To Escape From This World: An Analysis of The Perfect Insider

I've on occasion said something along the lines of "A mystery is only as good as its reveal". When I say "reveal" though, I don't necessarily mean that a mystery is entirely dependent on the answer or culprit itself being surprising, though this can help in making a mystery reveal successful. But typically what I get more enjoyment out of in mysteries is less the who or what, and more the why. The motivations and meaning behind a mystery can often propel what would've otherwise been a fairly simple or unremarkable mystery to greater heights. I've found myself enamored with twists and reveals that were complete cop outs, or not all that surprising, simply because it provided meaningful insight into the characters or themes of a work. At least for me, I'm always more interested in the characters over the plot points, and find great enjoyment thinking about why they do what they do.

I bring all this up because I'd like to spend some time exploring the characters, motivations, themes, and conclusion of the recent anime The Perfect Insider. The show gained some attention early on for its slow build pacing, strong visual direction, and mystery focus, but reactions to the show after the conclusion were mixed. After completing the series though, I personally felt as if I got a lot from the ending and the show as a whole. So, I decided to sort out my thoughts on the show into this post, and try to get across what I saw in it. Now keep in mind, this is just my interpretation, and it's entirely possible I'm off base in some areas. Hell, maybe the show really was just pretentious gobbledygook after all and I'm just reading too much into it. But I'd like to make some attempt to convey the meaning that I drew from it, and hopefully I can piece together what I thought the show was all about.

Also, it should be noted that this post will contain major spoilers for The Perfect Insider, as I will be discussing twists, themes, character backgrounds, and so on from throughout the show, from beginning to end. If you don't want surprises and plot points ruined for you, please refrain from reading.

Before I discuss how the show ended, I'd like to go over what the characters went through during the bulk of the series. At the center of The Perfect Insider are three characters (and to a lesser extent another fourth character, who I'll get to later). These are Shiki Magata, Souhei Saikawa, and Nishinosono Moe, and to begin putting together what exactly the show was trying to get across, I'd  first like to cover each of these characters, and more importantly, where they stand on the humanitarian scale the show's themes hinge on.

The first, and possibly most important character in the show is Doctor Shiki Magata. Dr. Magata acts as the focus for the entire plot, not only as the victim of the murder case the other two characters are trying to solve, but also as the moral baseline by which the other two characters will be compared and contrasted to, in addition to being a driving force behind much of the said character's internal conflicts. Doctor Magata is a genius, or so everyone had always told her. She's a celebrated programmer, has an off the charts IQ, and made a major impact on the scholarly community both before and after she was accused of murdering her parents in cold blood. But more significant than her brilliance is her philosophy, her way of thinking. Doctor Magata's viewpoint on the world, society, and existence is one that runs contrary to society in general, believing that bodies as nothing but a vessel for the soul that only restricts the abilities of the human mind. She sees morality as nothing but something constructed by human society, a farce devoid of any actual meaning. And she sees human relationships as restrictive as well, tying people down so they can't be truly individual and reach their full potential. From what I can gather it's a mindset most similar to the philosophy of Solipsism, the belief that the self, one's own state of mind, is all that is sure to exist, and everything else can't be known for certain, and therefore isn't actually important. Magata had felt this way ever since she was a child. She was fascinated by death, avoided people, and eventually, was driven to murder by her desire for freedom from the confines of the material world, her relationships, and obligations.

"Everyone convinces themselves that life is an enjoyable thing. (Shiki Magata), however, was always thinking about how much of a burden it was. And about how much our freedom was lost by the conviction that we had to stay alive." -Seiji Shindou (Episode 1)

Because of this belief, this desperate obsession with an unattainable freedom from human reality, Doctor Magata was incapable of forming genuine human relationships, or at least made every attempt to avoid doing so. Even when she formed a romantic relationship with her own uncle, she appeared to show no real love towards him. It's frequently implied that she was merely using him to expand her knowledge of the human experience, trying to find some meaning in her existence. And because of this mindset, this aversion to what it is that makes us human, Magata Shiki grew up very alone, slowly becoming more and more distant from reality. Losing touch with the standards and ethics that make a person human. She killed her parents in order to obtain freedom from their rules, and then cut herself off from the world, locking herself in a windowless, isolated set of rooms, never leaving, never communicating with anyone for a long time. The kind of world she'd always wanted, without anyone to restrict her, to hold her back, to question her. For a long time, despite being surrounded by family, and people calling her a genius, she had been alone. But then, she wasn't. (but we'll get to that later)

