As a mystery series, Nijuu Mensou no Musume is a failure. As an action-adventure series, it’s fun but not necessarily convincing. And as a coming-of-age series, it’s one of the most emotionally powerful experiences I’ve had to date.
This review is actually only one part of a (possibly ongoing) series. As something of a continuation of last year’s Watson Watches series, Watson and I decided to each write a review for the same anime. We watched the show separately but roughly around the same time period, and then wrote our reviews without discussing the anime with each other or comparing notes – primarily in order to see how our thoughts on the show might differ and what similarities might pop up. Both of our reviews are largely spoiler-free. You can see Watson’s review here.
Nijuu Mensou no Musume (literally, Daughter of Twenty Faces and also released as Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief) suffers from being one of the least-watched titles produced by Bones studio. With an array of very high quality and much-loved anime under its belt (Wolf’s Rain, Fullmetal Alchemist, Eureka Seven, Zetsuen no Tempest, to name but a few), it’s perhaps no surprise that Nijuu Mensou no Musume slipped under the radar. It doesn’t have the visual panache of Soul Eater, the grittiness of Darker Than Black, or even a fan-pleasing type of cast like Ouran High School Host Club. What it does have, however, are some of the most compelling and gut-wrenching relationships I’ve seen in any given anime, paired alongside the relatively uncommon setting of 1950s Japan and a distinct lack of romance or melodrama. I’d say the latter two factors alone are worthy of note, although the characters themselves are really the heart and soul of the show.
Allow me to gush a little here. Chiko makes for a fantastic lead character. At just eleven years old at the beginning of the story, she’s clever and resourceful, and already developing the ability to think on her feet. However, the series doesn’t make Chiko out to be some kind of child prodigy, so there’s still a fantastic sense of realism there as far as her skills and overall personality are concerned. The blossoming father-daughter-like relationship between her and professional thief/master of disguise Twenty Faces, who rescues her from her murderous aunt and uncle in the first episode, is beautiful to watch, especially as he too is such a cool character in his own right. A gentleman to the core, Twenty Faces fosters Chiko’s talents while also insisting that she think for herself and come to her own conclusions. Meanwhile, the rest of the team feel more like a family than anything else, and watching Chiko gradually become a part of that family is an incredibly touching yet utterly believable experience. Although none of the other team members besides Ken is given any kind of backstory, I still would have been blissfully happy watching nothing but their episodic mini-adventures for the entire duration of the show.
For various reasons though, this is not to be, and there’s a significant change in tone relatively early on in the series. This leads into a wider narrative arc that unfortunately isn’t anywhere near as emotionally satisfying and also doesn’t function well, if at all, as a mystery story. The mysteries themselves are mostly pointless, adolescent games, and the single promising one is left completely unresolved. That being said, this section of the anime allows for a lot more internal growth for Chiko, and fleshes out the setting of postwar Japan rather well. It’s a shame that these specific aspects of Nijuu Mensou no Musume so obviously outshine most of the other additions to the show; Shunka and Tome aren’t so much annoying as they are just plain bland, and neither they nor any of the later antagonists come close to bringing the same kind of excitement or tension that are delivered during those first few episodes. The main exception here is Detective Akine, who comes across as the bumbling and greedy comic relief at first, but ends up as a fully-formed and sympathetic character with a surprisingly moving story of his own.
The third and final story arc is thankfully more rewarding than the so-called mystery-centric stories making up the middle of the anime. It still doesn’t approach the sheer excellence of the introductory arc, and the ‘science’ is just too far-fetched to be in any way plausible, but this arc at least feels sincere, and has plenty of well-paced action to keep the audience on its toes. By comparison, the closing episode is somewhat anticlimactic, but thank god for that last minute of footage which not only allows the series to come full circle but also brings with it an enormous rush of relief that, as far as Chiko and Twenty Faces are concerned, the story doesn’t end without some form of emotional closure or hope for the future. The scene played out over the ending credits is a nice touch as well – albeit one that gets the tears flowing all over again.
Onto less heartrending matters, I previously noted that this show doesn’t have the kind of visual flair that many other Bones titles do. This isn’t to say Nijuu Mensou no Musume is lacking in its own distinctive style though – the character designs have a kind of retro look to them that very much suit the setting, and which I noticed with Twenty Faces especially with his exaggeratedly wide shoulders and narrow waist. Also, while the animation and some of the background music are perhaps only passable, the opening credits are a perfect fit in every way, from the melody itself down to the lyrics. In fact, so well does it encapsulate the surrounding themes and general atmosphere of the series, particularly after events take a darker turn, that I was never able to bring myself to skip it. The accompanying visuals are nothing special as far as production values go, but they likewise match up too well for me not to like regardless.
As a final note in terms of the technical aspects, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the voice acting. Uchida Yuya does a very fine job as Twenty Faces, but boy does Hirano Aya’s portrayal of Chiko blow it out of the park! I know she’s an exceedingly popular voice actress, but I’d honestly never paid her that much attention before watching this. I only wish that every voice actor or actress played their roles with as much naturalness and sensitivity as Hirano does here.
Other viewers may justifiably slam Nijuu Mensou no Musume it for being a malfunction of its purported genre, and for those elements of its story which are unrealistic enough to be faintly ridiculous despite its largely serious nature. As for me, it’s been years since I’ve been so intensely affected by an anime. I don’t assume other audience members will react as strongly as I did, but even while acknowledging its problems and attempting to put my extremely subjective sentiments aside, I believe this to be one of the most underwatched shows I’ve ever seen. I only wish I had heard of it myself a lot sooner.
I don’t tend to give my reviews here any kind of number rating, but in the interests of making the most direct comparison with Watson’s review, I’m giving Nijuu Mensou no Musume 8 out of 10.
Question of the post: Have you seen Nijuu Mensou no Musume and if so, did you find it a particularly emotional watch? If not,
what the hell are you doing with your life do you think you will at some point?