Due to the nature of this series, there is no way to discuss it without at least one major spoiler. Please keep this in mind before reading on.
#1 Episode 1 genre twist
The opening moments of episode 1 of Talentless Nana very deliberately evoke memories of My Hero Academia. It establishes that some people in this world are born with superpowers and then introduces us to a special school where kids with these powers go to become protectors of mankind. We then learn about Nanao Nakajima, a student at this school who is being bullied for not having any paranormal abilities of worth. These similarities are so deliberate that the scene introducing Nanao has a bully with fire powers steal his book and burn it to a crisp.
It plants an image in your mind, which is persisted when two new transfer students are introduced: the upbeat mind-reader Nana Hiiragi and the mysterious, unfriendly Kyoya Onodera. However, as episode 1 rounds off with a sweet scene wherein Nana and Nanao solidify their friendship, she pushes him off a cliff to his certain death. Nana reveals that she’s been send by outside forces, not to study at the school, but to mercilessly slaughter all of its students before they can fully manifest their powers.
Generally, I am not a fan of these kinds of episode 1 plot twists. I feel it’s overdone to market yourself as a certain type of anime and then treat is as a big reveal when you turn out to be a different genre entirely. Some shows have managed to do it quite well, but the twist for Talentless Nana is, honestly, kinda lame.
Episode 1 ends up being uninteresting to sit through, especially if you went into it without expecting the twist at the end. When Nana then reveals her true intentions, the forced monologue and edgy presentation pull expectations for the show way down. The writing gets better, but it’s a bad first impression for the sake of a “surprise” that most will be spoiled about beforehand.
#2 Strained setting
The actual premise for Talentless Nana is that the students are merely attending the school so they can be killed by government agents. Years prior, when superpowers first emerged into the world, chaos spread as heroes, villains, and normal people waged widespread war. Those without powers, the Talentless, emerged victoriously, and enacted an elaborate plot to prevent “The Talented” from ever gaining power again.
Somehow, a cabal of scheming officials have managed to retroactively make the world believe that the war was the doing of “Enemies of Humanity”. Hordes of non-specific monsters that rampaged across the world, and which are totally still out there in spite of having never been seen. Because they don’t exist, after all. The Talented are presented as heroes that must be trained to defeat the Enemies of Humanity, and nobody ever asks inconvenient questions like “why do we never see these kids again?” or “where are these cataclysmic battles being waged?”. A 100% death rate is apparently nothing to ever asks questions about.
I admire that the author at least attempted to provide justification and context for why a modern society would send teenagers to die on an island, but the story he came up with is just too loose to make any kind of sense.
#3 Idiotic characters
I was initially quite excited by the promise that Talentless Nana held. It’s effectively a reversed Sherlock Holmes story, where Nana has to contrive an elaborate plot to somehow murder a person and get away scot-free. Episodes 2 and 3 do this really well, but a general problem throughout the series is that all the characters are idiotic beyond compare.
Slasher movies are cathartic exactly because the dumbass characters evoke so little empathy that watching them get brutalized by a cool monster is enjoyable. Talentless Nana, however, wants to tell a dramatic story filled with tragedy; it wants you to connect with these characters and feel bad, or at least conflicted, when they are inevitably killed. This would be a whole lot easier if the plot didn’t constantly rely on these characters making the dumbest choices imaginable.
Even as Nana’s kill count rises, nobody seems to ever register that something may be off. People just keep going off by themselves, visiting random, isolated locations without letting anybody know or at odd times where no witnesses could ever be around. Nobody has an emotional response to the deaths of their friends or expresses any kind of urgency in regards catching the murderer. In fact, at one point people complain that the one person who is trying to find the culprit is being a conspiracy theorist.
Most obnoxious of all is how frequently Nana’s tactical mistakes are entirely dismissed. She is constantly caught red-handed or incriminates herself, but even those suspicious of her are quick to dismiss evidence. At one point she is caught at the scene of a crime by her would-be victim, and they make excuses for her as to why she happens to be there just as an attempted murder is committed, possessing knowledge she has no business having. It’s hard to admire Nana’s cunning and intelligence when she’s competing against the mentally deficient.
#4 Lack of violence
In spite of being a series all about an assassin taking on future superheroes and villains, the action scenes throughout Talentless Nana are remarkably tame. Episode 1 has one okayish fight scene, but most of Nana’s murder from thereon involve little in the way of fighting or gore.
The show frequently cuts away just as something is about to happen or just avoids confrontation entirely. You’ll see Nana approach a victim and strike up a conversation, then cut to black, cut back, and suddenly she has her victim pinned down and stabbed. I wasn’t expecting elaborate shounen battles, but at least getting to see something would have been nice.
The lack of gore was also a shame, as an edgy story premise like “teenager butchers her classmates” would call for things to be at least a little gruesome. Blood is used sparingly and corpses are frequently obscured, though I’ll admit that some deaths are at least very discomforting to think about, even if the visuals fall short.
#5 Death by character design
An issue that has plagued many an anime before. When dealing with a grim storyline in which characters are certain to die, the deaths are often going to be among those who are the least interesting or relevant to the plot. Main characters get layers of plot armor, while generic extras die by the dozen.
This truth persists in Talentless Nana. Several of the casualties that get entire episodes dedicated to them are bland anime-kun templates. Boring high school boys with simple haircuts and no defining features to speak of; forgotten about as soon as you fire up the next episode. Those few targets that remain enjoy some slightly-better designs, but are either not seen or introduced at all prior to the episode where they become relevant, or have nothing of worth to contribute to the story when they do appear.
#6 No ending?
Without entering into too much detail, the ending of Talentless Nana felt kinda like a flop. After everything that happened across the series, it just fades out in the middle of a storyline without having achieved much in the grand scheme of things, or even finishing off the immediate problem the cast was dealing with.
A prospective season 2 could maybe lead the series to a more satisfying conclusion, but to see season 1 literally just stop without offering any kind of closure doesn’t exactly hype me up to go see more of this.