With that, I'd like to move on to the next major character of The Perfect Insider, Souhei Saikawa. At first glance, Saikawa is that pretentious, know-it-all college professor that everyone has probably encountered at one point or another. Nearly everything he spouts is pseudo-philosophical nonsense, and he's constantly saying things that sound smart on paper, but don't really mean much when you think about it too hard. He's also the love interest of another major character, Nishinosono Moe, having known her ever since she was a child. The show quickly establishes that Saikawa idolizes Shiki Magata and her ideals. He obsesses over her, aggrandizing her as a genius, someone who's on a whole different level from the rest of humanity. Someone who has retained the immense mental freedom that he believes humans slowly lose with age. In a sense, Saikawa is like Magata "Lite". He's a less radical incarnation of many of Magata's ideas, whose ultimate goal, whether he believes he can obtain it or not, is to eventually reach the same level as her. He claims to believe many of the same things as Magata, about the restrictions brought by human material existence, about the inconvenience of human relationships, and most of all, her desire for freedom. When Moe asks Saikawa why it is he's so eager to meet Doctor Magata, he replies:

He frequently cites his life as he knows it as too restrictive, his obligations and relationships complicating his life, and his job as holding him back. He also argues, even if never fully supports, the idea that morality is merely something we as humans construct, that it's an excuse to fill some sort of void that ordinary humans lack within themselves. And most of all, that no one is closer to filling that void than Magata Shiki. That she, more than anyone else, has gone beyond the restrictions of human existence and achieved some kind of enlightenment, and that if only he met her, he could start to understand what he believes she does. That he could break the chains of his restrictive existence and escape from the material world with her, finally achieving his dream of absolute freedom. For all his pompous moralizing though, under the surface he's not as sure of himself as he appears. Saikawa is constantly portrayed as someone torn apart over his own thoughts and actions, at one point after an encounter with Moe outright asking himself "What am I doing? I'm the one who's confused." (Episode 5) This conflicted attitude is a result of his relationship with Nishinosono Moe.

Nishinosono Moe is a student of Souhei Saikawa, who happens to also be deeply in love with him. Despite this, Moe differs from the man she loves in one major aspect: she truly wants to believe in humanity. While Magata is farthest on the scale outside of human morality, and Saikawa is somewhere in-between, Moe is someone who believes humans are good deep down, and that things like morals and love are of great importance, not simply something to be shrugged off as a result of inferior intelligence. It's partially because of this desire to believe in the good of humanity that Moe took interest in Doctor Magata, because she saw some of herself in Magata. And that terrified her. When Moe was a child, she was the sole survivor of a terrible incident that killed both of her parents. This left her with a strong sense of survivor's guilt that she had somehow been responsible for their deaths, and that she should have died back then too. She relates this experience to Magata's murder of her own parents, an act that Moe is completely unable to understand. One of the first things Moe asks Magata when they meet is why she did it, hoping for some sort of answer to calm her mind, hoping that a rational explanation could help rationalize her own unjust survival.

Early on in the show, she's portrayed as feeling wrought with guilt over the death of her parents, the encounter of Magata's corpse revitalizing her memory of the event. She remembers it as something she went through alone. Doctor Magata (or at least the person we at the time believe to be Doctor Magata) doesn't believe this. She asks Moe "Were you really alone? When it happened, I'm certain there was someone next to you." (Episode 7) She says this despite the fact Magata has never met Moe, and knows nearly nothing about her. And this isn't foreshadowing to some sort of later twist. The reason she knows Moe had someone beside her is because she made it this far. Because the event didn't destroy her. And this is where we get into the meat of The Perfect Insider's themes. It's primarily on the importance of relationships, and how those relationships and the love that comes with it that keeps us tied down to reality and humanity even when the entire world seems to be slipping away. Even when Moe had lost her parents, and felt a crippling responsibility for their deaths, it was Saikawa who had managed to keep her sane. In episode 8 she confronts Saikawa about the aftermath of her parent's deaths.

