Anime: Does It Matter If A Show Is More Style Than Substance?

Feature Style

As we launched into the Winter 2020 anime season viewers saw the return of the Madoka franchise. One that is either beloved or seen as overrated depending on which side of the debate you choose to sit on. However one of the common arguments I heard against the original Madoka TV series from the detractors was the it was a visual spectacle or a caricature of the magical girl genre but lacked substance. Basically it was a case of more style than substance.

I kind of disagreed as I felt the series had enough substance in Madoka’s choice for the run time, but it is one of those arguments that leaves you wondering whether it would even matter if the anime didn’t have any substance and was just stylistically interesting.


Which of course made me wonder when Magia Record popped up whether this newest side-story had anything new to say. As much as I am a fan of the Madoka TV series I’ve never gone on and watched the movies, though I’ve been told they are good. The reason was that I was deeply satisfied with the story the series gave and where it concluded for the characters. I didn’t feel compelled to watch on as I felt that they had made the point they’d set out to make and the story was done.


Yet here we were 9 years later. Magia Record most definitely caught the visual style of Madoka in both the characters and the settings. Yet that first episode felt like Madoka lite. Part of the reason was probably because there was no shock factor to be had in the story with the appearance of the witches or the darkness underlying what it means to be a magical girl.

However, even in the decision to send the protagonists’ family away takes away from an opportunity to show the impact the events in the magical girl aspects will have in the grounded life of the character. Madoka’s family, while given minimal screen time, added to her character arc and made her decisions even more weighted.


However, Magia Record wasn’t the only new release anime in 2020 that had me wondering about whether style over substance was actually a problem. ID:Invaded was a very nice looking anime and it oozed style. Both inside the world of the killer’s mind and in the office the rest of the team works in. Functionality took a back seat to appearance. I mean, we could simply say the detective is a psychic and can meditate his way into the killing intent of murderer and the rest of the characters could just be ordinary police set in the modern world and realistically the opening two episodes wouldn’t have changed much outside of the visuals.

ID:Invaded - More style than substance?

That’s not actually a black mark against the story. Let’s be real, anime is a visual medium. Those cool and compelling visuals are necessary for broader audience appeal and even if we could have the same story set in the normal everyday world it might not be as fun or distinct so why worry about it overly much. Except that it would be nice if all that style served a purpose.

Like I always wondered in Madoka why the classroom walls were transparent as clearly that just opened the possibility for distractions. I mean, it looked cool but it didn’t feel practical. Similarly, the layout of the office in ID:Invaded looks great, but not exactly functional.


However, I am not just poking fun at 2020 anime. Both Magia Record and ID:Invaded had the potential to really do great things with their narrative and characters though neither one ended up being anime that stuck with me much beyond the initial viewing. Of course, they also might not and we might get a visually interesting walk through nothingness and then I’ll have to wonder whether or not that was worth the time.

Even if they turn out to be more style than substance they were interesting at least.


But it isn’t as though this is a new debate or argument. When I watched and reviewed the K anime series I asked then if being cool and looking good was enough for a series. In the case of K, it really was. It was a delight to watch and while the narrative and characters really didn’t make a huge amount of sense if you gave any of it too much thought, the anime was very good at keeping you engaged and distracted enough so that you didn’t sit and pick at some of the finer points. While it might not make for a great work of literature it certainly works as entertainment.

k project 3

I opened this article by asking whether it matters if an anime is more style than substance and honestly the answer comes down to, ‘it depends’. It depends on the viewer and what they are looking for in an anime at the time. It depends on whether the style is engaging in and of itself. It depends whether the story promised more depth and then chose not to go there and instead frolicked in delight at its glorious visuals. It also depends on what you actually count as having substance.

k project 4

Going back to Madoka there are a lot of people who don’t feel it has much to say and yet I found it a very interesting look at the transition between the normal world and the extraordinary and one that is usually overlooked by magical girl stories because the story is in such a rush to have a protagonist who is a magical girl.

That transition phase being extended and having Madoka exposed to the world she was going to enter if she made a wish and seeing the impact that world had on those she met was fascinating and opened up the magical girl genre to trying new things. Admittedly, in the wake of Madoka all we really found were grim-dark rip-offs that didn’t quite understand what made Madoka interesting.


As a viewer, I like things to have some substance but honestly if substance does take a back-seat to style then I guess I’m fine with it as long as I’m still entertained in some way. However, I’d love to know whether you feel it matters or not.

