I haven’t felt The Chills this show gave me since I first watched Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni.
Chaos; Head is one of those extremely ambitious projects that has the potential to go very, very wrong. You’ve got the Satoshi Kon-like blurring between reality and delusion, and on top of that, the possibility (as yet unproven) that Takumi is clairvoyant, which means the potential mixing up of timelines. When is he flashing forwards and when is he in the present? If he is at all, that is? Already, Yua’s explanation with the chat logs of the discrepencies in time forced my brain to actually stop and piece together the clues. You continue down that road and soon enough you’re in mindfuck territory. For me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. For some reason, ever since the early days of my Eva fandom, a part of me has enjoyed that sort of puzzle.
Thing is, of course, the chilling moments are coming fast and furious. It’s telegraphed perhaps a bit too obviously, compared to the more subtle but unmistakable buildup that the brilliant first arc of Higurashi did to make episode 3’s end an absolute terror. We’ve got the standard “don’t you remember me? We hang out together all the time!” bit for people he doesn’t remember; we have a way, way, way too obviously nice girl in the person of Yua who clearly has some other motive than being with this stammering delusional otaku. Yet, the moment when she interrogates him with the stake, when she constantly repeats the refrain “don’t tell me you don’t know what this is” was incredibly effective. So were the creaks of the heavy door in Takumi’s shack, the seemingly innocent question Rimi poses to Yua (“so did you two do anything else?”) in building up that atmosphere of paranoia. That seems to be the focus of much of the suspense and terror in this show–paranoia and suspicion.
It calls into question, of course, pretty much everybody in the show, Takumi himself included. Is that his real sister? Are those his real classmates? Is he inside a game himself? I wouldn’t be the least surprised if we discover that Yua herself is lying about the investigation, misleading him in some crucial way. It helps give the entire episode a feeling of unease and instability throughout the whole viewing; I know never to believe any happy or “normal” scene and never to assume that anyone is to be taken at face value. That keeps me hooked because I want to find out what new layers are going to be revealed.
I’m curious to find out whether this is going to take the Higurashi path of mini-arcs, or simply tell one interconnected, frightening tale. The mini-arc method would help avoid the danger of excessive complication and entanglement, though I’m not sure anyone else is going to try what Higurashi did and to treat each game path as a separate arc to artistic effect. It was a fine example of how to use the structure of a game to its advantage in a linear anime adaptation, and Chaos; Head seems like it’s starting to at least head down the road of giving us something to watch and think about along those lines.
Not the best animated (I don’t really like the character designs) or stirring show of the season (that would be Kurozuka), but definitely the most fascinating.