NieA_7 - The Poverty of Silence
Thanks, schneider. It’s safe to say that episode seven is indeed significant in how the tone abruptly—maybe even jarringly—shifts from that of a previously low-key, down-tempo sort-of-comedic ensemble to that of a painfully slow yet effective slice-of-life. Was that even a proper genre when this aired? Well, don’t let silly things like backdating works with conventional terms get to you, I guess.
But that’s neither here nor there. It’s almost beyond me at this point in time to engage in that much loathed anime pareidolia by claiming patterns where they’re none, yet the concept of NieA, under seven seem to fit the abrupt shift in tone. The focus wavers, and suddenly what was a previously viable (only if you liked that sort of thing, though—I’m hard-pressed to recommend NieA_7 to even the most hardcore of comedy/slice-of-life fans) premise seems almost trivial in light of how events are presented.
It’s probably still pareidolia when all’s said and done. That the split in ‘arcs’—inasmuch as there can be said to be some sort of coherent separation of content within NieA_7—comes before and after the seventh episode is more likely to be coincidental than anything. The term ‘Under Seven’ is more like a pejorative than it is a taxonomy of the antenna-wearing aliens, and more important is the change that takes place post-episode seven, something so subtle it might escape most viewers.
What is this change anyway? Episode seven’s focus is solidly on Mayu’s state of poverty and how it affects her to the point where she turns down her friend’s invitation to one of those quaintly Japanese meetings among teens for the purposes of hooking up with the opposite sex; nothing is the same afterwards.
The internal chronology of the episodes changes dramatically. Watching this show in brief spurts at the beginning might not have been the best strategy, but toughing it out towards the second half was definitely the right choice, for one of the directorial choices that takes place is to feature a day in an episode for each episode, right up till episode eleven.
It’s no coincidence then that the pacing takes on a deliberate, plodding tone that makes the latter half a right torturous thing to watch. Pre-episode seven, the episodic focus of each post makes for a trivial experience; post-episode seven, the way in which each episode built on the previous one by virtue of merely being set back to back—continuously referring to the episode before it—made for a richer, more atmospheric narration.
The usage of silence is one such device. I’m loath to claim that the use of prolonged silences in movies are a Japanese thing, but it seems to be the rule rather than the exception in most arthouse-y films from Japan that I’ve seen—silence is primarily used to set a mood, to help the viewer focus on a character, to assist in internalising a character’s thoughts. After episode seven, the use of silence becomes significant, almost tangible in its motives.
What use could silence possibly have in an anime, though? My guess is that the perpetually noisy story, in which scenes are intermittently peppered with random, outlandish gags, requires some sort of anchor if it wants to achieve anything out of the ordinary. Mayu is that anchor, and without it NieA_7 turns unremarkable real quick, for the way in which silence is used to shift our attention to her is commendable, to say the least.
More importantly, while Mayu’s poverty is evident throughout the anime, it is only during episode seven that we are truly and painfully aware of how it affects her. Things are never the same—her relationship with NieA becomes painfully distant. She becomes visibly depressed to the point that numerous side characters remark on it. There are gaps in the episodes where the camera lingers on each shot; no music plays, conversation is kept to the bare minimum, and for a significant amount of time all we see is Mayu about her daily business in a state of disquiet.
Things just aren’t the same without NieA around. Not only does her absence underscore the state of poverty in which Mayu is mired, it also makes us realise just how important NieA is to Mayu, dysfunctionally parasitic as their relationship may be. Being in a state of material destitution is one thing, but having to weather it alone is another, and Mayu’s previously tolerable situation looks all the worse for wear once her days are reduced to a routine tinged with melancholy.
That isn’t to say that watching the latter half of NieA_7 was any easier than watching the former half. It’s the antithesis of what I value in anime in that it wasn’t so much entertainment as it was a bleak introspective into the nature of daily life, and having to see on screen what I already knew to be true in reality made things all the more worse—it’s a pity the execution wasn’t as good as the concept itself.