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Karandi James

ID:Invaded Episode 8 Review

Invaded8 Episode

Goodbye Character Chemistry and Plot Logic

What do you do when you have relatively interesting concept, a mystery to solve, and two already well established and interesting main characters?

ID:Invaded has the answer!

Undermine your own shaky plot logic and force the main character to interact with a far less interesting and all but utterly useless side character for the duration of an episode.


Right, so the situation we had was that Hondoumachi went into Narihisago’s ID:Well and there she found another chair and apparently went another layer down. Layers upon layers is a standard plot development for virtual worlds or travelling inside other character’s minds and so there’s nothing wrong with that as a set up last week.

Somehow, the characters in this story came to the conclusion that their boss who was arrested at the end of the last episode would also have another chair in his ID Well and so they took a sample of the cognition particle things from his house (no confirmation they were his) and told Narihisago and Fukuda to go inside his well. Why both? Don’t know. Why they assumed there would indeed be a second chair when Narihisago’s was the first time we’d come across that? Don’t know. Even if there is a second chair why on earth would they believe that ID Wells would somehow connect and they could rescue Hondoumachi…? Look it makes zero logic and given the entire premise of this episode, leading up to the ‘exciting’ (?) twist entirely rests on this making some kind of sense the whole show just kind of crumbled for me here and I’m not entirely sure what they could do to salvage it.


Affiliate Link – Figure

The bottom line is ID:Invaded has been a very fun show to watch and I’ve enjoyed the slow build up of clues. What I’m going to be less thrilled about is if everything comes off the rails in these final episodes as it scurries to try to resolve things by forcing plot developments and suddenly making massive leaps and hoping the audience swallows them. It would be more than a little disappointing.


And even if I were to just stop nit-picking the logic here and just went with it, I still don’t get why they thought Fukuda was a good side character. He’s awful and kills every scene he is in. From his rambling questioning before diving into the well to his illogical nature inside of (no wonder he kept dying when they tried to see if he could be a replacement in the first place). Throw in an absolute lack of chemistry between him and Sakaido inside the well and you have the makings for a tedious episode built on poorly thought out plot developments. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a recovery but possibly this narrative just took a critical hit.

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Karandi James

ID:Invaded Episode 7 Review

Invaded7 Episode

Lighting Doesn’t Strike Twice

Seven episodes in and we dive into Sakaido’s (or rather Narihisago’s) well and this is both completely intriguing as it really brings a lot of plot threads to the forefront and also completely illogical as any semblance of this technology being grounded in any kind of reality got thrown out the window. Admittedly, non-scientific fiction, even technology based fiction, doesn’t overly concern me and the major contradictions here seemed to stump the characters as much as they were the audience so it is possible that they’ll eventually toss us some explainers, however anyone who was teetering on the brink of calling it quits with ID:Invaded would be forgiven for deciding that an Well that is modifying based on the killer’s current experiences rather than the subconscious at the time that they released whatever it is they are actually detecting to create the well (also a poorly explained phenomenon) is a stretch too far.


That paragraph ended up longer than anticipated and probably doesn’t convey the fact that ID:Invaded delivered a solid narrative provided you aren’t inclined to poke holes in how the technical thingy actually works.


Hondoumachi does enter Narahisago’s well this episode after we get a bit of a flash back explaining clearly just what actions Narahisago took in order to end up being a murderer. Now, as far as I can tell he’s only killed one person in said flashback but they’ve made it pretty clear that you have to be a serial killer to be a pilot in the well so do they count the people he’s talked to death in his cell? Or is there another piece of the puzzle yet to fall into place?


Honestly, Narahisago’s ID Well wasn’t the most intriguing. There were some interesting elements including Hondoumachi’s musings about the difference between lightning in the well and real lightning and the sheer amount of precision in the layout of the world and the timing of the lightning. Compared to some of the more chaotic world’s we’ve seen Narahisago’s well paints quite a clear picture of the type of mind he has and probably why he was good at being a detective (prior to being a murderer).

Affiliate Link – Figure

I really liked how Hondoumachi was depicted as a detective inside the Well. I always found Sakido’s outfit a little weird with his puffy pants and scarf, so her outfit, while odd, fits very much in the theme. Her personality seems more forceful and stripped of some of the social niceties allowing cold logic to come through loud and clear as she directs some of the characters within the well to essentially worry about themselves and others rather than relying on her to save them as it wasn’t her job. It’s a nice character moment for Hondoumachi and really takes her progression as a character to the next logical step. Really happy with how her character has been dealt with so far.


