Beyond The Boundary (Cert 12)
3 Discs DVD/2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 303 minutes approx.
Over the past decade Kyoto Animation (KyoAni for short) have built up a reputation for producing wonderfully cuddly series involving cute schoolgirls in daily comedy dramas. With Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! they ventured towards comic fantasy but it is with Beyond The Boundary that they take the headlong leap into darker territory.
The show opens with main male protagonist Akihito Kanbara on the roof of his school trying to talk classmate Mirai Kuriyama out of jumping. He succeeds but his reward is that she stabs him through the heart. Akihito doesn’t die however as he is a half-Yomu thus is immortal. As a Spirit World Warrior Mirai knew this and admits this was the reason she attacked Akihito as a practice run for when she finally battle a real Yomu.
You have to admit, as hook ups got that is a rather unique one. As it transpires though, Mirai isn’t the only Spirit World Warrior at the school – Akihito’s fellow Literary Club member Mitsuki Nase is one, as is her older brother Hiroomi and teacher Shizuku Ninomiya too. Working alongside good Yomu they protect the locals from attacks by malevolent Yomu – although the biggest threat is Akihito as his Yomu half possess the destructive power known as Beyond The Boundary.
An involved and heavily supernatural direction for KyoAni to take, based on the light novels of Nagomu Torii, but their trademark character designs means this is one monster hunt with a high moe factor. The infuriating side effect of this is that some people may find it hard to take the series seriously with such a cute cast but one comedic episode in particular which does greater damage in that respect.
The early going of this twelve-part show is devoted to Akihito helping the bespectacled Mirai gain her confidence in slaying Yomu – the glasses being a vital plot point as Akihito has a fetish for this thus dotes heavily on his would-be assassin. A lot more unsavoury is Hiroomi who has an unhealthy little sister complex which should appal viewers as much as it does Mitsuki.
But I digress. Mirai is from a family of warriors with cursed blood, which they can manipulate to form a weapon for slaying Yomu, but are outcast for this reason. Mirai has actually been assigned to kill Akihito before his Yomu half awakens and runs riot by Izumi Nase, who obviously doesn’t understand the concept of “immortality”. Izumi is the older sister of Mitsuki and Hiroomi but appears to be working on her own agenda.
You may have noticed there are many female characters here which might imply a harem comedy is just waiting to break out. Actually, I’ve barely scratched the surface in listing the female contingent of this show, having yet mentioned Yomu appraiser Ayaka Shindō, who doubles as a saucy photographer (more on this later), shape shifting Yomu Ai Shindō and Sakura Inami, a girl from Mirai’s past.
As it happens all the girls are tsundere towards Akihito (except one – guess who that is?) and Hiroomi who are regarded as perverts for their niche tastes so that direction is thankfully ignored but that doesn’t mean a lack of female exploitation. As mentioned above, Ayaka is a photographer who has the girls posing in cosplay (and nudes of they are willing) while Akihito’s mother Yayoi is an incredulously childish extrovert who dresses in the skimpiest outfits imaginable, embarrassing her poor son.
The worst offender in this respect is the episode alluded to earlier in which a Yomu that emits a foul liquid when alarmed can only be distracted by sexy idols, resulting in Mirai, Mitsuki and Ai dressing up to perform a dance routine to draw its attention. Of course this was designed to be enjoyed as pure fluffy fun – and it is amusing – but in a show where the destruction of mankind is at stake it feels like cheap fan baiting for all the fetishists watching.
If you can overlook all of this, the rewards are found when the focus stays on the central story, keeping things serious and the levity congruent. The main characters are a complex bunch and Mirai in particular has an intriguing backstory which is revealed in stages, helping us understand her initial lack of confidence. It’s a little unfortunate that not all the cast got this treatment – the mythos of the Yomu and why Akihito’s half-Yomu version is so dangerous needed more exploration.
The latter half of this series follows the usual trend for a dark fantasy show of morphing into a psychedelic trip of dreams, flashbacks, parallel worlds and the accompanying impenetrable rhetoric to make it seem more profound than it really is. You have to credit the Japanese that they can delve into the existential and still not say anything of any relevance to the plot!
It is all too easy to write KyoAni off as the Masters of Moe because of their adorable character designs but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that their work always looks fantastic. The artwork is sumptuous, detailed and vibrant, full of life and rich colours while the animation is among the best for a TV project. The fight scenes are afforded extra attention to bring us fluid movements and high impact collisions in all their glory, devoid of the usual short cuts and distractions.
With Beyond The Boundary KyoAni have taken a dive into uncharted waters and on the whole have delivered a visually stunning, well-paced and engaging show. It does suffer a little on the writing front in terms of condensing three volumes of the source material into a single cour series but there are plenty of overall positives to compensate for these shortcomings.
Certainly an ambitious fantasy show that doesn’t quite go “beyond the boundary” but does what it does well enough within it, in a suitably earnest and aesthetically appealing fashion.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Beyond The Boundary Idol Trial
Rating – ****
Man In Black