An enjoyably uplifting… and incredibly weird tale about the power of family.
Studio(s): Toei Animation
Genre(s): Action, Fantasy, Supernatural
And now for the story of how one family’s drama damn near destroyed the universe. Eat your heart out, Star Wars. I kid, of course… mostly. Kyousougiga is one of those shows I was extremely drawn to on a visual level but never finished when I started my initial run-through. I don’t even remember the reasoning behind my putting it on hold. School, most likely. That or I got distracted by some other show. Either way, I went ahead and watched through the rest of it recently and… I have no idea why I didn’t finish it, really. It was delightful, from beginning to end. (See what I did there? Anyone? Eh?) But all jokes aside – for real, this time – it wouldn’t be a retrospective without me cracking it open to see how it worked.
The first thing I’ll address is the allusions to Alice in Wonderland. They’re… pretty blatant. But I’ve only ever seen the movies, I can’t really say how much they are or aren’t using. What’s more, they’re creating their own spin on the tale by blending it with a lot of Buddhist philosophy and themes. There’s plenty of obvious stuff. Literal Buddhas in the plot, a lot of the visual symbology and aesthetic touches, the works. But I don’t really intend to focus on the culture stuff. Not because it’s not well done or doesn’t enhance the story at all. I find that it actually gives the story quite a bit of character. It helps it stand out, in a way. I’m certain thorough analysis of the cultural element of the story would only make it better (something I will briefly touch on with a few characters). But, at its core, this is a story about familial bonds and the power they have to help one overcome the depths of despair.
As always, let’s start with the general plot. The story follows two characters in particular – a plucky tomboy of a girl named Koto and a mopey “priest” named Myoue. Koto is part of an organization called “The Shrine,” which is responsible for upholding the balance of the twelve planes. She embarks on a mission to track down a black rabbit that she believes to be her mother, who she never got to meet. This adventure brings her to the Looking Glass City – another world where man and monster coexist. It’s here that she meets Myoue – one of the three rulers of this city as a reluctant member of the council of three, alongside his brother and sister. But he wants nothing to do with it as he spends much of his time brooding over the disappearance of his own parents, but especially his beloved mother… also named Koto. And it’s not long after meeting Koto that he believes the two can help each other.
Avoiding the low-hanging-fruit that is the deluge of Isekai jokes (mind you, Alice in Wonderland, which this is based on, is kind of the Granddaddy of that genre), I like the approach to how this story was broken up, telling everything in chapters that are, for the most part, fairly easy to follow. Early on, we learn about the circumstances that brought the family together… mostly. How, in what I assume to be feudal Japan, a priest who could bring drawings to life drew a rabbit that was granted a body by a Buddha (go with it) in order to properly express the love she felt for him. Then, after he fell in love, he drew children for them. That whole thing has this fun mythological appeal to it that I genuinely love. No sense concerning oneself with the logic of it. It’s a world of gods and monsters. Why not?
Just as well, the introduction to Koto was something I likewise enjoyed. Rie Kugimiya is a name I’m certain most anime viewers know, by now. But she brings a lot of life to the role as she definitely needs. Koto is a brash tomboy with an inclination towards the physical side of problem-solving… meaning her preferred method of solving problems is to hit them really hard. And throughout the course of this story, that tendency is both deconstructed and reconstructed, all in the space of a few episodes. But we’ll come back to that. I just liked how we’re shown the contrast between the vulnerable, lost little girl she once was and this seemingly infinitely confident girl she became. But as with any person, those changes aren’t absolute. Sometimes those moments of vulnerability seep through and Rie Kugimiya is, as always, excellent at giving voice to those moments when she must. And the script is great at choosing when to have the typically loud and talkative Koto say… absolutely nothing. That being said, the story isn’t entirely told through her PoV. She’s definitely the main character, and certainly one of the protagonists. But she shares top billing with Myoue, who we see a bit more PoV from. Though there’s a good reason for this.