There’s a couple of big twists (or at least progressions) by the end of the episode and I’m not going to go into them at all this week (though I’ll probably have to discuss them in the next episode review). It is well worth watching though and I’m enjoying where the story is going. I kind of wish this one wasn’t tagged as sci-fi because while it is good pulp fiction the science is probably where it is shakiest (or even just logic).

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Karandi James

ID:Invaded Episode 6 Review

Invaded6 Episode

Are You A Mass Murderer?

Episode 6 of ID:Invaded delivered perhaps both my best and worst moments for this anime so far this season. I’ll get the worst out of the way because then I can focus on all the amazing things this episode did (though technically none of it works without the groundwork laid by the previous five episodes).


For me, the worst moment was during the arrest of Kazuto (the scene was actually pretty awesome and I’ll get to the highlights later). Basically there’s a moment where Kazuto has dropped from the balcony of the floor above to the ground floor and then he zips toward Hondoumachi while she fires at him four times and he just kind of dodges. Now he isn’t moving particularly fast so either she’s a terrible shot or he’s apparently actually able to dodge bullets. However, that isn’t the worst part of the sequence. The worst part comes at shot five which goes directly through the hole in his head.

I’m definitely calling that moment out as complete dribble and utterly unnecessary. Also, nowhere near as cool as it probably sounded on paper.


However, episode 6 of ID:Invaded is undeniably a strong episode within a series that has taken its time to flesh out the cast adding small details episode by episode, and has throughout each of the 5 preceding episodes directed the viewer to become curious about the John Walker persona and his connection to Sakaido’s past. While this episode alone isn’t a brilliant piece of storytelling, the way it is consolidating characters and plot threads and setting a direction for future episodes makes it a solid mid-season episode, where so many anime drop the ball mid-season or go and have a beach episode.

Affiliate Link – Figure

I want to particularly discuss Hondoumachi’s character who has been present throughout the series but her role seems to be undergoing a dramatic shift at the half-way point of the series. While most of the team are starting to become more than just filler and actual characters, Hondoumachi is all but stealing the protagonist title at this point as her choices and actions are driving so many of the events over the past two or three episodes. While the core of the series and I am assuming the mystery will ultimately come back to Sakaido, at this point Hondoumachi is at the centre of the episodes. And she’s brilliant.


The final conversation between Hondoumachi and Matsuoka in episode 6, set against such a bright background despite the dark turn the conversation took, was incredibly well done. The distance between the two characters, Hondoumachi’s shock as she realised why Matsuoka had recommended her, and the consolidation of a character arc that really kicked off when she drilled a hole in her head were all just on the mark.


Of course, we’re left wondering where to next and whether we now switch back to Sakaido as the focus or do we see what Hondoumachi’s next steps are? ID:Invaded has made me curious and even as we’ve hit the mid-season it isn’t showing any signs of weakening as it pushes forward with its narrative. Progress is slow but steady, much like the character development, but the end result has so far been satisfying.

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Karandi James

ID:Invaded Episode 5 Review

Invaded5 Episode

Mixed Messages

I really enjoyed episode 5 of ID:Invaded. Part of this was because having not caught the real Grave Digger last week the story didn’t need to waste any time this week in establishing its goal of finding the real killer. The other reason I enjoyed this episode was it felt like the team outside of Sakaido really got to contribute and drove the episode. Not that I don’t enjoy Sakaido and want to know more about him, I’d love to know more of his story, however, it was kind of refreshing to see the rest of the team having a more direct contribution than just watching him meandering about inside the well.

Though the well was pretty cool this week.

This week Hondoumachi very much got to steal the lime light. Still reeling from being unexpectedly kissed at the end of last week she mulls over a few possibilities in the car and then comes to a realisation. I really liked this process. She wasn’t instantly at the solution but she logically put bits and pieces together, made a few logical leaps, and drew a conclusion that made sense, and the whole thing was nicely externalised through dialogue so it let the audience feel like they were a part of the process. It would be nice to see this kind of sequence more often in investigation series but far too often the characters just stare at things and suddenly make a leap inside their head with an ‘I’ve got it’ expression and it isn’t until after the fact that they explain their reasoning in an exposition dump. This was a far more viewer friendly way to connect the dots and let us feel like we were there.


I also like that the short-comings of their technology are exposed here as they realise that intent to kill isn’t necessarily the same for all people – particularly those with brain injuries. Without detecting an intent they can’t make a well and that more or less leaves them with standard police procedures which in this case hadn’t got them very far.

