Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 20th 2013
Beyond the Boundary
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Akihiko Kanbara is the immortal and indestructible offspring of a forbidden union: the child of a youmu—mythical beasts that only special people can see—and a youmu hunter. He's got a serious glasses fetish and a soft spot for cute girls, which means there's no way he can leave Mirai Kuriyama, an adorably bespectacled hunter outcast, alone. Even when she tries to kill him. As the two get comfortable with one another, Akihiko learns of the cursed blood that isolates Mirai and Mirai learns of the mixed blood that isolates him.
Beyond the Boundary my sweet patootie. Kyoto Animation's latest action offering is nothing if not inside the boundary. Way, way inside the narrow walls of its chosen genre, retracing paths worn smooth by generations of monster-busting supernatural action. Frankly, though, that's the least of Boundary's problems. Many a series has flourished beautifully within those walls, and Boundary has the invaluable advantage of being tended to by Kyoto Animation, a studio whose animation prowess can—and has—raised stone-dead series from their graves. Which gives you some sense for how dire Boundary's situation is. Because even with all of that gorgeous animation talent behind it, it comes only fitfully and ephemerally to life.
Why that is is a daunting question. Not because the reasons are elusive, but because so damned much has to go wrong—from the show's basic building blocks to the interplay of character and story with animation and art—for Boundary to defeat the invigorating effects of KyoAni's wizards and end up the divertingly forgettable trifle that it is.
Let's begin with Mirai. Character animation is perhaps KyoAni's specialty of specialties. And cute girls are a specialty wrapped in those specialties. (Think of it as a specialty cubed.) Mirai is so far inside KyoAni's comfort zone that... well, they should be really comfortable with her. I've said before that KyoAni's girls (speaking specifically of K-on!'s cast) exude personality so palpably, from their physical presence alone, that dialogue and backstory are practically moot. And I stand by that. Mirai is a cuddly cipher, an adorably lethal klutz capable of peerlessly fluid violence and equally deadly cuteness. She is also thoroughly uninteresting.
How is that possible? Well, initially she's pretty potent, but subsequent events backpedal on her violent streak, confining it to her battles with beasties and turning her opening rampage into a kind of weird joke (she just wanted to practice!). In the show's rush to make us love Mirai, it files away her dark, sharp edges. In the meantime, director Taichi Ishidate pushes her sweet, clumsy, diminutive meganekko image so hard that it crowds out whatever darkness of personality, whatever remnants of troubled psyche, survive. When the show pulls back the curtain to reveal the tragic stains darkening Mirai's past, it's impossible to see the damage that those stains have dealt behind the blinding brightness of her cuteness. She's—and I honestly thought I'd never say this—just too adorable.
All of which guts any impact that Mirai's emotional revelations might have had. Which in turn makes Mirai a curiously empty character, all surface lovability with no emotional weight to swing and thus no leverage to make us truly care about her.
Akihito similarly guts his big emotional scenes, but in a far more straightforward manner. Akihito comes across his emptiness the old-fashioned way. He's just empty to begin with. KyoAni does what it can with him, making him an active, physically vibrant presence, but his animators are scrambling for purchase where there is none. He's a glasses fetish and a tragic back-story wrapped around a big sucking black hole of agreeable nothingness. When he swings an emotional punch—and he gets a couple, especially in episode 4—it lands with the force of a windblown feather.
Because Akihito is a colorful nonentity and Mirai a lovely girl-shaped blob of meaningless cuteness, they really can't share any chemistry. So the romance brewing beneath the action comes out dull and uninvolving. Because we don't truly care about them—at least not beyond a vague fondness born of physical appeal and a general lack of noxious personality traits—we're left on the outside of the magical beastie-brawls, which quickly become a series of academic exercises in action showboating. Likewise the supernatural drama collapses in on itself, reduced to exquisitely atmospheric glimpses of gobbledygook machinations that we can't be bothered to try and sort through.
Every possible support crumbles from under the series, leaving only KyoAni's visuals to prop it up. It's a testament to the studio's animation genius, and to the power of pure motion, that that actually works. Not well, mind you; but well enough. The series as a whole is a lovely little bauble: lacking in lasting artistic impact, perhaps, but nevertheless a pleasure to behold. The raw joy to be had from following the cast, each with their own beautifully-realized body language and locomotion, as they navigate Boundary's vivid world, moving sometimes with subtly detailed delicacy and sometimes with stunning fluidity, is not to be underestimated. (Hikaru Nanase's score, on the other hand, can be safely underestimated. It's a good workaday score, the kind that does as it's asked, no more or less.)
And to be absolutely fair, Boundary does have other scattered charms. Akihito's hilariously embarrassing mom for instance. Or the shock of his rampaging youmu form. And as the lighter-than-air sixth episode proves, the series puts together a pretty mean fluff episode. But ultimately all you'll take away from Boundary is a respect for its technical mastery and a rapidly evanescing sense of nebulous enjoyment.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Typically superb execution from Kyoto Animation; pleasant enough most of the time.
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