OP: “Kyoukai no Kanata (境界の彼方)” by Minori Chihara
This is always my favorite week of any anime season. First impression posts are more fun to write than series reviews, for starters – they’re easier, and there’s always a measure of sadness in saying goodbye to a show I liked enough to blog for at least a season. It’s also a time that’s full of possibilities, when every show on the schedule has a chance to be great – in theory. Reality will set in soon enough, but for the moment we can live the fantasy and look forward with childlike innocence to the mostly soul-crushingly formulaic season to come.
Fittingly Fall begins as Summer ended, with Kenn doing a turn as the M.C.. And (not counting Super Seisyun Brothers) our first real first impression is a big one, Kyoukai no Kanata. It won the season poll by a single vote over Kill la Kill, and like any Kyoto Animation series brings with it a world of expectations from hard-core fans and skeptics alike. No studio brings as much baggage with it as this one does, and for good reason – I think it can be argued that no studio has so distinct a signature style, nor so doggedly sticks to it most of the time. For my own part I’m a moderate on KyoAni – I take every show as it comes and hope for the best.
Longtime readers of LiA will know that I have a “postage meter” that I apply to Kyoto Animation series: i.e., to what extent are they mailing it in? Tamako Market scores a perfect 100 on this scale – Free! about a 50. Sometimes a show will surprise – Hyouka ended up scoring a lot lower than I imagined, Chuunibyou a bit more. On paper Kyoukai no Kanata seems to score pretty low on that front. It’s a pretty edgy concept by recent KyoAni standards, even offering a bit of violence and gore (though not much so far). But watching the premiere you do get a sense that no matter the material, there’s a filter that every KyoAni show gets put through – like a special lens on the camera that tints everything in a certain way. Moe girls and cute boys, comedically sexy teacher types, falling leaves and cherry blossoms. It’s certainly evident in a show like Free!, which despite the radical (for KyoAni) departure of five male leads, ends up looking and sounding exactly like the prototypical Kyoto Animation series with an extra piece of anatomy.
To what extent a Kyoto Animation show succeeds (artistically, I mean – commercial success is a near-certainty) probably depends on how well the material is suited to this treatment. I think Hyouka succeeds best among recent series because there’s a very strong distinctiveness to the writing that shines through, and that the visuals are spectacular even by KyoAni standards doesn’t hurt. What about Kyoukai? My response to the premiere is an almost perfect “pretty good”. The premise is kind of interesting. The two leads seem likable enough, though the heroine is a pretty pat KyoAni template. The pacing is fine, the humor hit-and-miss but amusing, the visuals stock Kyoto Animation quality with a few highlight-reel standouts. I liked it better than the premiere of Chuunibyou (which did get a lot better after a sluggish start) and Free!, not as much as Hyouka (which didn’t just get better, it exploded).
The story begins with a boy named Kanbara Akihito (Kenn) spotting a girl named Kuiyama Mirai (Taneda Risa) on the roof of his school, seemingly about to jump. Despite describing himself (he provides first-person narration) as the sort of guy who doesn’t get involved he races to the roof and tries to talk her down – using as the core of his argument that she looks great in glasses. She jumps anyway – then ends up directly behind him and when he turns, proceeds to stab him through the heart. Turns out Akihito is half-youmu (a sort of spirit youkai) and immortal, and Mirai is a “Spirit World Warrior”, whose job it is to pursue and eliminate youmu. The other prominent character in the premiere is Nase Mitsuki (Chihara Minori), who checks off several boxes: she’s an osananajimi, a tsundere, and the President of Akihito’s Literature Club. She’s also a member of the SWW family whose territory this is, and clearly displeased to have Mirai encroaching on her territory (in all the ways you’d expect her to be).
None of the interactions in the first episode is especially memorable, but there’s an acceptable level of engagement for me. It originally looked like we were going to be burdened with an ongoing spectacle of Mirai stabbing Akihito daily – an incredibly tired and cliched development – as she’s using him as “practice” since she’s not very good at fighting youmu, but we may just have moved past that. Akihito is likable enough, and doesn’t seem cursed with either of the twin banes of modern male leads – abject stupidity or blandness. Mirai is a pretty stock moe girl, tripping over brooms and spirit wires when she’s not manipulating her blood (that’s the reason her family is considered cursed among Spirit World Warriors) into katana or doing acrobatics, but so far at least she’s not insufferable.
One thing a lot of folks are hoping to see from Kyoukai is a lot more action than we usually get from Kyoto Animation, and the fight scenes in the premiere are darn good, if brief. The OP is quite lovely as well, and given that KyoAni is so addicted to formula that it’s rare even for them to go outside their touring company of regular seiyuu, it’s nice to hear unfamiliar voices in the lead roles. Kenn is having a very good year, and of course Chihara Minori (who also sings the OP) is excellent – she’s Minami Chiaki for goodness sake. I can’t say I find any element of the plot compelling so far, but there are interesting little quirks – like the fact that we’re repeatedly shown Akihito in the presence of food (a Mexican restaurant scene is pretty rare in anime) yet never see him eat – that spark enough curiosity to make me want to see more. Kyoukai no Kanata is never less than competent, but that’s a guarantee with Kyoto Animation – what remains to be seen is if it has the chops to be exceptional in any way and justify the hype.
ED: “Daisy” by STEREO DIVE FOUNDATION