The Promised Land Beyond the Boundary

beyond the boundary box art

 

  • Genre: Action, supernatural, drama, romance, pwetty
  • Episodes: 12
  • Studio: Kyoto Animation

There are things that define us in life. It’s inescapable. The weight of history and circumstance leaves its mark on all of us. But you don’t have to simply accept it, you can choose by what you wish to be defined. For Mirai Kuriyama that means shedding the dark reputation that hangs over her bloodline and trying to turn her curse into a blessing. While for Akihito Kanbara it means refusing to let others to see him as merely an immortal ultra rare half yomu, capable of great destruction and chaos, and insisting on letting his true personality shine through. That of a proud glasses obsessed pervert!

I watched Beyond the Boundary some years ago. It was the first Kyoto Animation series I had seen at the time and generally had very little knowledge of the world of anime beyond which shows I liked and which I didn’t. I was going through a rather difficult time and simply wanted something pretty to distract me. I remember having a generally positive impression of the show but had forgotten a lot of the details.

This shouldn’t be considered as indicative of the series’ quality. Like I said, I was in the middle of a rather rough patch and most of that time period is a bit of a blurr punctuated with flashes of intense raw emotion. The fact that I remembered it at all is impressive. I have been meaning to rewatch it for a long time now as it left a lingering seed in my mind and I tend to use images from the show all the time. I wanted to see whether this attachment was just due to my unusually emotional state during the original watch.

beyond the boundary episode 4

good to know!

As I mentioned, this was my first brush with the artistic stylings of Kyoto Animation, and boy was I impressed! You know, people sometimes knock the studio for having a signature look. Although I will admit that their series do look very similar to one another, I’m not sure how that’s a bad thing when that signature look happens to be stunningly gorgeous! Beyond the Boundary is a pretty show to look at. The colour palette is one of my favourites as the light and colour filters are played with to match the wheather, temperature and mood of a scene, really bringing you into the action in a subtle, almost tactile way.

Of course the animation is also breathtaking. This is a particularly action oriented series that makes good use of the studio’s mastery and had me wondering non-stop why Kyoto Animation didn’t do more action shows. I noticed the same thing in Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions. When a romantic comedy slice of life had some of the most impressively animated action sequences I had seen that year, it makes you think.

But this is all old news. A studio known for traditionally beautiful visuals creates a show that is not visually innovative but truly gorgeous to watch. Big surprise there. Good thing I’m here with the news no else dares to tell! OK, one thing you may not have expected is that the soundtrack is actually great here. Particularly in the first episode where a John Williams like score added an instance sense of magic and whimsy. Sadly this is really where the background music is at its best, but it remains pleasant and enhances the action throughout the entire series. The same cannot be said for all (or even most of) KyoAni’s offerings.

Man, I am really insisting on the studio in this review. I don’t usually do this. There’s a reason though, I’ll tell you later!

Akito

really – look at these colours

I started the show out a little apprehensive. A wave of familiarity hit me as the wonderful opening sequence started and I almost shut it off right then and there. What if I didn’t like it? What if my distracted state had made me overlook all the faults and really this was nothing more than pretty trash? What if…it was boring? There’s always that risk when you revising things you use to like, isn’t there? Is it worth trying to recapture a bit of the old magic at the risk of destroying a beloved memory?

Then I remembered that I have the emotional depth of a garden snail, got myself a drink (chartreuse thank you very much) and soldiered on. As the series progressed I found myself… aww shucks, forget all this suspense nonsense. I’m no good at it anyways, I loved it guys. I loved it way more than the first time around. Not only that, but it lead to me to really reconsider Kyoto Animation as a studio in general and realized that I am a huge fan of that as well (hence the constant mentions). Unpopular opinion for sure but this is probably my favourite KyoAni show and in my mind their flagship series. Only in my mind.

I’m not saying it’s the best, but it is without doubt the one that spoke to me the most, and made me realize just how impressive the studio’s track record is. This is why I’ve decided to talk about both in this review. It seems they have become intertwined in my mind.

beyond the boundar bunny costume

I mean – as far as mascots go I dare you to find better…

So first let’s talk pacing. The fact is that this series is rushed. You can tell that there was a much larger narrative that had to be adapted into those 12 episodes and as such, every plot arc could have used an extra episode or two. Or three… It could easily have been two seasons without adding any extra plot. However, and this is the important part, despite the obvious condensation, the pacing remains great. For the most part everything is clear and flows naturally. This is one of the trickiest parts of print to film adaptation and Beyond the Boundary handles it magnificently. Despite being a fast paced action series, events are given time to linger, thereby creating the proper emotional impact and the few characters we need to care about are fleshed out organically, without the use of exposition info dumps.

And this is really one of the studios’ hallmarks. It knows how to give its stories time to grow. Pretty much every major release the studio has an underlying sense of calm. A natural patience that comes from a director and writing team that trusts their audience. Who else would have put out Endless Eight? Who else would have a Sound!Euphonium episode that’s almost entirely dedicated to a classical music recital, with little to no actual dialogue? Personally, I appreciate this odd stillness. If you do it wrong it barrels into boring so you don’t see productions taking the risk. The payoff though, is a rare gem.

