Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Anime Review: Kyousougiga

I might be jumping the gun here a little bit since technically the last episode, 10.5 which is supposed to be a commentary, hasn't aired yet but if anything really major happens in that episode I'll be sure to add it in (at this point I'm just so excited to talk about this show that I want to do it NOW). 

So, two years ago I watched the original Kyousougiga OVA and was totally charmed by it's insane, fast-paced antics. I had to watch it twice to figure out what happened, and realized that almost nothing in the preview (PV) had actually made it to the OVA but I loved it anyway and wanted more. About a year later a series of short ONAs came out, five new ones, all under 10 minutes long which served as prequels, fleshing out different aspects of the setting and characters and while I enjoyed it I was a bit sad since I wanted to see where the story went next, not how it got there. So when a full tv series was announced this year I was happy and excited but not overly excited, although that was partially because of the format. The show has one special (which I suppose is 5.5), two recaps (0 and 10.5) and then 10 regular episodes which were all split into three parts which I took to mean it would be in the same vein as the ONAs, short, semi-interconnected stories (and probably reworking those original ONAs into it) but no real connecting plot.

And it turned out that the first episode was the first recap of sorts, that original OVA being aired as episode 0 so I skipped it, I've seen it enough times that I was able to help establish the tvtropes page for the show and just didn't need to see it again. At the time the summer shows had just finished and I was coming off my Gatchaman Crowds high and was thinking that was going to be my favorite show of the year for show, nothing could even challenge it (well, in the back of my mind I admitted that if anything did it would be my love of this franchise). Yet when I sat down to watch the first full episode of this show I was blown away and realized that a challenger for that crown had arrived and started to realize just how carefully planned out those earlier incarnations of the story had been.


Summary: A long time ago there lived a monk in the mountains near Kyoto who was able to bring to life his paintings. One day one of his paintings, that of a black rabbit he named Koto, came to life and, since she was in love with him, made a deal with a bodhisattva to gain a human-like body and the two lived together happily and raised a family. Eventually they had to flee into his world of paintings, dubbed Mirror Kyoto, to escape persecution but one day the monk and his wife left their three children without truly saying good-bye. Each was devastated in their own way and for centuries Mirror Kyoto remained the same, eternal and unchanging as all three of them wrestled with the betrayal. Until one day a young girl with the same name as their mother and who looked a lot like their father came bursting into this closed off world looking for her own mother and suddenly time began to turn again.

The Good: I have seem people in the webcomic world get, prickly, over the idea that they should make their stories fit their update schedule (ie, no long, complex epics if you update only once a week) but that is exactly what this show has done. As someone who was already a fan of the story it was amazing to see each week how the previous installments (the OVA and the ONAs) were unpacked and expanded on, sometimes they show would reuse a segment entirely and sometimes it would reuse part and then slide in a new line or scene which completely changed the mood. I made a rather large series of posts on tumblr, six total starting here, talking about how well this was done and touching a bit one some of the symbolism used in the show since oh man, while Gatchaman Crowds this summer also used a lot of symbolism most of it was in the form of art (be it movements, elements, or specific pieces) that I was only semi-familiar with and understood more after the fact when I would be reading a blog than as I watched it. For me this show was more similar to Penguindrum, a lot of symbolism that is shown on screen by an object but instead represents part of the plot, imagery but not art if that makes sense. And for me that's what makes this a memorable show, funny enough there was a family-focused drama last season as well, The Eccentric Family, which was also quite good but I personally prefer this story because of the layers to it, the interwoven themes about loss, duty, and the future (many of which only became apparent in the last episode, it had the kind of last episode which makes you want to rewatch everything since you now see it in a new light) had me thinking about each episode for days and I know that I'll revisit it again someday and discover something completely new in the process.

The Bad: I have just two quibbles with this show, one that at only 10 episodes I do feel like it could have used one or two more. The show ended well, it didn't feel rushed or such, but I do wish that some of the characters had been a little more fleshed out (or simply fleshed out earlier, although given that we're dealing with a, debatably, entirely non-human cast I will accept the argument that they are to some degree alien in their thinking). Secondly, in the first two iterations of the story it felt like Koto was clearly the main character, she was the catalyst for the entire story and one of the major pieces that tied it together, here it feels like in some ways her role has been reduced as Myoue (2.0) has become a more central player. I do like his character as well and, given that he's older, he has an interesting character arc that's a bit more fleshed out as well (and comparing that to Koto does make up one of the big themes of the series, the past vs the future and show how in many ways these two are complete opposites), but I just like Koto more. She's fun and kinetic, who doesn't like a young girl smashing apart the eternal with a magical hammer, and in some ways I feel like this story didn't completely cover her story. As the youngest cast member she has the most future ahead of her and I wish that it had at least given us a hint as to what she'll be doing now which is also my one complaint about the ending, he story just feels a little too loosely wrapped.

The Production Values: When doing all my little posts on the show I ended up rewatching all of the episodes, at least in part, multiple times and really appreciated the music while I was doing it, I really like the soundtrack! It's hard to articulate why, since I'm bad at describing music in general, but I thought that it always complimented the tone really well and worked perfectly with the semi-magical setting (I'm not quite sure of what the OP/ED mean, I remember the first fansubs I watched had subtitles and they seemed to work with the show well enough, but regardless I love the ED to death). And the art works nicely with the show as well, and by nicely I mean "provides tons and tons of symbolism on it's own and a vastly helps with themes). And a lot of the action looked nice and fluid, the art style often got a little looser for the action scenes (especially for Koto's familiars A and Un) but given the setting of the show that seemed just right none the less, it all came together beautifully.

Surprising no one I give this series a 4.5 out of 5 and a huge recommendation. Actually, I know a number of people who said "I tried it but episode 0 was too weird!" so I know more people must feel that way but here's the great thing, you don't need to watch it anymore. Although it does set the tone of the story in many ways the story has been so carefully rewritten that it's no longer necessary to understand it and you can skip straight to episode 1 if you want (and then of course watch it at the end since that'll put off the eventual pain of having no more Kyousougiga by another half hour). The show is streaming on crunchyroll, one of their last rescues of the season thank the powers that be, but sadly isn't licensed yet by any physical media distributors. I'm really hoping it gets picked up sometime soon and that whoever does puts it out on blu-ray as well, when I rewatch this series I want to do it on an oversized HD tv  to appreciate it without crunchyroll's constant buffering on my computer.