Posted by psgels on 6 April 2012 with categories: Anime Reviews, Phi Brain



Apologies for the delay on this review, but I first wanted to get all of the new episodes this season done. Phi Brain was a series that many people probably quickly discarded. It started really silly, and the entire premise takes a lot of suspense of disbelief to accept: “yeah, there is this kid who has to solve puzzles in order to battle this evil organization”. Most of the early episodes just consist out of Kaitou (the male lead) solving a bunch of puzzles.

Now, the puzzles are obviously a very big part of this series. If you can look past the silly premise, then you’ve got a series that can be quite creative when it comes to the puzzles that it throws at its main cast. The show actually presents its big puzzles so that the viewer can try to solve them himself, but only if he uses the pause button in the middle of each episodes. The characters in this series are usually very fast when it comes to solving puzzles, and it’s impossible to take everyone into account here. At a certain point int he series this series turns its puzzles into 1-on-1 battles anyway.

In any case, those who did keep watching were rewarded in the character department, because as soon as this show starts developing its character (I’d say with the arrival of Rook, around episode 10), it never stops. Kaitou in particular grows into a very sympathetic character, and the side characters all work around him, and all of them have a good backstory with especially good reasons for their actions. The creators actually convinced me that the entire premise was at least partly plausible. There are times when this show gets a bit too sappy, but the majority was really well directed and had this great combination between action and characterization.

Were the first episodes wasted then? Nah, they’re just silly. Beyond that are very creative puzzles and good stories, although this series does have its points where it completely ignores all of Newton’s laws. The characters are all enjoyable as well, and especially Gammon stands out in his quirky antics as not your ordinary rival.

Visually this series mostly stands out in its designs. Both the puzzles as the characters look unique. The actual animation of the characters is very inconsistent, but it’s nothing special or bad. The music is very well done, though.

This remains a shounen series, and it loses points for being a bit too sappy at times, but this nevertheless this was a very interesting attempt to do something different with the genre that is usually nothing but people throwing superpowers at each other. With some damn good characterization I do recommend this if you’re looking for something in that direction.

Storytelling: 8/10 – Well storyboarded and manages to make solving puzzles fun.
Characters: 9/10 – There is a surprising amount of depth to these charcters, which especially manifests in the second half.
Production-Values: 8/10 – Great designs, decent animation, good soundtrack.
Setting: 8/10 – Creative puzzles, but completely ignores the laws of physics at times. The whole premise of this show is also really hard to buy.

Suggestions:
The Law of Ueki
Kaleido Star
Princess Nine

8 Responses

  1. marthaurion says:

    I thought it was pretty interesting, but then again, I love puzzles (I solve Rubik’s Cubes). I’m pretty wary about the second season…not sure how they’re gonna top Rook as an antagonist.

    • joojoobees says:

      I am wondering about that myself. I’m kind of curious what the new evil puzzle givers are gonna be like, so I think I’ll tune in to the first episode to see where they take it.

      I would really like to see Kaito’s friends branch out a bit on their own. Now that they have been established, they seem to have a lot of potential, but with Kaito around, they seem to get forced into mere supporting roles.

  2. gem2niki says:

    Thanks for blogging this series throughout since so many dropped it! It became such an entertaining series to follow. I’m so impressed by the great characterization that it became one of my favorite out of this season.

  3. tktym says:

    You know, I was really heading into this series to like it. . .but after the first five minutes, it came and by that I mean the female lead drop kicking the male lead, for “comedy” or whatever. That’s when I closed the window and never looked back. I am really tired of shit like that, why cant there just be Normal female leads (a.k.a. moretsu pirates) I Just found that tsundere-whatever the hell it is, poitnless crap that I have seen for the umpteenth time in anime and Im just sick of it.

    • Rolca says:

      I don’t recall gratuitous physical abuse of this sort happening too often. From episode 5 onwards the only regular abuse comes in the form of Nonoha Sweets and Nonoha is the most normal regular character of the show anyway. She doesn’t solve puzzles and gets frustrated because she can’t help Kaito. It eventually gets better and the directors promise more character development in S2.

