Kaiju No. 8 Episode 1: Metamorphosis



There’s not really two ways about it- history is repeating itself this Spring season. Last year, Production I.G. revolutionized what a seasonal anime could be with Heavenly Delusion, and once more they’re poised to do so with Kaiju No. 8 episode 1. An incredible marriage of the very best aspects of the studio, this debut episode has comfortably walked into the season and gingerly donned its crown, smugly looking down upon all other seasonals, almost daring someone to say they’re better than it. Frankly speaking, it’s the kind of work that feels near impossible to fully articulate without showing the entire episode, but I’ll do my best here.

Kafka Hibino (name intended) is part of a Kaiju clean up crew, but is stuck with his head in the clouds with dreams of the Defense Force. Of course, he’ll get there (somehow), but this episode is all about his lead up to that, his dreams playing out right in front of his eyes as he curses his failure to make it into the Defense Force. Because of that though, we get some absolutely kick ass sequences to start the episode- sequences that immediately inspire awe in every viewer. Series director Tomomi Kamiya storyboards the episode, and being in that position she’s incredibly aware of the ability of the team, and makes full use of it.

First off, the helicopters look amazing for being CGI. They strike a perfect balance of detail and style, and they move incredibly well through the scene. Within that, Kamiya’s direction helps a great deal, and uses them to their fullest potential. Wide sweeping shots eat up screen time, scenes that track the movement of the helicopter are frequent, and there’s plenty of cuts that play with the freedom a 3D model provides. My personal favorite being the shot that tracks from inside the helicopter to outside before following a barrage of missiles launched on a kaiju. It’s creativity that’s only possible with strong CGI work (as well as great animation), and Kamiya and co. pull it off impressively well.

Though, the CGI doesn’t just end at helicopters. Later on in the episode it’s implemented with the environment art- and it does a damn good job. Shinji Kimura’s art direction was already rivalling Kaneko Yuuji’s with the insane scale and feeling of wear, but their integration with 3D work gives them a feather in their cap that I think even Yuuji might not have. It’s really outstanding work that strikes a very nice balance, but ultimately still conveys the best part of Kimura’s designs- their grit. Everything is full of wear, damage, and blood, and it creates such an incredible air of life and struggle within Kaiju No. 8 episode 1. I think the most impressive piece to their work is just how full some of these environments are, when they’re so completely blurred in the background. There’s plenty of scenes where you don’t get to admire the full degree of Kimura and their team’s work, but they’ve still put in the same amount of ridiculous effort and detail. Also, I have to add that their mechanical art is really incredible as well. It’s not easy to draw that sort of thing, but Kimura and co really brought out the big guns with some of the cranes and other environmental details- that weren’t CGI or animated (though these were also confusingly well done).

In the case of both CGI and environment art however, you could say that there’s a single role that’s helped them present as well as they have- photographic direction. It’s quite the difficult role to really “explain” in terms of impact, but all the same Eiji Arai has put forward some impressive work that’s allowed everything to come together so well. I think overall, their composition is actually rather subtle and lets Izumi Hirose’s color design take the wheel, but I still can’t discount the quality of their work. Even just very simple things like the light shafts on Ichikawa add a great deal of depth and life to a scene. Though, probably the best area of Arai’s composition comes with the helicopters. Their use of diffusion and that sort of “heat wave” effect with the rotor blades, alongside the dust clouds, adds an incredible sense of existence within the scene. Arai really isn’t a superstar like the CGI, or Kimura’s environments, or Kafka’s kaiju, but they provide a great deal of cohesion for the work overall.

Continuing to just scroll down the list of staff, another hard to pin down yet important inclusion is composer Yuuta Bandou. Music can be… underappreciated in anime, both in terms of the viewer and its significance within the production. Here though, it seems Bandou was told “go wild”, to which they excitedly agreed, producing this quite literally electric soundtrack for Kaiju No. 8 episode 1. Leaning into a dark future-esque electronic soundtrack, countered by far more silly and simple sounds in the day-to-day pieces, Bandou’s created an incredible energy and style to go along with this work, and it’s incredibly important. Their work with the helicopter sequence set the tone for the series flawlessly, and it has me incredibly excited to see what they bring as the season goes on.

Now, getting into the nitty gritty of Kaiju No. 8 episode 1- the actual content. In terms of story… there’s loose threads, which I think is fine. Head empty, just vibes isn’t a bad way to draw viewers into a series- so long as you can really deliver on the vibes part. Kafka pulls along the story with solely the weight of his forgotten dreams, and Reno Ichikawa appears to lighten that load and provide Kafka with an outlet. That leads to things like this (very well animated) sequence of the pair bickering over nose plugs, but it also leads to Ichikawa becoming a pivot point for the series towards the end of Kaiju No. 8 episode 1.

Here, Ichikawa is quite literally used as Kafka’s chance to be a Defense Force member- though only in the figurative sense. Throughout the episode we learn of Kafka’s connection to Defense Force Division 3 member Mina Ashiro, and how it plays into his regret and inability to join the force. Alongside that, we continually get visuals that place him as a lower being- nothing more than a bug- in her presence. We see things like the parade that has Kafka walking in the opposite direction, symbolically in the shadow of Mina, and then later on not having him appear at all in the scene when broadcast on television. Everything pushes Kafka towards his inability to exist in the world that he desires, right up to almost the very end of the episode where he’s shown to be quite literally beneath Mina. Though, Ichikawa exists purely to crush that comparison and allow Kafka to thrive in this episode. He’s the kid Kafka’s saved, and Ichikawa makes that known to him- that even just as part of a clean up crew, Kafka’s pretty damn cool himself. It’s a very nice message to deliver, and it makes me intensely curious how it’ll play out given Kafka’s very sudden monster-made power up.

Aside from that… I can see myself struggling with some of the humor of the series. It’s not quite that it feels childish, but that it has the sort of undertone of “I need to break the tension”, if that makes any sense. There’s this urgency to some of the humor that almost forces it to come up short in a few sequences. Though, there’s also a good few moments that mesh quite well with their surroundings, like Kafka and Ichikawa being in shock at Kafka’s transformation.

Overall Kaiju No. 8 episode is, more than anything, a shining beacon of Production I.G.’s incredible work as a studio. Their delivery on the source material dwarfs any notion of the quality of the story or characters within this first episode- a rare occurrence, for sure. Heavenly Delusion had the ability to stand up to that symbiosis, but Kaiju No. 8 remains a little uncertain of everything aside from the world that it inhabits. I’ll be following this series to its end no matter what, but I’m curious about how positively I’ll receive the work that stems from mangaka Naoya Matsumoto’s end of the work.

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