Well folks, I have done a lot of learning these past two-is years in aniblogging. One of those things is the importance of checking what animation studios are in charge of a particular anime. This past season I had the luck of MAPPA picking up an anime with a very unique premise that piqued my interest. Of course, that being “Listeners”. So let’s jump into it; trust me it’s quite the ride.
In a world, where music no longer exists, but is not too unfamiliar to our own; Echo Reck is a scavenger at a scrapyard. He repeatedly looks for goods that have been tossed aside, eyes to the ground, where one day he finds, a human girl. He names this mysterious girl, Muu, and realizes she’s a rarity in the town of Liverchester; she’s a player. A player being someone who can fight against the Earless. Of course, finding a strange girl player in the scrapyard is bound to lead into some mis-adventures as the duo begin their journey of discovery.
Before I get too far into the into the review, I have to say that “Listeners” is pretty brilliant. That’s not something I offer up too often as a compliment, but the series really deserves it. It’s very rare that I think about a series the following day and make a connection and go, “oh shit, that’s good. that’s what it was referencing”. So when that happened while I was driving it was a pleasent surprise.
In fact, I’d say that Listeners strong point is referencing material without outright slapping you upside the head with stuff. There’s some obvious points i.e. character designs of Lyde and Ritchie being Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Probably my favorite reference in the series after Nir as a character. Most of the titles of the episodes are taken from various rock bands. The one most obvious to me being episode 4’s “Teen Spirit” and Episode 12’s title, “Hello, Goodbye”. Of course, I could go on forever about references just to flex my musical knowledge. But there’s a whole section in the Listeners wiki about them, so I’ll leave it out there for those who are curious.
Having extensive knowledge of various rock bands isn’t essential for having a good viewing experiance. In fact, I’d actually say the less you know the more you get out of the series. Being able to take in the world that “Listeners” creates, one devoid of actual music, without the bias of knowing our world would be a blessing. It’s such a strange premise to think about since many of us, or maybe just me, take music for granted. The universe of Listeners probably has significantly less noise pollution for better or worse, but also rather devoid of one of life’s greatest joys in my opinion.
Knowing less about music and musicians allows you to be less biased about the references being made. While I personally have no qualms about any of the musicians referenced, I know that other’s probably were. So the less you know, the less likely you are to judge the characters just because they’re based off a musician you don’t particularly care for.
One of the things I personally liked, but I know would drive other viewers nuts was the pacing. Listeners has a very distinct clip that tends to come off as jumpy and somewhat unexplained. We’re given enough where we have context, and the plot point is reached but not enough to feel fully satisfied. Like we’re never just dropped into a situation without context as to how and why Muu and Echo got there, but sometimes the how was rather underdeveloped as a premise. Which for me isn’t a big deal since it’s never so much a ‘how did we get here’ so much as ‘why is it important that we are here’? The shifts to side characters in latter episodes were a welcome change of pace for me, as I was curious about Nir and her exploits. It also helped fill out some of the cast members that were thrown at us in the openings and endings, but we weren’t sure if they were actually important.
Another thing was the functionality of the equipment. I’m not saying we needed an info dump on the origins of equipment and building, along with all the nitty gritty details. Save that for the art book perhaps? But some basic outlines of how they function would have been nice. I.e. do all of them fly? How do the different amps create different equipment? Does the equipment get influenced by the player, or the player influences the equipment? What’s the critical element that would need to break for the equipment to stop functioning?
Those are just a few questions I have off the top of my head from when I was watching. I’m sure someone more apt at amplifiers and their construction would know. The way my thought process was that that equipment manifested differently because on who was plugged in. This was dismissed by ep. 4 when Nir piloted her own and then Muu’s equipment. There were also moment where equipment, would lose major parts but still be functional that made we question the inner workings. Maybe I was being a bit too fantastical in my ideas of equipment’s capabilities. Does this mean I’m finally coming to the technical side of Sci-fi??
