First Impressions – Kyoukai no Kanata

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Fall 2013, start!

OP: “Kyoukai no Kanata (境界の彼方)” by Minori Chihara

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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.

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  1. s

    Honestly, out of everything in this premiere; from the nice visuals, great cinematography, the short but sweet action sequences, it is the characters that has me most invested. Both the director and the screen-writer of this series said that while this series is being marketed as an action series, its the characters that they truly care about and you can see a bit of that in this premiere. From the looks of things, they are taking a darker, more character driven approach to the source material (lots of stuff was changed from the source material) I for one hope this show ends up in my list of Kyoani favorites and what i consider their best works, of which there are only 2 plus one movie. Hyoka showed that it had potential in its first ep but it got good around ep 3 and then became great around the halfway point. Kyokai is only one cour so its got up to ep 3 to show that its good and ep 6 to show that is great if it wants to make a name for itself.

  2. D

    I feel like I'm probably too harsh on KnK, since I watched it just after seeing Kyousougiga episode 0, but it came off as incredibly phoned-in and lackluster. It wasn't horrible, but it was much less than I was expecting and I wasn't exactly hyped to the moon for it. It was unfunny, Mirai was incredibly annoying and it was hard to stay engaged. It was pretty, though.

    I'll give it some breathing room for a few episodes and hopefully it'll find its feet.

  3. To be fair, there are very few anime that aren't going to seem conventional after watching Kyousogiga.

  4. t

    animation was really good – detailed and smooth movement, however character's design isn't much different from chuuni or hyouka…
    still I love the characters. voice-actors seem to do good job.
    and it is interesting to see KyoAni in real hardcore fantasy bussiness (no, chuuni doesn't count!). that's also why I avoid comparison to other KyoAni stuff. though I did thought at the beginning that the relationship between main characters remind me of chuuni, but not anymore.

    are you going to cover this weekly?

  5. In all likelihood, yes.

  6. M

    I'm curious to see if KyoAni will stick to their formula even for this show(and by the looks of the 1st episode,they are).Can't say I'm that hyped up about it but that's just me being a bit tired of the recent bombardment of cute moe girls that we've been getting recently.Although it seems to want to take a little darker aproach it certainly doesn't like one has to take it too seriously,as it tries to be hilarious even then – or at the very least,that's the impression that this 1st episode gave me.

    All in all,I do hope it gets better as it goes.

  7. f

    Didn't really click with me because when I heard it was going to be a "dark fantasy," I thought it would be something along the lines of Madoka. Instead, the dialogue and the soundtrack – especially the soundtrack – make KnK seem more like a school romance first and foremost, and a dark fantasy second. I'm not too clear on the specifics of what a dark fantasy SHOULD be, but somehow it feels like KnK's getting this label just because it has youmu and a girl swinging around a sword made of her own blood – not because it has a particularly dark (and captivating) atmosphere. I blame the atmospheric problems on the soundtrack – somehow, it was a bit overused where silence would've been more effective, and it (to my horror) gave me free! vibes. Hyouka's an example of a soundtrack being used perfectly – not too much, not too little, perfectly tailored to the show's tone; here, it just feels kind of overly lighthearted and cheery.

    Maybe I'm just being critical because I had different expectations for WHAT this show would be – darker, more mysterious (there's barely any mystery/suspense in revealing what the characters are, though the writers probably didn't intend for there to be any mystery; still, I would've liked it better). I don't hate it – I agree with you completely in that it's entertaining enough to keep watching, but the supernatural side of KnK doesn't really blend in with the other themes. Clearly, I need to learn the definition of "dark fantasy" before I develop expectations for a show.

    (Disclaimer: For anyone who bothered to read this, I am not an indiscriminate KyoAni hater, so don't be like "you only hate it because it's moe" and stuff.)

  8. i

    And So It Begins.

    I haven't watched Kyousogiga yet so it will have no affect on my impressions for KnK. TBH I felt bored watching it, there was some moments of comedy and some action scenes that put SnK to shame (as expected of Kyoani with the sleeves rolled up) but the story, setting and characters are pretty archtypical stuff.

    And unlike some other people I did something worse than watch Kyousogiga before it. I was re-watching Cross Game. All throughout the episode I looked mostly at the time remaining before I could pick some baseball back up. And that's my biggest gripe with modern anime.

    Maybe its a natural development but I don't consider the merits of a show on a stand alone basis anymore or even compare it with peers of the same generation. I think what does this add to my completed MAL list? Is there anything here I haven't seen already and seen more suited to my tastes? With KnK its sort of in the middle where I think there's potential for something special but more likely the reverse. For a plus it will probably be the first Kyoani anime since FMP with actual fight scenes (Chuuni's sporadic mind battles were flashy but lacked substance for me) and with only three obvious female archtypes so far it may not be too bad on the character front.

    But the minus has to be that megane girl. I don't like blatant moe, I like it even less in something that tries to be serious and I like least of all when it comes from the accounting department at Kyoani. Also character designs look to similar to past Kyoani characters, notably from Free! and K-ON.

    The three episode rule was always going to be used but I might take it to a five episode one just so I can see the whole first arc and see whether it does well enough against a packed Fall. And even if I do drop it I'm pretty sure that if it's worth GE will convince me to pick it back up.

  9. R

    I didn't like first episode. Plot is uninteresting (hardly show anything, so it can change) but main problem are characters (specially megane girl). They are literally boring.

  10. R

    I am one of those who will check out any new releases from KyoAni — it's still a studio full of talented people producing shows that please my eyes — but will end up dropping them. There are really not that many shows from KyoAni that I like — and yes, I'm not too impressed by Clannad After Story either even though it stole the hearts of many — except FMF (because I was too young at the time and loved anything that made me laugh…I still do) and Hyouka (like many of the readers here).

    I was hoping that Kyoukai would surprise me — I'm willing to go through the cycle again — but I'm lukewarm about the premier. None of the female characters impress me; the storytelling is a bit flat, and on the technical side I don't feel that KyoAni is giving their best. I have a feeling that this show will be midway between the totally ambitious, a.k.a. Hyouka, and the falling back to la-la land, a.k.a. Tamako Market. I still want to be surprised though — after all, it's only the premier, and the synopsis sounds interesting. I will stick around for another couple of episodes before deciding.

  11. e

    Sister (<3 ) you pretty much typed the words I was going to put together in your 2nd paragraph.
    I'll check the reviews for the next episodes before watching any more of this.
    While I liked the action moments the characters are… eh. Mirai's logic – or rather her lack of empathy for the suffering she put the guy through with her stabbing traning/therapy – is especially rubbing me off the wrong way when coupled with her brand of cutesy…
    I don't have much qualms with her bottomless appetite though. Given the buckeloads of blod she realeases every time she make her sword (my inner Munch was screaming anemia) I'd expect her to collapse at every moment otherwise XP.

  12. R

    "I'd expect her to collapse at every moment otherwise XP."

    That's a good one.

  13. K

    "his 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."

    I probably should have cut this quote down but this is such a perfect write up of what I feel at the beginning (and end of every anime season). There is complete excitement at the beginning where I anticipate every new show, while the ending if a series is always a bit bitter sweet.

    It's always around the middle of a new season where things settle down a bit where I feel you can truly distinguish the great from the mediocre. After all some great series have slow starts and some mediocre series have fantastic starts but die down. The middle is usually the hardest time to keep a show fresh too.

    But anyways back to KNK, unfortunately I was pretty underwhelmed. I thought it looked beautiful but none of the characters or story interested me. Of course it could get better but whether I keep up with it depends on how soon it picks up & how many other shows I end up following.

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