Puzzles. That’s it. Just one word is enough to summarize what Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle is all about. Anything puzzle-related you can think of; from numbers to logic, to pictures and even competitive multiplayer puzzle-solving. But don’t let it fool you. Despite being centered around the simple act of puzzle-solving, which to some can be boring and dull, the creators behind this anime were amazing enough to have turned it into something so intense and deep. It runs deeper than featuring a genius calling himself akin to god because of how fast he can finish crosswords. No. The puzzles can kill, the stakes are enormous, and it also stimulates the viewer’s brain with how the puzzles are presented and the revelation of the solutions towards the end.
The story of Phi Brain revolves around a group of high school students who are very skilled at solving puzzles, and thus are called Solvers. They challenge the puzzles made by the Givers, who are part of the organization Puzzle of God (P.O.G), in large-scale puzzles called Philosopher’s Puzzles. These puzzles are not like any armchair crossword since quite often the penalty for being unable to complete the puzzle is serious personal harm or even death. When solving puzzles, the main solver and protagonist of the anime Daimon Kaito, is helped by the Orpheus Armband at times when he gets too stressed out. The armband allows him to accelerate his perception and helps him come up with solutions clearer but this tires him out after due to the amount of focus required to use it.
Kaito’s love and affinity of solving puzzles takes root not just because his parents used to solve these dangerous puzzles themselves but also from the words of the most important person of his past. “Free the puzzles.” To fulfill those words and to also uncover unanswered questions about his past he continues to challenge puzzle after puzzle. Because of this it is common to have flashbacks in most of the episodes. But it gets quite problematic after a while in a storytelling perspective since this becomes an excuse to add new elements to the series. Introducing new characters by weaving them into Kaito’s past that he had forgotten. The thrill of solving the puzzles may give a lot of enjoyment but the development of the story could have been better.
Daimon Kaito is dubbed a “puzzle freak” by his childhood friend, Nonoha, and for good reason. He talks to puzzles, saying things like they are “begging to be solved”. In fact, each of the Solvers have their own personality quirks that stand out. Ana Gram looks and sounds like a girl, but is actually a boy that may or may not have the ability to communicate with the creators of puzzles. He also talks strangely due to his different thought patterns. Sakanoue Gammon acts like a bully, especially with his self-proclaimed rivalry with Kaito, but can be caring in a few circumstances. Cubic Galois is both the most cunning and least mature, partly because he is actually a middle school student, who knows a lot about robotics.
Kaito is the main focus of character development, with all the other Solvers being mostly static for the first season. Later on, Gammon also has his world explored in the anime, with Ana and Cubic following after. The progression can move slowly but it is present.
Phi Brain is produced by Sunrise and runs for three seasons. There may be no big mecha robots in sight, which is what Sunrise is known for, but it didn’t diminish the overall feel of the anime. Backgrounds and large objects are drawn pretty well. Arms are actually more vivid, and not just long single-colored cylinders. There are some scenes with pictures and paintings that are still recognizable when they are shown at greater distances. Frames also do not look blocky or stopped.
The voice-acting is good and the portrayal of emotions are adequate, like when it comes to scenes between Kaito and Nonoha. Most of the time, they will just banter with each other and get heated up over small things, but they also have melancholic scenes where Nonoha is really upset and Kaito can really sound crestfallen. The other characters have good voices too, like Ana who can give the most sage advice or be the strangest person in the group depending on the lilt in his voice.
The opening songs sound good, in general. They have a very upbeat vibe and may hype up those who watch the anime. The ending songs, though, are different in each season. The first season has a mellow song and can give closure to the episode. The second season plays another intense song in the end which can leave a lasting impression. The third season’s ending song is a bit different from the others where it sounds like a song you would sing with a group of friends. Overall, the opening songs give a more lasting impression than the ending songs of the series, and sometimes the ending songs end up feeling strange to listen to.
The best thing about Phi Brain is that it is very inventive, not just in solutions to impossible puzzles, but also in making a shounen anime that is visually different from all the fighting and sports type of genre while still keeping the action. It lacks a bit in the story content and can be hard to follow at times when it tries to balance character and plot development, but it makes up for it with each featured puzzle. In summary, the anime’s visuals are okay, the characters are quirky, the music is upbeat, and the puzzle-solving can really excite a few gray cells.
Overall Rating: 8.25/10
*Japanese names in this review are written surname-first*