One point I’m still on the fence about is the overall message. I’m not sure if I’m reading too far into the series, or perhaps I’m biased due to the current political climate. However, there’s certainly a deeper message and commentary in Listeners’ story. When you look at characters like Echo, Lyde, Ritchie, and Nir, and compare them againest Denka, Sally, Tommoy and Roz, the social commentary is there. Taking even into further consideration is why Roz developed her wall, and her views verses what the world was doing in terms of the Earless. I mean, the inclusion of Janis and Robert is a pretty damn big statement in and of itself especially with how it was presented within the story too. Those are just a few off the top of my head to boot!
Yet, I’m not a viewer who reads that deeply into series, nor am I articulate enough to fully flesh out the various ideas presented within it. I’m certain they are there. Some are very obvious with the connotations and denotations as to musicians and political movements affiliated with those eras. In the same breath, I’m not quite sure that Listeners fully committed to any of these ideas in a way that’s truly impactful on the viewing experience. Are those ideas there because the MAPPA actually wanted to make a social commentary and how it relates to the present? Or are those ideas there because the musicians were tied to political moments of their generation? Shit, they could have been thrown in just to make it a more interesting story, who knows?
At times it feels like there’s a certain depth to Listeners that many viewers
(especially looking at MAL reviews) didn’t get it. I don’t want to be that gatekeeping fan that goes, “this series wasn’t bad, you guys just don’t get it”. So this is me owning up if this review comes off that way. I will concede that my own bias makes me think that way because I got that much out of this series. It very well might be that Listeners is a ‘looks deep, but isn’t’ sort of anime. For me if I ever made the commitment, it’d be worth rewatching and perhaps further analyzing. That certainly would be interesting but not quite the commitment I want to make at the moment.
I think I got a bit derailed in my review, but I enjoy what I wrote prior so it’s staying in. When it comes to animation, Listeners knocks it out of the park. MAPPA is quickly rising to my personal top spot when it comes to animation studios. The character designs were fun and interesting, with major considerations as to how they moved and interacted in the space. Denka being the perfect example of fabulously moving but not being excessive to animate. He’s also a great example of homaging his original (Prince), without just outright copying and pasting him. Additionally, the use of 2D and 3D was well balanced for the most part. Some scenes it was more obvious then others, but the time was taken to make it as seamless as was feasible for the project.
What’s something obviously not obvious was the backing track, ambient noise throughout the anime. The biggest point is that MAPPA didn’t get the luxury of filling in scenes with transitional music or backing tracks because this world doesn’t have music. I didn’t notice initially while watching, but upon reflection was certainly there was excellant use of ambient noise. Rumbling along a junkyard train, being in the forest, towns verses cities, the mood was there and it didn’t have a single vocalist to it. Well played MAPPA. Of course, the opening was a banger and the fact Muu’s seiyuu, Rie Takahashi, provided a unique song for the ending of each episode was awesome. Certainly not something I’ve been aware of for awhile.
I think the characters and their relationships are hit or miss with most. The easiest to connect with are Echo and Muu, since neither is based off a particular musician. However, latter characters might be more hit or miss depending on your musical pallet. I thought Muu was a great character, and while not completely surprised by her twist, the story lead up to it in an intelligent way. Echo too grows as a character in a way that’s endearing if not somewhat of a little brother to us all. I did want to hit him upside the head a few times. The rest of the supporting cast are interesting and engaging, especially Nir, Lyde and Ritchie, but everyone gets their time to shine within a given frame.
Regardless of you musicality, I think Listeners, despite the name, earns a recommendation for viewing. It’s enjoyable as a story on a surface level, and can go as deeper if you’d like in your viewing experiance. I know for a fact I enjoyed the ride, and encourage you to give it a shot too. With that, I’ll see you next post!
I’ve been thinking about this post and for a while and generally agree with you. It is a good show with some powerful things in it. I just wish I knew the main characters a little more.
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I’m glad I gave you some food for thought! It’s certainly an interesting take of putting everything that was in the series, together. but I do agree with you the main cast seemed really underdeveloped when I think back on it. Muu I can kind of give a pass on, but I wish we had way more info on Echo as a whole.
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