Every once in a while, there is a show that reminds you why you love the medium in the first place. May it be through the narrative completely enthralling you, the story resonating with personal events or just because it strikes a chord and makes you emotionally invested in what is going to happen. Kyousougiga is that show, and to me it is something that you can only really find in this medium.
One of the first things to notice about Kyousougiga is that this is not the first Kyousougiga anime. The original was released in 2011 and was a 1 episode long ONA produced by Toei Animation and then followed up in 2012 with a 5 episode long OVA series made up of 10 minute long, seemingly unconnected character profiles. So, do you need to watch these two previous shows to watch Kyousougiga (TV)? Not at all, everything from the previous two shows is repeated and expanded upon in here with episode 0 being a straight up remake of the ONA and episodes 2-6 covering what were the OVA’s but in more detail. This however does not mean it is a straight up continuation, a lot of themes and story elements are changed entirely and is in all around different experience in the second half. This also means that fans of the original ONA and OVA’s may be disappointed in the drastic changes made, especially due to it being more exposition driven than the previous iterations but for the most part it carries off this new direction well.
The story is relatively simple yet undeniably complex at the same time, with a narrative that fluctuates between linear and non-linear story telling it essentially creates a jigsaw like plot that slowly evolves as the storyline progresses and the true nature of certain individuals and events come into perspective. What starts off with what is essentially an anime interpretation of the classic Lewis Caroll novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland quickly becomes something else entirely, because at the heart of it, Kyousougiga is a story about family and self-discovery yet at the same time so much more. This show borrows heavily from Buddhist ideology, the Choujuu-giga, the Buddhist tale of Hariti/Kishimojin, the history of Kyoto and is also very reminiscent of classic anime such as FLCL, Paprika and The Tatami Galaxy in its presentation and narrative. All of this make Kyousougiga a show that is surprisingly more complex than it appears at face value yet is completely enjoyable to someone who does not want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
The show does suffer in the second half due to its low budget as there are many scenes which rely heavily on exposition. This unfortunately makes the second half of the show very divisive but all the themes that were in the first half are still there and the story takes the utmost logical route possible for what it is. This however is still Kyousougiga’s weakest element but I feel all of things great about Kyousougiga more than make up for it. And no need to worry, the ending is also excellent and ties up all the messages and themes nicely while returning to the quality of the earlier episodes.
One major advantage that Kyousougiga has over other stories which deal with a character “going through the looking glass” is that the characters here feel like actual people with realistic motivations and characteristics and are not just an embodiment of the world in itself for the most part. A large aspect of the story just thrives on pure character development for the Council of Three which the story completely revolves around for the majority of the story and by the time that the true plot kicks in circa-episode 6 you do feel invested in these. That being said, there are a number of side characters that could have been implemented better, mainly for those that make up the entourage of Kurama and Yase such as Shoko and Fushimi and Myoue/Yakushimaru’s girlfriend who just seems to exist for some reason or another but for a 10 episode series it is done well enough for the majority of characters still to be memorable.
One of the major factors that gathered my interest in this show is art style. Needless to say it is excellent with a lot of focus on colour and lighting which really support the sporadic tone of the show. There is a lot of subtlety in the art itself such as Mirror Kyoto being a lot more vibrant and colourful than its real world counterpart which focuses on shading and almost washed out colours to contrast with the unique character designs. There is also an undying playfulness about the art as there are many scenes where the artists incorporate watercolour like elements to make them stand out or put emphasis on the backgrounds while never being in your face about these elements like a show such as FLCL would. The use of lighting and shadowing in this show is fantastic which really bring to the forefront the amount of detail that the artists put into every scene, and there is a lot of detail. That is what I personally think the show excels in, no nook or cranny is underutilised and every scene is filled with trippy, psychedelic visuals all the way through to ultra-realistic and complex structures and backgrounds.
However the same cannot be said about the animation at parts. Don’t get me wrong when it is good it is some of the best, but when it is bad it is very reminiscent of the infamous elevator scene in Neon Genesis Evangelion. This is one certain scene where Koto is standing at a station, unblinking, while CGI shenanigans occur in the foreground as well as the soon to be infamous “walking exposition” scene in episode 9 due to budget constraints. Luckily these scenes are few and far between but they do pull you out of your emersion at crucial points in the story. However, the shows particle effects used and the animation put into the action orientated scenes more than make up for it as they are gorgeous, everything from snow to dust flickering in the light looks realistic and really well down and really transform a scene where there is very little character movement to something very dynamic. There is also a reliance on CGI, and usually I absolutely hate CGI but here it is done pretty tastefully here. The majority of the CGI consists of indescribable light structures and computer generated people that are used to fill up space in mirror Kyoto or hanging ornaments inside the Council of Three Chamber, other than that it was relatively unnoticeable and fit the show pretty well.
Where this anime really shines is its soundtrack by Go Shiina. This may be the first time since Yoko Kanno’s work on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex that a soundtrack has been completely diverse yet fits the tone and setting perfectly. The pieces of music used in the show range from minimalist and melancholic Piano sonata’s such as the track “Promises in the Snow” all the way through to the track “Shoko” which is a strange mixture of Metal, Hip-Hop, Classical and Electronica which comes together surprisingly well. However, the real meat of this soundtrack comes from the absolutely incredible symphonic pieces which are very reminiscent of Joe Hisaishi’s work on Princess Mononoke and capture the emotions and events shown on screen incredibly well.
I wouldn’t usually talk about the opening theme of show, but damn, the track Koko by Tamurapan may be the one of best Anime OPs I have ever heard really, it captures the feeling of the show perfectly and is just is bloody good song all around. There is also the insert song “The Secret of My Life” which is not only a great track, but is used exceptionally well in the context of the show.
To me Kyousougiga is a masterpiece as it is everything an excellent anime should be. However, its budget really holds it back from being perfect and that is where the flaws really appear so I cannot give this show a 10 from an objective stand point although I personally think it does deserve it on enjoyment alone. The show is full of heart and passion and I really feel that the people who worked on this really did make the best of the resources that they had and with a higher budget this show would be perfect to me.
+ Absolutely beautiful art and soundtrack.
+ Great characters and a unique story.
+ Surprisingly deep and thought-provoking.
- The narrative and animation is weaker in the second half at points.
- Fans of the ONAs and OVA may be disappointed in the change of direction.
- Some side characters could have had better development.