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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Kyoukai no Kanata.


Kyoukai. Kyokai.

I should've just used the English title.

Kyoukai no Kanata.



I decided to watch this based solely on gifs of the opening credits.

I just – I really want to clarify in advance how I went into this series knowing nothing except 'oooh, pretty colours' because that's fairly unusual for me. I am not a particular experimental consumer. When I buy or rent a game, I look up half a dozen reviews beforehand, and when I watch a TV show I almost ritually pan through the Tvtropes page first. So this is a fairly rare event for me: I think the only other time it's happened was with Accel World, which I loved.

So. Kyoukai no Kanata, or Beyond the Boundary in English. Marketed as a dark fantasy – and we'll talk about how that's not really accurate in a second – it tells the story of Kanbara Akihito, a boy who lives in a world occupied by both humans and youmu, the latter being monsters born from the negative emotions of humanity. Akihito, a rare immortal half-youmu, meets spirit warrior Kuriyama Mirai, who immediately tries to kill him, marking the start of a … thing. A romance. And other stuff.

Like scooters in space YES I REALISE THAT'S NOT ACTUALLY
SPACE GUYS.

That other stuff is really going to be the sticking point here, because this series has something of a Full Metal Panic problem.

Full Metal Panic is about the romance between a socially inept child soldier and a typical Japanese high school girl, and it's divided along very clear boundaries between 'hilarious fish-out-of-water shenanigans' and 'grim war narratives with mechas', and it is – odd. Not jarring. The opposite of jarring, really, because the effect is that both extremes dilute the other, leaving something just rather watery and meh. It's telling that Full Metal Panic would have two more animes added to its franchise, one which was entirely fish-out-of-water shenanigans and one which was entirely grim mecha drama, and I enjoyed both a lot more than I enjoyed their predecessor.

Kyoukai no Kanata is kind of the same. The show is divided between 'supernatural high school comedy' and 'fantasy drama', and taking individually, each section works. Its comedy sections are surprisingly good (if a little unnerving at times – one character has a running joke of having a 'little sister complex' and the incest-yness of that did bother me), utilising fast paced dialogue with frequent changes in tone, rapid cuts and very little music to create what is some very snappy comedy. Its fantasy drama sections are a little less effective, but not bad by any means, and mostly scuppered by pacing issues more than anything.

The combined effect, however, is that neither really works. The fantasy drama falls flat because it is so quickly replaced with comedy episodes, and the comedy episodes feel out of place when put next to more dramatic episodes.

Colourful.

(A related issue is the Krull problem, where a story tries to pack so much in that each event loses any bite or impact, because it's immediately forgotten about for the next event. If you've not seen Krull, you should look it up. It has actors like Liam Neeson, Alun Armstrong, and Robbie Coltrane before they were famous, a hilariously dubbed over princess, and an interesting fantasy/sci-fi plot. Also, there's a terrible arcade game adaptation.)

Like Full Metal Panic, though, both are necessary for the romance, which is the main storyline thread of both anime, to blossom. In Full Metal Panic, this was an important part of its theme, as each character had to experience each other's worlds before they could understand the other one. In Kyoukai no Kanata, it's less important, but it adds a depth to the romantic plotline that wouldn't be there otherwise, since you get to see their romance develop both in casual and tense settings.

(Which is important for any character development, I'll note, not just romance. It's one big reason why I've never been a fan of horror films, because in horror films, the characters are almost always under constant pressure, so you never really get to know what they're actually like.)

Pictured: Not under constant pressure.

My proposal, then, would be that this series needs to be longer. Which might be a weird thing to say, as it never really seized my interest and, like FMP, I found it surprisingly bland at points, but hear me out on this. If it were twenty-four episodes, then you could easily have the first twelve episodes be supernatural comedy with some light adventure elements – thus fleshing out the characters and their relationships, as well as the world – and then the last twelve episodes be a fantasy adventure story, with each threat given the proper attention it deserves to make it effective, as well as expanding more on certain subplots, like the conflict between the Nase family and the Society of Spirit World Warriors, and how Izumi is apparently playing host to a youmu, something mentioned towards the end of the series and then never really expanded upon.

It'd be a much clearer division of tone and theme, and it would keep each tone from watering down the other, while also allowing for a very natural development of the romance: It develops slowly at first in a light-hearted setting, then is put under pressure and evolves into something deeper and more serious.

(I've been saying 'fantasy adventure' instead of 'dark fantasy', which is how it was advertised to me, because there's nothing especially dark about Kyoukai no Kanata. Which isn't a criticism: It doesn't need to be dark at all – most things don't, despite what DC's executives might try to tell you -, it works fine as is, and to be honest, if the adventure sections were grim and gritty and dark then it'd be even more odd contrasted next to the fluffy, light sections.)

This makes total sense in context.

So onto everything else: The animation is of a consistently high quality, which is startlingly rare when you think about it, and I was pleasantly surprised when, in the penultimate episode, I realised that not only were most of the central cast women (six women to two men), but that every episode except maybe the first and last ones had passed the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Which is also startlingly rare, and pretty commendable, I think. It also has an excellent opening and ending, which you know, isn't necessary but is always nice.

In general, I don't want to say this is a bad series, because it has a lot going for it, but it does have a fundamental, fatal flaw that rather infects the whole of it, and that's a shame, because the core of the series – the romance between Akihito and Mirai – is very strong. It's a slightly ridiculous, but very fun romantic plot, and I did find myself genuinely invested in both characters' happiness and continuing romance by the end of the series, which made the last few minutes of the last episode incredibly nerve-wracking.

N'aww, people.

There's no real sequel to the series, and it doesn't look like one is planned, which is fine: While I'd watch a sequel, it doesn't need one, and it didn't end abruptly in the middle of the story like some anime which will remain unnamed but have been mentioned earlier in this review. There is, however, a five episode web series called Kyoukai no Kanata Idol Trial which just takes the ridiculousness up to eleven.


After I finished watching this, I had to watch Outlander. That was an experience. Not as bad as an experience as I thought it'd be, but an experience. 

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