Kyousougiga – 09

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When Kyousougiga speaks I hear it, and if nothing else, I know at least that I’m not the only one who does.

It’s finals week, my brain is fried, and I’ve already spent way too much time writing about anime and not nearly enough studying.  I haven’t got a whole lot left in the tank, but series like Hunter X Hunter and Kyousougiga can always inspire me with their sheer brilliance.  I often say about a series that it’s the sort of show that makes me glad I watch anime, but there are very few about which I can also say “this is the sort of show that got me watching anime in the first place.”

I pretty much (and not by choice) live my life as an anime fan by the old philosophical question “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  Or rather, live it by the belief that it does make a sound.  Kyousougiga predictably bombed on Blu-ray and DVD this week – we don’t yet know how badly because it didn’t make the Monday cutoff, but it’s going to be 2K combined at the very best.  This is not a series for today’s anime commercial environment – there just aren’t many people who want their anime to challenge them the way Kyousougiga does.  Most want shows that pander to a fantasy that never existed, and what’s left over want shows that deliver a lot of bells and whistles and don’t ask them to think too hard.

I think that tree in the forest is a fitting thought for this series, as despite its Western origins it’s a riddle very much in the manner of a Buddhist koan.  This is a show from another time, really, a product of Japan’s first animation studio that’s a shining example of the sort of anime that the experimenters and geeks in the industry were making 15 years ago.  If there’s a positive – or at least a solace – in Kyousougiga tanking commercially it’s that Toei is a studio that can afford a noble failure (One Piece is among their more mainstream properties) if any can, and in a sense this show might be looked at as something along the lines of the “prestige titles” American publishers used to release, thoughtful and brilliant books that were never going to make money but cast the publisher in a positive light.  Toei will be just fine no matter what Kyousougiga does, and I’m proud of them for producing it in the first place – but of course, its commercial failure certainly won’t do anything to encourage them to try this sort of thing again anytime soon.

Even now, only one episode from the end (the final airing in two weeks is scheduled to be “Episode 10.5”, another special episode) this is a series that refuses to give up all its secrets.  As was the case with this years other great series set in a fantastical Kyoto, Uchouten Kazoku, underneath all the surrealism and complexity I think Kyousougiga is very much a story about family love.  This one is a lot more dysfunctional that that one was, no doubt, but ultimately it’s the tug of familial feelings that seems to be driving everything that happens in the story.  Everyone has their own place in that tapestry, but in the final analysis the three characters that matter seem to be Inari, Yakushimaru and Koto.  Everyone else – even Lady Koto, Kurama and Yase, wonderful and important as they are – primarily matter for how they influence the course of those three.

It’s going to be very easy after this episode to cast Inari as the villain this series has been lacking, but I’m not sure if it’s quite that simple, and lacking a villain isn’t the same as missing or needing one.  As he tells his story here, he’s the son of God himself – and the younger brother of the Chief Priest of Jinja.  And it was Myoue/Inari who was given the power to create life by his father, though in the end always answering to him (though that father has long since disappeared, in a sense passing on the same burden to Inari that Inari did to Yakushimaru).  It really solidifies the whole question of why that name change – or rather two of them, from Myoue to Inari and Yakushimaru to Myoue – is so critical, because Inari passed everything onto his “son”.  The name, and beads, and what they symbolize – the ability to create life.  And one, it seems, that the new Myoue has never (or at least very rarely) ever taken the opportunity to use.

Perhaps the most damning charge one might levy against Inari is that he resurrected Yakushimaru with this is mind all along, and I’ve no doubt that’s what the latter suspects.  And Inari certainly does plenty of other things in this episode to make himself the bad guy, not least of which is stabbing both Koto and his brother and rendering Lady Koto unconscious.  But what’s not clear is just what his endgame is in all this, and just how much power he still has in his physically diminished form.  Most of it seems to have passed to Koto and Yakushimaru – his son and daughter of sorts – and it seems he may be manipulating them to try and cause the destruction of Mirror Kyoto, the “13th Parallel”, and the creation of a new world that can come closer to his ideal universe.  But again, I don’t think it’s that simple.  I get the feeling that Inari is trying, in his capricious way, to try and right the wrongs he’s done his family – especially Yakushimaru.  Perhaps he wants his son to create a world he can finally feel comfortable in, as he’s never seemed to feel comfortable in the one Inari created – no matter what the latter did to try and change that.

