Kyousougiga – 01

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I don’t know from whence Kyousogiga sprang forth, but I’m sure glad it’s here.

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.

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13 comments

  1. D

    The sense I got is that the name "Myoue" has become less a name, more of a title. Yakushimaru inherited the name of Myoue from his father, and became the priest of Mirror Kyoto in his stead as he left. Kind of lends itself to the theory that Koto was intended to become the new Lady Koto in order to fill the void she herself left with her departure.

    Very solid episode, and a bit more coherent than I expected after last time.

  2. J

    I actually only started with the episode 0 last week and while I thought it was an artistic masterpiece, I was pretty ambivelent about it as a narrative.

    This episode filled in so many holes and offered so much context it left me gobsmacked. Even with only a week of anticipation and uncertain expectations, the setup for the OVA falling into place just felt so… right. I don't want to say rewarding just yet, but satisfying at the very least.

    Definitely the best 'first' episode of Fall by a mile.

  3. k

    "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 wouldn't say that just yet. We still need to see things from Koto's side. What's her story, what is she looking for, etc? Next episode seems to be focused on her (her past, especially), so we might find out there. For the 5-minutes ONA I remember that she wants to meet her mother, and in this episode she says she's looking for her sensei (Inari). More importantly, in episode 00 what she seems to want the most is to go back home (the real world). Overall, I think this story will be about the latter: the story of Koto trying to find a way to go back home. How does Myoue fits in that picture? We'll have to wait and see.

  4. M

    FLCL blahblahblah – yeah, we get it. Toei are kneading in some Ikuhara influence too, I'd wager.

    It was a masterful episode, I just hope it doesn't become another Uchouten. It's bizarre we barely see Toei like this because they're clrealy naturals. That zoom-in to the tower was incredible.

    You should invite your neighbors over for some tea and wagashi.

  5. K

    I love this show! It's almost a perfect storm of all the different things I like to see in a show. Top-notch art direction, animation and music. Art that's filled with symbolism and a story that's full of subtext. The show's crammed full of magic and super-science, literary and religious references, a giant golden robot and a cosmic hammer that looks like several planets encased in a giant plastic toy. And great, lovable, wacky characters full of life. We'll just have to see if the story is strong enough to connect it all. Even if it isn't, I'll still love this show, but if it is, this is going to be great.

  6. H

    As a quick note, the world isn't created from Inari's drawings but Myoe's, the Myoe we see on the vespa is the second one (this episode has some quick flashes where it shows how that came to be, it was touched on in the ONA, but I'll keep quiet in case that turns out to be a spoiler later on). Although, I've seen some other fans suggest that Inari and the first Myoe might be the same person (the show is certainly hinting at it visually) and since you're much better at recognizing seiyuu than I am, do they have the same voice actor? Since that would add yet another level of strangeness and complexity to the show, going by the first lines in the episode that would indicate that it's not so much he hasn't returned but can't for some reason or another (and has joined the group of occultists that threw him out in the first place which is even stranger).

  7. Yes, they do both have Ishida Akira, so I just assumed they were the same person.

  8. H

    Huuuuuaaaah, and considering that both Inari and Koto are present at the end of the first OVA (even thought Myoe is under the impression that no one besides not-bunny Koto has entered in hundreds of years) that makes this extra interesting. Thank you!

  9. K

    If you're talking about the Inari resting against the Torii gate after credits in the 2011 ONA, you'll notice that Inari has different hair from the Inari that appears at the beginning of the 2013 episode 1. The official websites for the ONAs and for the 2013 TV series show two slightly different designs for Inari. You can compare the two here:

    ONA:
    http://www.toei-anim.co.jp/sp/kyousogiga/charactor/

    TV:
    http://www.kyousougiga-tv.com/character/index.html

    And here's a clearer comparison:
    http://i899.photobucket.com/albums/ac192/krmiyahara/kotoandtheinaris_zps9ffa99cd.jpg

    The Inari in the 2011 trailer and ONA with the long ponytail has hair just like Koto's while the later Inari has shorter hair and the same voice as the first, red-eyed Myoue. I'm not sure if this is a retcon or if there are two different Inaris. Anyway, fun to speculate.

  10. H

    I actually remembered that after I got offline last night and, since it looks like the next episode is going to include footage from the ONA that had short-haired Inari in it maybe something will get cleared up there. Although, I should watch episode 0 is looks like and see if long haired Inari is still in there, maybe that was a plotline they scrapped when they expanded the series.

  11. I think this raises a very valid and relevant question: should we assume that everything that happened in the ONA/shorts is canon for the TV anime? I mean, presumably Toei didn't know for certain they had a 12-episode series in the future when those were written.

  12. R

    What a brilliant episode. I love it. Kyousogiga is full of imagination through and through — it's far from being just a visual feast. This episode reminded of the mini-episodes and proved to us that this show has interesting characters with a story to tell on top of showing great visual creativity. With just one episode — or its actual premiere — it immediately stands out. I'm going to stay till the end with Kyousogiga.

  13. i

    I recently met a guy watching BokuHa during a lecture. That too at the front row where everyone behind him (myself included) could see a 10 year old naked and a teenager with bouncing breasts. Someone who knew I watched anime asked if I liked that. Super embarrassing.

    My point is that people think that is what anime is about – naked little girls and giant breasts. Kyousogiga for me is just the kind of show that would be a hit in the West just because of its wackiness that only anime has but because of preconceptions about the medium, caused by the overwhelming amount of pandering to an audience that I think Ishihara is right to feel ashamed of, they won't give it the chance.

    That's the problem with anime and in some ways Japan, they're content with status-quo. That might a general thing with most people and countries but for example if you look at Japan's gaming industry – a game from ten years ago has exactly the same interface, story, style and even fighting moves as a game from this weekend. In the same way most anime companies don't try to market their series to an international audience that I feel a lot of shows will click with a lot better than with fanservice craving Otaku and gay craving fujoshi. There are too few people in Japan that like decent minded anime and unless there's a social upheaval in Japan the only way these shows are going to break-even is by going for international appeal.

    Rant over. So onto Kyousogiga, not two weeks after Uchouten Kazoku ended and we get another masterpiece in the making. This feels a lot more like Gainax than the other entrees this season and I think that's because its already starting to thread a subtle theme into its overall wacky story.

    I didn't understand what was going on at first because I remember that the monk called Koto his mother but as three children appeared it began to make sense. Myoe is set to be the centrepiece of all the emotional upheaval the series will take and I think that watching these kids search for their guardian he too might try to do something besides waiting for his parents. The other two kids seem to be fine with just doing that but they did not have to say a last goodbye as he did or have his body change to a spitting image (literally just copy and paste) of his father.

    Whatever direction Kyousogiga goes, I think its guaranteed to be both fun and tear-jerking.

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