Reviewby Theron Martin,
complete TV series streaming
There once was a monk named Myoue, who lived alone on a mountainside because his ability to make his pictures come to life disturbed the locals. Koto, a rabbit he had drawn, came to love him, and to ease his loneliness she cut a deal with a Buddha to take on human form. Soon their family also included an adopted son and an older brother and younger sister (who was a demon) whom Myoue created to be companions for their son. They lived happily, but when the villagers would not tolerate their strange presence any further the monk decided to permanently lead his family into an alternate version of Kyoto he created in his pictures, one where people did not die and things that were broken eventually repaired themselves. Eventually the monk and Koto left, leaving the children to mind the Looking Glass world. Centuries later a stranger appears in the town for the first time ever: a red-eyed girl also named Koto who wields a hammer capable of smashing through dimensional barriers and seeks a black rabbit. As rambunctious as she is, she gives the three siblings pause, for everything that she is and does suggests that she may, indeed, be their sibling, and thus a big clue as to where their parents went. And each of the three original children, for his or her own reasons, has long wished for the return of their parents.
The TV series version of Kyousogiga is an extended remake of a series of six ONAs originally spread over 2011 and the second half of 2012, which themselves do not appear to have been based on any pre-existing content. Despite some striking stylistic similarities to FLCL and some other Gainax works, it was actually created by Izumi Todo, the mind behind the Pretty Cure franchise, and is a product of a Toei Animation team headed by one Rie Matsumoto, whose lead directorial experience in anime is, so far, limited to this franchise. This will almost certainly not be the last project she is called on to helm, for in crafting this eccentric little series she has grasped a certain manic energy and grafted it into a deeply introspective story about the members of a very odd family and the mirror-world version of Kyoto that they live in. The result is a frenetic mix of science fiction, Buddhist spiritualism, fairy tale sensibility, and achingly deep sentimentality which comes together surprisingly well, enough so that it stands as one of 2013's top series.
Nothing about the series is entirely conventional, and that includes the way that the story is structured. The first episode is straightforward enough, as in a somewhat fairy tale-like fashion it describes the initial set-up of the premise. Following it, though, is a set of four episodes which each advance the overall story a little while primarily focusing on exploring the viewpoint and attitude of one of the four most important characters: Koto first and then each of the siblings who make up the Council of Three in turn. They are followed by episode 5.5, a live-action sidelight in which one of the lead seiyuu explores various actual locations used as models for locations in the animation. Then come five episodes where the true core of the plot – the efforts to find mother Koto, the return of their father, and the complications he brings with him – plays out and comes to a head. Episode 11 is then purely a recap. An episode 0 also exists which is an extended preview of the whole series, but prospective viewers can easily skip it without feeling like they have missed anything.
That early emphasis on character development ends up being important in the series' second half, as it contributes mightily to the series' emotional appeal. The writing never becomes sappy or grossly manipulative in the vein of a Key/Visual Art's title, instead generating a more pleasing and sympathetic level of sentimentality which drives home that, no matter how chaotic the circumstances may be and no matter whether everyone is truly related by blood or not, this is still a family that, for the most part, desperately wants to be together. This becomes critical to holding the series together as some late shocking revelations about the nature of the Looking Glass Kyoto and the original Myoue (i.e., the father) come to light.
The series has other factors going for it, too. The younger Koto is an immensely appealing character: a tomboyish girl who, despite supposedly being 14, is still fully vested with a childlike exuberance. The charm of her disarming grin and matter-of-fact approach to everything is hard to resist, and she does not disappoint when it comes to the more emotional content later on. The cast she interacts with is lively enough and seems a bit fresher than normal even in cases where the characters stray near common archetypes. The setting also offers some fascinating peculiarities, such as the world's curious notion about how recycling works.
The artistic style also gives the series considerable separation from other titles. The animation style was clearly at least inspired by certain Gainax works, and probable influence from certain elements of the Monogatari franchise is frequently evident, though under Matsumoto's guidance those two are combined into something that is ultimately a departure from either. Unimportant crowd figures are often portrayed in abstract form, which can take the form of stick figures or other CG-generated icon-like shapes; whether this was done as a style point or a cost-saving animation issue or both, it definitely serves to reinforce the weirdness of the setting. The meeting room of the Council of Three is also a design marvel. Character designs are distinctly-defined and often far from typical; the tall, lithe, motherly Koto does not even remotely resemble any other anime character, for instance, nor does Yase, the demonic sister, with her blond pigtails, frilly dress and hat, and deeply disconcerting all-black eyes when not taking on her rampaging demon form. Oh, and God eventually shows up, too, in a rather unexpected form, one whose nature may drive viewers to rewatch earlier parts of the series to find out if he has actually been making cameos all along. (He has.) The artistry entirely avoids fan service and only has significant graphic content in one episode, although it is fairly strong in that episode.
The music, courtesy of a relative newcomer to anime, is also a joy. Soulful and fully-orchestrated opener “Koko” wonderfully sets the tone as it speaks to both the heart and energy of the series and also sets the stage for a musical score which favors light but dramatic numbers occasionally enhanced by celestial vocals, poignant piano numbers, and folksy tunes for lighter moments. A lovely insert song sung in English is also a highlight of a key moment in a late episode. Closer “Shissou Ginga,” whose style is highly reminiscent of The Pillows' famous FLCL closer “Ride on Shooting Star,” is also a better-than-expected fit. On the voice acting front, Kazuki Yao never seems like a comfortable fit as Chief Priest but otherwise the cast acquits itself well.
If Kyousogiga has a significant flaw, it's that it does have a tendency to let some of its conversations run on a little too long, and even changing perspectives and having characters walk around while talking cannot entirely disguise that. The artistic style will also definitely not suit everyone. Even so, the series as a whole delivers, ultimately providing a highly satisfying viewing experience.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A
+ Unconventional style and storytelling, deep but not sappy sentimentality, great musical support
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