Kyoto Animation’s latest anime, Myriad Colors Phantom World (also known as Musaigen no Phantom World) is deceptively different from their past works. The studio behind popular hits such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!, Free!, and most recently Sound!! Euphonium, Kyoani is known for attractive characters, a penchant for the eccentric, and a firm grasp of “moe.” However, even though Phantom World can be thought of in a similar vein, I find that the series feels more akin to popular anime from the 1990s.
While Phantom World is dissimilar to 90s-era anime in terms of character designs or overall visual aesthetics, it also contains tropes that were far more common in 90s anime. For example, it used to be extremely common to see characters suddenly become super deformed “chibi” characters. This was especially common in CLAMP anime such as Magic Knight Rayearth, the extent that “becoming chibi” was just one of the elements people pointed to when discussing why anime was different. You see a lot less of it today, but in Phantom World you have a character that regularly transforms into a “chibi” state in Ruru, the fairy mascot.
The casual action-oriented feel of Phantom World also contributes to the sense of 90s spirit. The different powers assigned to each character—one is physical, another fights from a distance, a third character uses her voice, etc.—and the ways in which they’re presented remind me of series such as Saber Marionette J (1997-1998). I think the similarities are especially noticeable when comparing Phantom World’s opening to anime openings from the 90s. The direction, as well as the ways that the characters and world are introduced, feel closer to a show like Slayers (1995) than they do Kyoto Animation’s own Kyoukai no Kanata, which also includes powers in a school setting.
Even the fanservice in Phantom World feels more 90s. While having cameras linger at convenient angles on busty characters is something that has continued to thrive in anime (to no one’s surprise), I find that more recent shows dedicated to showing off its ladies tend to go one of two ways. In the first way, they firmly separate action from fanservice. In the second, action and fanservice are integrated but the latter overshadows the former. With Phantom World, I see a more even balance where the sexy moments and the intense ones exist simultaneously without one overriding the other. This balance skews back and forth in some cases, but overall the series tries to keep both sides prominent.
Myriad Colors Phantom World feels like an anime that’s somewhat out of step with both current trends and Kyoto Animation’s own history and back catalog. Aside from the basic aesthetic differences in terms of character design, its character archetypes, animation, and world-building wouldn’t look out of place among anime from 20 years ago. I suspect it’s another sign of Kyoto Animation’s continued evolution as an animation studio, and I’m curious as to whether other shows from other studios will also start to exhibit these 90s traits.