Another of this studio and this series’ strengths is the fantastic portrayal of vulnerability. Mirai is a vulnerable character but she’s neither weak nor helpless. Those qualities are all unrelated. There’s a tendency to make characters vulnerable in order to make them more appealing to the audience. However, this is often portrayed by making them incapable of taking care of themselves or reducing them to damsel in distress tropes. KyoAni has a wonderful gift of creating characters that are fragile and delicate yet still strong and capable.

ai-shindou-kyoukai-no-kanata

if you cross her, she’ll rip your head off

In fact, even as Kyoto Animation shows fetishize girls (and they constantly do) they never dehumanize them. (In fact, form my observation they objectify boys more often than girls but Tsurune is getting a bit better with that). The main characters in Beyond the Boundary are complex and balanced, difficult to explain without having seen the series. Mirai is an exceptionally interesting leading lady as she seems to be a clash of opposing characteristics, yet they work so well together that you could easily recognize this girl. Making the mundane into the extraordinary is something I truly love about fiction.

Unfortunately for this series, the secondary characters fall victim to the condensed run time. A lot of them are only nominally developed and their role in the story is either superficial or confusing. You can tell that the Nase family has a much greater impact than what we see but we never get a chance to find out exactly how far their influence reaches and why. There are character twists and reveals that are obviously left over from the novels, that never get explained at all. Then there’s the anime addition of Sakura’s character that simply feels like the add on it is and never resonates properly with the rest of the story.

Another aspect that was less than stellar was the adaptation of the overarching plot line. The nebulous political intrigue between the Nase clan and Spirit World Warriors’ Observation Department, and how each side is trying to use powerful Yomu for their own ends is never explained clearly and had me wondering what everyone was talking about during those scenes. I believe the adaptation would have been better served by scrapping that plot thread all together and leaving it as a simple story of Spirit Warriors fighting Yomu because that’s the way of the world and two young people coming together despite their differences. All that extra intrigue added nothing and was annoyingly unclear.

beyond the boundary idol

their idol careers were hardly explored at all….

Finally, the relationships felt true to me. Kyoto Animation favours drama and as such you see a lot of somewhat inexplicably intense relationships in their shows. Beyond the Boundary injects a lot of humour and lightheartedness in the narrative. Because of that the characters interact in much more nuanced ways. They like each other but also annoy each other. They save one another in turn. Power dynamics shift as no one had the clear upper hand which makes for much more interesting relations.

It strikes me that I just wrote a whole bunch of words but if you haven’t seen the anime you still don’t know what it’s about and whether you should give it a go. OK, here we go. Beyond the Boundary is a supernatural action series with a romantic undertone. Yomu (basically Yokai) are spirits created from humans’ negative emotions and threaten to destroy the world while Spirit Warriors, humans with special abilities, fight to prevent that. A young Spirit Warrior named Mirai is shunned because of her powerful ability which is taboo while a young half yomu named Akihito has lived his entire life as a willing prisoner. When the two meet, they discover they have more in common than otherwise and help each other survive a great upheaval in the Yomu world.

It’s super pretty to watch and has very lovable lead characters. I think you should watch it. It probably won’t be your favourite Kyoto Animation show but odds are you’ll find something to like. I would also appreciate it if you told me all about it.

Mitsuki Nase

I’m listening

For me, it was a show that poked at the little hurt and broken parts inside me and told me they could be pretty. I reminded me that just because sometimes you feel weak and small, doesn’t mean you can’t be strong as well. It made me feel safe.

Favorite character: Hiroomi Nase (of course)

What this anime taught me: Scarves can be a very effective fashion statement

I make booze disappear – what’s your superpower?

Suggested drink: Rose Coloured Glasses

  • Every time we see a Yomu stone – take a sip
  • Every time Mirai cleans her glasses – take a sip
  • Every time anyone says “unpleasant” – take a sip
  • Every time Akihito gets mail – be prepared
  • Every time anyone is proud of their perversion – giggle
  • Every time Mitsuki calls anyone a pervert – take a sip
  • Every time characters eat together – get a snack
  • Every time Akihito gets hurt – take a sip
  • Every time Mirai blogs – raise our glass
  • Every time Hiroomi and Akihito bound over their questionable tastes – roll your eyes
  • Every time we see Akihito’s mom – wonder about the logistics of it
  • Every time Mirai has to borrow money – get some water (it’s free)
Beyond the boundary blog

honestly: same!

 

 

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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11 Responses

  1. terranceacrow says:

    Thanks for a beautiful review of one of the series I hold most dear. Despite its flaws (and I think you fairly talked about them!), I loved the characters and the world. Plus, I will testify that everything you said about the animation is true!

