A Few Notes
First impressions are important. Whether you realize it or not, it has been scientifically proven that most people (and that most likely includes both of us) decide what they think about someone within minutes of meeting them, that if someone is introduced as being ‘funny’, then people will think he is funny regardless of how funny he really is. There have been a common thread making its rounds at anime sites about how people can’t fathom reviews being useful if reviewers haven’t finished watching the entire show. Frankly, I can’t conceive how that could logically make sense. If someone drops a show prior to finishing, I would find it equally valuable that he describes why he did not finish it than someone describing why he did finish it. Because should be clear to every single person that it is possible — and even more so, it is rational — to judge something without every last piece of evidence; that science itself is partially descriptive and not prescriptive proves this. No one could ever know everything about anything.
The idea, then, that any judgment is without value before all possible evidence is accrued is illogical, because it must imply that a person is absolutely clueless about any anime that he is watching until the very last second on the last episode, in which he instantaneously deserves to have an opinion — and if this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. And we can draw any arbitrary cut-off where it could be said that a person who have watched less than that cut-off can hold no valuable conclusion, whether it’s half-way into the show, or a third, or 4 episodes. The consequences are the same. The fact is that experience is perceived as a continuous process: it starts the moment an anime starts. If someone has the articulation to explain to me what compelled him to drop a given show 7 seconds into its intro, such that his explanation enlightens me to his very temperament within those 7 seconds, then this review would be more valuable than a piece that is less expressive yet covers more watching time. In the end it is expressiveness, or the ability to describe one’s thoughts, that makes reviews valuable regardless of how much ‘knowledge’ the reviewer contains.
Yet there are many people who are vocal and insistent that any review from just 1 episode (or some other number) must always be worthless no matter what, and that they would vote it down regardless. While I am far from confident in my abilities to judge an anime within 7 seconds, I will not even flinch when I say I could relatively accurately judge an anime from less than 1 entire episode — give me 7 minutes. Hence the 7-minute preview. I have judged many anime in the past within 7 minutes, but this is my first attempt at articulating the thought process. So without further ado, I present to you Kyoukai no Kanata within 7 minutes!
If you are not an avid anime fan, if perhaps you’ve just started getting into anime and have only seen the few that have been aired on cable TV, then Kyoukai no Kanata is the perfect place to start. Its primary setting is the high school which is very common in anime; it will give you insight into Japanese culture. And at the same time it will infuse some supernatural elements and fanciful fights also common in anime. And it does this with superb animation and a well-paced plot. If you find that you happen to enjoy anime but you haven’t watched a lot of it, and haven’t picked up the various patterns and beats that occur, you will enjoy it, and you should stop reading this at this very moment.
However, people who are more aware of the medium will immediately pick up on its conventions, the familiarity of the structure permeates through the narrative of this show, in a sense that it can be no coincidence: the writers have most likely penned this piece to these cliches, perhaps due to their proven effectiveness in producing stories that sell. Those of us who have been around anime for too long — we’re a minority. To see a Hollywood equivalent of what I’m talking about, look up Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, which entails some 15-17 kinds of scenes and the exact minute at which they should occur to help establish the drama in a movie (the link shows how Toy Story 3 uses it to great effect).
While I can’t prove it, Kyoukai no Kanata feels like it follows a Japanese anime’s equivalent of Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. It must have been penned by industry professionals rather than any genuine artist. The very first scene going in, very beautifully animated, attempts to establish authenticity with the main protagonist Akihito Kanbara, and it does this by deliberately breaking the 4th wall for a moment and commenting on the absurdity of the event it presents. But the perfection in which this is directed spells pretentiousness. The narration, in the voice of Akihito, begins with an exposition about suicide, commenting:
According to the dictionary, suicide is defined as ‘the act of taking one’s own life’.
Since we all know what suicide means, this line is neither enlightening to us nor about the character; there is really no reason for Akihito to be pondering the definition of suicide. The reason this line is uttered, as we should soon see, is to underline how ‘normal’ it wants us to feel about Akihito in a poorly attempted stream of consciousness. By having Akihito bring up suicide, and saying he has never really thought about it (despite thinking about it right now), it attempts to contrast him against the fantasy setting so that we are better able to relate to him as a real person.
