For sheer brilliance, there are really only two anime series on the schedule right now, this one and Hunter X Hunter. There are other shows I like an awful lot, maybe even love, but as far as delivering the whole package it’s these two for me. Neither one of them may be in a class by itself, but it sure doesn’t take long to call the roll. Every episode of Kyousougiga feels like an event – they manage to fit so much muchness in there. Truly great anime engage both the heart and mind, and Kyousougiga does that as well as any series I’ve watched in a very long time.
It’s certainly no secret that original anime tend, on average, to be better than adapted (especially from light novels). My all-time best list is littered with originals and shows taken from full novels, and I suspect one of the reasons is that these series more than manga or especially LN adaptations tend to be fully realized creations before the first frame is finished. There are exceptions of course (just look at Gatchaman Crowds) but there’s just not the sense of stilted pacing and time-wasting in shows like Kyousougiga, Uchouten Kazoku or Shin Sekai Yori. These series give the impression of full and complete stories that have been exactingly planned out to the letter – and I suppose that also speaks to what an atypically incredible job Madhouse is doing with a two years-long and counting manga adaptation in Hunter X Hunter.
Episodes like this give me a sense that I have little to do as a writer, because the sheer quality of the effort is self-evident. I don’t have to sell, or justify, and complain – you saw what I saw. As I’ve said before the area where Kyousougiga has really surprised is by how moving it is – I knew it would be fascinating, and as this episode unfolded I was certainly churning over the meaning of what was happening in my mind, trying to explain and predict. But every bit the equal of the that was the character interaction – this was the moment (moments, in truth) the series has been building towards since the beginning and it didn’t oversell it. In this strange mythology where inhuman characters are the order of the day, their reaction to a fantastical situation was ineffably and unmistakably human. All you had to do was watch everyone react to the return of Lady Koto and later Inari, and you knew that it was right.
Make no mistake, even setting aside the practicalities of the situation this was a difficult and awkward reunion. Yase reacted like the child she is, with delight and raw emotion – unlike the others, the return of her mother was in itself the end she’d been seeking. For Kurama and Myoue it’s quite different, and there was a barely disguised (indeed, perhaps not even barely) resentment coming from each of them, albeit for different reasons. I found Kurama’s demeanor especially poignant (as I often do), most especially his shrug, laced with feigned indifference, when Lady Koto praised the technological marvel he’d created. Koto didn’t try to be warm and cuddly with Kurama, though it’s clear her affection for him is no less than her other children. She was every bit the beloved mother returning after a long absence, clearly feeling very guilty about having left her children, trying a little too hard to pretend everything was all right. And it was Kurama who was most hurt by Koto’s matter-of-fact declaration that it was “time to go back”.
As for Myoue, his chosen gesture of defiance was to hang back, quite literally keeping a distance between himself and the others and refusing to plead for his Koto’s approval. I find it interesting that he – and the others – generally but not always refer to the being they think of as their mother as “Koto”, rather than “Mother”. Names seem filled with meaning in this series, and the story they tell is a puzzling one. I still can’t imagine that Koto and Lady Koto sharing a name is coincidence, though every evidence this week is that they’re indeed mother and child rather than two facets of the same being. In truth none of these people is truly the child of Koto in the conventional sense, so whatever the relationship between she and her namesake it may be a mistake to categorize it in conventional terms. But psychologically and emotionally, she is for all practical purposes their mother – with all that implies.
Speaking of little Koto, she has her own issues with Lady Koto’s return, which it’s clear she’s made possible with her hammer. She – like Inari with his katana – clearly has the ability to rend the dimensional fabric and create a path to Mirror Kyoto, seemingly the only way in or out. But quite justifiably she’s gotten tired of being seen primarily as the useful tool for everyone else’s ends, and in this episode she behaves as every inch as the child she physically appears to be. That certainly doesn’t change when Inari finally shows up – and again we have the conspicuous strangeness with titles, for although Koto thinks of him as her father she usually refers to him as “Master”. Koto runs to him as any little girl would to the father she loved and hasn’t seen in a long time, but it’s the vibe between the two Myoues – or Inari and Yakushimaru, as the “father” refers to the “son” – that’s most interesting. Of all the relationships in Kyousougiga this is surely the most conflicted – it was Inari that gave Yakushimaru life, but it was a life he didn’t ask to have returned to him – just as he never asked for the heavy burden of responsibility it’s increasingly clear Inari laid on his shoulders when he abandoned the children.
The final scene of the episode can really be framed in two quotes – first, Lady Koto asking Koto if she can “free her father from the dream which traps him”. And second, what Kurama says when he arrives at Myoue’s room – “Good grief. Some things never change – it’s always our father who brings all the trouble.” This situation is clearly wrong – Inari’s drawings are turning to dust one by one and as they do, their embodiment in Mirror Kyoto disappearing with them. Lady Koto had earlier commented on Inari “keeping his promise” and coming to get her – something it’s clear he’s not done, just as it’s clear how surprised (and alarmed) she is at sensing his presence in Mirror Kyoto (“My dream turned real… But why now?”). This is a family that clearly isn’t intended to be together – my sense is that reality was twisted against itself in order to create it in the first place, and isn’t pleased by the manipulations that reunited it. With so many strong wills pulling reality in so many different directions, it was bound to tear sooner or later…