Affiliate Link – Art Book

However, I do think the episode pushed it a bit far with the whole ‘trap’ aspect. One of the field agents, whose name I still didn’t catch even though he was also in last week’s episode, was investigating a location and of course it was prepped as a trap. It just makes the whole crime so elaborate and while a very small number of highly meticulous criminals may in fact go about doing such a thing, it just seemed like it pushed this particular case too far. Not to mention, how many actual explosions take place in Japan each year? So far we’ve had a terrorist bomber and now a serial killer blow things up in the space of 5 episodes. That seems like a suspiciously high frequency of stuff going boom.


Still, 5 episodes in and ID:Invaded has essentially sold me on what it is doing. It isn’t perfect but it looks great, the cast are getting fleshed out in bits and pieces, and there’s enough that makes me want to keep coming back to learn more. This is definitely a contender for one of my favourite anime of the season and I guess it depends where it goes from here.

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Karandi James

ID:Invaded Episode 4 Review

Invaded4 Episode

Futile Actions

Episode 4 of ID:Invaded has finally managed to move me from being interested and finding it visually appealing to actually being fully engage in the story and wanting to invest emotionally in what is happening. It isn’t like this episode is grandly different from the previous ones; more that an accumulation of small details have finally pushed me to realise that this anime might actually end up being pretty great and even if it misses that mark it is going to be consistently entertaining.


One of the first things the episode did, and I really appreciated it, was that they show us clear consequences for Narihisago (Sakaido outside of the well) for his talking another prisoner into suicide last week. We learn later in the episode that this isn’t his first time doing just that which makes you wonder why they still let him talk to the other prisoners at all, but at least there’s some sense of reality as he is in solitary and off-duty. With a need for a replacement, they try the guy who drilled a hole in his head however it turns out surviving in the well long enough to be useful is actually harder than it sounds. When a time-sensitive case drops on them, Narihisago is taken back out of solitary and pushed to help solve the mystery.


It kind of helps that the story this week has been played out in a lot of other stories previously. The idea of a criminal who buries his victims alive and lets them suffocate to death is clearly rich fodder for those who write crime stories and I couldn’t help but remember the Bones episode that had a similar premise. That said, they do manage to give us a twist that’s more than a little bit cruel by the end of this episode that makes it feel like they aren’t just rehashing old plot lines. Still, there’s natural tension in the premise with the clock ticking and few clues to work with.

Affiliate Link – Figure

Also, with Sakaido benched at the beginning of the episode we get more minutes with the supporting cast and they are slowly starting to become more fleshed out as characters. It isn’t that they’ve been poorly written, but more we’ve had so little time with them it has been hard to pay attention to distinguishing characteristics or personality traits, but they are there and over four episodes they are starting to distinguish themselves in a natural manner. Hopefully we get to know them a bit more over the following episodes because I’m still struggling to remember anyone’s name outside of the brilliant detective’s and the corpse he keeps seeing in the well.


All and all, episode 4 of ID:Invaded presents a solid, stand-alone case while building on the characters and the world that has been established in the previous episodes. There’s little to complain about as the brisk pace moves us through the search for clues while maintaining a sense of tension and we’re given a resolution at the end of the immediate mystery but the greater character drama of Sakaido and his working relationship with the rest of the team is left open for further development. There’s even some side character drama developing for the rookie who was the victim of the drill guy. Very nice weekly viewing unless murder makes you squeamish.

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Karandi James

ID:Invaded Episode 3 Review

Invaded3 Episode

Indifference to Life and Death

Part of me kind of wishes that some writers would realise less is more. Early in this episode we see the veteran visiting the injured rookie in the hospital and she asks if she could ever enter the well or her own well and after claiming not to understand it he then prattles on about the unconscious and conscious minds and essentially not being able to return. He could have just stuck with ‘you can’t because it’s dangerous’ and the conversation would have amounted to much the same thing and it wouldn’t have given the viewer so many reasons to roll their eyes as the story seems desperately hard to mystify the human psyche as well as their explanation-defying technology that sits at the core of the story. Amazingly enough, I wouldn’t even question the whole using some machine to enter the well except that this anime keeps forcing me to consider what they are actually doing from a practical point of view and that opens itself up to a whole bunch of holes.


