New Anime

Call of the Night – Episode 1

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll be checking out the very first episode of a new project, as we explore the recent adaptation of Kotoyama’s supernatural romantic comedy Call of the Night. The show got some solid buzz two years ago, with audiences generally praising its strong atmosphere and charmingly silly cast. That sounded about right for me, given my experience with Kotoyama’s previous work Dagashi Kashi. Though Dagashi’s hook is “crazy-eyed girl lustily explains the merits of various snack foods,” the show’s greatest strengths were actually its evocation of small-town boredom and understanding of listless youth – two qualities that I imagine will carry on gracefully into Call of the Night.

As for the anime adaptation, I can’t imagine a better choice of director than Tomoyuki Itamura. After Tatsuya Oishi left the Monogatari TV series to go sculpt Kizumonogatari, it was Itamura who picked up the torch, serving as the series’ primary director from Nisemonogatari all the way through Owarimonogatari Part II. The aesthetic he sculpted in that time was one of lust and austerity and nightmares, featuring a world that felt cold and alien even in broad daylight, one which naturally reflected the preoccupations and emotional tensions of its anxious young occupants. He basically cut his teeth on this era’s premier supernatural romantic drama, making him perfectly suited for a production like Call of the Night. That basically covers my preconceptions, so let’s get on with the dang show!

Episode 1

Huh, a Noitamina production. The name doesn’t mean so much these days, but that particular Fuji TV programming block was initially intended for anime whose appeal extended beyond the medium’s general adolescent male audience. The block has hosted a fair share of all-timers over the years, from Mononoke to House of Five Leaves to Wandering Son to The Tatami Galaxy, but its adherence to its original mission hasn’t exactly been reliable. I recall even back in 2014 we were wondering what the heck Nanana’s Buried Treasure was doing on the block

We open by rushing upwards past brightly lit windows in a pitch black mass, our speed increasing until we emerge to see the city at night, laid out in rich purples and blues. A cut that immediately aligns us with the power and freedom of our vampire perspective character, instantly articulating the unique beauty of her domain

Soft focus and bokeh from the city lights offers a cinematic sense of drama and atmosphere. Itamura’s long favored a mixture of Oishi-derivative visual interjections and sequences of simulated realism like this; that might seem like it’d result in disjointed visual experiences, but the overall preeminence of “how is this character experiencing this moment” maintains a sort of narrative continuity that mitigates the need for visual continuity

The OP begins with a film set clapboard announcing “take one.” Yeah, Itamura ain’t subtle about his desire for simulated cinematic realism

The OP is all about contrast, framed as a battle between teal and pink hues – a visual articulation of the show’s emphasis on the “two worlds” of day and night

It also features our vampire heroine attempting to teach our protagonist how to dance, an easy enough metaphor for her luring him into the mechanics of her world

Hah, and the OP cuts the music halfway through for a shot of the cast reviewing raw footage before the edit. I doubt this framing has anything to do with Call of the Night, it just seems like a very Itamura thing to include

Kotoyama clearly has a great love for “alternative”-looking girls; his character designs possess a certain realism that speaks to a more refined, considered horniness than most artists

Our first shots of the episode proper are the city at night, with nothing but the wind in our ears. Aping Monogatari surrealism feels like a survival strategy here – stacking anonymous, identical apartments in a row is a fair way to avoid traditionally painted backgrounds

Monogatari was such an indulgent, ostentatious visual experience that I imagine any director would experience some growing pains attempting to move beyond SHAFT’s visual playground

It’s an interesting aesthetic here – altered photography driven to extremes of color saturation, giving the night a rich and alien look

“For the first time ever, I ventured out at night without telling anyone.” If Dagashi Kashi’s anything to go by, Kotoyama’s protagonists tend to be eager but untested novices, drawn into a new world by a chaotic and charismatic femme fatale

“The swings are so fun for the first time in forever!” The allure of transgression or trespass adds a fresh appeal to old activities

His name is Ko Yamori

Unsurprisingly, daytime is characterized as entirely saturated by light, lacking color altogether. If you want your daytime scenes to look bleak and sterile, directing them like Hiroshi Hamasaki is a good call

A girl confesses to him, to which he responds “I don’t really understand dating.” Damn, dude

He also suffers from insomnia

Goddamn, these night compositions are really something. Love how the overall darkness makes these rich colors seem all the bolder

As he purchases a beer from a vending machine, our vampire heroine finally arrives

Disorienting fisheye perspective emphasizes the unsettling, otherworldly nature of this first meeting