"After that, you came back to my house many times. I asked you lots of times didn't I? 'Why do people live?' Every time you had a different answer. And never one I understood. You told me that it was to catch a goldfish, and once you said the difference between meaning and no meaning is like that between an eared seal and a fur seal. It was all stuff like that. At first I got mad, but...then it started to seem really funny, and eventually... I was able to laugh." -Moe Nishinosono, Episode 8

She says all this to him watching a purple-skied sunrise, the same color as the dress her mother made for her, that had become stained with blood the night her parents died. A symbol of Moe remembering the importance of having people who cared about her. 

And it's as Moe realizes this, she starts to better understand herself, her relationship to Saikawa, and how she differs from Doctor Magata. Seemingly unlike Doctor Magata, Moe connected to people on an emotional level and accepted their love and support. It's because of that she could never accept the twisted morality Magata does. Whenever Moe is confronted with Magata's ideas and morals, she comes across as disgusted and utterly baffled how a person could think that way, conflicting with Saikawa's admiration of Magata. In episode 5, their ideologies clash full force in a debate over the morality and reasoning of Magata.

"I think it's love that causes parents to restrict their children's freedoms." -Moe

"Some Disagree." -Saikawa

"Then to escape those constraints you think it's okay to kill people?" -M

"The important thing is what Doctor Magata was thinking." -S

"Does it matter? She killed her parents. No matter how much she valued her freedom, that means there was something lacking in her as a person!" -M

"No, we're the ones lacking something. Because there's something lacking in us, we think about things like 'human nature'. We make up rules like 'love' and 'ethics'. We follow them to compensate for something within us that's lacking." -S

"So you're saying love and ethics are just worthless rules?" -M

"I'm not saying that. I'm saying that our morals and hers are different." -S

"And she's the one who's right." -M

"I don't know if she's right or not, but....
No one is as pure as Magata Shiki." -S

"To me she seems selfish and overcomplicated." -M

But despite their clashing over the morals of Doctor Magata, it becomes clear over the course of the series that the two complete each other, and are the tethers keeping each other bound to reality (whether you see that as positive like Moe, or negative like Magata). Early on in the series, Saikawa implies that Moe is something like a chain, tying him down and restricting his freedom. After all, like Magata, Saikawa is obsessed with independence and individuality. In the first episode he states "At some point, this strange power started controlling me, and life began to be more complicated and less free", the shot during this line focusing squarely on Moe. He loathes that Moe relies so heavily on him, and frequently tells her to figure things out for herself, and not simply go along with what he says and does. But as it goes on and their relationship develops, he starts to see the importance of relying on others, and begins opening up to Moe's affection. He starts to understand the value of relationships, despite the aversion he'd felt towards it before. 

Then finally, there was the big reveal. In episode 9, when Moe and Saikawa are again together on the rooftop, Moe realizes the secret to how a killer got into the perfect sealed room that had never been opened for anyone but Doctor Magata, a revelation that adds a new character to the mix and plays a major part in the themes of the show. A revelation that to Moe, the person relating her own past experiences to this murder, who wanted to find some slimmer of humanity in Magata's past, instantly brings her to tears at the thought. That the way someone else had gotten into that room, was because Doctor Magata had a daughter in that room.

"Even when I lost my parents, I had you (Saikawa). That's why I survived this long. Like me, she lost her parents, and she had the same kind of person." Nishinosono Moe, Episode 9

And all that, brings us to the final two episodes. Episode 10 is pivotal, because it marks the first time the three aforementioned major characters, Moe, Saikawa, and Magata, all finally meet together for the first time. After all the indirect discussion and debate against Magata's way of life, they finally have a chance to meet her face to face (sort of) and get to the bottom of things. They agree to meet Magata through the sci-fi-esque contraption introduced earlier in the show, capable of connecting minds and showing anything the brain imagines. A world free of physical restrictions, the kind of place perfectly suited for Doctor Magata. 

When they enter into the machine, Saikawa and Moe both find themselves, though connected through their minds, in separate rooms with Doctor Magata.

Saikawa finds himself in a tropical location, in a set up akin to some sort of glamourous TV interview. He's not wearing any shoes, and they both have exotic drinks beside them, behind them the backdrop of a gorgeous sea with overhanging clouds. This meeting is everything he'd yearned for throughout the course of the show, and now he's finally able to talk with the person he had such a powerful admiration for. To Saikawa, this is paradise.