Myoue is a character I really liked seeing come together. He’s a lonely man, and utterly depressed. And his backstory is both heartbreaking and healing. They implied, early on, that he wasn’t exactly a normal human, but also that he wasn’t like his brother or sister, both of whom were drawings, brought to life. This suggests that he was adopted, not created. Learning the truth was rough. He lost everything. And the scene where he takes his own life as a child (he gets better) is, to lighten it up with some humor, a major “oof” moment. You feel for him. Though I was personally intrigued by the cultural aspect of it. I understand it was probably something he did out of despair. But his method struck me more as a possible reference to ritualistic suicide, common in Japan, especially back in the era from which he comes. Either way, Myoue’s journey is one I enjoyed watching unfold.
Really, it was also great seeing how else the two leads differed from one another. One hung up on the past, the other with eyes only for the future. And that played very parallel to two other characters in the series – Kurama and Yase – Myoue’s siblings.
Kurama is the oldest – a Buddha and the de facto leader of the Looking Glass City. He has his gaze firmly affixed to the future and his machinations for what he can do with his intellect in the world beyond. He spent all of his time creating things that led to a much more advanced society for the Looking Glass City than the way it began, bringing it into a modern era… for the most part. Then there’s Yase – a demon prone to violent outbursts but is really just a lonely girl who greatly misses her mother and cherishes the days that she and her family spent together, having a very difficult time letting go. To such an extent that she hordes damn near everything that has any such value to her. Right down to the tree that her mother used to record their heights… I am not kidding.
Now to look at things from a cultural standpoint, it was a really nice touch, making Kurama a Buddha and making Yase a demon. Kurama doesn’t grow attached to things. Which is, as far as I understand, a major aspect of Buddhism. Yase, by contrast, becomes so attached to things that she’ll explode if they go missing or are taken away from her. Bonus points, mind you, for Yase not having a shred of Eastern Aesthetic to her name, instead looking much more akin to the stereotypical “English Doll” archetype, right down to the curly blonde hair and frilly, pink dress. I enjoyed the two of them. They’re awful but they’re also lovable. It’s a difficult thing to balance. But I guess that’s the point. Family can be terrible, but you still love ’em. Kurama taking Yase’s doll was a d–k move. But Yase’s no saint, herself. Mind you, she’s a literal demon, so… yeah.
One thing I really loved was Koto… er… the other Koto. The mother. She was great. Now, I will grant that part of me just feels like it’s because I have a general soft spot for mother characters (as we know) but I think she was a genuinely awesome character. One so filled with love, not just for her husband, but for her children. She made her arrangement with the Buddha because she wanted to express her own love for the priest and help him to experience such a thing, for himself. She helped Myoue overcome the pain of losing his original family (because Inari sure as s–t wasn’t gonna do it). She was always there for her family… until she couldn’t be, anymore. But hers was also a very selfish form of love that I don’t think anyone could begrudge. A desire to be with to the ones you cherish most. And it’s really something that’s reflected in the rest of the cast. Her love for those around her is quite literally the force that pulls them all closer together. I loved seeing that about her.
Myoue and Koto are another example of two lead characters possessing very different kinds of arcs. Koto has a Positive Flat Arc that impacts Myoue and (to some extent) Yase. Her involvement is as helps Myoue overcome his depression, at least to some degree. And she also aids Yase in creating new memories so she’s not always chained to her old ones. I can’t say whether Kurama changes as a result of her, per se. Perhaps something about appreciating what he has in front of him. But he doesn’t seem to really have much of an arc as the only episode to focus on him doesn’t see him change, really, at all. It just sets up for the reveal of his scheme in a later episode.
The way Koto affects Myoue is vital to her own arc, however. It’s symbiotic, in a way. As I said, Koto puts on a brave face, but she’s still a vulnerable little girl, at heart. So her impact on Myoue bringing him to value his life and family again is essential to what she winds up going through later. Because while she doesn’t exactly begin the series believing in some sort of fundamentally wrong perspective, she’s later forced to face some very harsh things. And Myoue is the one who’s ultimately able to get through to her. There’s a synergy between them that really helps elevate the storytelling. Even looking at something like, say, Medaka Box. Ultimately, Medaka’s flat arc doesn’t impact Zenkichi, all that much. So when he does wind up helping her through some tough stuff later in that series (trust me, we’ll get to it), it’s not like he wouldn’t have done so in the first place, from the beginning of the series. Nothing against that series’ handle of the different arc types, I just think this style lends to a very complete story and overall experience.