As always, I think the younger Myoue’s feelings are going to be the key to everything in the end.  It seems clear that his “older” siblings have always known that he wished to die, and that it was he who held the real power in Mirror Kyoto should he ever choose to exercise it.  Yet I don’t think they resented this – Yase just wanted her mother back and Kurama just wanted to see the outside world, but they don’t seem to have begrudged Myoue his solitude and melancholia.  Rather, I think they pitied him.  As Kurama says, they were “the fake siblings created to comfort you”, but it seems that the feelings they have for Yakushimaru are very real.

The best scene in the episode comes when Kurama confronts Myoue in a cave after Koto’s hammer has laid waste the city (while she was under Inari’s control), very much in the manner of an older brother sternly but lovingly trying to snap his otouto out of his depression and into action.  “Desiring a future does not betray the past”, Kurama tells him, and with this simple yet profound statement captures the dilemma of Yakushimaru’s existence perfectly.  This is a heartbreaking and emotionally accurate moment – Kurama has been slowly revealing the true nature beneath his dour exterior over the last couple of episodes, and as for Yakushimaru he’s been living in a self-imposed state of walking death every since he was brought back by Inari.  He never saw himself as fit to live, never mind exercise the power Inari entrusted to him, but now he’s been left with little choice but to do both unless he wants to see everything crumble a out him.  And as Yase tells him in her own tender moment of interaction before she seemingly fades away, it was his own death Yakushimaru desired, but never that of Mirror Kyoto itself.

Perhaps, in the end, that’s at the heart of Inari’s plan and indeed, the thread that’s been running through the entire series.  This world we’ve been visiting, this Wonderland, is a play set up for Yakushimaru’s benefit by Myoue (who, after all, wrote the Chouju-giga).  And now, finally (I’m oddly reminded a bit of Kyousuke in Little Busters!, here) he sees fit to cast himself as the villain in order to finally force his son to step out of the grave and accept both the life and responsibilities his father gave to him.  Mirror Kyoto needs him, Koto needs him – and that’s what his father wanted all along.  “The sun is so bright when you climb out of a hole” Kurama says as he takes his leave of his younger brother – he’s full of wisdom in this episode – and it’s clear it’s really Yakushimaru he’s talking about.  That makes a nice metaphor for where the story stands at this point, and gives us good reason to hope that the ending will offer some redemption along with the bittersweet pain it seems certain to deliver.

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  1. C

    Ironic and beautiful…I'm going to miss this show an awful lot when it's gone.

  2. R

    To be fair I don't think were was ever a Time in Anime History were a show like this would have been mainstream or even a modest financial success. As much as oldschool anime fans like to
    bitch and moan about todays Animefans(and there certainly a lot to rightfully moan about) in the end their tastes weren't anymore refined then todays audience.
    They would still have rather spent their money on something like Lupin III, Ruroni Kenshin or Love Hina then on something like this that's just too far out of the average viewers comfort zone.

  3. I disagree and I think there are plenty if exampled from the 1997-2004 era to back that up, but success isn't as simple to quantify in the era before BD/DVD sales meant almost everything.

  4. i

    I think when it comes to buying anime related merchandise people shouldn't be forced or dissed for buying what they like. I like Chihayafuru, H&C, Oofuri and Nodame Cantabile and by fans who prefer shounen only, I've been called a gay sissy. Of course I retaliate and call them the morons they are and I call the moe panderers a depraved lot but they and I shouldn't have to. I like sports, comedy and romance anime with great characters, that's my first preference for buying. Anything really great among those criteria and I save up before buying.

    I think Kyousogiga's a great show but not one I would buy because it just doesn't fall within the realms of my preferences. I also do prefer more straight forward shows or at least ones I can make sense of. I can't with Kyousogiga but I can with Uchouten Kazoku and thus the latter is on my shopping list. And that's my choice.

    I'm not going to blame anyone but if half the people who lament poor disc sales for good shows actually do spend money on them, I'll eat my muddy boot.

  5. i

    You know what would make a good poll – what anime dvd/bd are you thinking of buying from this season's offering. My only vote would go for Yowamushi Pedal.

  6. A

    Good thing about the anime industry is that creators refuse to give up on this genre. We see at least one show every year that provides room for deep thoughts. Just to list a few: Desert Punk (2004), Baccano (2007), Shigofumi (2008), Bounen no Xam'd (2008), Eden of the East (2009), Occult Academy (2010).

    And for some odd reason, these recent years were stacked with great shows like Shinsekai Yori, Psycho-Pass, Robotic:Notes and Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon. They're all series that have an idiosyncratic presentation of deep thoughts. This hasn't happened since the mid 90s – late 90s period, when cult hits like Evangelion, Martian Successor Nadesico and Last Ryvius came out.

  7. Alan, you some of those you list – while good shows – were highly commercial series that did quite well (Baccano and EotE, for example).