Meanwhile, Moe finds herself in a dark, grimy interrogation room with Magata, because an interrogation is exactly how she views this situation. Moe sees Magata as a twisted, inhuman murderer who uses overcomplicated ideologies to excuse immoral acts, but at the same time wants to find some light of hope in the event because she sees some of herself, and her own past in Magata, like the small, singular lit window to the outside world illuminating the room. 

The first question they answer is the definition "Everything Becomes F", a quote that was found left behind in the crime scene and thought to be a pivotal piece of evidence in the case. Saikawa deduces that F stands for "Fifteen", because the volumes Magata had in her room only went up to 15. The reason for this being because in the isolated world Magata had created, based around her own ideals and philosophy, she would not be able to live for over 15 years, because on her daughter's fourteenth birthday, said daughter would kill her, just as Magata killed her own parents. 15 being the hexadecimal for F, and being connected to the countdown timer for the complete shutdown of the lab that allowed Magata to escape, it all added up. Magata had planned for her daughter to kill her, steal her identity, kill her father (Magata's uncle) and escape into the world. This was her way of rationalizing her own existence. 

Just like the computer virus that had caused the lab to shut down, Magata and her daughter were a "Trojan Horse" virus. Programmed to act normal, performing necessary functions and blending in, while harboring destructive intentions. She had taught her daughter everything she needed to replace her, to become her, and to kill her. 

Moe continues pushing her interrogation, trying to find an answer to the question nagging at her mind. She insists this idea the Doctor Magata in front of them is actually Magata's daughter, because this is the answer that makes the most sense in her mind. Magata convinced her daughter it was right to kill her own parents, and she listened, because she had no reason to believe she shouldn't. But Saikawa goes against this, stating with certainty this isn't her daughter, but Magata herself. 

"She was going to kill her parents. Until she met you. Until you asked her that question." -Souhei Saikawa, Episode 10

It's after that Magata's daughter began questioning who she really was. Up until then, she'd seen herself as an extension of Magata's being. After all, she'd spent her entire life pretending to be Magata, learning with Magata, and only being exposed to the ideals and lifestyle of Magata. Suddenly, she started to wonder who she really was, and she realized that she wasn't Magata. 

The color purple, again used as a symbol for human compassion and relationships.

Magata's daughter genuinely loved her mother. The mother who had raised her, and taught her. And because of this, she was unable to fulfill her final wish. Moe herself comments that this is a very "emotional" answer from Saikawa who had always been so enveloped in cold logic. Magata wanted her daughter to kill her in order to cleanse herself of what she did years ago. She wanted to prove something through it, some sort of sense in her thoughts and actions, having killed her own parents. But her daughter didn't go through with it, because unlike Magata, she accepted the love of her mother. And because of that, she could never be like Doctor Magata.

After this, the focus shifts back to Saikawa. Having solved her puzzle and gained her interest, Magata takes Saikawa's mind to an isolated spot away from Moe. Here, he's given the choice he'd yearned for since the beginning of the series. To escape from this world. To join Doctor Magata, and gain complete freedom from the obligations and restrictions of the material world. Magata tells Saikawa everything he wants to hear. That there are no rules to bind him. That he's free. Meanwhile, Saikawa focuses on Magata's human side, asking how she felt when she saw the sky for the first time after so many years trapped in a windowless room. She shrugs it off, implying she felt nothing at it. The two find themselves underwater, and Saikawa shakes hands with Magata as a symbol of their mutual respect. But when given this choice, Saikawa doesn't go with Magata. Magata sinks downwards into the darkness, showing her secession from humanity, while Saikawa rises to the bright surface, towards the sound of Moe's voice, tying him back to reality. 

Although this is the climax of Saikawa's arc, episode 11 acts as an effective epilogue for his story, as he confronts Doctor Magata one last time in the real world. Together the two discuss life, death, and love, especially the connection between taking another's life and love. Magata herself wishes to die in order to fully escape from reality, but doesn't wish to commit suicide. She says "I want someone to interfere with my life. Is that not what wanting to be loved means, Saikawa-sensei?". And Saikawa, who had always idolized Doctor Magata, and obsessed over her ideals, for the first time in the show admits to not understanding Doctor Magata. His relationship with Moe has given him a different perspective on the definition of love than what Magata believes. One based on mutual support, and accepting each other despite their contradictions and differences. 