The depths of despair being overcome by the close bonds of family is a theme that comes mostly into play around the last few episodes. Koto is one case, certainly. As I mentioned, her tendency to fix problems by hitting them is something the series very handily deconstructs, late into its run. As it turns out, her hitting something to fix it is ultimately what causes the world to come undone. Whoops. But it’s cool because Myoue is able to help her fix the issue. And later the very thing she did to break reality winds up fixing things as she not only issues an ultimatum that holds pretty much the entire universe hostage… like ya do, but she also breaks the established order of things by literally punching god (well… a god) in the face… and, you know. A healthy dose of tearful yelling because the power of emotions will prevail. But all of this happens because Myoue convinces her that she’s not the one who’s wrong. The whole bloody system is wrong. So she’ll break it and make a new one with his help. THAT was excellent.
But possibly even more compelling is the character of Inari. AKA the catalyst for literally all of this. So torn apart by despair is he that he, in his love for his family, is completely content to throw his own existence away so he can properly game the system and let them go on as he always intended. But, in doing so, he utterly fails to see the flaw in that entire plot. It involves a world without him. And his family has absolutely no intention of letting that happen. I loved that. Every bit of it. I think perhaps they made him tip a bit too far into villain-like sociopathic behavior towards the end. But he snapped out of it fairly quickly. Even more so upon being beaten up by his own daughter. Ouch, by the way.
What I think I enjoyed most about this, though? The ending. Not in some crass “my favorite part is that it’s over” way. And not to say this ending is some work of art, all its own. It’s very straightforward. But given the overall message of the series and the story it was telling, I think it’s best served that way. It didn’t need to go out of its way to be all artsy or deep. It was refreshingly simple and left nothing particularly hanging. It felt complete.
And I haven’t even talked about all the other stuff, yet. The animation, for example. I’m sure I needn’t even bother mentioning how great it looks. Because it’s got this great stylistic flair to it that portrays motion with a lot of bounce, which helps Koto’s lively nature really shine. However, the editing is kinda weird, in places. Weird transitions, weirder pauses that seem to linger for a bit longer than they need to. Some distracting editing choice, indeed. But an overall visually excellent piece. The music didn’t really stand out all that much for me, personally. But, as with any great series, most of the key moments were accented with specific tracks that enhanced the scene overall by helping establish or reinforce the mood. So while I’m not likely to download and of the tracks to listen to, on their own (as I did with Date A Live, for example) the music definitely did its job, in the end.
Another thing to note is the action. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that tag. While there is certainly a fair bit of action in it, much of it is insignificant. Even in the climax, a lot of it is just filling space. It’s what I’ll call “necessary action.” It’s there, but it’s not really there for you to enjoy it. As such, it’s not focused on to any great degree. The two most significant action sequences in the entire thing actually happen in the background of other, more important things, in fact. Myoue fights Yase around the midpoint. And while Koto is in the middle of a fight with a giant robot while that’s going on, it’s far less flashy than it sounds. As much as I’d have loved to see more of Myoue and Yase’s fight, what we did get was really fun to watch, and I loved the animation and whatnot that brought it to life. Meanwhile, Inari has a minor fight scene later. It’s cool but nothing overly dazzling. This really isn’t a show you watch for the action or really even the comedy. It’s a show you watch to observe the very human struggles of a group of gods.
Kyousougiga is a series that’s fun and uplifting in the best of ways. The characters are flawed without the net result being unlikability. And their journeys are wonderful to behold. The art style is a treat and the animation is fantastic. I can see people growing impatient with it as its plot doesn’t really kick in immediately. But at only 10 episodes, I think it’s perfectly fine for it to have a slower building, provided it reaches the climax in a satisfactory manner. And it does. Overall, it’s a series I can comfortably call Super Effective.
And that’s my take. What about you? Have you seen Kyousougiga? What’d you think of it? Let me know, down below. That’s all I’ve got for ya here. As always, thanks for reading, folks. Keep up the Awesome.