and Tae’s friendship with a boozehound Bakeneko leads to her encounter with a wooden boy, and to her enlistment of Kotoko’s loquacious brand of assistance.
Tae is this episode’s best accomplishment. Her prickly demeanor, inquisitiveness, and secret kindness make her personality a perfect fit for In/Spectre and its cast of jerks with hearts of gold. She’s also paired smartly with the slovenly Bakeneko, a talking orange cat whose resemblance to everyone’s favorite lasagna-loving feline can’t be a coincidence. As far as human-yokai relationships go, it’s hard to top Yuki-Onna and Masayuki’s chemistry, but Tae and Bakeneko have the rapport of old friends who take jabs at each other to prove that they care. It’s rare, too, to see an old cranky woman as an anime protagonist, which is another reason I like Tae so much. A mystery anthology series like this is a perfect opportunity to take chances and think outside the box, so I’m glad to see In/Spectre capitalize on that.
Since this is the first part of a new arc, we don’t get a whole lot of content besides context establishing the case and its background. In/Spectre finds fun ways to deliver this information—see the desperate mayor breathlessly keeping up with a comfortably jogging Tae—and if you’re this far into the series, the wordiness is part of the appeal. The villagers seem to think the recently deceased Zenta is behind the apparent curse, presumably in retaliation for the death of his grandson in an accident involving careless tourists. Tae, meanwhile, has firsthand knowledge of the odd, boy-sized wooden doll he’d been carving up until he passed, and we later get confirmation that its electric powers are responsible for the fish extermination. This all seems to confirm that Zenta is indeed enacting some posthumous vengeance, but the howdunit and whydunit aspects are still plenty vague, and I’m sure Kotoko’s theories will add some unforeseen curveballs.
Thematically, there are some interesting things going on. Tourism can bring economic boons to a place, but it can also erode a place’s fundamental character. This comes together symbolically in Tsubasa’s death, in which the capriciousness of the tourists mows down an innocent homegrown lad, who dies on the way to the hospital thanks to the inflated traffic. The town, in essence, sold its soul, and now it must pay the price. However, this is a case where you’d expect yokai, who are tied to nature and traditions, to be the ones enacting revenge. They are instead trying to stop the rampage of a manmade automaton. The method of vengeance is also suspect. Killing fish certainly hits the town’s economy where it hurts, but it’s cutting off one’s nose to spite the face. Is this a case of man appropriating the supernatural to sate his own anger, or is something else going on here?
The story of Pinocchio will also surely tie into the fundamental mystery. Tae makes a note to distinguish the original tale from the kid-friendly Disney version in the popular consciousness. I can’t comment much on this, because I’m also most familiar with the Disney version, although I’ll probably use this as an opportunity to check out Guillermo del Toro‘s darker take on the story. Regardless, I don’t think lightning powers are part of Pinocchio’s usual bag of tricks, so that’s a red flag Kotoko will probably expound on. My wild theory is that this has something to do with tengu, who also have long noses in their traditional depictions. Mixing Eastern and Western folklore in that way sounds like something In/Spectre would revel in doing, but I admit I don’t have much to go on.
I haven’t talked much about the anime’s presentation, in part because I’m thankful it has yet to delay an episode in a winter season full of production casualties, but it’s rough this week. The dead fish scene looks especially bad; it’s like they used a warp filter to animate the ebb and flow of the morning tide. Characters looking rough at a distance isn’t anything new, though, and action scenes were never the series’ forte either. It’s a modest production that benefits from the source’s emphasis on dialogue. That said, the fun yokai designs do a lot to elevate the fight against Pinocchio. I’m not going to complain about watching a giant crab and gorilla tag-team a thunder puppet in vain. And in general, the other components of the anime, such as the character designs, soundtrack, and funny Kotoko faces, make up for the weaknesses in movement.
Concluding with Kotoko’s grand entrance out of Kuro’s blue hatchback, “Electroshock Pinocchio” does a good job establishing the cast and questions at the heart of this arc’s paranormal puppet perpetrator. Naturally, I expect our tiny heroine to have already solved this case, but In/Spectre knows how to throw twists and curveballs into its mélange of fact and fiction.
In/Spectre Season 2 is currently streaming on