    I'll also take issue with "stacked". One or two a year is better than none, but it's hardly a glut.

  8. t

    I don't even know what to say. it was amazing. really. everything that went in this ep in the micro and in the macro level, was conveyed so well.
    the OST this ep was felt so strongly. it enhances all the meanings and feeling coming from kyosogiga. and it was one hell of an episode.

    speaking of meanings and all, kyosogiga speaks in a wide, very wide, spectrum of meanings from the individual level rolling to family and connections until much higher levels of the worlds and all. sometimes it's hard for me to grasp everything. I feel like I am an "eye" who can catch only a specific range of the whole spectrum. even when I am thinking about it and "analyzing" – in each level and its connections with the higher's like I can see better, but that's not enough (like with a microscope – even with the help of it, there are still molecules which we can't see, there is still a "limit").
    sometimes it also makes me wonder – what are they talking about now?
    we can see it in this very ep. it felt like every sentence, every scene or frame has meaning. like when we say "a picture is worth a thousand words" so as kyosogiga. leading to almost infinite number of words and meanings.

    if you ask me know (sometimes I tend to ask myself), "what's kyosogiga is talking about?what's the (main) theme here?why is it appealing?" when we are one ep left from the official ending (let's assume ep#10.5 isn't "content")..I will have hard time to provide a good definite answer. any answers will be welcomed from the audience 😛
    and I think it's part of what makes kyosogiga so intriguing. yes, sometimes it's confusing, as Enzo always like to say – like Alice in Wanderland. but it's..lovely. it's part of the thing here. and after the previous ep, which was OK and with kyosogiga's style, this one was a vortex of kyosogiga. overwhelming vortex. it was…really WOW for me.

    you probably know how it is, when there is a series you like, but you always have one or two eps that are the most special for you (for example in SSY, for me, one of them was ep #10 I think when shun…well let's no spoil here for those who haven't seen SSY. if there people like that. you are more than obligated to stop reading my comment and go watching :P). so for me, it was a very very special ep in kyosogiga.

    as a huge fan veteran of "The Dark Tower" series (I hope no one is suddenly surprised by the nick..but whatever), the whole "parallel 13th" and orbs like world somehow reminded me a few things from there (don't worry, no spoiler here, it's not like that or something).

  9. t

    the start of third paragraph from end
    if you ask me know
    sorry for the mistake. know–>now, in other words I meant "if you ask me now"

  10. J

    I'm having a change of heart with this show. While the nuttiness makes it hard to understand, this is definitely turning out into a very good show that I can enjoy.

  11. s

    I think for an anime like kyosogiga, its not a matter of the fact that today's anime fans dont like to be challenged intelluctually in that many people are starting to lose an apppreciation for great storytelling. I had watched a TED video a while back about Pixar and why they have such success with their animated films, and the one thing the presenter made clear when giving out this conference was that the most important element that they focus on in any pixar movie is the story-telling. I dont care what type of story you are trying to tell, if you tell that story pretty damn well, ill think you have an impressive piece of work regardless of whether the story is not as exciting or original as some other works and more or less, that's the special charm behind kyosogiga. The way it weaves its story is quite alluring and i cant help but think; " Damn, they make this look easy".

    Truth be told, the series isnt breaking any new ground, and the narrative being told is quite a simple one; its just that its told in such a passionate way that you cant help but like it. And there in lies what kyosogiga and many great anime of these last few years have been suffering from; people dont have much of an appreciation for good story-telling anymore; that and there are a good sum of people that just dont know what good story-telling is. I dont mean that as an insult to the general viewing audience in any way shape or form (I mean it as I would if i told someone who has never taken a physics class before that and is not familar with concepts from that subject that they dont have a good grasp of physics). Unless the anime has some sort of X-factor that appeals to all types of audiences (something that is easy for them to latch on to, which when you think about it, is why pandering works so well) whether they appreciate good story-telling or not, a lot of good anime will continue to bomb commercially. In no way should that mean that production companies shouldnt continue trying and I hope that i continue seeing great anime produced for years to come.

  12. I don't think you're giving Kyousougiga quite enough credit in terms of just how many interesting influencs it's slipping into the story construction and themes. The whole thing is a sort of extension of the Choshuu-giga, with elements of Alice in Wonderland, Buddhist mythology, Shinto and Kyoto history. Yes at heart it's a family drama, but there's a lot going on here.

