Kyousogiga has been mentioned on this blog multiple times, the first was with the ONA that was released back in 2011 followed by a joyous post when I found out that the one-shot ONA was due to get more episodes. I loved it. I hoped for more Kyousogiga and Toei saw fit to give it to us. And thank the anime Gods because this is my second favourite anime of the Autumn season a real breath of fresh air in a season mired with middling shows!
The ONA for Kyousogiga was hard to describe, hard to put into a glib synopsis because the anime races along at a break-neck pace, dazzling the audience with crazy visuals, bright colours, a fun atmosphere and obscure symbolism connected to Buddhism and Lewis Carol’s Through the Looking Glass. The setting is a mirror world version of Kyoto and we were watching a girl named Koto as she blasted into the city with her familiars A and Un and, with her giant glass hammer, bashes things and causes chaos while battling an army of gun-toting goons.
It was fun and sometimes incomprehensible. A quick one-shot that brimmed with promise. The TV anime builds on the ONA and provides context and grounding but never at the expense of magic or fun that fans savoured. So the TV anime starts with episode 0 effectively the ONA before launching into the story proper:
Once upon a time, when the countless worlds bordered on each other, there was a certain family whose story of love and rebirth we will follow.
Mirror Kyoto didn’t come from nowhere. The city comes from the drawings of a Buddhist monk named Inari, a man with fox-blood in his veins and an outcast from the real life version of Kyoto.
He has red eyes and magic which allows his drawings comes to life. This gets him exiled from Kyoto and so he resides in a temple in the mountains with his loyal dog and continues to draw pictures including a huge drawing of an alternative Kyoto. One such drawing is Koto, a black rabbit with red eyes who spends her time watching Inari.
Koto falls in love with Inari and a compassionate Bodhisattva, a being who has gained an enlightened and wishes to help others do the same, allows Koto to temporarily use her body to obtain a human form which will allow her to express her feelings to Inari and for Inari to return them.
Fast-forward some time and the two have children.
The first is Yakushimaru, an excitable somewhat irascible tearaway. Then came two more children, both born from Inari’s brush and both older than Yakushimaru: Eldest Kurama, the level-headed one, the leader and pragmatist followed be middle-child Yase, a beautiful girl who just happens to be able to transform into an ogre.
Their lives at the temple run along smoothly but not unnoticed and the same people who forced Inari out of Kyoto move again to force him and his family to flee. Where? To Inari’s mirror Kyoto, a realm where nothing changes…
Mirror Kyoto is a place where nobody grows old or dies, everything that breaks is fixed again and humans and yokai live together. And so the family live happily together but remember that bit about Koto’s use of the Bodhisattva’s body being temporary? She has to give it back when Inari returns her feeling and because Inari genuinely loves her he refuses to let her go without him. So together they go and leave their children behind in mirror Kyoto with the promise that they will be back…
The three children grow older and protect mirror Kyoto, running the affairs of humans and monsters alike. As the real world advances, so does mirror Kyoto and people join them from other dimensions. Kurama develops into the leader of the siblings and has his team of science nerds with giant robots while Yase becomes more ladylike and runs the affairs of the Yokai on the other side of town. Meanwhile the human Yakushimaru dons the robes of a Buddhist priest, rides around on a Vespa and does a bit of womanising.
So where does the hammer-wielding Koto fit into all of this? As a representative of an inter-dimensional agency called SHRINE, she is tasked with keeping dimensions running normally and she’s on the hunt for her sempai, a man with red eyes who wears a fox mask.
She bursts into mirror Kyoto and causes chaos, battling yokai and the science team alike, but she may be connected to the three siblings in ways nobody expects.
And that is my interpretation of Kyousogiga after about 5.5 episodes. For people new to this anime I think the closest comparisons I can make are FLCL, Summer Wars, and Mawaru Penguindrum. Every week there have been twenty-five minutes of symbol saturated crazy zany adventures where Koto, A and Un encounter the three siblings and get into fights and adventures and uncover a family drama.
Visually the anime is splendid. I mean it.
The visuals are God-tier. So much happens, so much is on screen, and there are so many interesting angles to view this visual sugar overdose from!
Mirror Kyoto is a hugely outlandish place that allows the animators to bring a level of visual imagination that calls on the aforementioned titles. When I say imagination, I mean imagination of the most epic and interesting kind.
The animation is an exciting and stimulating mixture of traditional Japanese art and storybook images. Scenes have background which are painterly, detailed in a watercolour style but with moments of sharp details and with huge doses of the surreal and absurd. I have never been to Kyoto but the locations seem to be a mixture of the real life city and fantasy mixed together. As episode 5.5 shows, there are a lot of real world locations and people (Myoue, for one) who do show up. It makes me want to visit the city.
