It’s true I’m a sucker for a high quality production series but I’m starting to see why a lot of people walk away unimpressed from some of them. No matter how good looking, how fluid the animation, or what have you… if the moving pictures on the screen confuse the shit out of you, you’re probably not going to have a good time even if the way that one glasses girl’s hair moves is particularly detailed and satisfying. And, yeah… I get that. I do. I’m still a sucker for good animation, though…
Okay, so there’s this guy who’s apparently half-spirit and immortal but he’s got some secret. He tries to save a girl who he thinks is about to commit suicide but he was mistaken and then she suddenly stabs him through the chest with a giant blood sword and he’s shocked but then she’s shocked when he lives and… uhh.. wait, there’s also this club he’s in with two weird siblings, the brother is kind of randomly a siscon and she’s kinda cold and overly strict. Man, it’s a good thing we’re marking every square on the KyoAni bingo card! Oh, there’s also this secret way they sell dead spirits to these other spirits who are cute girls but also cute animals when not in human form. Oh, that’s why she was trying to kill him because she sensed him being a spirit and she’s poor and needs money for rent. There’s a bunch of other dudes jumping around at night fighting and I don’t know, maybe they’re secretly spirit warriors or something? I think they even use that term. It sounds way dumber than it is in context but… actually it’s kinda confusing even in context.
Kyoukai no Kanata (lit. Beyond the Boundary) is a perfect example of an incredibly skilled studio (in this case, our long time friends at Kyoto Animation) elevating a likely decent light novel series to be way better than it perhaps should or even deserves. The show is fucking gorgeous. Incredibly smooth, detailed, vivid, with delightful scene transitions and solid direction. The production is all around excellent and, on its own, could be enough to hold my interest. The thing is, though… the writing, and thus source material, is just alright. Maybe that’s being slightly charitable. But it’s so far below the quality of the rest that it feels more inferior than it probably actually is. It’s like we’re comparing a perfectly fine apple to an expensive expertly prepared lobster tail with butter. Both are good, tasty things on their own. Side-by-side… that apple is looking mighty mundane.
I feel bad for having to say that, though, because the writing is perfectly adequate… usually. It’s got a good hook with the guy not being able to die, some sort of youmu spirit world, and young teens with crazy spirit powers like blood swords, telekinesis shields, and so on. It’s all delivered on such an exquisite platter that it even comes off as damn cool. Voice acting is all great, music is solid, opening and ending songs are worth putting on your iPod (or Spotify or whatever you kids use these days). It’s a fantastic blend of supernatural, action, and romance.
KnK starts to frustrate when it keeps adding in more things to the already full blender. If they just stuck with the supernatural, action, and light romance then we’d be golden. But then it wants to have some comedy, some silly, some slice of life, and then mystery, drama, and relationship tension, and then it gets really weird when we’re walking around inside a giant demon miasma phantom illusion something or other and I’m so lost and can we stop trying to pile on so many genres? Tonally inconsistent is exactly the problem, but it’s also a sporadic problem so you’ll get stretches of good and then wham… apparently our lead boy’s mom is a cosplayer and she’s also actually retarded bonkers. Why? I dunno. Because KyoAni wanted to? It doesn’t serve the plot at all other than to be quirky I guess. Except it’s seriously unfitting to the series as a whole. These sorts of weird kitchen-sink problems crop up repeatedly, nipping at your heels even though for the most part you’re having a good time.
Granted, the actual plot is full of holes but it fills a few of them in and the ideas it presents are kinda neat and interesting, but... man, are there a lot of dangling threads by the end. Antagonists are confusing and so mysterious in what they let on that I’m not even sure I fully understood their motivations or even who was the true antagonist. It’s a lot of cool-but-confusing sounding ideas all jumbled together that mostly never materialize but it does mean the world has a fair bit of flavor to it I suppose. Still, it’s often bewildering and unexplained and worse that’s a lot to do with the inconsistent narrative. Some episodes you get plot and others you get weird comedy filler. The filler is never bad but it is still filler. It’s usually rather mild comedy, too, which just cements for me that they should probably have focused on one or the other and not spread themselves out more. There’s also the genuinely funny and fun dance episode that everyone has probably seen clips of but… it’s sorta just there in the middle. It happens. Mostly as an excuse to animate them dancing in maid outfits? I dunno. That’s what I meant by weird comedy filler and tonally inconsistent. Did I mention glasses girl has a catchphrase? Did I mention how kitchen-sink-y this show can be?
Some of this may just be due to it not having a lot of time to properly flesh out its world. It’s a single cour and it blazes through a fair bit of story, albeit with the weird stops along the way. I hesitate to say it doesn’t overstay its welcome simply because it could have actually stood to finish up a bit more here and there. (I guess that’s what the follow-up movie is for, eh?)
Even all that said, it was, for me, a very fun ride. It’s all over the place and it’s incomplete but man was it still an overall great experience. I suppose there’s a lot of disagreement on that centered around how much you are willing to overlook the faults and just sit back and enjoy KyoAni’s visuals. For me, I can certainly do that. I liked it a lot, though I can totally understand some of the hate/disappointment. It certainly deserves a lot of criticism and I’ve tried to be fair and point out a lot of that here. But I also can’t deny that, at least in the moment, a lot of that didn’t bother me too much. It was always just fun and pleasurable to watch. And I should probably try to see the movie sometime...
As of this writing, you can watch Kyoukai no Kanata for free on Crunchyroll.