Kyoukai no Kanata – Episode 1

I am seriously steaming in anticipation here, and I’ve had to wait six freaking hours to get off work and watch this, but let’s just take the briefest of moments to cover what we’ve got here.

At the beginning of 2013, I was fairly sure Kyoto Animation were my favorite animation studio. Sure, I thought Lucky Star was incredibly dull, and K-On was pretty much the most empty thing I’d ever attempted to watch, but I enjoyed Haruhi, and they’d recently entered a trajectory of show creation that had left me pretty much stunned. Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was the first step, easily surpassing anything they’d done before, redeeming the incredibly self-indulgent second season of Haruhi, and basically proving how powerful their mastery of subtle character animation could be when applied to a story with some actual substance and resonance to it. This still seemed like a freak outlier, though, so when Hyouka arrived, I was still extremely on-the-fence about the studio. Hyouka ended all that – Hyouka was careful and personal and character-focused and once again absolutely hammered on their strengths, complemented by a graceful script that avoided most of the usual anime-isms of school dramas. Not that it was a drama, really – it was a slice of life. A true slice of life, a depiction of life as it actually happens, not life as it is idealized to occur inside the conflict-bereft 4.5 tatami walls of what normally passes for SoL around these parts. The strength of Hyouka single-handedly sold me on Chuunibyou’s dubious premise, and that too ended up being an actually honest production, telling a humble romance/character story soaked in that sense of nostalgia that always seems key to KyoAni’s aesthetic. I was impressed. I was moved. I was right there with them, ready to watch KyoAni unveil that perfect, insightful tale of youth and self that I was now certain was waiting, lurking, ready to born.

Then 2013 happened. I don’t want to talk about it.

But here we are. This show seems like it could go places – and by that I mean it has an actual plot and doesn’t appear overtly designed to wallow in one location pandering to one demographic. Which, in hindsight, might be the best thing I should actually hope for out of any KyoAni show. But I still think they’re an incredibly talented studio – even their productions which do nothing for me still clearly display a mastery of subtle character animation and comedic timing. Their better directors compliment this with great, purposeful direction, and when they team up with an actual writer, incredible things are possible.

This could be the moment. I don’t want to jinx it. Fuck it, if it’s jinxable I’ve already jinxed it. I’m just going for it.

Please, KyoAni. Let this be the one.

Episode 1

0:00 – Seriously, too excited. This is the first time since Gargantia I’ve gone into a show all giddy based purely on creator catalogue.

0:16 – And off to a great start 

0:30 – A self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking en medias res monologue intro? KyoAni you shouldn’t have


0:49 – Yesss. I even liked that “new student ribbon” verbal flourish. A protagonist who has a way with words, or at least thinks he has a way with words, is always a plus in my book

1:29 – Our hero

2:02 – Pretty striking.  I’m really liking this song – I hope the music stays as unique as it was in the earlier trailers, with the creepy tribal drums and such

2:22 – I mentioned nostalgia,  and I think KyoAni’s color schemes in particular have a great deal to do with that effect. Sunset/twilight colors were also dominant in Chuunibyou, and Hyouka was even more purposeful in its coloration – their palettes work quite well with the kind of stories they tell (along with, admittedly, the protagonists they always use to tell them – Kyon, Oreki, and Yuuta share more than a little in common)

2:33 – They played this as a joke the first time, but now it’s unclear. Could be pointing towards perception as a theme, could be nothing

2:58 – It’s good to see you again, KyoAni


3:39 – This is gonna be a fun ride 

3:57 – This shot is gorgeous. Really like the OP in general – it doesn’t give everything away, seeming more like it acts as a tiny little prologue or something

4:04 – That’s already a whole lot of flower imagery

4:25 – Seriously? The show’s first non-opening lines are a discussion of how narrative should emerge from character fundamentals and not narrative setpieces? Kill me now

5:37 – Looks like it’s ‘bout to get moe in here 

5:49 – Confirmed


6:31 – Disappointing. Really, really hate the practice of centering characters who just can’t really banter with the lead. If you’re going to make the male lead a jaded wisecracker, you need the female lead to be a Horo or a Benten, not a blob

