Opera Kobayashi and Mori Arty
There is a central figure in Milky Holmes’ lives in either version who shares a special closeness with them, yet is notably vague about their origins. In the game and Alternative, that’s Opera Kobayashi, their teacher and friend. He’s like Kyousuke in Zettai Karen Children, only closer to the age of his proteges. In the TV series, that’s Mori Arty. Mori was created exclusively for the TV series, and in 24 episodes, I still can’t tell you very much about him/her. Even Mori’s gender is up for debate. Once again, it depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for.
For a show where things pop up out of nowhere for comic effect, Mori Arty is a greater mystery than any gag. Taking her(?) name from Sherlock Holmes’ greatest nemesis, dressed in a black uniform from an unnamed school, and sporting a strange pair of antenna, Mori appears in the final scene of the first season for no reason other than to cause confusion. She’s voiced by a male, Motoki Tagaki, giving her a strange falsetto voice that surely only masks more deception. She doesn’t do anything suspicious.
In fact, in the second season, she’s not there at all, only reappearing after Arsene blows up the school. It’s at this point she leads Milky Holmes to unlocking a jar that hides all the captured Toys of villains, and reclaims her own, and then slinks off screen again. What did she regain her powers for? What are her powers in the first place? Why do Milky Holmes continue to trust someone who can only have ill intentions in mind? For every answer the second season gives, two more questions are raised. It makes me want a third season so the mystery of Mori Arty can be colored in even further. Whatever she’s doing to push Milky Holmes towards a certain goal is exciting to watch, and, since she wasn’t in the game, predicting what she’ll do next is completely impossible.
In the game and Alternative One, the person pushing Milky Holmes towards success is Opera Kobayashi. Ostensibly, the game is partially named after him. In media where he appears, his situation is almost a mirror of the girls’. He was a genius detective who lost his Toys and his will to become a detective, but rather than get caught up in hijinks, he went with the adage of “Those who cannot do, teach.” He’s the girl’s mentor figure, and still maintains all the mental skills that made him a great detective in the first place.
My only real exposure to him comes from Alternative One. He was good at his work, and respected by everyone, but to me, it serves as further proof of what Galaxy Angel already proved. The protagonist of a story can be removed, and the end results can be just as entertaining as if he was there. If the story focused more on romance and detective solving, then Kobayashi’s role as the the group’s foundation is necessary. Because the producers opted for the more experimental “wacko comedy” angle, all his presence would do is remove most of the motivation for the jokes in the first place. The girls’ autonomy is necessary for them to do the things they do. It would still be a comedy if he was there, it would just be a very different sort of comedy.
Thick As Thieves
Without a villain to stand against, a hero can only accomplish so much. Alternative One’s Kitty Evans may not be Arsene, but she looks very much like her. The silver hair, the wide eyes, the bustiness. The TV series is not just a story of failure for Milky Holmes themselves, it’s also a story of failure for Arsene and for Buta. Once again, this shift in focus gives the show a unique identity that I feel makes a very strong impression, and makes it a candidate for one of my favorite series.
Kitty Evans has a goal of stealing five paintings, and to throw Milky Holmes off the scent, disguises herself as an old Londoner. It’s only when she’s not aware of the local customs that Nero is able to identify her. Her Toys are invisibility, which is easily foiled by the girls using their Toys in sync, including Lily. There are hints of something bigger at stake, with a stray shot smacking Kitty in the side of the head and removing all memories of her being a Phantom Thief in the first place, but until this foreshadowing is followed upon, there’s only so much analysis I can do.
Arsene is bigger, in many senses of the word. Her goals are grander, her theatrics are more theatrical, and she’s got a set of twin mountains that can pacify anybody, male or female. At the start of the series, she and Milky Holmes have a sort of mutual agreement going on. Arsene steals, Milky Holmes stops her, and they vow to fight again another day. They each provide an outlet for the other. Then the premise of the series happens, and Arsene tries, in both her Phantom Thief persona and her Henriette persona, to get the enemies she loves back, but eventually gets so fed up with it she wonders why she even does it in the first place.
It’s her and Sherlock’s love story. Sherlock is genuinely worried for Henriette when she sees her drowning her sorrows (in tea, mind you), even as she bears animosity for Arsene. This attempt at cheering her up doesn’t work, because when Sherlock presents her with the flower of hope, that only drives her further into despair, as if the universe was playing tricks with her. Henriette knows she led Sherlock to that flower deliberately, which also resulted in a mass of thieves wandering the streets once again.
Sherlock is lovable, but Henriette is sympathetic. We can relate to her grumblings about seeing Milky Holmes continually failing themselves, but like her, we also want to see them succeed. It can be difficult to watch, knowing Henriette’s fighting a losing battle, but her perseverance makes her a fascinating character. She’s willing to sacrifice herself for it, literally in the case of the first season finale, where she kidnaps her alter ego and holds her hostage above the dam. The Arsene in the games is much haughtier, a more traditional laughing villainess. Once again, the anime’s rendition of her failure makes her softer, more human.
Buta only reinforces the theme of failure in this show. A pudgy pig-like man with a taste for lard, his misfortune in obtaining the fattening treat drives him to absorb the Toys of all the villains in the world, becoming a handsome man with a taste for the artery-clogging. He is also the most serious villain this show has ever had. His plan of removing the fat from the creatures of the world, turning them all into barely living husks, was treated with as much weight as the show could muster, and when one is dealing with lard, there’s a lot of weight indeed. He’s the opposite of Milky Holmes. Instead of being driven mad by a lack of power, he’s driven mad by a sudden burst of it.
It’s not the power itself that made him go mad, as the God of Lard, a mystical cube of talking pork fat that emerges thereafter, explains. He suffers from the same problems as Kokoro. Ego, and overestimation of his abilities.
I don’t have as much to say about the Three Cards. They actually accomplish most of what they set out to do. They can break free from jail, put Milky Holmes in jail, and accomplish Arsene’s missions without a problem. In this series, groups of four appear to be unstable, while groups of three work together in perfect harmony. The Phantom Thief Empire has a different hierarchy than either Holmes or G4. It’s one boss and three underlings, not four friends. (Kokoro wishes G4 was like that, but despite her wishes, it’s not.) The Three Cards rarely fail themselves, it’s that everyone else around them keeps screwing things up with their own personality quirks.
The Future After The Rain
I will admit that Alternative One is well made, even with all the criticisms I spoke against it. The mystery unravels in a natural way, and the Toys are integrated well into the plot. Everyone plays their roles exactly as they were meant to. Even the London scenery, while not as vibrant as KyoAni’s rendition of it, is still nice to look at. I simply prefer the unregulated insanity of the TV series. I feel it has a richer tone to it, with a wonderfully interlocked set of character motivations that make things continue moving forward, even if every step forward is also two steps back.
Underneath all the punchlines and the slapstick, there’s a story being told. About power, and those who seek to obtain it, about the value of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Most importantly, it’s a story about failure, but not about how failure inhibits you. Even if your former glory is never reobtained, if you can make the person who believes in you the most happy, that’s all you need to be successful. Just beware of falling wash basins.