The Noitamina block is one of, if not the, most respected and scrutinized blocks of anime currently airing. The series tend to take high concepts or mature subject matter and bring them to the audience in a palatable, often well animated format. The tradition is proudly upheld by this season’s proud offerings: No. 6 and Usagi Drop.
Unfortunately, a recently established tradition for Noitamina is to have one series, often the more ambitious, fall flat by the end and disappoint in comparison with its better counterpart. It happened with Fractale, it happened with [C], and now it happened to a lesser extent with No. 6. While I wouldn’t call No. 6 as a whole a disappointment, it still built up to an ending that had copout written all over it.
No. 6 started out very strong, and was kept afloat toward Satisfying Ending Bay for most of its run. The dynamics and romantic tension between the idealistic Shion and the jaded, brooding Nezumi were well executed, throwing several hints toward a relationship both subtle and not so subtle. What’s more, it managed to paint a convincing picture of a sterile dystopia, where the government detains and kills off its citizens without an ounce of sympathy should any hint of dissent spring up. It’s a world purged of all free thought, clean and artificial, and the crumbling façade of the city’s perfection only adds to the horrors of the city. And by a crumbling façade, I mean parasite bees hatching from the necks of the townspeople.
Helping Shion and Nezumi in their survival is a decent cast of supporting characters, including a survivalist nut dog keeper of ambiguous gender, and a patron of the arts who shuffles citizens of the slums surrounding No. 6 into the city for the guards’ pleasure. They help paint the area outside of No. 6 proper as an equally bleak place to live that completely contrasts the stark nature of No. 6, where survival of the fittest is the law of the land.
Oddly enough for a series of this kind, I had absolutely no complaints for the first two-thirds. I mean it wasn’t perfect, but the setting was revealed a piece at a time in a manner that let the more disturbing elements sink in. Probably the biggest controversy was the depiction of a same sex relationship, and that was undeniably handled with grace during this time. Not being a fan of BL at all, I can comfortably say that the relationship between Shion and Nezumi was as unobtrusive as can be while retaining some sense of importance.
If anybody off the street asked me what my ideal depiction of a same sex couple in animation of any kind would be, I’d point toward the first two-thirds of No. 6 as one of my prime examples. It’s developed, it’s pointed to with more than a few knowing winks in the audience’s direction, but it doesn’t hijack the plot.
For those of you not keeping score, you may have noticed me say “First two-thirds” a few times in relation to it being good. And that’s because No. 6 was handled with finesse until a nature god was brought into the equation. It’s with this bizarre inclusion, the Urkel of this series, that things start to fall apart as the plot shifts from Shion and Nezumi’s clashing ideologies with how to handle No. 6, to this entity that had no prior mention.
It’s at this point, especially with Nezumi supposedly having a blessed singing voice, that the cracks really start to form in this otherwise solid show. For the next episode or so, things are back on track as Nezumi and Shion plan to infiltrate one of No. 6’s research facilities to retrieve Shion’s childhood friend Safu. Even the repeated flashes to Elyurias as it possesses the poor girl don’t keep things from escalating in an enjoyable, reasonable fashion.
Unfortunately, the last episode drops all previous thoughts of cohesion and reason as Elyurias destroys the city from the inside out through means of the parasite bees killing almost every single citizen, forming cyclones powerful enough to tear down the walls and unite the slums with the rest of the city. This in itself is already a deus ex machina of an ending, but it’s the character decay that really drives home the fact that this isn’t an ideal way to end things.
In the penultimate ending, Shion and Nezumi inadvertently infiltrated the facility through means of the extermination of the slums. The characters switch roles almost instantaneously after Shion sees the dead bodies piled all around him, before Shion actually kills a defenseless man, despite Nezumi’s desperate pleas. Nezumi plays the Shion role well enough, but Shion doesn’t do very well in reverse. To bring up Urkel once more than necessary, it was as threatening as Urkel threatening to mug you in an alley.
To put it bluntly, No. 6 ended anticlimactically. It felt like Nezumi and Shion could’ve just stayed at home, were it not destroyed, and it would’ve ended the same either way. I mean it even compromised on both of their solutions for the city, both killing off a majority of the citizens through Elyurias’ hell bees and tearing down the wall. Yet, it was a bid to please both parties that wasn’t terrible. It didn’t have the sheer lack of effort of [C]’s ending, and it lived up to its promise much better than Fractale did. I expected much better, but I was less disappointed than a few bloggers out there, and that’s what counts.
Far from unwatchable, No. 6 wove a strong enough narrative in eleven episodes to completely offset the out of place nature deity angle. The animation was consistently good, the voice acting had little wrong with it and the music was… okay, the music was shit, but most everything else was pulled off well. If you’re willing to look past the silly twists that come at the end and if you aren’t bothered by a well done same sex relationship, No. 6 might just be worth your time. If not, look elsewhere.