Kyoukai no Kanata Review: Confronting One’s Inner Demons
Slowly but surely I’m catching up on my blogging, and at last I’m writing about one of the ongoings from fall 2013 that actually finished. The first one of those that ended was Kyoukai no Kanata. Kyoukai no Kanata was one I was curious about since, for starters, I tend to enjoy Kyoto Animation anime a good deal. Having watched and loved Chuunibyou, I wondered about seeing KyoAni handle an action-based anime considering how glorious the chuunibyou fights were. Learning that Kyoukai was going to be a KyoAni action series, I was incredibly delighted and had high hopes for what was ahead. Now that I’m finished with it, I can definitely say I feel a bit conflicted about this one. As expected, the fights looked really nice and there were some fantastic ideas from this series, though there were a few reasons I was more disappointed with Kyoukai than I wanted to be.
Kyoukai no Kanata is about a boy named Akihito Kanbara who, aside from having an extreme glasses fetish, seems to be a pretty average high schooler. However, Akihito is actually a half youmu (the demon/monster type beings that exist in the Kyoukai world) and is able to regenerate as a result, making it very difficult to kill him. Akihito sees a girl with glasses on the school rooftop, assuming that she is preparing to jump off and commit suicide. He runs up to the rooftop and begs her not to jump (mentioning his love for girls with glasses) and then…..gets stabbed by the girl, who is using a sword made out of her blood. The girl, Mirai Kuriyama, makes it clear that she wishes to kill Akihito, though these attempts do not go so well. In spite of this, Akihito wishes to befriend Mirai and attempts to help her. The two steadily become closer and both Akihito and Mirai have their own dark secrets and struggles to deal with. Beyond the inner conflict, however, lots of mysterious plotting is at work and the normal life that Akihito and Mirai long for is threatened by quite a few setbacks.
The story is a bit of a mixed bag, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. The plot does have potential and a few episodes were especially gripping, but the story’s execution is not the greatest by any means. The first half of the story does have its focuses and it’s not as though nothing happens, but the overall purpose of the whole package seems very unclear and even by the end, there wasn’t any sort of grand, complex story to indulge in as the story itself is really simple despite many aspects of the story being mysterious (though admittedly, there is one unconventional episode near the end that switches setting and perspective multiple times, and I thoroughly enjoyed that episode for the most part). While the story was fairly entertaining and some of the backstory material did help add to the experience, the core of the story is pretty much how the good guys fight a bunch of youmu for whatever reason. Now this is not necessarily a terrible thing, as Kyoukai’s animation is very good and the fight scenes look exceptional, but it does mean that a lot of plot substance that would’ve helped the story out significantly isn’t there. Many aspects of the story are left unexplained even until the end (though if there is a second season, some of these may be addressed), and while this is understandable to a certain extent, a lot of the material felt more like it just wasn’t addressed or developed properly rather than being something deliberately left up in the air for mystery or viewer interpretation. Some of the plot twists feel abrupt and many aspects of the story that could have been used for meaningful development are quickly brushed aside once the immediate conflict has concluded. Another thing that some might find an issue with is the lighthearted comedy aspects of the story. While admittedly the comedy was entertaining to an extent (and I did enjoy the idol episode a good deal), a lot of time is dedicated to comedy when it could have been used to focus on plot relevant aspects and develop the cast. I suppose this is something that should be expected since it’s KyoAni (and if anything this is why this did not bother me a great deal when I was watching), though it is true that the comedy is very far off from the dark atmosphere the story’s main plot creates. While this could be a way to relax the viewers and lighten the mood at times (considering KyoAni is by no means the studio to look for when it comes to anything Urobuchi-esque), sometimes it feels like KyoAni is simply trying too hard to add its own conventional style to the anime to appeal to its general demographic. I’ve often seen people accuse Kyoukai of being too safe in its storytelling, and for the most part I would agree. Kyoukai is a story with a good deal of potential, though a lot of it is spent on largely pointless comedy that can only go so far. Even beyond that, I would say the execution of the series is too safe in general. While there isn’t anything I would say Kyoukai does especially horribly, it doesn’t really do anything revolutionary either despite having a lot to work with. Nothing about Kyoukai’s story or its characters stood out to me, and there was often a feeling that I’ve seen what had gone on before in other series with stronger execution. Normally I wouldn’t complain about things like that since it’s hard to come by complete originality and it bothers me a lot when I see people claim one anime rips off another (considering by that line of logic, said anime also probably “ripped off” something before its time), but rather than Kyoukai taking from a particular story in general (since I honestly can’t think of one single series that’s especially similar to it), it feels more like the things that happen and how they are dealt with aren’t especially groundbreaking. To put it simply, the way everything plays out feels unremarkable for the most part.
