Haruto wakes up in a strange place and soon learns he is inside a dream where a sleeping girl has become a witch. Lily recruits Haruto to save the witches and help the girls wake up.
18if is one of those stories that you know at the beginning you can’t really judge until the end. There’s a lot of weird stuff going on, not just because it is inside of a dream, and as an audience member you are largely kept in the dark. What 18if did very well was to continuously give the audience enough prompts to keep thinking something was coming. What it did poorly was deliver an ending that was satisfying enough to make the overall journey feel like it was worth the effort.
Despite that, I still kind of liked watching this show. I don’t think I’ll bother with a rewatch because the ending really isn’t particularly interesting or satisfying, but the individual stories of the witches were entertaining enough. Not to mention, the sleeping beauty syndrome that then turns into a rant about females, purity and god was kind of hard to swallow. While there is nothing wrong with the idea, the execution left a lot to be desired with little groundwork of that kind of overall theme being laid down in the earlier episodes that seemed to focus instead on subconscious desires, freedom and identity.
Which leads me to the other issue with 18if. Each week we have a new witch as our focus and a new art style to accompany her. This makes the show fresh every week despite the basic story being boy meets witch in dream, witch throws a tantrum and then boy talks to her and ‘saves’ her before witch wakes up. And some of the episodes were absolutely gorgeous to look at. However, what it meant was that some weeks were misses both visually and from a story and character point of view. Some witches were really interesting and others were horrible. I found myself see-sawing between really loving this show one week and the next just kind of being indifferent to it, and at one particularly horrible episode I found myself actively disliking the show. It isn’t a very cohesive way to tell a story, though cohesion clearly wasn’t what they were going for as their main focus.
Still, it isn’t like this is just a disconnected ramble. Haruto as the central character is pretty consistent in his actions and thoughts. Even though he is tasked with saving witches, his methods are at times interesting and he isn’t above being underhanded to get things done. Yet he isn’t a villain or a jerk. He’s a mostly nice guy that doesn’t like being bothered and is a little bit confused because he realises he’s stuck in this dream and not waking up.
While I mostly enjoyed the early episodes, formulaic though they were, I really do think the show needed a bit more depth in the characterisation of the witches. Some of their motives just made them seem really and incredibly childish. It is hard to get behind their sometimes murderous actions when they just seem to be so petty. And yes, I get they were all hurt by whatever in the real world, but lots of people get hurt in the real world and don’t build a dream escape where they torture people If this is what the story wanted to do, then it needed to give us more time with each witch and they needed to really flesh out that witches pain and make the audience connect with it. Make us feel she was possibly justified in her actions and make her eventual change of heart actually touching or meaningful. Really, the whole way through the show, that emotional depth and connection was missing from a show that seemed entirely about human emotions.
The Professor is another character I struggled to connect with. You get that he is researching the witches and dreams because his sister is one of the girls trapped in the dream world, but it just seems so convenient that he walks in and out of the dream world seemingly at will. And then he has a phone that connects between people in dreams and people in the real world. They never explain any of this other than saying ‘research’, without specifying what kind or anything else that might actually make this in anyway logical. More importantly, for all that the Professor is sometimes acting as the voice of Haruto’s conscious, you have to wonder why the Professor didn’t do more to help Haruto out earlier. Mostly, he’s a bystander but occasionally he jumps in and does things. It makes him inconsistent and kind of annoying. Though he does have a cat avatar so maybe we can forgive him.
Though, it is the ending where this show truly suffers. Once the witches are all woken up and Lily directs Haruto to kill Eve who is apparently waking up and that will destroy the world. I know they spend a lot of time in the final three episodes hitting us with exposition to try and make this make sense, and there’s some weird Eve worshipping cult in the real world, and some stuff about getting revenge on god by destroying the world, but really given the story we were watching and the final, they really feel like two entirely separate stories and neither really got enough focus to be satisfying.
All and all, I ended up disappointed with 18if, but I don’t regret watching it. For all its flaws, it was still a mostly entertaining watch for the season, and visually it was quite memorable.
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