*First Episode Spoilers for Talentless Nana!*
Fall 2020’s Talentless Nana starts out in much the same way as any anime about a school for young people with superpowers – there’s a shy kid named Nanao who’s constantly bullied for supposedly being powerless, but when a new transfer student named Nana helps him out with her ability to read minds, he proves himself in front of the others by revealing that he can cancel out other people’s abilities. Then... Nana pushes him off a cliff and he dies. It turns out that she’s actually the talentless one – a normal human (with exceptional deductive skills) who’s been sent to the school to covertly take out each student before they can unwittingly wreak havoc on the world with their unnatural powers.
This is obviously a dark deconstruction of the plot of My Hero Academia, addressing what might actually happen if superpowered humans existed in normal society (MHA does devote significant time to this issue, but not in the same Minority Report-esque way). The popularity of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica has paved the way for these kinds of edgy script-flipping tales to be greenlit in recent years, including instant classics like The Rising of the Shield Hero and the manga Bokura no Hentai, but also shallow imitators like Day Break Illusion and (possibly) Talentless Nana. So is the “Madoka treatment” all played out by now, or is there still more to be gained from putting idealistic genres through the lens of grim realism? Let’s take a closer look and draw our own conclusions.
A Brief History of Dark Deconstructions
Madoka Magica is hardly the first dark deconstruction anime, preceded most famously by Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion (both of which tackle the mecha genre in very different ways). Escapism is great and everything, but it’s human nature to wonder how magical girls or giant robots would work in a real-life scenario. Larger than life characters are replaced with realistically flawed people who struggle to comprehend the crazy situations they’ve been thrust into, every action has consequences, and there may even be strict governmental regulations to prevent the more fantastical elements of the story from causing societal collapse.
With the recent popularity of the isekai genre (spearheaded by Sword Art Online, which is itself a darker version of shows like .hack), many anime strive to tear apart the fluffy fantasy of traveling to a fantasy world by injecting real-life hardships like manipulative jerks (The Rising of the Shield Hero), the pain of dying (Re: Zero), and not having adequate JRPG knowledge (Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash) into the mix. Even long-running franchises have taken to deconstructing themselves, such as Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC V’s protagonist having a hard time with magical artifacts and the power of friendship, or Digimon Tamers showing the chaos that would come with introducing digital monsters to the real world.
Is There Any New Ground to Tread?
So with this abundance of “Madoka treatment” shows, is there any new ground to tread that won’t feel like a rip-off of something that already exists? Well, human creativity knows no bounds, so there’s sure to be something novel in pretty much any new show, but Talentless Nana feels like an admission that we should be done with dark deconstructions for now.
We’ve seen this happen with plenty of popular genres – isekai, cute girls doing cute things, mecha, magical girls, etc. – there are only so many versions of the same basic premise that audiences can handle at once, and they eventually lose their appetite until enough time passes that they begin to miss it. Then a new anime that combines nostalgia for the old standards of the genre with a fresh new coat of paint comes along and the cycle can start all over again. Free and Haikyuu are great examples of this phenomenon happening for the sports genre. It’s entirely possible that dark deconstruction shows can keep going without pause and never lose their luster, but we think that it may be their time to step out of the limelight.
If these grimdark takes on normally upbeat genres peter out for the time being, we won’t be surprised. With the hellish year this has been, audiences are probably craving escapism more than ever and won’t seek out Madoka-style shows when they could just glance at the news and see something far more depressing. But if we wait long enough, perhaps new genres could crop up and become ripe for deconstruction! Who knows...?
What do you think about dark deconstruction anime? Do you believe that they still have anything left to say right now? And what do you think of Talentless Nana? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!