Review: Kyoukai no KanataPosted: January 25, 2014
Unlike most people, I’ve never been too fond of Kyoto Animation. Their shows are okay, and they certainly know how to animate well, but they’ve never really made anything that stood out for me. That’s why I was interested in Kyoukai no Kanata when I saw the preview for it. It looked like they were going to go outside their comfort zone and do something that focused more on magic fights rather than romance. Actually, turns out it was still mainly focused on romance by the end, but it was still decently different from their previous works. Though the question is, was it any good?
Well, it was nowhere near perfect, I wouldn’t even really say I’d recommend it to people. But I suppose I can say that Kyoukai no Kanata is now my favorite KyoAni work.
The core of the story is the bond between Mirai and Akihito as events take place in town, and it was really nice. Rather than just being two normal people or two average youmu hunters (and yes, I will be referring to the spirit things as “youmu” throughout this review because I watched with Crunchyroll’s subs and they didn’t feel like translating the word for whatever reason), instead they’re two outcasts that have to deal with not being wanted by pretty much anyone.
That on its own is a decent premise, but the show takes it one step further by making both of them outcasts in almost opposite ways. Not the reason behind it, since they’re both shunned due to immense innate destructive power, but their mindsets in how they approach it. While Akihito largely seems to just ignore this side of him and goes on with his life, Mirai lives in constant mental suffering over it, refusing to allow herself to connect with pretty much anyone.
What’s cool is that these different mindsets actually make sense for both of them considering how their powers each work.
Akihito essentially has a super powerful demon sleeping inside himself, so he doesn’t really have to worry about it during his everyday life, and for all intents and purposes, they’re two different people. In fact, you could say that him being carefree and having fun is a part of keeping that side of him in check. It’s still very much a part of him, and he clearly doesn’t enjoy having it, but it’s something that’s much easier for him to ignore.
Mirai, on the other hand, doesn’t really have an ‘on’ or ‘off’ switch per se. Her type of power is what causes her to be ostracized and push people away, so it’s much more personal than Akihito’s case. People being scared of Mirai’s powers are essentially saying they’re scared of her, rather than Akihito’s situation where you can essentially blame it on another entity.
That’s why I like this bond between them so much: they’re the same, and yet they aren’t. Having both of them deal with the same problem while having different mindsets and situations allows them to be their own characters, which makes the bond even stronger and more interesting than if they were just male and female versions of essentially the same character.
I’ve also always praised KyoAni for being good at comedy, and Kyoukai no Kanata is no exception. Of course, what people find funny is pretty much the most subjective and personal thing out there, but I feel like no matter what style of comedy you like, comedic timing is vital, and that’s what KyoAni is good at. Plus I just find physical abuse to moe characters to be the funniest shit ever for some reason.
In a similar vein, everyone also knows that KyoAni can animate well, but I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it is that they do so well in regards to it. It’s not their art style itself, since that can’t really be good or bad; as the word implies, it’s just a stylistic choice.
If I had to point out a specific reason, it’d be because KyoAni knows how to pay attention to the little details. Just look at the fight scenes: when people swing around their weapons there’s typically a colored streak showing that swing, and then a bunch of animated sparks and particles when it makes contact with another being or their weapon. Or look at when Mirai is running somewhere and comes to a skidding halt: a trail of dust from the ground gets kicked up behind her as her shoes slide along.
These seem like minor details, and they certainly are, but they help add to the immersion that something intense and exciting is happening. Tons of other shows have characters slide across the ground and they don’t have a dust trail get kicked up behind them. It doesn’t ruin the scene or anything, but you can see how KyoAni’s version seems even just slightly more intense or dramatic or whatever word you want to use. And they have these small touches everywhere. That’s why you can praise their animation.
Well, that and they draw some seriously pretty backgrounds and settings most of the time.
So the skeleton that makes up the outer shell of the show is pretty solid. Why then did I say at the beginning that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to people?
If I were to continue the awful analogy, it’s because the support beams are made out of Play-Doh©. In actual English, it’s because the execution of most of its ideas are anywhere from disappointing to atrocious.
Probably the number one thing that annoyed me throughout the show was the constantly awful dialogue. Hell, the show starts with the main character quoting the fucking dictionary. Typically the only time this is done in a story is when the standard definition is given, but then the character explains that things work differently in this fictional world, such as a character quoting the definition for ‘death’, but then explaining it now has a new meaning because everyone in the story is immortal or something.
But no, Akihito says what the definition of ‘suicide’ is, and then he just kind of drops it and starts talking about other stuff. What the hell was even the point? To say that Mirai looked like she was going to commit it? That’s completely unnecessary since we could tell that ourselves the second we saw her on the roof and on the other side of the giant fence guarding the edge, so it just comes off as being condescending to the audience, as if it thinks you’re too stupid to know what suicide is.
However, that’s just the very start of dialogue problems. The biggest offender was the repetition from both Akihito and Mirai; Akihito with his constant “oh my god glasses make me so hard” and Mirai’s “how unpleasant”. It’d be one thing if they only said it occasionally, but it gets repeated by them multiple times an episode, and stops being funny about the fourth time.
I get what the show was trying to do. Neither of them can be honest with their growing feelings, so they give a random excuse or quip that’s supposed to be a stand-in for what they really mean. Akihito’s claims of following and helping Mirai are because she wears glasses, when we can tell it’s actually because he sees her as a kindred spirit.
