#1 Mysteries answered poorly
Urashima is an island full of mystery. Situated off the Japanese coast, its people are deeply isolationist and old-fashioned, even by the standards of Japan’s tradition-oriented culture. Then one day, something happens that’s weird even by Urashima’s standards: a young man washes ashore naked, claiming to be a time traveler who has come to save someone’s life. Just a slight problem that he caught a case of amnesia somewhere along the way and doesn’t know who he is meant to rescue.
This man adopts the name “Setsuna” and begins working as a hired help at the house of the influential Ohara family. As he works to regain his memories, Setsuna soon finds himself dragged into the island’s many mysteries. A local disease that makes inhabitants averse to sunlight, politics and intrigue among the local families, and an ancient myth about cursed lovers, just to name a few examples. Furthermore, Setsuna soon comes to realize that the young daughter of the family he serves, Rinne Ohara, may be key player in all of it at once.
Island is great at hooking you in with its strong premise and fascinating mysteries. However, questions eventually need answering, and it’s there that the anime falls short. Many of the big reveals of the story just fell flat for me. Some twists didn’t live up to all the build-up, some were poorly-executed, and others just plain didn’t make much sense with the explanations we were given. I was very excited about the show for the first 7 episodes and then steadily lost interest as the story kept getting more and more disappointing.
The worst of all, I feel, is the plot around the mysterious disease. It plays a big role in the first half of Island only to fall by the wayside as other storylines take precedence. Developments on it slow down to a crawl and eventually it seems like the writer just forgot about it. People supposedly suffering from the disease sometimes feature in scenes with sunlight by mistake and the whole subplot is eventually just left to dangle unconcluded. Nothing kills a mystery story faster than the knowledge that storylines you are asked to get invested in will eventually just not get a pay off whatsoever.
#2 No reaction to death?
Besides being a mystery anime, Island occasionally ventures into drama territory. Its story gets quite intense at times and there’s a surprising amount of deaths throughout the story. While I want to be cautious not to spoil any details, what bothered me is how little of a reaction these deaths get from the characters themselves.
Much of the appeal in drama lies in seeing how plot twists will affect the characters that you’re invested in. However, the characters of Island often just seem underwhelmed by the deaths of their friends and loved ones, or react to it all in incredibly weird ways. You’re expecting a character to be devastated, but instead they’re just slightly miffed and move on within seconds.
The scene that bothered me the most, mild spoiler, is the series’ one and only sex scene. It happens right after the characters just buried a deceased child, an act that warrants two short lines of solemn dialogue, after which the mood swings back to normal and 2 minutes later they’re fucking. These events all happen in such a short span of time that none of it ends up feeling right.
#3 Erotic teasing
On the topic of sex, that was another disappointment for me. Island is based on one of the few visual novels developed by Frontwing that isn’t an eroge. This had me optimistic—hoping that for once we’d get a romantic story that isn’t driven by a quest for raunchy sex.
However, eroge is just a label when you get down to it and old habits die hard. While Island the video game may be tamer than Frontwing’s usual output, this anime adaptation is still keen on throwing in sexual content everywhere it’ll fit. As such, Setsuna quickly develops a harem on Urashima, with Rinne being flanked by the local shrine maiden Sara and the tsundere schoolgirl Karen.
This harem is just all-around weak; serving only to supply the story with some weird sexual asides that don’t lead to much. This sometimes goes so far as to break character, like when the belligerent, self-conscious Karen strips down to her panties in a bid to seduce Setsuna into sex with her. A development that makes even less sense if I could give you the full context without major spoilers.
Island feels like it has an identity crisis. It wants to do a normal romance story instead of an eroge, BUT it also want to be a harem, BUT it wants that harem while still having a tragic storyline, BUT also it wants to have sexual comedy and lighthearted romcom in it.
#4 Time-Travel arc
The point where my opinion of the show became unsalvageable was during the time-travel arc. After a very poor lead-in, this arc sees Setsuna awaken in a dystopian future where Urashima has turned into a final holdout for the fading remnants of humanity. A theocratic dictatorship where any pretenses towards morality have long ago been abandoned.
This side-plot ends up feeling like an annoying distraction because it forces the actual story to grind to a halt, just as it was beginning to pick up steam. You need to drop all of that excitement and muster the interest to adapt to this new version of Urashima, knowing all along that it’s just some temporary narrative device. It’s too short to get invested in while also taking up too much time to just shrug off.
This whole segment also betrays how little consideration was put into how time-travel would fit into the story’s world-building. The explanations for how it all works are shallow and all the people we meet in this distant future are plain copies of those in the present, down to having near-identical personalities.
More anime & manga like this
Air: Breezy, coastal setting.
Higurashi: Mystery story set in a small community with deeply-rooted secrets.
In Search of the Lost Future: Drama story revolving around time travel.