New Anime Review: “Cagaster of an Insect Cage” (虫籠のカガステル)

By | April 6, 2020

These days for a variety of reasons I rarely watch anime, or even live-action shows for that matter. But I ended up with a Netflix account through a promotional deal and wanted to take a break between translation projects, so I decided to check out a few episodes of random anime series on there that looked interesting.

I was generally disappointed in the quality of what I saw (the majority being “made for Netflix” series) and I didn’t get past the first episode of anything until I found “Cagaster of an Insect Cage,” which happens to have been just released in February this year. This also was made for Netflix, but seemed to have a higher level of quality, perhaps because it was based on a manga.

The anime is set in a world where part of the population has started transforming into giant insects. At first, this premise seems a little weird, but I quickly grew accustomed to it and was able to suspend my disbelief. With enough blood and human/bug killing to make it unsuitable for children, this series is somewhat dark, but it has a good mix of action, drama, comedy, and romance.

The excellent visuals are one of the high points of this series and one of the things that got me to the second episode. In some parts CG is employed skillfully and really helps out the action scenes; the one-on-one fight scenes are especially artistic in their use of various visual effects and overall direction.

Ironically, the reliance of CG is also one of the weak points of this series because it makes characters’ movements unnatural at times, nearly ruining certain scenes that were supposed to be touching. Some of the characters’ faces even seemed to change between scenes and angles, making me think, “Is this the same character?” While 3D technology helped to render the complex bodies of the insects, it also made them look like robots to me (and their red glowing eyes only made things worse). But I’m guessing many people aren’t as sensitive to this as I am. 

The music in “Cagaster of an Insect Cage” was above average, especially a handful of songs played at key scenes that helped get me emotionally involved. But I wouldn’t go as far as saying I want the soundtrack.

The level of the Japanese used in this series was quite high, especially because of frequent terms dealing with politics or war. Some of the characters (especially near the end) seemed to enjoy speaking in an extra dramatic way with flowery language. I decided to watch most of the time with Japanese subtitles on, and would suggest you do the same if (like me) you are stronger in reading than listening. Because many of the more difficult words are not used commonly in everyday conversation (ex: 増援, “reinforcements”) I think there is less value in braving it without subtitles. But if you aren’t learning Japanese, of course watching it with English subtitles is fine.

One minor annoyance was that English was used in a few key parts of the story, probably for dramatic effect, but due to problems in pronunciation or translation it had a negative effect more often than not. I feel that even the title was translated awkwardly. But since this series Was probably more aimed for native speakers (and was based on a Japanese manga) it didn’t bother me too much.

Story-wise I was divided; I enjoyed seeing the various developments of the main characters, but the political/war stuff was just not my cup of tea. Even when I’m consuming media for entertainment in English, I generally stay away from works that have too much of a focus on political struggles. Having said that, those elements seemed pretty well done in this series.

Due to a combination of certain story elements and difficult Japanese, I’ll admit there were a few parts I didn’t fully understand. Pausing and looking up words occasionally would have helped but I followed well enough to appreciate the story and decided to focus more on enjoyment than learning every single word. Also, some of the more deep/philosophical stuff probably would have been a little tricky to follow even if it was in English. To me a bit of mystery is a good thing, although if you pay close attention I imagine you’d be able to figure everything out.

One of the reasons I mostly stopped watching anime is because it seems many series these days follow a formula and leverage elements established in older anime (often called ‘tropes’). “Cagaster of an Insect Cage” is no exception; in several places I was reminded of a certain anime or video game––albeit one I had good memories of. I would even say that some of the plot twists were cheezy or predictable. But as a whole it was well produced with excellent visuals, likable characters, good pacing, and a satisfying ending. Unlike other animes I have watched, I purposefully avoided checking the number of seasons or episodes, and that made the dramatic elements that much better.

This anime was definitely the best I have seen on Netflix, and one of the better ones I have seen in the last few years. I’d even consider a second viewing, or perhaps a first reading of the manga it is based on to understand the story better. Actually, just as I was finishing this article I found this page which appears to have at least a portion of the manga available to view free online.

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