Be that as it may, the rest of the episode runs in a seemingly straight forward manner. The opening of the episode has Sakaido remembering his wife and daughter though we have the current version of Sakaido narrating the situation and commenting that how he’s seeing things isn’t how they happened. It paints a bleak picture and one that we already kind of knew was going to end tragically, though I’m guessing there’s more to be revealed on that story. I’m okay with them drip-feeding us information as long as they don’t stretch it out too long.


Then we get to the case of the week which is pretty ordinary as far as mysteries or detective stories go and you kind of wonder why they even needed to dive into the well to catch the guy. Surely normal evidence would have been enough but they didn’t even try to explain that the case was stalled or anything. We just jumped straight to it. Anyway, the killer this week blows things up but includes fireworks. That’s all we know and then we are inside his intent to kill with Sakaido and it looks like a tower surrounded by a waterfall and all the people on the tower are getting shot at by a sniper.

Affiliate Link – Game (Multi-language)

On the bright side, the idea that each person’s well looks quite different is going to keep this fairly fresh. On the other hand, there just didn’t seem like much going on this week. Last time there were all sorts of little hints and clues that the analysts picked up but this time they mostly just stood around until Sakaido more or less confronted the guy and then we cut to him being arrested in the real world. Again, not much of a mystery.


Where this episode got my attention back was when they put the guy in the cell opposite Sakaido. There’s a serious security issue in this jail because clearly no-one is paying attention to what the prisoners are doing, but outside of that the conversation between Sakaido and the killer gave a fairly clear look at Sakaido. Much as the start of the episode where we saw his corrupted memory of the past this part of the episode made me really curious about him and what’s going on inside his head.


For me ID:Invaded might go one of two ways. Possibly it will be an intriguing watch with some interesting ideas or it might end up being a fairly pedestrian detective story with delusions of being deeper than it is through psycho-babble. At the moment it is kind of standing on the line between the two and I guess I’ll find out in a few more episodes which way it is planning to go.

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Karandi James

ID:Invaded Episodes 1 + 2 Review

Invaded1 Episode

Because It’s Cool

In science fiction the idea of going inside someone’s subconscious isn’t a new thing. Even going inside the mind of a killer to solve a crime has been done. That said, there’s plenty of variations on the theme and the core question isn’t whether this has been done before but whether ID:Invaded has anything new to say on the matter or whether it has built an interesting story around that point. The first two episodes giving us a look at a full case where the ‘brilliant’ detective finds clues that the rest of the team analyse and act on in the real world is certainly stylish and interesting which makes it worth continuing the series but it hasn’t as yet given any indication that it intends to try to break free from its predecessors.


The first episode brings us visual spectacle creating a world built from the apparent killing intent of a murderer where our detective finds himself without any real memory and having to piece things together. His movements and interactions within this world are bizarre and fascinating and stylistically it leaves quite the impact. Along the way we get a high energy sequence with music where he uses his floating and disconnected hand to grapple parts of the world together and it looks absolutely stunning. It feels a little out of place with the sombre tone of the rest of the two episodes but it was hard to argue against including it given just how cool it looks.


Outside of the ‘ID Well’ the rest of the team analyse the various images the detective inside encounters. Again, looking at the set-up it seems more thought was given to cool than practical. The well in the centre of the room is suitably eye-catching and various analysts stare at floating screens pulling up data and other information rapidly and calling it out across an overly large room. The fact that they all have their backs to each other and the layout of the room seems excessively oversized visually works but doesn’t seem practical , though clearly ID:Invaded wants you to just go with it and it is entertaining enough that you can.

Affiliate Link – Art Book

I found the weakest part of these double episodes came from the veteran and rookie field agents who head off to arrest the killer based on the analysts determined location. The veteran leaves the rookie alone while he goes in and then, when things inevitably go wrong, he spends a good length of time ranting at his superior about the length of time it has taken to get authorised to use guns and so on. Not to mention, he’s told in advance that it is against regulations to enter when he did and yet no one calls him on it after the fact. Amazingly enough I’ll swallow the sci-fi jargon and ‘futuristic’ office set-ups a lot more easily than this sequence because it just felt fundamentally wrong.


Of course, I’m nitpicking at this anime for the simple reason that I really, really enjoyed watching these episodes and I’m very hopeful that this anime might actually end up being great. I’m stepping back and looking at the early flaws so that if the show ends up derailing I won’t be so disappointed. In the meantime, if you like science fiction stories ID:Invaded is a show you should be checking out these first two episodes of because there’s a lot of potential here and even if it doesn’t live up to it, the anime at least looks really cool.

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Karandi James