I couldn’t find myself particularly attached to the characters either, and if anything they were probably weaker than the story itself. Akihito is a pretty typical protagonist, and aside from being a nice guy (with a glasses fetish for one reason or another), there isn’t a whole lot to his personality. I suppose he is a bit reminiscent of Kyon at times, but it hardly feels like he develops in a significant way. Mirai is probably my favorite in the Kyoukai cast and I feel she has the most dimensions of the anime’s characters, but even her development is pretty limited. Mirai is directly involved with most of the story’s emotional and dramatic events and her inner conflicts are probably the most engaging of the cast’s. However, like Akihito, her personality is limited as well (though not to the same degree). Aside from her habit of saying “Fuyukai desu” (how unpleasant) and random quirks like blogging and liking bonsai trees, her personality is limited to being an awkward girl who struggles to interact with others and struggles with guilt from both the past and the present. That’s not so bad and it’s likable enough, but nothing really changes for her and while she does get closer to Akihito and understands him more as the anime continues, that’s about as much as she develops (and sadly, it felt to me like that was the most development in this anime). Aside from the two leads, there are a couple of characters that get a good amount of screentime: two of the Nase siblings, Mitsuki and Hiroomi. Mitsuki is a cold, direct individual who comes off as harsh but does care for those close to her. Hiroomi is a relaxed boy who has a sister complex (for Mitsuki, not his other sister). The two have a lot of screen time and interact very frequently with the main two, though it’s honestly a bit difficult to explain their importance to the plot. While both of them are useful as far as combat goes and part of the comedic interactions with the other characters, neither of them drive the events of the plot in the way the leads do and also have even less depth or development, which makes them feel a lot less relevant overall. Speaking of which, the Nase family is quite important to the story, and the oldest sister Izumi seems to have hidden motives and dark secrets of her own. However, a lot of this is left untouched and the presence of the Nase family is limited to being on the sidelines throughout most of the anime, which could potentially be remedied with a sequel but otherwise remains another sense of wasted potential. Even the story’s antagonist feels underwhelming without proper explanation of his motives or any real characterization aside from being that one person trying to rile up destructive activity. There are a number of other side characters that are closely connected to Akihito and/or Mirai, many of which are involved with a lot of the silly antics but sadly remain undeveloped. Probably the only exception to this is Sakura Inami, whose development is more as a result of the story’s progression rather than her character growing significantly itself. Aside from her, most of the other side characters just feel like they’re around to (just barely) influence the story in some form yet lack any growth or significant role in the story’s events. While this could be fixed with the story’s continuation, this season alone definitely makes me wish there was more emphasis on other characters in the cast and more meaningful development for the two leads as well.
One aspect that I did enjoy was the issue of facing one’s insecurities and dealing with one’s perception of how others view them. While many attempts at characterization felt lackluster to me, I found this to be one of the most interesting aspects of the development of the two leads. Early on, the anime establishes Mirai’s negativity regarding some of her actions in the past as well as how she struggles to interact with others because she is seen as a monster or freak due to her blood manipulation powers. The first half focuses primarily on how Mirai addresses this conflict, and multiple times she pushes Akihito away and tells him that he couldn’t possibly understand her feelings or struggles. However, in time it is revealed that Akihito has his own demons (er, youmu apparently) to face and that while he puts on a brave front, he too knows what it feels like to be seen as a threat and anything but human. Mirai’s understanding of this fact led to a very emotional scene and the events surrounding this conflict ultimately led to a much deeper connection between the two. While Akihito and Mirai are distinctly different, the two can easily relate to each other as far as the problems they’ve faced and the ordeals they share. This may not be the deepest of character interactions, but I felt it was engaging and at the very least made me interested in what was taking place. Sadly, there isn’t nearly so much time dedicated to development and character dynamics, and if there were more relevant themes and motivations to connect members of the cast, Kyoukai would have benefited greatly and I would have been far more invested in the characters. There is potential beyond the straightforward character archetypes most of the cast members fall under, and I certainly felt the two leads had potential with interactions such as these, though not everything was addressed in a way that satisfied me.
In spite of all that, I would say Kyoukai was still an entertaining watch for me throughout and I would be lying if I said I disliked it as a whole. The visuals were delightful as expected and the music wasn’t bad either. Kyoukai certainly had a lot of potential and ultimately I feel like it didn’t get to carry out a lot of it, but perhaps more of the anime might fix this and in the worst case scenario, perhaps the light novels might have handled the story in a more enjoyable way. I’d probably say Kyoukai is my least favorite KyoAni series up to date, but it still wasn’t a bad watch even if it was flawed in multiple ways. Kyoukai no Kanata would be a 7/10 for me. Well, if anything it’s probably more like a 7.5/10. I’m not especially fond of having to use .5s and it’s all the more so for the accursed 7.5 range (which is between the series I would want to buy and the series I can dismiss and save my money with) so it’s quite a dilemma, though I’ve decided that as far as the 7.5s go, if I had to pick between 7 and 8 it would land on the 7 if only because it wasn’t quite close enough to be 8/10 quality for me. In any case, this was a bit disappointing but still an enjoyable watch, and either way, I’m looking forward to more KyoAni series. So far, Chuunibyou Ren has been an amazing followup to Chuunibyou’s first season so I have no doubt that my enjoyment of that will far surpass any disappointment I got from Kyoukai’s execution.