So far, this anime season has been pretty close to what I thought it might be. Going in it looked like it would be very strong for quantity, but perhaps not quality, and after the first 10 days I’ve a good deal of shows I like – some quite a lot – but nothing that really struck me a truly great. Nothing, that is, until the second episode of Kyousogiga, which for all intents and purposes is the premiere, especially when it comes to projecting just how much potential this series has.
Last week’s episode was terrific of course, but it wasn’t much more than a reminder of how good the ONA was. We knew some things about Kyousogiga going into the season: it had a great look, a stunning level of imagination and a style that was reminiscent of the likes of FLCL, Abenobashi and the now largely forgotten Excel Saga. What we didn’t know – crucially – was whether this show had legs. Was there something there beyond the half-formed story of the ONA and the five mini-episodes, and would the premise hold together once it became necessary to actually flesh this out into a true story with a beginning, middle and end?
After one episode (or two, depending on how you count) I think the answer is an incomplete but thus-far resounding “yes”. There is a vision here that transcends the chaotic brilliance of the ONA, and good reason to hope that it can be brought to life with equal brilliance. There seems to be a larger story to be told and some idea of how to tell it – this strange combination of Alice in Wonderland, Buddhist mythology and unabashed Gainax-worship has a structure that can withstand scrutiny. Or so it looks so far, anyway, based on this episode.
I’m still reluctant to delve much into that story, both because doing so is like trying to capture fog in a birdcage and because the magic of a show like Kyousogiga is in experiencing it, not talking about the plot. It’s never been more unabashed about the Alice in Wonderland connection than it was this week, that’s for sure, with references to a world “through the looking glass” and to Wonderland itself. In this case Wonderland appears to be Mirror Kyoto, the land created from the drawings of Inari (Ishida Akira, as appealing here as I’ve heard him in years). I’m not sure whether Inari is a God himself, but clearly he has Godlike powers – everything he draws comes to life – and that applies to the original Koto, who started out life as a black rabbit born of Inari’s brush. She fell in love with him, and through the help of a kindly Bodhisattva (I suppose that’s redundant) was given a human-ish form, to be used until she was able to have her feelings reach Inari, and have them returned.
As best I can tell, it seems that those things happened, and three children entered the picture – the eldest Kurama (Nakahara Shigeru), who seems to be blind, middle child Yase (Kitamura Eri) and youngest Yakushimaru. As a boy he’s eerily reminiscent of Naota Nandaba, and he grows into Myoe, the monk who becomes the guardian of another Koto (or is she?). Presumably these children were born of Inari’s brush as well, but it seems only Yakushimaru (his name later changed “for a reason”, though we’re not told what that is) is human, so perhaps his conception was of a more conventional nature. In any event the family thrived happily in what appears to be “our” Kyoto, many centuries ago, but the local Onmyoudo eventually forced them to flee – to the fantastical world created from Inari’s drawings, a place where only Yakushimaru seems dissatisfied to live where no one is born, grows old or dies and everything broken is made whole again. But Koto knows the body she’s using isn’t hers, only borrowed – and eventually this forces she and Inari to leave their children behind in Mirror Kyoto, with a promise to “return with the end and the beginning” one day. And so our story begins…
It’s hard to know what to make of this series’ origins, because the “Todou Izumi” credited as its creator is simply a pseudonym for the collective of artists at Toei Animation. But my neighbors have come up with something glorious here – fantastically beautiful to look at, fascinating to think about and – a particular boon for me – quite simply more Gainax than Gainax (Animation Dirctor/Character Designer Hayashi Yuki has worked there). For all the influences that run through Kyousogiga FLCL’s is certainly the strongest, and as if that weren’t obvious enough the creators gave Myoe a Vespa to ride around Mirror Kyoto in – perhaps that takes us past the level of “influence” to outright tribute. But if so this is a tribute done right, for while it captures the magical spirit of FLCL it’s a very different story in matters of tone – though both share a focus on the rough passage between childhood and adolescence.
Another thing Kyousogiga shares with FLCL is the sense that there’s so much more here than can be taken in through a single viewing – all of the names and details seem to have significance, and there’s so much happening in the background all the time. There’s a very famous set of scrolls called the “Choujuu-jinbutsu-giga – presumably the inspiration for this series’ name – that dates to the 12th or 13th Century and is considered by most the very first manga. On those scrolls are represented a frog, a money and a rabbit – figures we see frequently in Kyousogiga – and it’s implied that it was Inari who write the scrolls. Is there also an implication that these three are embodied in his three children? I don’t know, but the mystery is part of the fun here, and there’s no danger of running out of it. Who are A and Un, exactly? The ending of this episode confirms beyond a doubt that they aren’t human – but is Koto, the girl who arrives with them in Mirror Kyoto in a bolt of lightning? We know she, too, looks at Inari as a father figure – but not who she really is.
I got the sense from the ONA and the follow-up short episodes that this might just be Myoe’s story more than Koto’s, and this episode only cements that suspicion in my mind. Here we have a man whose name has changed, and two seemingly different women with the same name – how do they fit together? Myoe is the dynamic figure here – the one perpetually waiting, perpetually restless, perpetually expressing his life force through sex and through dissatisfaction with the status quo. He’s a contradiction, a mortal in an immortal world, the one who doesn’t fit, and I suspect that it’s he who’s going to drive the story and ultimately he who’s going to be the one experiencing a great change when it reaches its conclusion. I have no idea how we’re going to get there, but I can’t wait to find out, and I plan to enjoy the journey every step of the way.