Anyone who has read my essay on Solo Leveling should have seen this coming, but it was up in the air as to whether or not I’d be able to pull this off. Regardless, you should know why we’re here today even if you haven’t read any of my other work…it’s because I’m a bad writer.
Or at least I try to be aware of my own shortcomings as a writer. I don’t have the best grasp of pacing, I don’t think I’m good at writing comedy, and sometimes, it’s hard to analyze a really good anime. I can look at a story and think there’s nothing to talk about, no angle to pursue; it’s just exemplary by every metric I use to judge anime. What is there to talk about?
But I can admit that it’s a cop-out. There is individuality in every story if I only cared to look, and nothing is ever that good without having taken its own path to get there. I watched Link Click at the beginning of this year, but it just so happened to take nine months for me to find what I really love about it.
Link Click isn’t just good; I’d say it’s perfect or as close as anything people make can be. I’ve been rewatching it just to figure out what I can analyze that makes it this good, and I’ve come to the conclusion that at least for me personally, I can’t find anything wrong or that I would change about it. Link Click is the perfect anime, so let me tell you how I figured that out.
First rule, you get twelve hours. Second rule, follow my lead and change nothing. Third, past and future must remain untouched.
Cheng Xiaoshi and Lu Guang are in the photography business, but it’s a competitive market, and they have to bring something new to the table to stay afloat. By that, I mean Lu Guang can read photographs like a book, deriving all information of events for twelve hours after the picture is taken, and Cheng Xiaoshi can enter the photographs as the person who took them.
And he isn’t just entering the world of the photograph in a vacuum; they’re legitimately traveling back in time, and even the smallest changes could have calamitous consequences. No matter whose pictures their landlady and undisputed best girl Qiao Ling brings through their door, the goal remains the same: get in, get what we need, get out.
Every time travel story needs rules to establish what kind of time travel we’re doing. It’s kind of like vampires. How do they react to sunlight? Is garlic a deadly poison or the butt of a joke? Tropes that have existed in fiction as long as time travel need to pull up the list of rules and ideas we’ve come to expect and either confirm or deny them. The key to time travel, though is cause and effect.
The very best can wield cause and effect like a surgeon’s scalpel; it’s what makes the puzzle box arcs of Re:Zero fascinating to watch as they’re unraveled. The genre can play with foreshadowing and plot twists in a way that no other can, because we get to see it from all different angles.
Link Click’s first episode is an excellent introduction to the way the series will approach its stories. There will be spoilers for that first episode, but it’s as perfect as an episode can get and I am not ruining it for you. It’s an incredibly effective yet simple story that introduces us to Link Click’s gimmick as well as its characters, all tied into a satisfying story.
The client wants to get ahold of information that will prove a game company executive is fudging the numbers. To do that, Cheng Xiaoshi will need to replay the night before a meeting as the exec’s assistant, Emma. It’s through Emma and her homesickness that we begin to learn about Cheng Xiaoshi’s relationship with his parents, who have only gotten a passing mention as being ‘gone’ up to this point.
We see the way he begins to identify with her, and how he approaches conflicts relating to her as a result. When her boss puts some really gross moves on her, he’s alarmed purely for himself. When the executive’s jealous wife makes derisive comments about Emma’s parents, the slight becomes personal and he jeopardizes the entire operation.
Despite that, he sucks it up and steals the information that will put the exec behind bars, but that isn’t to say he left the past as is. We learn after the fact that Cheng Xiaoshi broke sequence and messaged Emma’s parents, seeing the way she misses them as he misses his own family. The placement contextualizes the earlier scene; he withstood the abuse because of the glimmer of light that each of their parents represents to him.
Link Click takes a largely episodic approach to storytelling, and most jobs don’t have anything to do with the others. Maybe they need to discover a secret recipe after a restaurateur duo has a falling out, or they track down a missing child. In any case, all that’s left to be done is find the photo, high five, and survive for the next twelve hours.
