I’m seriously starting to worry about Kyousogiga. It’s not so much the show itself – although approaching the halfway point of a series that has a chance to be a masterpiece, there’s definitely a “Please, for the love of God don’t screw this up!” thing going on – but that I’m going to lapse into fawning over it. I’ve watched a lot of anime over the years – too damn much if I’m to be honest about it – and I know something truly special when I see it. Whatever that “it” factor is that separates the contenders for greatness from the pretenders is, this show has it.
How do you put together a great anime? Well, while Kyousogiga undeniably has a highly unorthodox narrative structure, in truth its recipe couldn’t be simpler. It’s build on three support pillars that are as fundamental as it gets – story, character and visuals. If any one of these are exceptional, a series is notable. If it gets two of them right, it’s generally one of the best of the season. All three and you’re talking about historical importance in the medium, and Kyousogiga is meeting my threshold so far.
The visuals are the easiest to quantify in a sense, but it’s not so clear-cut as it may seem. I’ve seen Kyousogiga’s visual brilliance dismissed based on the fact that Toei is a big studio, as if it were somehow a given that a studio having money means that they’ll budget it for an anime, and that the staff will be able to use it to great advantage if they do. That for my money wholly misses the point – it’s like dismissing Hyouka’s Godly visuals because it’s Kyoto Animation. Watch any decent amount of KyoAni and you’ll realize what makes Hyouka special isn’t the budget, but the vision – it’s a true work of art, a story told in pictures every week. And Kyousogiga is the same: it’s not sakuga animation that makes this show arguably the most striking of the year (in truth I would guess the budget is actually not huge) but the seemingly endless levels of imagination and style that go into it. It has a look that’s inspired by Carroll and Gainax yet is still singular and original, as with Hyouka telling a story of its own like a second dialogue track.
As for character, I think this is an area where Kyousogiga’s unusual structure works to its advantage. As we experience this world through the eyes of the cast individually, we come to know them to a degree that’s not easily achieved with a traditional narrative flow. In a way it’s almost a VN adaptation-style omnibus format, without the romance – the pairings are the character and the audience, and everything takes place simultaneously rather than in alternate routes. This is why a character like Yase can become so engaging despite being probably the least sympathetic member of the cast. Having seen her as others see her we’ve formed our own opinions based on theirs – but when we see Mirror Kyoto as she sees it and feel what she feels, we realize that there’s more to this strange creature than we realized – and more than we probably ever would in a traditional story with a main POV character and a supporting cast.
The plot of Kyousogiga has been a surprise to say the least, based on the fascinating but seemingly random nature of the ONA. It was easy to see that the series was going to be interesting, but not that it was going to be so coherent. It’s clear now that what looked like pure chaos was actually part of an intricately complex but – for now anyway – elegantly interconnected structure. There’s still a breathless, exhilarating manic quality to the tone but for me, watching the series as opposed to the ONA is like watching The Magic Flute with subtitles rather than simply in German I mostly can’t understand. I knew what I was seeing was beautiful, but now that I could make sense of the it the experience became altogether more profound.
The other major surprise that the series has delivered is in how emotionally profound it is. Again, it’s coming to know the characters that makes all the difference. Kyousogiga is much more sentimental and warm than I initially believed – as I said last week, I think it’s very much a family love story just as Uchouten Kazoku was. Yase is, quite literally, an ogre – a terrifying figure that in essence is the epitome of selfishness and childish rage. Yet what drives her, like what drives her siblings, is their love for their parents and their desire to be together with them again. The Station Opening is an elegant example of the depth and complexity of this series: even in the most literal sense it’s insanely clever, a way to get rid of things in a world where nothing can be destroyed. But Yase hates the Station Opening (which may be my favorite visual creation in anime this year) because she longs to hold onto her memories, which are the only thing that makes her happy. Yet the more determined and cerebral Kurama created the Station Opening in the first place (I theorize) in order to try and establish a link with their parents and bring them back. In point of fact, their mother’s existence in the first place is an act made possible through the power of love – and Mirror Kyoto was created by Inari because of his love for his family, especially in this case Kurama.
There’s a lot going on here – the Buddhist notion of letting go of the material is just barely below the surface of all this. Each of the children deals with their situation in their way – Yase sulks and grieves for her parents, Kurama plots and schemes to get them back, Myoue embraces the mundane and the physical like the human he is and tries to act tougher than he is. But they’re all driven by love, existing in a world that was created for love. Every child’s birth is the result of an act of intimacy, but not necessarily love – in this mythology, things are a little more literal. And every episode brings us a little piece of the whole truth – the hammer that can destroy things in a world where things can’t be destroyed, Myoue’s refusal to part with his prayer beads at any cost, the little rabbit Koto carries with her. But the emotional truth is being built brick by brick at the same time, though Kurama’s gift of his own cup to replace the one Yase has lost, and her eventual expression of gratitude. Both of these are constructions of great ambition and scope, but Kyousogiga gives every indication that the finished products will be both beautiful and structurally sound.