The problem with Phantom in the Twilight is…it’s quite obviously flawed, so until you get used to it, you need to be prepared to yell at your screen a bit.
Phantom in the Twilight is a bit of an odd duck. Its visuals sometimes go wonky, its ED is pretty much the only thing anyone’s sung praises for about it (and that’s partially by established anisong talent May’n)…and yet it’s still somehow absurdly entertaining.
To start with, the chibi segments are a complex component of the show in and of themselves. More specifically, they’re known as “Phantom in the Twilight Plus” (“PhaTowa+” for short) and they’re found after the ED, while the name pretty much gives away their job as Phantom in the Twilight’s extra (worldbuilding) bits. They somehow cram all the information you need to know about the series into about a minute’s worth of in-character dialogue each episode, sometimes even poking fun at some of its own concepts or giving away points that might come in handy later. For instance, Wayne the ghost is possessing a mannequin when he’s a blonde shota, but PhaTowa+ beggars the question – how the heck does he speak or eat if that’s the case?
That’s not to say the core story isn’t any good. It takes pride in both how it plays mythology straight and how gleefully it smashes it to smithereens. After all, whoever decided Dracula could turn into bats and had a weakness to garlic was silly, so Phantom in the Twilight one-ups that by also having him learn Chinese martial arts because of protagonist Ton’s great-grandmother Rijan (who’s Chinese, because this is a Chinese coproduction). The fact the supernatural creatures abide by their mythology so much is even used to the show’s advantage when Van Helsing, the hunter of monsters, comes into play, so there’s a narrative excuse for it all!
Sidenote: Some of the names are Chinese pronounced in Japanese and are subbed with family name first (such as how the protagonist’s name is “Baileu Ton”) so they’re forgivable for sounding a bit odd, but the potentially legitimate English names “Greg L. Gregory” and “Vlad Garfunkel” just sound ridiculous to me…
Actually, the fact this is a Chinese coproduction isn’t actually a death knell for Phantom in the Twilight, unlike shows before it – this is probably one of the show’s strengths, actually. Having Chinese characters in London allows the viewer to see the city through a newcomer’s perspective, and yet there seems to be the feeling it’s also being injected with an excitement for what’s around the next corner as a result of that. On top of that, the choice of London allows for a mix of Asian and Western mythologies to collide, thus capitalising on the show’s global nature as one way to make it stand out. (Even if similar concepts have been employed by a bunch of fully Japanese productions, that works…in a paradoxical sense.) On a meta level, having a Chinese protagonist in an anime by a Japanese studio is a testament to how bonds in those countries are being strengthened by animation, even if those bonds aren’t the best historically…
Finally, Ton herself is one of the great parts of this show – there are quite a few girls in anime who are without agency, which you can see through Ton’s friend Shinyao. However, Ton takes matters into her own hands, and even if she doesn’t deliver at first (which is where the word of warning from the intro comes in), she does get there in the end with the help of her great-grandmother’s powers. This does make for some interesting commentary about Chinese families, though – Ton decided to go to London with Shinyao to study and get away from her family, after all. Maybe it’s a statement on how Chinese children should get good grades, even if they have to move to do it, and yet be able to drop everything for the sake of filial piety…?
Even though not too many people have been talking about Phantom in the Twilight, it’s still a delight to come back to every week despite its hiccups. I didn’t realise how much I loved this show myself until I put words to (digital) paper.
So, have I convinced anyone to watch the show? If you’re watching it right now, why does Phantom in the Twilight stand out in your eyes…or on the flip side, why is it not standing out enough?