Monday, April 3, 2017

REVIEW: "Spiritpact"

So working for anime news sites means that I'm actually sort of trying to watch new shows as they come out. Being a lazy, easily distracted nerd who just spent seven days at a three-day con means I'm not even remotely done with this season's headliner shows.

Buuuuut. I'm getting there. And first one I finished (largely because it was shorter than your average cour by about two episodes) was Spiritpact, an adaptation of Pingzi's web manhua (manga of Chinese origin) Ling Qi. The series was made by Haoliners, a Chinese-based anime company who (so far) have been pulling from a number of Tencent-released web manhua.

Boys love boys.

Every headline mentions that this is a BL series, and the setup sort of screams it. You Keika, the front and centre fella, is the poor heir of a long line of exorcists. He dies and comes back as a ghost, pursued by white-hair angstboi Tanmoku Ki to become his "spirit shadow." Tanmoku Ki is an exorcist himself, and exorcists of his line take on a spirit shadow for protection. If You Keika does not take this offer, apparently, he will cease to exist after seven days.

The rings, the closeness, the misunderstandings when Tanmoku Ki's fiancee wanders in -- they all point to definite BL. But if you're watching specifically for that, you won't get much. The manhua has been running for nearly 200 chapters, so I can assume it's all go in there. But these ten episodes are largely an origin story with a lot of pretty boys fighting and getting close.

Granted, there are two other characters... eh, can't say too much.

Mr. Exposition.

Honestly my up-front complaint with the series is that the first two episodes read like twelve-year-old me wrote them. I was absolute trash at the concept of "show don't tell," and the first handful of installments contains a lot of spoken exposition. In retrospect, when the reality of what's happening in the first two episodes hits, it actually makes sense for Tanmoku Ki to be talking You Keika's ear off.

Also in retrospect, seeing that it's only ten episodes also lends some reasoning to that. The pacing of the first episode especially seemed strange and clumsy, as though everyone involved knew they didn't have much time. Which... apparently was the case. Ten episodes got them through (what I assume is) the first story arc and big story bombshell, but only just. It's a shame, but it seems the hinky pacing was a necessity.

Watching a subbed dub.

Spiritpact was originally produced in Chinese as a series of half-length ONA episodes, so even watching it subtitled in Japanese constitutes watching a dub. Yuuichi Iguchi (one of the sword boys in Touken Ranbu) and Shunsuke Takeuchi (the producer in IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls) lead the cast as You Keika and Tanmoku Ki respectively, with Rumi Ookubo (Cure Muse from Suite PreCure) as Tanmoku Ki's put-upon fiancee Shin Shiyou.

The cast as a whole was solid. Iguchi was a regular scene-stealer, but they did sort of give him the perfect part for that. The show is populated by experienced voice actors, and it shows.

But what about the story?

The world building is interesting -- it's minimal (as it's modern day), but there are the threads of something really fascinating there. Family histories, dirty laundry, drama, ghosts, demons... the sort of thing where real monsters exist, but there are humans far scarier than those monsters.

I will say this honestly serves its greatest purpose getting me intrigued about the manhua. It leaves off right at a cliffhanger, but it's the sort of cliffhanger that seems to say "Want more? You know where to find us."

I doubt there will be a Spiritpact season 2. Not a judgment call, just the way it seems set up. Should there be a second season, I'll certainly give it a go.

The final verdict.

A rough start, but a strong finish. The character design progressions were amazing, the storyline once it hit was solid, and it makes me wish the manhua was scanlated. It's not the best thing I've seen this season, but I didn't feel my time was wasted.

If you're in it solely for the BL, you aren't going to get much but subtext (I suspect the manhua has progressed quite a bit in that direction by this point). Which isn't to say you won't enjoy it. Just that it's not particularly obtuse about it.

Spiritpact is available to watch free on Crunchyroll.
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