When Shinpei Ajiro left his home island of Hitogashima to attend school in Tokyo, his childhood friend Ushio (whose family he had lived with since the death of his parents) didn’t take it well. Now, two years later in mid-July, he is finally returning to the island – but for her funeral, after she drowned trying to rescue a child. Though Shinpei was welcomed back by Ushio’s younger sister Mio and their father Alan, something on the island seemed off, and Shinpei soon discovers what: Shadows, supernatural entities which can copy and replace a person (which typically results in the person’s impending death) are afoot on the island, and they not only may have had everything to do with Ushio’s death but also are a growing and existential threat to everyone else. The problem is that learning about this leads to his death. But that’s just the start of a time-looping journey, one which could be the ticket to the island’s salvation if Shinpei can only piece together the grand puzzle that is the Shadows and stay a step ahead of the forces behind the scheming Shadows in the process. And it may be the ticket to reuniting with Ushio as well.
Such is the premise of this adaptation of a completed Shonen Jump! manga, which aired during the Spring and Summer 2022 season. Over the course of 25 episodes, it tells an intact story, one which throws in occasional bits of humor but is mostly grounded in mystery and graphic, supernatural horror. At its core is a time-looping element initiated by Shinpei’s death, typically in very violent and occasionally even suicidal ways. To any veteran anime fan, this will evoke far more comparisons to Re:Zero than something like Groundhog Day, even down to the “save point” Shinpei returns to occasionally advancing. Unlike with Re:Zero, though, the save point advances at least a little every time, effectively becoming a plot point on its own later in the series. Figuring out how this works is intrinsic to the ultimate success or failure of Shinpei’s efforts to defeat the Shadows, and it is a major source of tension especially in the series’ second half.
But while the series’ defining element is its time looping, it is not just about that. Bonds must be forged or reforged with islanders past and present and who is and is not already a Shadow at different points in the loops, and who is and is not a potential ally among the humans, must be determined. The lore and history of the island must also be explored, as what happened both a few years ago and a few hundred years ago are intrinsic to what is happening now. Also, this is not just a simple case where Shinpei can change a few things each time and see what works and what doesn’t. Anything Shinpei does differently has broader ramifications, and as he eventually discovers, the enemy has become aware of his time looping and actively tries to interfere with its efficacy. That turns the second half of the series into a veritable chess match, one full of strikes and counter-strikes, as each side tries to outmaneuver the other across the loops. I don’t doubt that the production team use complicated flow charts to keep track of who knew what, and did what, and when.
Another key element of the series is the nature of the Shadows themselves. While they resemble the doppelgangers of folklore, that’s not exactly how they operate, as they can replicate from snapshots of both people and objects. (This is called “rendering,” hence the source of the series’ title.) They have interesting properties, like how one has to damage the Shadow’s shadow in order to harm, immobilize, or even destroy it, and some can have special movements and attacks. Not all remain beholden to their creator, either. The latter is how Ushio gets involved in the story starting a few episodes in, despite starting the story dead. (I consider this only a minor spoiler, since she is too visually distinct, and featured too prominently in advertising art, for her to not have a major role.) That’s definitely for the best, since she is easily the most vivacious and fun character in the cast. Once she first appears, the parts where she is not involved are almost always less dynamic.
Ushio also stands out in a visual sense. Even though not everyone else on the island has traditional Japanese looks, Ushio is still strikingly different, with long blond hair (including, conspicuously, blond eyebrows and even eyelashes!) and fair skin more typical of someone from northern Europe; while this isn’t explained anywhere in the anime, supplementary materials clarify that Alan is French, so she is half-Japanese but completely favors her father. (Unlikely genetically, but hey, let’s roll with it.) She also appears in a one-piece navy blue swimsuit through most of the series (since that was what she was wearing when she died). Other character designs have more traditional appearances but are still well-designed, and production values in general are on the high side. Scene design supports the horror element quite well, and the sometimes-ambitious animation effort allows for both some great expression work and some slick action sequences, especially ones involving Shadow-Ushio’s creative use of her hair. CG effects used to give the impression that appearance of Shadows is glitching at times also serves the purpose well.
The musical score also proves quite capable. The mix of ominous piano notes and electronica themes hit strongest in the darkest and tensest scenes, while the score properly remains passive in lighter ones. Bother opener and closer are fitting but unremarkable, while a couple of insert songs fare much better.
The series does warrant some content cautions. Graphic violence hits extreme levels at times, some death scenes can be quite bloody, and suicide is a factor. While the opening episode and Ushio-in-a-swimsuit suggest a fan service-laced production, that element is actually sparse; aside from one near-nude scene involving Ushio late in the series, there’s barely any after the first episode. if you’re normally turned off by such things, this series shouldn’t be a problem. On the dubbing front, the Japanese dub makes heavy use of accents, and even those not proficient in Japanese can probably catch when Shinpei and one other character returning to the island start slipping back into the island way of saying things even without the subtitles. By far the most distinctive performance also involves Ushio; relative newcomer Anna Nagase (this is her first starring role) gives her a voice much more brassy than the typical anime genki girl, but it still fits for the more rough-and-tumble Ushio.
This series should theoretically be streaming on Disney+ at some point, since they have the rights to it, but it is not in the U.S. as of the time of this writing. (If you don’t mind seeking it out on alternative sites, I recommend Animepisode.) I will update this review when it is, as given the heavy use of islander accent in the Japanese dub, I am very curious to see how an English dub will be handled. Overall, the one complaint I have about the series is that it seems to be dragging things out a bit in its second half; even though a lot is going on, it feels like one episode less would have made the content much tighter. Also, the plot of the series ends with episode 24, with the entirety of episode 25 kinda-sorta being a “what happens after” scenario. This is still highly recommended viewing, as the overall story does not feel properly rounded out without it. For all of the struggle and pain the cast goes through, that ending feels both deserved and highly satisfying, and a series could not ask for a better note to end on.