Then we see Mirai Kuriyama standing on the edge of a rooftop, ironically prompting Akihito to end his musings about suicide. Here, the next few lines are equally calculating. Akihito continues:
This is where the progression in stories take two strongly divergent paths. Down one path, the protagonist actively participates in the story and aids in its progression. Down the other, the protagonist remains passive and allows the story to carry itself. I clearly belonged to the second category, but for some reason I chose to follow the first path!
Once again, Kyoukai no Kanata wants us to believe that Akihito is not the typical hero who unrealistically wanders into the affairs of others, that his following actions are the result of spontaneity. But we are not fooled! Protagonists, by the very definition of a ‘protagonist’ in an Archplot, make their own plot. This applies to the vast majority of stories, whether in Hollywood or anime. In countless other shows that paved the path to this one (Clannad, Bleach, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Eureka 7, Monster, To Aru Majutsu no Index, etc.), the protagonists went on a limb and stuck their heads where they didn’t belong, prompting the entire series of events. There’s no reason for us to expect any differently here, especially since the rambling personality of Akihito makes him essentially the next in the line of Kyon (from Haruhi) archetypes. We know that it is within Akihito’s DNA to get involved, and we know that he will be doing it throughout the show. Critics might say, “Well you don’t know, since the show might exceed your expectations.” We allow for that possibility while noting its unlikelihood.
So Akihito runs up to the rooftop and attempts to persuade Mirai with some uncomfortable humor. Mirai then does a backflip 4 meters into the air over a steel fence, holding in her hand a red sword dripping with blood, and predictably stabs Akihito — and I say ‘predictably’ because this isn’t the first time a girl has attacked the protagonist in an anime show in order to draw them into her world. We can probably say, in this age, that this is one of the masochistic fantasies of an otaku. But Akihito doesn’t die. And while he’s in pain, he’s clearly not in that much pain. Mirai asks what the hell he is, to which he responds:
That’s what I should be asking you.
And this wraps up our opening exposition with the last of a series of lies. Since neither Akihito nor Mirai seems to be in complete shock despite the rarity of the event, so to speak, we could rationally surmise that they know exactly what they’ve gotten themselves into. Rather, Kyoukai no Kanata wants us to be puzzled, it wants to create this mysterious vibe, so it deliberately delays this development with some ambiguous speech to mislead us.
I’ve included the OP in my 7 minutes because if the OP is a compilation of what the studio thinks will catch our attention, that it is a trailer of sorts, then what better way is there to see what kind of values and themes would develop over the course of the show? And there are a lot of things we can speculate from the OP. For example, we know for certain that Mirai Kuriyama will be the main object of affection due to the amount of screen time she gets, both at the start of the OP, and then towards the end (important). The symbolism before and after Mirai’s appearance near the end of the OP is that of duality, meaning romance or some contention of a person fighting his dark side — one or the other — will be a focal point in the show.
It is also clear from the OP that school life and magic both will dominate the show at equal lengths. The first half of the OP shows almost exclusively shots of people going to school, whereas the latter half, except for shots of Mirai, is purely action. It introduces to us not only the kinds of abilities we can expect going forward, but also that there will be at least a half dozen or so characters with these abilities. In one shot we see a male character who is also seen walking with Mitsuki Nase, Akihito’s senpai in the Literary Club, fending off a bunch of what are presumably youmu’s. The magic abilities seem to involve barriers and elements.
From this and the barrier around the high school, we can reliably speculate that the the scope of the cast, like in many other shows, will centralize around the high school. Judging from the script so far, I won’t be expecting very deep subtext like there exists in Josei anime like Sakamichi no Apollon. Rather, I expect this to be of the Shounen stripe, with very forthcoming, surface-level romance that is based in action rather than emotion or thoughts. In other words, I expect Kyoukai no Kanata to be a mixture of Haruhi and perhaps To Aru Majutsu no Index. The action is well animated, but the snippets shown seem to focus on speed and power rather than special techniques or strategy, so I think that while it might be interesting to watch, it won’t break any new ground that other Shounen anime haven’t already covered.
