|Streaming:||Crunchyroll | Funimation|
Maybe I’m living under a rock but it seems that there are less and less visual novel anime adaptations these days. Not that VNs are dead or were a dominant type of source material but it’s hard to deny that the 2000s were defined by a lot of their adaptations. And yet here in the 2010s, the trend has gradually been fading out. Imagine my surprise then to see Island this Summer 2018 season, a visual novel-based anime that kind of harkens back to the “golden days”. It reminds me a lot of old visual novel adaptations in how it plays out. One that particular comes to mind is Air given the shared basic premise. Both Island and Air center around lone wanderer stumbling upon a suburban town, meeting three heroines, and getting caught in an adventure across time and tied to legend. In this sense, there’s a bit of a nostalgic appeal to Island as you don’t see stories such as this that terribly often. Whether or not it’s good though is a whole other story.
Island begins with its protagonist, Setsuna, washed ashore on an island far off from the Japanese mainland. Though he is sure he is a time traveler, his memories are extremely hazy and with no proof to his claim, he decides to accept an impromptu butler position offered by Rinne, a member of the prestigious Ohara family. While working, he also meets the mayor’s daughter, Karen Asumi, and a shrine maiden named Sara Grado. From there, Setsuna finds himself helping all three heroines with their respective personal dilemmas and eventually, he uncovers what his true purpose on the island is.
Just by the synopsis alone, the story of Island seems perfectly fine but on execution, a number of things ultimately hold it back severely. To begin with, Island‘s lore requires an absurd amount of suspension of disbelief. You would think that all this anime needs to do is just say that Setsuna is a time traveler and that time traveling is a thing within its world. But for much of its run, Island goes back and forth between confirming or denying this fact in different exchanges of dialogue. It becomes less “Setsuna is a time traveler” and more “Maybe he is. You just need to watch the next episode to maybe find out…”. That most of the people Setsuna meet don’t believe his claim is admittedly realistic but since Setsuna is amnesiac and can’t prove a thing, the lack of concreteness to Island‘s sci-fi direction can feel frustrating at times. Sara does provide some hints but a lot of what she says end up being taken with a grain salt as it becomes apparent that she has the same understanding of science as Earth flatterers do.
And I won’t spoil anything but once you find out how exactly time travel works in this anime, you’re most likely to react to it with one big “What?” followed by a baffled “Are you serious?”.
There’s also a couple of threads that frankly don’t go anywhere in this anime. To begin with Island introduces a fictional disease called “Soot Blight Syndrome” where people diagnosed with it get a harmful aversion to sunlight. Ultimately, the mystery surrounding this disease goes absolutely nowhere and it just serves as a plot device for Rinne’s initial character development. Something else introduced is a legend surrounding the island involving ancestors with the names as our principal cast? Though an interesting piece of mythology, Island makes very sparse use of it. How it ties into any events of the present-day seems largely coincidental and in the end, it’s not even brought up in the anime’s final stretch.
As frustrating as Island‘s gibberish is, I would at the very least be able to let it somewhat slide if the anime could still land emotionally. Unfortunately, Island even fumbles at accomplishing that due to its pacing. It’s not entirely awful. The introductions, Rinne’s arc, and final two episodes all play out rather smoothly. Anything else though feels insultingly rushed. Both Karen and Sara’s routes are just covered in one episode, relentlessly moving from Point A to Point B and not letting its heavier scenes properly sink in for the viewer. The arc where Setsuna actually time travels is cut short at just two episodes. That alone is disappointing as the era it presents is honestly quite interesting and the death scenes it churns out can only work due to association with the present-day characters. All in all, Island feels like it’s in dire need of a longer episode count. Had it gotten one, the experience would feel much more natural and less frustrating.
It pains me how flawed Island is as I thought there were some redeeming qualities. I’ll admit that when this anime puts as little investment into its grander storylines as possible, it can be a lot of fun. There’s a number of slice of life flavored moments and I have to admit that they do work to entertaining effects. None of the characters are all that complex but they can be quite charming together. Moments such as when Setsuna, Karen, and Sara pretend to enjoy the beach so that Rinne would get jealous or when Setsuna and Rinne get matching sunglasses all manage to make me smile and laugh. I’ll also admit that I did find what ultimately became the romance in Island to be pretty heartwarming. There’s is sadly some incredibly creepy implications to certain aspects of the scenario but it still puts Setsuna in an interesting dilemma and the payoff outside of the clutter is pretty satisfying.
Island is a serious mixed bag. It aims to be a heartwarming and ambitious romance story but for the most part, it just fumbles. The DNA it shares with the visual novels/anime it seems to take inspiration does have nostalgia appeal or it at least does for me. Even so, time could be spent watching a much better VN-anime. Air, for example, would be a vastly superior alternative since, again, that show and Island are pretty similar in terms of premise. I’ll admit that Island is perhaps a victim to flawed adaptation. At least in terms of pacing, there’s no way the visual novel could feel this rushed. Even so, the twelve episodes that aired is what you get and I’m unsure about recommending it.
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