The show expands on Saikawa's definition of love in the next scene, when he reminisces over a memory of Moe's father, who was his mentor. How when Moe's father had asked his class if they had any questions over the first chapter of their textbook, and no one answered, he replied "If you understand, there's nothing left for me to do." The next class, Saikawa had come prepared and asked a proper question.

This sounds exactly like something the Magata-obsessed, independent-minded Saikawa would have said early on in the show, but the answer goes in a different direction, as Saikawa walks on a purple-colored floor.

To Moe, her father, and now Saikawa, love isn't freedom. It isn't complete transcendence from ties, obligations, or restrictions, or about striving for independence or enlightenment. It's about learning from others, relying on others, and helping others, even if through small or meaningless acts. Moe's father believed in the importance of teaching others, and passed this onto Saikawa, as he became a professor himself. Somewhere along the way Saikawa had distanced himself from this idea, as he became infatuated with Doctor Magata's more "pure" form of existence, but his experience with Moe on the island reconnected him with the idea that caused him to pursue teaching others in the first place. Even Moe and Saikawa's last moments together, even if portrayed as somewhat comical, are of helping each other, with Moe vowing to buy him better clothes from now on, and Saikawa informing Moe she's been eating shiitake mushrooms incorrectly for the entire length of the show, something that up until then he'd been waiting for her to notice on her own. A moment both funny, and significant in showing how their relationship has changed since the beginning of the series. 

Similarly, the final scene, a conversation between Doctor Magata and her daughter, demonstrates how Magata's daughter strayed from Magata's original plan, and learned to love her. How she always asked questions, striving for answers, even if she didn't always agree with or understand the answers her mother gave her. She relied on her mother and loved her, which became her kindness. And because of this, she was unable to kill her. 

But Magata frequently says reliance on others, or living for the purpose of others is a mistake, a misunderstanding of human existence. Which brings me to the final, and somewhat ambiguous question: did Doctor Magata feel love? It's a question that Saikawa himself asks in the final episode of the show, and claims to be unable to answer. Magata is someone who appeared proud of her distance from humanity. She was a genius, and her entire life everyone had always told her she was a genius. And due to her genius, she believed in ideals that transcended humanity, and strived for complete freedom from those who tied her down. But despite this, throughout the show there are small signs that even she may have felt regret over her actions, or love for the very people she killed. That through her sick, twisted methods, there may have been a part of her still tied to reality, whether she was suppressing it, or unable to understand it. From the brief moment of what appears to be sadness on her face after she murdered her parents, before bursting into maniacal laughter,

to her final moments with her uncle, before taking his life of his own accord,

To a moment with Saikawa, that while at the time was referring to a moment she had with her sister that never existed (in disguise as said sister) (wearing purple no less), in hindsight, was likely referring to her relationship, and eventual murder of her daughter,

Perhaps that's why Doctor Magata recreated those who died around her as alternate personalities, including her daughter and uncle as implied in the show's final scene. That way, even though she was unable to accept the restrictions and contradictions of others and form genuine human relationships, those she cared about could always exist in the infinite freedom of her own mind, which she considered even greater than reality. There they could remain pure, independent, perfect. Maybe that was love, even if it was in a way ordinary people could never understand. To her, she was helping them escape. 

And that's what I loved about The Perfect Insider and its ending. For all its early cold, distant, philosophical appearances early on, the show's real purpose was much more genuine and sentimental. It was about relationships, love, and the importance of both supporting others and accepting their support. It shows this through Saikawa, Moe, Magata, and her daughter, along with how these characters develop and how our understanding of their personalities and ideals expand throughout the show. The mystery surrounding the murder was alright, and I was surprised when I realized it, but what really left an impact me wasn't that it caught me off guard, but the implications of it on the meaning of the show and Magata as a character. Even now, I feel like I don't fully understand everything about these characters and this world, but I still got so much out of their interactions and watching them change over the course of the series. To me, a truly great mystery that leaves you thinking beyond the reveal, is one about the why. And that's what I find wonderful about The Perfect Insider's tragic story. Even beyond its mystery, it's a heartbreaking story about love, togetherness, and loneliness. 


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