And it’s that serialized style I want to hone in on next. The overarching plot follows a series of murders that quickly becomes personal, but it’s absent for almost the whole middle of the season. Even so, that isn’t to say that the episodes don’t matter to each other or you can watch them out of order.
Episodic stories’ most important feature are the characters; they’re the one consistency in the narrative, and need to be able to carry different tones depending on the episode. Link Click consistently and tactfully explores its characters and their relationships through the jobs they take, which in turn informs the drama of each job. Hint: most of the time it’s because Cheng Xiaoshi wants to change the past.
Normally, it would get irritating to see how often he wants to mess with the timeline. You could get frustrated seeing him screw around with something so important and fragile, or with Lu Guang’s apparent lack of compassion for the fates of the people in the photographs. Despite that, you come to understand that they both act out of a genuine desire to help people, and that they have come by their perspectives honestly.
Most of the time, you’ll probably wind up agreeing with Lu Guang; the safest play is to leave the timeline as is. It’s just that the story is written so sympathetically that each time, you’re practically crying out for them to make an exception just this once. This dynamic of dilemmas plays out in almost every job they take, and the freshness comes from the unique circumstances that each photograph presents.
The key to this is Cheng Xiaoshi’s relationship with Lu Guang and Qiao Ling. We find ourselves seamlessly transplanted into the lives of the people he possesses in the pictures because the story finds a way to relate it to one of those three, or the relationship between two of them. The stories might be emotional on their own, but without grounding us through our protagonist’s own emotional ties with characters we’ve learned to care about, they’d risk falling flat.
He’s not your average audience insert, even though it comes across that way in my description. It’s like Cheng Xiaoshi is guiding us through the story, as as we know him to be a compassionate person, it validates our own emotional response to what we see. You get why his friends care for him so deeply, not in spite of his being reckless and immature, but because those traits are informed by how much he cares about other people.
Think about your favorite episodic anime: it could be Samurai Champloo, Mononoke, or Nichijou, but how do you tie disparate episodes together? With an intimate understanding of the characters. It works especially well for characters who don’t change as much as series with continuous stories, where we can see the static characters behave in new ways because they’re in new environments or situations. They become the pillar for our experiences, and become capable of surprising us despite how well we know them.
In Link Click’s case, it creates a story that is simultaneously heartwarming and gut-wrenching, filled with characters who have a lot of heart, which consequentially makes the standalone episodes these emotional and cathartic experiences.
Okay, it is finally done. I think I’ve communicated what makes Link Click so special, though I’m sure I could keep talking well past the point that everyone gives up reading. For now, I’ll let it be and wait for the next season, even though we still have no information on it. Ugh.
I’m glad that I’m able to put Link Click to bed, so I can stop opening up a new document once a month and getting two paragraphs deep before giving up. I have now gotten around to talking about every major anime that “I have nothing to say about”. That in itself is actually quite cathartic, so thank you again Link Click, even if you inflicted this on me to begin with.
I guess I could finally get to talking about Durarara, but it’s not that I don’t have anything to say about it, it’s more that I don’t know how to make a full essay out of saying “it’s like Quentin Tarantino made an anime and I like it.” So…don’t expect that, but also don’t be surprised if I do find a way to make it work.
If you’re impressed that I managed to hone in on why Link Click is so good, or you’re going to give it a shot because of my recommendation, why don’t you tell me, either in the comments or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku? I’m always talking over there about anime, especially when I don’t have enough for a full essay, so it’s a great place to check out for my worst takes. Until next time, thanks for reading.
2 responses to “Link Click is the Perfect Anime”
Yes, Link Click was surprisingly good. I happened upon it last Spring when Funimation was starting to close and so I had a mad dash to try all the anime that I was curious about before most of the anime was sent over to CrunchyRoll. I just put this series in my watch list because I liked the thumbnail image, but when I watched it, it was so good! I loved how they time travel via old photos. I thought that was really unique. And I liked that one went back in time while the other was more like a guide. It kind of reminded me of that old TV show Quantum Leap, a little bit.
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