NieA Under 7 is an anime that had been on my radar since before I even knew ‘plan to watch’ lists were a thing in the anime community. It was so long ago that I couldn’t even tell you the exact reasons for my initial interest. I imagine it had something to do with the aesthetic, which is usually one of the first things that pops out from the works of Yoshitoshi Abe. Certainly I watched Haibane Renmei for a similar reason. The oddly melancholy colour pallet has a satisfying contrast with the otherworldly, yet, still grounded character designs. Perhaps it was also a hope that NieA Under 7 could deliver on the class and cultural divide the premise was primed to explore.
Whatever my original reasons were, I still felt a lingering excitement when the show was chosen as a winner from the competition I hosted. The admittedly unexpected result gave me the motivation I needed to finally push other animated temptations aside and satiate my curiosity once and for all. In the end I think this is maybe the core problem I had with NieA Under 7. Now that I’ve actually followed through with watching it, I can say with confidence that it isn’t a very good show, but even then I can’t help but blame my expectations for all the disappointment I felt. If I hadn’t bought into the allure of what NieA Under 7 could have been, it would’ve just been another fleeting disappointment amidst a sea of other titles I could switch to without remorse.
Despite my misgivings over the approach I took to the show, I’ll still stand behind the opinion that NieA Under 7 is an overwhelmingly mediocre show. If you can picture in your mind ‘run of the mill slice of life anime’, then that show is NieA_7. I would dedicate this post to further illustrating that point, but I’d hope to create a more interesting dialogue given the special circumstances I watched it under. For whatever NieA tried to be, it leans so heavily on strikingly mundane everyday antics that simply aren’t that funny, that I wonder what exactly the original vision was for the show.
Some proponents have suggested that they wanted to return to something calm and soothing after the release of the much darker toned Serial Experiments Lain. That both staff and audiences would be put off by another adventure into depression, existentialism and technological philosophy. However much that may seem to be a creatively troubling and shortsighted direction to take, it does pose some interesting questions to consider in the production of anime. My initial reaction was “Why should one anime production be beholden to another, when they don’t share any continuity?” but I think I can begin to appreciate how this might be a factor worth consideration.
Indeed the mind space for creatives is an often overlooked aspect of art. Publishers can make the cycle of production seem like one automated conveyor belt, constantly pushing out the next big product, however in reality there is no shortage of people working to keep the chain going. With this perspective I think it is fair for NieA_7 to want to be different from Serial Experiments Lain, despite having no relation. Ultimately its attempt to be relaxed translated into tedium, but I imagine for the people making the show, it was a welcome break from the constantly bleak and schizophrenic themes of their previous work. That isn’t to say that they didn’t enjoy making the show, or that those feelings invaded their personal lives; frankly I can’t know. However I do appreciate, as a writer, that oppressive topics tend to engender (or are a symptom of) oppressive environments. I speak for more than myself when I say that it is hard to sustain a conversational tone that predominantly involves darker subject matter, without feeling exhausted and despondent. Perhaps this exaggerates the mindset the staff had between the productions of Serial and NieA but I do find the possibility worth exploring.
The inner artist in me is smitten by experimental approaches to the creative process, and this interplay, however flawed it may be, would be anything if not intriguing. It gets me thinking about all the “what ifs” that led to NieA_7 becoming what it is. Would the show have been more ambitious in its exploration of social class through humor, had Serial Experiments Lain not preceded it? Are the tame jokes simply a poor execution of tired comedic tropes, or a deliberate attempt to create something grounded and family friendly? Would it even have been presented as a comedy if it didn’t need to ‘balance the scales’? On that topic, what came first, the premise or the genre? Why choose comedy as a juxtaposition rather than action or romance? If the idea was to contrast Serial Experiments Lain, then how well does having a huge dependency on world building achieve that?
I don’t have clear answers for these questions, but I’ll never be disappointed when a shows principal design spurs me into asking them. Innovation is sometimes accidental, and while I don’t know if the lukewarm reception of NieA imparted the industry with any lasting lessons, I’m now much more charmed by the show as a result. Perhaps confining the show to a speculative footnote in its production is not the best way of expressing this, but really now, what else did I have to work with?
Thanks for reading.