The style of character acting also seems inherited from Monogatari – every movement is made with theatrical intent, each gesture accompanied with dramatic zooms and cuts

“Why do people stay up at night? It all boils down to one reason: they aren’t satisfied with how they spent the day.” A potential thematic signal here, or perhaps just someone who likes to talk

The girl high-fives some nearby drunks in celebration of their successful drinking. Soya Amamiya’s a pro, and she’s doing a great job with this character’s playful yet lethargic tone

“You’ll never be satisfied if you don’t release your inhibitions, boy.” And then he immediately runs away. Probably a good call

Lots of nice expression work in this episode, too

“I want to give advice to people who can’t sleep and help them overcome their issues.” A very admiral calling for a vampire

Oh my god. Her apartment is the epitome of Male Living Spaces, just a cot set out on a wooden floor with a stereo to its side. I suppose she’s embodying the far limits of people “not being satisfied with how they spent the day,” with her apartment possessing no signs of any meaningful daytime life whatsoever

Ko attempts to flee as the mysterious girl disrobes. Playful distortion of perspective here, as her arm casually reaches across what should be about eight feet of foreshortened distance in order to grab his wrist

The girl’s questions grow increasingly predatory as Ko pretends to sleep. Vampires and sexual awakening have been obvious bedfellows (pun sorta intended) since Bram Stoker’s original Dracula. Vampires promise control, the fulfillment of carnal desire, and the validation of social deviance – they worked perfectly for articulating the stultifying demands of the Victorian era, and they sub in just as well for modern tales of embracing villainized agency and sexual freedom

No surprise that the moment of draining his blood is accompanied by what sounds like a strangled kissing noise

And Ko of course has particularly tasty blood. Mankind has long adored the fantasy of being coveted by a sexy and dangerous animal, whether vampires, outlaws, or strange women who drag you into their sad apartments

“There was this huge mosquito.” Our vampire combines that appeal with a complimentary failgirl aesthetic. This show is very powerful

It is in large part Itamura’s fault that “monster” and “vampire” are two of the words I most readily recognize in Japanese

“Wouldn’t it suck if you created a new family member every time you ate?” Our heroine puts her lack of desire to create an army of minions in relatably antisocial terms

Apparently, the way one becomes a vampire is to fall in love with them. An interesting flourish, one which actually shifts the power dynamic inherent in vampire stories. Normally the vampire has all the control in these relationships, but framing it around love takes that power out of her hands

Ah, but the vampire must suck the blood of the person who’s in love with them. So it really is essentially a kind of proposal

The two seem equally uncomfortable talking about lovey-dovey stuff. Ko’s disinterest in romance definitely sets him apart among anime protagonists. I’ll be interested to see how that develops

I appreciate that her comment of “oh, do you like boys then” is taken gracefully by both parties. Really hoping we’re moving beyond knee-jerk homophobia in anime whenever the prospect of male-male relationships are raised

“What do you think now that you’ve taken a step outside the norm?” It’s interesting – much of this show’s drama prioritizes Ko’s “deviation from the norm,” but his actions have actually been fairly chaste so far. It feels like both he and this vampire idealize the concept of being outsiders, but are actually far more normal than they’d like to admit

“Stay up until you feel satisfied about your day. That’s not a bad way to live.” What they’re striving towards is actually a fairly universal instinct, a common sense of dissatisfaction with the mundane

Embracing the night is the first time Ko’s “wanted to be something,” and thus he wishes to become a vampire. “So please, let me fall in love with you!” Ah, lonely and insecure people making world-altering decisions in the hope of finding purpose. This is some good fucking food

And we at last get her name, Nazuna Nanakusa

In spite of her professed lack of interest in love, she takes Ko up to a rooftop and kicks him off for a midnight flight. She clearly enjoys impressing her new companion

And Done

So we’re off! Call of the Night’s premier proved a natural extension of both Kotoyama and Itamura’s fascinations, presenting a fresh world of longing, ennui, and sumptuous natural beauty. For Kotoyama’s part, the chemistry between Ko and Nazuna already seems quite strong; Ko is an uncommonly listless adolescent, Nazuna is far less cool than she pretends to be, and the two of them are clearly answering a common need for companionship and understanding. And such a story is a perfect fit for Tomoyuki Itamura, who ensured that the allure of the city at night was as clear for us as the protagonists, while treating Nazuna’s attempts at impressing Ko with a natural balance of validation and derision. Two weirdos attempting to find community in each other; that’s the stuff I love, and Call of the Night offers an eminently winning rendition.

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