    Akihito’s situation really spoke to me. I put him in the same category as Layfon from Chrome Shelled Regios in terms of them having within them an almost OP strength that defines their lives. Both shows explore different implications of that kind of power, with Akihito coming across as way more tragic yet while at the same time benefiting from more direct support.

    I can watch the OP and ED over and over…

    I don’t know what magic really looks like, but I think this show did a great job presenting how its fury and wonder and majesty and terror. Remember how Akihito took out an entire mountain top? And almost killed his friends at the same time.

    And I’ll second Dawnstorm’s endorsement of Ayaka Shindou. Not to take anything away from Mirai or even Izumi Nase (who I thought was a fantastic character), but Aya was just all that.

  2. moyatori says:

    Wow, maybe Yomu the blogger should review this show.

  3. Dawnstorm says:

    For me, Beyond the Boundary marks the moment when I gave up expecting to like KyoAni shows. I came to them with Haruhi Suzumiya, which I loved. Then I found Clannad, which I liked, too (especially afterstory), and then Kanon which was okay, and Air, which I dropped pretty quickly, so quickly in fact that I don’t know whether I like it or not. The first show I watched as it aired was Nichijou, which was a mixed bag, from great to touching to annyoing to initially good but overstaying its welcome the skits played the whole range. I’m fond of the show. Next was Hyouka, which was okay initially, but I was a little tired of a mystery trend back then and didn’t pay much attention, until at some point I noticed I fully involved, and to this day it’s easily and by a huge margin my favourite KyoAni show.

    At some point I tried K-on!, but I didn’t get very far. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. Just sort of there. I stopped for the day and without a conscious decision to drop it, I simply never came back. Subsequently, seeing it very popular and seeing many gifs and clips didn’t motivate me to continue with it.

    This is sort of significant, because after Hyouka came Chuunibyou, and… I was trying to like it. The chuunibyou sequences themselves were awesome, but the treatment of the topic felt condescending to me; as if you needed a reason for chuunibyou, and drama to underly it. They spared out all the teasing, and populated the show with only nice people, which made the embarressment of our main character feel like an affectation. In the end it was a so-so show, for me, with some great scenes and a few cute scenes, and a lot of eye-rolling. (I’d compare the treatment of Chuunibyou to the meaner and more relateable OreShura back in the day; it aired a season or two (?) after Chuunibyou, but is easily a better show for me.)

    Over time, I learned that KyoAni had a new in-house imprint of light novels (?), and Chuunibyou, was the first one to come out of this. The next was Tamako Market, which is to date my favourite of the in-house shows. It’s as inane as Chuunibyou was, but it had a good sense of setting and I enjoyed it moderately. Tamako Market gave me hope, even though it also showed that there may be a certain sentimentality attached to in-house products, which didn’t set well with me. Next was Free!, which was the first KyoAni show I dropped (as it aired), and then came Kyoukai no Kanata.

    There was a really interesting trailer earlier and I was hoping it would be great. But the show didn’t live up to it (I think I remember someone saying that they changed things around, character designs among other things, after that first preview, but I can’t find the information, so that might be my memory playing tricks with me). I don’t remember much about the show, except that I was watching it with an increasingly sinking feeling, and that by the end of the show I’d let go of hope.

    I felt the in-house productions took their key from K-on!, which is an entirely subjective feeling with nothing to back it up, and might be simple prejudice, because that was one of the highest profile shows of theirs that I didn’t really like. But the hints are there. Their inhouse shows feel clumsy, likable, and ultimately irritating to me. (I didn’t get far with Amagi Brilliant Park either, even though it wasn’t an in-house show, which was probably the final nail in the coffin for me.)

    The KyoAni shows I really liked after Hyouka? Euphonium (which had some minor traces of that sentimentality I didn’t like, but was so great it didn’t matter), and Dragon Maid, which was all out great for me. None of them were in-house shows. Tsurune is actually doing pretty well, considering.

    So, yeah, my own memories of the show are almost opposite of yours. (My fave character of the show is green-haired lady in the screen shot above. She was a fox? Something like that. Memories are fuzzy.)

    • Irina says:

      Yeah – she was a fox spirit. I guess it’s to be expected. I found Clannad unsufferable myslef. You seem to really enjoy romantic comedies on a very different level than I do.

      • Dawnstorm says:

        Yeah, I tend to enjoy romcoms. I can totally understand finding Clannad insufferable, though. Key adaptions tend to be… an acquired taste and *very* melodramatic.

  4. tanteikid94 says:

    My first kyotoanime. Best

    • Irina says:

      Yay me too!!!

      • ramon3ljamon says:

        Me three! Shit, it’s bit more than five years…

        I’ve had a crush on short-haired ladies ever since meeting Izumi. Elegant yet spirited… Steely yet kind… Deceitful yet honest… I honestly wish I’d seen a lot more of her.

        Mitsuki’s great too, I love how good she is at dishing out abuse! She seems to feel powerless most of the time, no wonder she’s so attached to that skill :’D

        There are a couple movies out there I will probably watch at some point.

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