  13. s

    You're exactly right; there is a lot going on in kyosogiga, which is what i was trying to get at when i proclaimed it to be a really passionate piece of story-telling. You can really see all the influences that went into the creation of this show brimming from each scene, harmonizing with the characters and this setting of mirror kyoto. All those influences you mentioned are constituents of the story-telling, which is why its so fulfilling (and why i praise the story-telling and feel that those not watching it dont give it enough credit for that. It is as you said, it's filled with layers). But at the end of the day though, what does Kyosogiga boil down to? It's a essentially of tale of familial love and what it means to live; what it means to create and the consequences of creating and overall, cherishing loved ones, which if you really think about it, are very simple themes; its just wonderfully told. So again, the things you have mentioned are bountiful indeed, and that's a part of what makes the story-telling so wonderful along with how its woven with the characters.Trying to sell something like this to a general audience that may not be able to appreciate the wonderful story-telling behind those simple themes are just going to look the other way

    i guess to be more clear about what i mean when i say Kyosogia is not breaking any new ground or that it's themes are simple, take Shin Sekai Yori for example. Not only was that series ambitious as hell and influenced by arduous scientific research (the author had to study animal behavior and psychology and have the scientific know-how to properly portray a world 1000 years into the future that didnt have advanced technology to rely on) but its themes werent so simple.

    It dealt with the controversy of human survival and other things i wont get into as to not spoil it for those who havent watched it but those intellectually compelling themes are not so simple and while one can say Shin Sekai Yori draws some inspiration from Brave New World, it's still a very original story and its working with not-so-simple ideas and themes (that novel didnt win an award for nothing) that are compelling outside of its story-telling. Shin Sekai Yori bombed commercially though as we all know so maybe i should just shut the hell up haha, but i guess to that degree, we can say that there just wasnt enough "pandering" to make it appeal to the general anime audience.

    In short what i was trying to say was that Shin Sekai Yori's themes had an X-factor that Kyosogiga's doesnt, and that is controversy (which if we know anything about controversy, we know that it can stir up attention) although that X-factor ended up working better for Psycho-Pass in the long run than it did for SSY (even though i found the latter the better of the two shows regardless of the last third of SSY not living up to the buld-up of the first two arcs; Although I still thought the last third was very good)

  14. Well, it sure as heck didn't work for SSY commercially – it was a complete whiff, not just a failure. But I don't disagree that it was thematically more ambitious than Kyousougiga. It's also about three times the length, which I believe matters.

    I think Uchouten Kazoku is a much better comp for Kyousougiga, in any number of ways. Though because that show slipped a bit in the final third, I think this is the better on the whole.

  15. A

    Really? I mean, it may not have the badass soundtrack or the wonderful premise, but I thought Uchoten Kazoku cared a lot more for its characters and world building than Kyousogiga did. If nothing else, I thought it did a better job at making me develop affection for its cast before shit eventually hit the fan.

  16. Factor everything in together, at this point I rank Kyousougiga higher. It's not as overtly sentimental as Uchouten is, but I think it does a remarkable job of bringing the audience inside the feelings of the characters considering how surreal the story is (much more so than Uchouten, despite the tanuki/tengu trappings). I don't think it's really fair to compare the two based on areas where their goals are different. I would also argue that Kyousougiga's wold-building-skills are pretty stellar.

    Both fine series, and both will be on many year-end best lists, mine included.

  17. J

    The thing with Uchouten Kazoku is by the end it had completed the familial drama, and brought a really lovely story about family together. I think unfortunately for it though, the grandeur of their father, the mystery behind what happened to him, their master and Benten was pretty played out and a lot of the effortless magical feeling from the first half disappeared (I recall the moments where they entered Benten's world with the lake, the flying teahouse, or the moment when yasaburou shot an arrow across the river).

    It really had something magical about it, but it became mundane in the last act as the Ebisugawa family was making themselves be more felt.

    Kyousogiga felt really strong at the start for me, again hitting on the qualities of the familial drama and the magical moments Uchouten Kazoku also had. For an episode or 2 in the middle I thought it was maybe slipping as motivations of characters seemed a bit out of whack, how we might have felt like we should care more about them than was reasonable. But I think the show is really coming back and filling in just enough gaps to make us understand their positions and the weight that has been on the new Myoue and Koto. And on top of that the magical feelings from the start of the series haven't slowed down, it has not become mundane.

    I think for all those reasons I'd agree with Guardian Enzo, that Kyousougiga is coming up stronger so far. Let's hope it really knocks it out of the park.

  18. K

    Is Myoue/Inari ambiguously evil? He seems like a good guy … until he pull of things like stabbing people and resurrecting the dead.


  19. H

    Hmm, maybe Inari hasn't shrunk in size because some of his powers went to Koto (like I guessed after the last episode) but because they went to Yakushimaru, could be interesting if they set up Yakushimaru as parallels of their parents by having them both inherit some of their powers.

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