  4. Et2012 says:

    I just wish the puzzles had been solved more methodically without magical voodoo bracelets or Yu-Gi-Oh style Egyptian necklaces.

    I love shows like Shion no Ou, where the “battle” is purely a mental challenge, but shows where the characters solve these challenges using magic or other plot devices to get through their problems without “thinking them out” step-by-step really bother me.

    I remember learning a ton about the game of Shogi from Shion no Ou. What can I really learn about puzzles from Phi Brain? Do I need to become some kind of sorcerer to solve advanced cross-word puzzles?

    • Rolca says:

      You actually don’t learn much about puzzles from Phi Brain itself because there’s a side-show airing after each episode that does it instead, and that side-show doesn’t reach us. There’s also an episode-related weekly puzzle on the official site.
      The first episodes are classic sudokus and such. The characters occasionally tell a little about how to solve it, but it’s probably nothing you didn’t know of already. The later episodes, as said above, are more akin to fights, but there’s no narrated strategizing, so no luck on this side either.

      All in all Phi Brain is a series about puzzles where you don’t learn about puzzles. A strange thing that isn’t what you expect but for the better.

  5. Hogart says:

    Wow, this really improved. I’m glad I gave it a second chance.. it felt almost like Letter Bee or Kobato in that respect. It was a bit too campy for my tastes, but they really managed to handle their drama and characterization pretty darn well.. much better than most of the stuff that aired that season, that’s for sure. They made really good use of the childhood symbols and events, and I even liked a few of the crazier puzzles near the ending. Here’s hoping season two feels this oddly cohesive.

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  • Bam
    (Monday, May 25. 2015 05:54 AM)
    The episode was alright and felt dense as I watched it, but in hindsight only really moved the plot forward incrementally. Lancer not untying Tohsaka as soon as he killed Kirei and then not killing Shinji when he clearly had the chance left a bad taste in my mouth. That and Shirou’s heavy plot armor at this point is becoming reminiscent of another famous anime dual-wielder. Not a compliment.
  • Bam
    (Monday, May 25. 2015 05:46 AM)
    UBW 20 felt like another rendition of Eva 26 (Take care of yourself), complete with character analysis, battle with one’s Jungian Shadow, and loosely Buddhist ideas of self-actualization. It even featured the repetitive monologue shots that fade to black (with “I saw Hell” instead of Rei’s “Sky. Red, red sky”). It never went as far as Eva with “which way is up?” type of Soliloquy, but that’s probably a good thing.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:48 AM)
    Ashura was an excellent example of how to through anime illicit and emotional response in an honest, non-melodramatic way.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:46 AM)
    @Bam: I’d be more than happy to take a look at some of those shorts anytime.
  • Bam
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:44 AM)
    @Emma: there’s a lot of European animators that got active in the last 10 years or so that are really reinvigorating their animation scene, and every now and then I get introduced to some fabulous shorts.
  • Bam
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:40 AM)
    @Emma: no I don’t really mind gory ‘for the fuck of it’ violence, I even like it in some grindhouse type of works, but I just don’t think it’s always effective as a shock factor. Live-action is the most sympathetic for obvious reasons, but there are animated works that do elicit a deep response. Probably because of circumstances but also the details of the in-between animation, which can induce certain feelings of disgust.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:39 AM)
    *here and there
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:35 AM)
    @Bam: I really wish there was more arthouse anime now to give some kind of a balance to everything thats out these days.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:33 AM)
    Now I like my exploitation every so often, but yes Bam I really do wish that adult and mature storytelling could be better associated with truly, more pure mature themes.
  • Emma
    (Sunday, May 24. 2015 05:25 AM)
    I get choked up over Bergmans cries and whisper and Autumn sonata, I look back on a work by Key and Jun Maeda and wonder, think of how silly it looks to me now.

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