To explain exactly why Talentless Nana is a show you should be watching would be to spoil its best moments1. Its premise, character designs and animation all bring to mind the kind of mid-2000s filler that eventually brought down ADV Films, but underneath that cheap veneer is an experience that's quite unlike anything I've seen before – even as it cribs elements from many, many other places.
Nanao Nakajima is a student at a school for the "Talented" – teenagers with various special mutant-style abilities, including pyrokinesis, healing, and teleportation. They're brought to a remote island to be trained to fight the "Enemies of Humanity", but Nanao's power is limited in comparison to his classmates', and he's constantly ridiculed for his ineffectiveness in battle. But the arrival of two transfer students, the telepath Nana Hiiragi and mysterious Kyouya Onodera, finally gives him an opportunity to demonstrate his power's usefulness.
And then, the first episode ends with the most confident shift in both tone and context that I can remember since at least SaiKano.
Even more surprisingly, it's managed to sustain its new premise easily so far, even exceeding that first cliffhanger multiple times. The pull-and-push between the protagonists and antagonists is held taught at all times, with every suggestion of an advantage expertly (and often, in the story, accidentally) disarmed, with the audience – at least this member of the audience – secretly hoping both sides somehow come out victorious, despite their mutually exclusive goals.
I've got no idea where this story is going to end up; only five episodes into the series, there's a lot more ground to cover and challenges for our… "heroes" to face. At some stage the balance is going to have to shift against the protagonists, which is going to be a fascinating needle to thread.
I desperately hope they pull it off, though. It's been a long time since I've seen a show that felt this fresh and unpredictable.
1 And as a result this is going to be awkwardly vague in places.