I do like that they already know each other, and that this is actually a flash-forward. That both avoids wasting routine minutes on introductions and prompts a question of what happened following the intro scene

6:42 – That’s actually pretty great. The cute moe repository is adorably tailing him so she can… stab him with her giant blood-sword

7:12 – Solid way to dump exposition. Like with the scene in the literature club, arguments are generally one of the less-graceless ways to go over things both characters know

7:20 – More flowers 

Holy shit, I think this show is gonna be worth documenting! We have officially hit the requisite density of writing and motifs necessary to make this not just an exercise in self-indulgence!

7:49 – We Monogatari now? A quick progression of shots demonstrating how she wants to be perceived…yesss KyoAni YESSSSS


8:24 – See, she can dual him. The shielded but obvious jealousy kinda reminds me of FLCL or something

8:53 – Continuing on from the earlier narrative-awareness, the show immediately mocks the idea that it would go in a tsundere/oblivious male lead direction

9:14 – THIS is how you do magical realism, and honestly how most fantasy should be done. No, it’s not fantastical – it’s just their world, it’s just their life. Fantasy is a distancing factor if it’s fantastical to the characters – if it’s just their reality, you can actually get swept up in it. Not to mention it being far more graceful and narrative/character-friendly than “normal person goes to fantasyland and spends six episodes being told how the rules of this universe work”. I don’t give a shit about your arbitrary rules, I’m here for what you’re doing with them

11:40 – I always knew KyoAni would one day use their powers for Good. Lovely animation throughout


12:08 – This whole episode is extremely well directed. I like how they’re playing off classic horror movie shots (this sequence, when she appears in half-shadow as he’s leaving school) and trading them with their already practiced slapstick. And I’m still kinda impressed they used character gaze so abruptly and efficiently with the other girl

12:20 – Damnit KyoAni you’re making me look bad. 

Clearly their most self-aware production.

13:09 – The Youmu accidentally interrupts another KyoAni show

14:27 – Dat chemistry 

15:16 – Good. She’s smarter than she looks. Fears averted

15:42 – I like this shot. They’re keeping up the horror movie aesthetic very nicely. And the soundtrack is turning out like I’d hoped – all creepy, evocative instrumental pieces


17:58 – Not your usual KyoAni fare. Really liking her character so far

18:25 – Another very nice shot. The compositions don’t feel as carefully constructed as Monogatari or Uchouten Kazoku, but they’re obviously rich in KyoAni’s own very specific way


18:44 – Really like how forward he is. It’s clear he has a crush on her, and he’s pretty much immediately acting on it. I know tons of shows bait with progression in the first episode and then spin their wheels (like this one!), but it’s still a good sign

19:33 – Clever work, KyoAni. She’s actually fairly competent, but goes moe as hell when it comes to lying. That’s one way to have your cake and eat it too

20:45 – Making the most of this set

Dear god do I ever find it baffling that KyoAni can spin between stuff like this and stuff like Free. Doesn’t their staff get bored? They’re so talented!

21:13 – Speaking of horror movie shots 


And Done

HOLY SHIT YES. GYAH that ending was great. Setting up the horror movie confrontation, bouncing between the perspectives, leading in the ED song so well… fuck. Yes.

Alright, I think this is the best first episode of a KyoAni show I’ve seen. I mean… goddamn. Yeah. I think we’re doing this. I think they’ve finally arrived. Alright, KyoAni. Show me what you can really do.

8 thoughts on “Kyoukai no Kanata – Episode 1

  1. To be honest, aside from Ghibli, I don’t hold studios in too high of a regard because they’re a bit too hit and miss in quality for me. There are some that are consistently terrible with the occasional good show and I can point out certain traits, but for the most part I just use a studio to decide what I’ll be expecting rather than what’ll be good.

    Glad you liked the first episode though. Many people seem to have complaints with it, but I’ve seen other praised anime do far worse than this.

