Sudoku is serious business!
Well, I had no intent originally to watch Phi Brain, as its premise has nothing at all of interest to me. I don’t find puzzles particularly intriguing, with the sole exception of logic grid puzzles. It also doesn’t help that the male lead looks like a Goggle-Boy reject from Digimon, and that the remaining character designs range from mildly distasteful to what can only be described as ‘derpy’. However, in my lack of patience for new shows (I’ve only got Mawaru Penguindrum for current shows now), I watched Phi Brain.
So what is there to say about Phi Brain?
Honestly, not much. Its run-of-the-mill shounen so far, with the major handicap of trying to make puzzles all SRS BSNS. But in order for this to work effectively, there has to be a sense that… well, they are. There’s a lot of posturing as if they are, but the protagonist’s willingness to engage in a potentially killer puzzle robs said puzzle of any true sense of danger. There is also the very simple fact that there is no way a show like this would kill off (or, really, will ever) kill off our young shounen lead. Oh, look – if he doesn’t solve this correctly, he and his childhood friend Nonoha might drown! Uh oh, the floor just dropped out under Nonoha! Falling columns of death, they better run quickly! There is zero suspense in any of these events. Everyone knows that our platonic high school friends will be absolutely fine.
And, perhaps, this is the big problem with Phi Brain right now, ignoring how utterly bland everything else is. There is no sense of suspense anywhere. A “shadowy” figure going by ‘Minotaur’ lures Kaito (I literally had to look that up despite watching the show less than twelve hours ago) into the deadly puzzle behind his school… but we already know its the Akira Ishida-voiced student council member in disguise thanks to a laughable voice scrambler, and visual and dialogue-based telegraphing. Its clear he’s in cahoots with the school headmaster (or someone like that), but this is set up in such stupid fashion that there’s no reason to care about it, much less feel any sort of suspense about it.
And, yeah, sure, we know that in shounen series, the determined/scrappy male lead will always triumph. However, at least in most of these shows there is at least some pretense of there being a question over whether he will or not. Phi Brain is like a totally de-fanged Yu-Gi-Oh (add “de-spined” and “de-balled” as well if you’re comparing with the not-Duel Monsters series). What a snoozefest.
The only hope for this show is that there’s so little material to adapt; the manga only began last April. Perhaps the anime staff can manage to pull loose from the dishwater dull, C-grade Shounen Jump-wannabe origins and make something better of it. But, if I were a betting woman, I certainly wouldn’t put any money on this horse.