The problem is that their lines get repeated so often that they lose all impact, both in a comedic and emotional sense. The first time it happens it’s an “oh, I see what you’re going for” moment. The next few times it does it become “okay, you did this trick already, I get it” moments. Use it once or twice, then do something new.
It also makes it seem like their relationship isn’t developing at all since they keep giving each other the same lines, which causes the ending episodes to feel significantly less impactful. It tries to ensure us that they care deeply about each other, but we never got to actually see it develop to that point ourselves because they were so busy saying their catchphrases all the time.
Now while those two examples are pretty bad on their own, there was actually an instance of dialogue that made me legitimately sigh. Not just because it was poorly thought out, but because I even thought of a way to reword it to make the line work a lot better. I’m going to explain all of this in unnecessarily long detail, so without further ado, welcome to Dialogue 101 with Riyoga.
We learn at the beginning of the show that Mirai doesn’t like to get close to people because they usually get harmed. Other youmu hunters don’t really complain about this and generally stay away from her, which is why Akihito’s desire to get closer to her is a pretty big deal. For the most part Mirai tries to get him to leave her alone, but is also slowly becoming comfortable being around him, which is why she seems so conflicted in the first few episodes.
Skip to episode four and you have Mirai duking it out with the Hollow Shadow. After she breaks the illusion world they’re trapped in, Akihito has to stay back against a small cliff in order to not get hurt by the rain of Mirai’s blood. Out in the open, Mirai sits on her lonesome, looking defeated despite having mostly won the fight with her opponent. She then asks Akihito, “Do I look like a normal person?”
This is good, it shows that no matter what she wants, her own powers end up isolating her from those she wants to be with. Just when it seems she has someone she can actually get close to, she’s reminded of her lonesome fate. Yet at the same time, the wording of her question about if she looks like a normal person belies her hope that one day, someone will say ‘yes’ and mean it. Err, unless you ask it sarcastically, such as, “Do I look like a normal person?!” However, she just kind of mumbles it pathetically.
Skip forward a bit more and we have Akihito transforming into his youmu form. He wreaks some havoc and it’s the decisive point of where we see how our two lead characters are, as mentioned before, the same yet different. So far so good.
Now skip to the end of the episode, where Akihito gets up to leave the restaurant as Mirai eats her food. He stops for a moment and asks her a familiar question despite the slightly different wording, “Do you think I look like a normal person?” This is also the moment where it all falls apart.
Obviously the point of him asking the question is to show they’re the same, but we already get that from everything that came before in the episode. It’s another instance of treating your audience like they’re stupid so it needs to be shoved in their face.
Not only would rewording it fix this problem, but instead you could use it to further show off how different they also are. It’s actually a very simple fix.
Have him say, “Do I look like a monster?”
Why? Because it keeps the core of the question, which is the acknowledgement that they’re more than they seem, but whereas Mirai’s question has a hopeful undertone, this wording has a resigned one. It’s a question that someone who’s already given up would ask, which Akihito has. You can tell by how he looks at Mirai when she gives her answer; as if he’s not too surprised she said it, but he’s already made his mind up about himself. Again, it’s about showing off their different mindsets despite the very similar predicaments.
This may seem like an incredibly minor change, but as I said, this isn’t the first instance of bad writing. When I can think of a way to improve a line of dialogue, something has gone horribly wrong on the author’s end.
And no, you can’t blame this writing on the translation. Other than the gender-modifiers and a slightly changed last word (because of the different wording), they say the same line in Japanese.
So other than the faulty dialogue, what other problems does the show have? Well, the plot can’t make up its mind about what it wants to do, for one. The first few episodes are fine with the Hollow Shadow arc, but then it’s followed by a filler episode and other episodes where characters do things but the overall plot doesn’t seem to be taking any real shape until around the ninth episode.
Building up to events is fine, but you should still make it interesting. I won’t lie, I found it really hard to concentrate on what was happening around the seventh and eighth episodes because I didn’t really have anything to focus on plot-wise. The Kyoukai no Kanata plot line starting to take shape didn’t exactly help either since it was practically the same thing the Hollow Shadow did, except this time it also weakened youmu.
The one plot thread that was maintained since early on was the conflict between Mirai and Sakura, and the resolution for it was practically a single sentence. They built up Sakura as being someone hell-bent on killing Mirai for revenge and didn’t listen to what she has to say, but one sentence out of Mirai about how she should “continue to be herself” and she suddenly forgives her instantly? It may have been the quickest 180° I’ve ever seen.
I suppose this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the ending, too.
So after all the fighting and conflict, Mirai vanishes forever. Akihito is upset, but just like his dormant youmu side before, he accepts it as a fact that he’ll just have to live with and should move on. But suddenly, turns out Mirai is back and we get a happy ending! Hooray!
I have nothing against happy endings, in fact I actually wanted Mirai to come back since it would teach Akihito to not just accept all the negative things in his life as inevitabilities and such. But the best excuses they have for bringing her back are “it was destiny” or “our feelings were just that strong”, both of which are dumb. Maybe if there’s a second season they’ll come up with a better explanation, but as a standalone first season, it’s stupid.
Though that’s just a recurring theme with this show, isn’t it? Good ideas and developments, but poorly executed or explained. At its most basic, it’s a fine story that tells itself a bit sloppily, and under a critic’s level of scrutiny it all kind of collapses in on itself. But this might just be an upward trend for KyoAni. Maybe their next show will have the kinks worked out and they’ll finally produce something that blows me away.
But until that happens, I’m fine with sticking by Kyoukai no Kanata‘s side, even if I do have to stop every few minutes for it to pick itself up after tripping over its own legs.