There are two scenes of note in the OP that might give us a good insight on the kind of developments there will be. One of them shows Mirai holding a letter of sorts, while grabbing her other arm. This is an increasingly common (and overused) gesture in anime to indicate self-pity and sadness. These are the kinds of things I don’t like to see in anime, because they signify conformity to conventions, cliches if you will. While I understand that different cultures have gestures of their own, this isn’t a cultural issue as it is an issue of laziness: the use of conventions to depict emotion instead of the much harder countenance and authenticity of the script. It doesn’t follow that just because we know when characters, for example, are showing angst when they look down and their eyes fade to darkness that this should substitute any range of manifestations of emotions because it’s easy to animate. When we know that a character is sad not because she is showing genuine sadness, but because she is doing something that symbolizes sadness, such that we understand sadness from the symbol and not the character, this detracts from the characters as people. It works only because we understand the conventions being used, but we can also understand that it is not genuine.
The second scene of note in the OP is Akihito running in some kind of tunnel, presumably chasing after something, or as I think, someone:
As this is already getting long-winded, the next minute and a half I’ll just summarize as the show building, once again, our sympathy for Akihito by having him make an observation about cliches in murder mysteries. It also establishes the relation between Akihito and Mitsuki, and their level of familiarity with the casual and sarcastic tones of their voices, which probably means more in Japan than it does here. This would probably have been interesting if it hadn’t been done in Haruhi (once again, the Kyon archetype), OreImo, OreGairu, Hyouka, and countless other anime of this type. The sarcasm was once fresh, but has now become more stale than my laundry. And thus the humor becomes forced and predictable.
The next scene follows a list of cliches that is easier demonstrated than asserted. I will first note that by establishing this as the ‘narrative voice’, or the sentiment, or mood, of the show in the first episode, I can tell that this show will never enter truly dark territory, and we could expect a lot of episodes dealing with the awkward coddling of Mirai in order to establish some sort of Chuunibyou-esque romance. This scene squashes my hopes for this show as it goes on, just minutes into the show, not because a show needs to be dark to be good, but that it needs to demonstrate cohesion and originality. Anyways, we first see Mirai hiding behind a table before she approaches Akihito. Yes, this can be considered comedic relief, but at the same time consider the consequences to their characters. Akihito confronts Mirai and she runs away, and being the clutz that she is when she isn’t doing acrobatic feats that require high dexterity to pull off, she runs into a storage and falls down. So first:
In any case, this sequence indicates, at least to me, the emotional maturity of our two main leads, that they clearly fall within typical Shounen capacity. From the first 7 minutes, I’ve established that Kyoukai no Kanata will be a school-life and magic fusion, not unlike Ao no Exorcist actually. It will feature typical characters in their various cliches, and cliche gestures, pandering to these conventions that might bewilder and evoke amusement from casual watchers who think the personality is genuine, and perhaps a nod of the head from the otakus who pay into this kind of thing. The magic thing seems rather typical as well, with human and youmu; I wouldn’t be surprised if they introduced angels later on, or maybe some organization which knows the secret behind youmu, to put into play political intrigue that’s most likely shallow (consider Hakkenden , Trinity Blood, To Aru Majutsu no Index, Blood Lad, Makai Ouji, or any other Shounen anime that features demons within human population).
Our 7 minutes end with Akihito revealing that he is a half-youmu, thereby confirming what we speculated earlier in the intro, that he is not the ordinary hero thrust into a world of magic by impulse and coincidence. But those of you who are watching this likely still think so anyways. Because first impressions are important. If you introduce someone as a normal person, people will think of him as a normal person even if he is not normal.
I will give the preview two scores. The Tentative Score is what I would give the first 7 minutes only, and the Predictive Score is what I expect the overall show to be. I will make a wager that when I do finish the show, my final score will not be more than +/-1 point from my Predictive Score.
TENTATIVE SCORE: 4.4
PREDICTIVE SCORE: 4.8