When choosing to wax lyrical on one episode, and only one episode of anime alone, usually the writer has an idea in mind. A concept. A plan. Often, they will have watched the rest of the series up until that point, and help you along in your understanding of said episode, and the series’s overarching narrative. This is not one of those times, for I have only seen one episode: this episode. Episode Nine of Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere.
If you were led here with promises of hilarity, I am so sorry.
“I don’t know what Shakespeare wrote when she was a kid, but Neshinbara’s work has got to be way crazier than hers!”
“It’s totally beyond saving when even I don’t feel like defending it.”
-A conversation between Tomo Asama and Toussaint Neshinbara in regards to what Tori Aoi thought of Neshinbara’s elementary-school fiction.
When I was young, eight years-old or so, I wrote and illustrated two books for my own enjoyment. Spurred on by a patient and wonderful second-grade teacher, I blossomed into a precocious young girl. If I had recently learned something about alligators, then I would include that fact in my prose. If we had been studying morpho butterflies and the Amazon rainforest, then goodness I was certainly going to include them in my creative works to make sure that everyone know how intelligent I was. I even made sure, in my first work, to solve everything with a deus ex machina and a pun, because I was simply oh-so clever.
Along similar lines, but with far less of a propensity to show off, when I was home from university one summer my younger brother decided to make peanut butter cookies. He is by no means unintelligent or incompetent in a kitchen. Perhaps he was a bit rushed that afternoon, or his mind preoccupied with other things; however, halfway through making the dough, he realized my mother had used the last of one crucial ingredient: vanilla extract. He later explained his thought process at this point like so: “I like peanut butter and I like peppermint, so I figured, why not?”
This was how he ended up with an entire batch of peanut-butter/peppermint cookies, thanks to his substitution of peppermint extract for the aforementioned vanilla. Cookies which he had to choke down himself, with the aide of two unsuspecting and intoxicated revelers two nights later. You see, his thought process is sound: I like X, and I like Y, I’ll put the two together. However, marrying two things that one likes doesn’t necessarily mean that together they will make a better whole, much like putting two flawed things side by side can actually make a more cohesive unit.
J.P. Meyer writes about these ideas far better than this article; however, I have a bit of a different point. The parts of Horizon that are interesting, that touch upon emotions that resonate with each and every one of us as an audience, these parts are obstructed by a bloated cast of characters and an effort at world-building that rivals supersaturation. It was genuinely interesting when Neshinbara struggled with his own feelings of inadequacy when comparing himself to Shakespeare. The series also touched upon feelings of self-worth again when another character, Malga, allows herself to slip into the lowest depths of self-worth where one thinks that only by sacrificing oneself that one can be of use. These are themes that will resonate with a viewer and make them care about what else is happening on screen.
Unfortunately, Horizon doesn’t seem to be concerned with telling a story, or allowing the audience to develop feelings for its supposed leads. It is reminiscent of Sankarea or Fate/Zero where the world-building or focus on flushing out the most minute details of its minor characters is somehow more important than achieving a coherent narrative (note: this applies to a character-driven narrative as well as a plot-driven one). This approach is just as self-indulgent as the eight year-old me wishing to prove to the world how much I knew about morpho butterflies which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t actually all that much. Unlike eight year-old me, Horizon does have some interesting things to say, if it would only get around to saying them.
As an aside, those books? I still have them. I read them to friends in university one Friday evening and we laughed more than we had in a very long time.
“Did you read your old masterpiece?”
“I sure did. I’ve always been a genius, haven’t I?”
-A conversation between Tori Aoi and Toussaint Neshinbara.