As is quite obvious, I’m a pretty big fan of Serial Experiments Lain. Heck, I named the entire blog after it, right? So I doubt anybody finds surprise in the fact that I’ve been eagerly awaiting any available news on Despera.
For background, this was only the second time that all three main producers of Lain, character designer Yoshitoshi ABe, writer Chiaki J. Konaka, and director Ryutaro Nakamura, reunited as a group. The setting greatly calls back to their work on Serial Experiments Lain as well with character design and setting all drawing a great deal of comparison. The anime sets itself in alternate history in 1922. A girl named Ain lives in Tokyo. She is a technological wizard and produces incredible electronic devices (such as early computers) despite having absolutely no experience or knowledge of electronics.
The project first appeared in 2009 but went on hiatus as Nakamura’s health deteriorated in 2011. He later passed away in 2013 from Pancreatic Cancer and the status of Despera fell into the wind.
To my great excitement, ABe announced that the project would resume with a new director. Actually, he announced it in 2014 but major news stations (such as the one I linked to) picked up on it only recently. I just mentioned how obviously excited I am for the project as the setting and design make it an interesting and unusual work, being alternate history and all.
But I asked myself “What will change without Nakamura?”. His presence or lack thereof will create a different dynamic during production and my thoughts led towards the idea that his absense will change the final product. I approached this from the motion of asking what each of these three main players provide using Serial Exepriments Lain as a base. To directly repeat what I said above, the staff originally included character designer Yoshitoshi ABe, writer Chiaki J. Konaka, and director Ryutaro Nakamura.
ABe, as I’ve mentioned previous, has an incredibly different artwork. You’ll likely note the eyes in his work first and foremost. They present unusual detail of the iris in extreme closeups and that hasn’t changed based on the concept art of Despera. In the ’90s, he utilized a large amount of two-tone eyes at a time where this was less practical. His latest character design work to see animated production, Welcome to the H.N.K., creates spectacular shades in the eyes with a level of detail that I’d argue would rival the best production value in the industry. I’m not sure if it’s a demand to utilize his work or if it’s just coincidence but this always pops up when he’s either the original character designer or the character designer. Whatever the reason, I would expect nothing less if he’s in charge of character design once again.
But another aspect is likely a dark design as well. Few of ABe’s works are entirely pure and positive in nature. Many involve unusual mystery or utilize an offsetting/disturbing juxtaposition to make them feel less than normal. Even when he’s working on comedy, it’s a dark comedy. The only exception to this count is NieA_7, which Wikipedia even goes as far as to suggest was only done to “cool off” from the dark world of Serial Experiments Lain (as much of the staff joined to work on NieA_7). It’s likely, since this sounds like a production of his creation, this streak will continue.
Shifting gears, Konaka’s works are greatly Lovecraftian and cyberpunk. He’s even written a little for the Cthulhu Mythos (a collection of semi-connected narratives which work operate around the works of H.P. Lovecraft). He directed Digimon Tamers and even write the 13th episode of the second season of Digimon; is appropriate named The Call of Dagoman (a play on The Call of Cthulhu, one of Lovecraft’s most famous works). I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now but the entire episode is one long homage to that short story. I bring this up so you kind of get an idea of what he is as a writer. This would also be a great time to mention that his hands are almost always at the steering wheel of these types of narratives. Narutaru, which I’ve previously reviewed, might not be the best work I’ve seen but it is a work that extremely well points towards Konaka’s interests. But he’s also a huge fan of cyberpunk. I mean, he did work on Lain, right? These two are the typical front of his work. But whatever his work, Konaka consistently deals a dark tone. Even Digimon Tamers, which is likely his most famous work outside of Lain, can get quite dark since it deals with topics such as death. And recall that the demographic is likely elementary aged children.
Finally, we come to the missing individual. I’m not sure what to say about Nakamura. His work is all over the place but they come out well from the director’s stand point. There’s little I need to say about Lain or Kino’s Journey as they carry around a lot of sway. One thing that does stand out there is that he almost has an artist’s eye for detail. It almost gives me memories of Stanley Kubrick…I guess for reference, Kubrick was a photographer before a director and almost all his films had insane levels of detail. He was a perfectionist but almost everything he did either surprised those in the industry he portrayed by showing a level of detail they didn’t expect or had revolutionary effects. And that’s a similar sense I get from Nakamura…that every scene he does has animated purpose sometimes to fulfill an aesthetic beauty that I’m not sure many past animators can appreciate. The selection of still frames I can recall from his prolific list of work solidify that in my mind. In fact, further research indicates that he started as an animator. This leaves me no doubt that some of those rare details seen in his work stem from his history, his past as an animator.
But where does that leave Despera?
I will suggest though that much of what makes Serial Experiements Lain unique likely transitions over to Despera. ABe and Konaka also worked on Texhnolyze together, a project with similar style to Lain. The concepts of it being a heavily dark and psychological anime will persist. The animation quality likely holds steady and presents some extreme details in areas that it’s likely unexpected to carry depth. I’m not sure if it’ll have the same attention to other details though. There is no announcement on the replacement director as of yet so it’s impossible to “add on” the skills of the new director. All I can say as of right now is that they might be hard pressed to find someone with that attention to animated detail.
But…of course, I’ll watch it anyways.