Phi Brain is quite an unusual anime in the sense that it didn't start off as a manga as most anime is. Because of this, it had to make itself known by having eye catching visuals, a great soundtrack and, most importantly, a gripping story.
Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle follows the story of Kaito Daimon, a puzzle genius able to solve nearly any puzzle thrown his way, along with his childhood friend Nonoha Itou, a spunky girl with great physical ability as well as a perfect idetic memory. Kaito is told about a maze made by ancients known as the impossible maze for it has no obvious solution. After finding said puzzle and managing to beat it, he finds a shrine dedicated to a peice of ancient technology called Orpheus.
After the initial episode sets the plot, each episode from then on has some sort of logic puzzle which, if unsolved, will kill whoever dares to challenge it. On this basis alone, you have to admire the writers creativity of creating over 20 puzzles to cover the 25 episode series which not only make sense but also have the potential to kill.
Now to most people, a world based on games sounds like a stupid idea. Most of those people forget that Yu-Gi-Oh, a series with a huge fanbase, bases it's world around card games which rarely differ each time. Phi Brain seems to have a story that wants to be Yu-Gi-Oh but doesn't quite get it done right.
Mix with the puzzle emotional stress put onto all protagonists and even antagonists and you have Phi Brain in all its 2 dimensional glory. Unfortunately it's glory isn't really shown until episode 2, an episode too late as the first one is always the one that brings the viewers in. The first episode was a little slow to begin with but made complete sense along with the episodes that followed, something that really should have all been done first time.
The animation is brilliant. It's eye catching, colourful and doesn't give the viewer a headache. That's not to say it's perfect. Shugo Chara did a better job of it's animation and that was 4 years before Phi Brain, but it's certainly not bad.
There are a few graphical errors that I couldn't help but notice when watching episode 1. For instance, during an interview, one of the interviewee's grew an extra finger, something that he previously didn't have. Not only that but after Kaito saves Nonoha from a pitfall, her free arm suddenly becomes very, very tiny. I mean sure it's perception but my eyes are good enough to tell me it was a mistake.
The sound is great in Phi Brain, probably one of it's best features. The opening, Brain Diver, is a catchy song which I couldn't stop singing for a while. It's upbeat nature really sets up the episode well with it a very futuristic feel along with great vocals sung by May'n. It is a song that at first might be a little irritating, but after a while, anyone is able to lighten up to it.
The ending, Hologram, is a little weaker with it being an acoustic piece by Natsumi Kiyoura but it doesn't mean it's not nice. It slows the episode down a little bit but stil retains the feel of the episode in it. As well as the opening and ending, some of the music within the episode really suits each situation well. There are a few sound bites that sound a little silly but they are uncommon and don't affect the anime.
The characters are fairly interesting in their own right. They are introduced to us quite slowly with the first 4 episodes introducing the main protagonists, each one with a very different personality. We have the cocky character, Gammon Sakanoue, the genius character, Cubic Galois, and the ditzy character, Ana Gram. Just by reading their names you can tell the writers weren't too creative, with each one having something to do with either a game or maths. The most obvious example is Ana Gram, his name sounding like Anagram. The game and maths related names continue with the main antagonist being called Rook and his right hand man called Bishop (Chess anyone?).
Names aside, the characters rarely go through development, mainly sticking to their projected personalities from their first appearance onwards. The characters do begin to develop more throughly in the second series, but that's for another review. The most interesting relationship between characters is between Kaito and Rook. Sure they are the two main characters so it's expected, but the emotional stress these two go though makes for the whole show worth watching.
Overall, I liked the series. It's a great way to pass the time, it's fun trying to figure out how they will finish each puzzle and it may even help people to try and come up with their own. It's not a perfect series but it's certainly one you shouldn't toss aside.