    • I think the furthest I can trust studios is “if this is a studio I know can make impressive things AND this idea has potential, maybe it will be good.” Even studios I like just make a lot of shows to pay the bills – like Brain’s Base, who seem to have settled on a very lucrative ratio of reverse harems/shows with actual writing.

  2. Your Kyoto Animation narrative makes me kind of sad. Lucky Star was dull, yes, but I’m not sure you’re on-base with the rest of the story. Disappearance didn’t need to redeem the second season of Haruhi—”Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody” is one of the better episodes of anime of the last five years, Endless Eight was endless joy, and the Sighs arc was on par with the best season one had to offer. While Disappearance WAS fantastic, it was no surprise coming on the heels of Clannad After Story’s second half, or the better episodes of Kanon 2006. Kyoto Animation has shown itself capable of the things you praise time and again since 2005. I haven’t watched Nichijou, so I’m missing a data point, but through 2012 Kyoto Animation’s main flaws are its grotesquely humongous buy-in on moe (K-on!’s Mio being a top contender for most egregious instance) and its blasé treatment of gendered violence (see: AIR, Chuunibyou).

    Then 2013 arrives. Kyoto Animation keeps doing what it has always done: printed moeney. Tamako Market isn’t a disappointment unless you’ve watched and enjoyed K-on!! (same staff, and they clearly try to cheat their way to K-on!!’s charm within the first episode—it feels invasive). Free! could have been a bit better if Kyoto Animation had presented a complementary guide to misogyny for all the haters to contemplate, but was otherwise a fine television series.

    I say these things not to defend Kyoto Animation—I enjoy a healthy love-hate relationship with the studio—but to question the story you present in your post. How is this year different from any other? How is this show different from any other its studio has presented?

    Hyouka is still the high point of Kyoto Animation for me, I think, but we’ll see where this Kyoukai no Kanata takes us.

    I’m unexcited by the glasses character. I know NaPaTa said that a character’s charm lies in her contradictions, but the disconnect between her elegance in combat and the gratuitous dojikko displays (tripping over mops, wires, and nothing) is grating at best. The other girl seems fine thus far, though I wish she didn’t sound four years old. The immortal guy is refreshing, to an extent, but we need to give the show another episode or two to differentiate him from Kyoto Animation’s past male leads. They’ve been drinking the Kyon juice for seven and a half years, and it’s easy to see where the juice misled them (Kanon 2006 being a great example: the lead HAD a preexisting personality—see Kanon—and it was overwritten, in part, by Kyon), so it’s entirely possible that they’ll fail to innovate. Time will tell. Best part so far was the Mexican food. I’m going to go eat an enchilada now.

    • Eh, it’s just my experience of their shows. Although I think you’re one of the few people I’ve met to not just defend Endless Eight on artistic/experimental merits, but actually as something that wasn’t extremely tedious to sit through. But I actually agree with you about the rest of the season – I think Bamboo Leaf and the Sigh arc were indeed some of the best of Haruhi, it’s just Endless Eight’s insanity that I take issue with.

      As far as 2013 goes, their pure moe shows just do absolutely nothing for me – I don’t really enjoy (or respect in a critical sense) cuteness for cuteness’s sake as a show goal, and so Tamako Market lost me pretty quickly. With Free!, my problem is not its existence in the slightest – in fact, I got more than a little schadenfreudic glee out of watching angry entitled moe fans rant about it. My problem with it was that I just didn’t think it was GOOD – I thought the drama was overwrought, the characters undercooked, the sports elements weightless, and the narrative as paint-by-numbers as you can get. I’m perfectly fine with a show about dudes swimming, I just didn’t think it really did much with them.

      Agreed completely on the Kyon-alikes complaint. This guy already seems like he’s less sarcastic and more willing to engage with the world, but we’ll have to see.

      • That’s fair I guess. I did in fact enjoy watching Endless Eight. And I think Tamako Market is more than cuteness for cuteness’s sake, much like K-on!. There’s a lot of substance beneath the underneath 😉

    • Bored, huh? That’s an interesting complaint – I felt this episode was actually quite well paced, and of course it had actual action scenes and whatnot, which are rare for KyoAni. What are your favorite KyoAni shows?

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