Truly dazzling. No frame is wasted, no second lacks something beautiful or interesting to look at and amidst all of the chaos there are the enchanting details of the locations. Everything from the way that the lighting is used, the way that camera angles and editing keep things fresh and reveal fun details or are just plain good-looking and enough to make me emotional for all the ways they help frame the characters during their most beautiful moments.
Director Rie Matsumoto is relatively new but the show reveals so much confidence that I would throw money at her to create new anime. The visuals dazzle much like Mawaru Penguindrum and like that anime Kyousogiga has a story that is all about the connections between people and as the story builds and the characters appear, the anime gains power and meaning. Kyousogiga is not just a pretty face. The details and locations of the ONA which seemed throw-away at the time thanks to the chaos are all coming into play as the creators are getting to flesh them out and expand the world Inari created and the siblings inhabit by hooking everything into a narrative about a family that has been split up.
The mirror world of Kyoto may look pretty but it has different meanings for those who inhabit it. For Koto, an interloper, this strange place is like a colourful playground but for the three siblings who have been there for a long time it is a prison and a cruel reminder of their parents and their abandonment. The mirror world changes alongside the real Kyoto but not in any meaningful way, the constant state of renewal prevents any real change and it is reflected the arrested development of the lives of the siblings.
This place is like a cage for the siblings as they wallow in the memories of their parents. They live static lives hoarding items with connections to their parents. We find out slowly but surely thanks to the screen-writing which is of the non-linear variety. Every week we get to find out about how everything fits together in an interesting way. Each episode is dedicated to fleshing out a particular character and their perspective of the world and this is what the writing is good at, detailing the way that the characters, particularly the siblings are bonded to each other. Through Koto and her seeming interference in the sibling’s routines and beliefs we see how they balance each other and the way that their abandonment by their parents has affected them and how Koto leads them to some form of enlightenment and growth.
Revealing things from their point of view lets us see that behind the facades and first impressions lies the fact that these three people miss their parents. Myoue seems relaxed, tough on the outside, but there is a sense of self-destruction that can be scented in his indifference. Kurama is like a blank slate but his personality is a cover for his desires to leave and the emptiness he feels because he was reliant on his mother and father’s approval and support to help him achieve this.
Yase’s episode was probably the most tragic.
She is the classiest figure in town, chauffeured around in a limo, wearing her frilly pink dress, constantly sipping tea but s given to fierce temper tantrums and acts of spitefulness.
She seems like the least sympathetic character because she is petulant and turns into a childish demon powered by rage, a demon hag at and gets to go on a rampage and shout a lot but episode four made her the most sympathetic character going as we find out that Yase’s emotions are driven by the same things as her brothers. She feels uneasy about being a yokai and misses her parents. She needs her mother’s support more than the two boys realise and in a series of scenes we see how her mother’s unconditional love gave her succour.
She goes from monster to child.
I defy viewers not to sympathise during episode four’s memory flashbacks when we see why Yase hangs onto things!
Nothing is as close as family, so Yase’s desires are both tangible and understandable, right? The emotions are pretty brutal at points, both in the love depicted and the emptiness that the characters feel.
These episodes and things seem unconnected at the outset but an emotional picture is building and it is potent stuff. It’s the family scenes that strike the hardest, the emotional body-blows. It could all be dark, dark stuff but the visuals, the seemingly un-orchestrated chaos and the manic characters keep everything light enough to maintain the sense of fun. It’s magic and fate and family drama we’re watching and it’s impressive and the characters are so much fun to be around!
All the characters are loveable in their own way. I dig the way A and Un are totally different from each other much like the real life shrine guardians they are based upon.
A being the more hyper of the two, continuously grinning as he bounces around in every scene while Un is more chilled, hands thrust deep in his pockets and a look of indifference plastered on his face.
And Shouko, lovely, lovely, otaku super genius scientist Shouko.
She is the manic scientist stereotype with a motor-mouth, a huge ego and an army of goons she gets to direct but the performance is charming enough that she is loveable! I love her so much I used the word love more than I should have! She controls her giant robot with a
PSP handheld game console and has a team of magical girls on call!
I just cannot get enough of Koto with her fresh-face and her propensity to beat people up with her hammer and heave people into space with not a care. She’s a genki girl, an oddball like Hajime Ichinose, always charming and fun to watch. Her big eyes make my heart melt and seeing her joyous application of violence is always welcome, never tiring.
In a season where glib or no characterisation seems to be commonplace, where the styles are easy to nail down, Kyousogiga is ambitious. Kyousogiga dares to have characters who are complex and visuals that will baffle just as much as they amuse. In the end all will be solved and a re-watch will be in order.
Kyousogiga is a win. Do yourself a favour and join the winning side by watching this!