Since the Thieves and I mainly review films and OVAs on the podcast, I will be using the blog to occasionally review full anime series as I complete them. Just like when we review normally, these reviews will attempt to educate on some of the creation process behind the work, provide a detailed analysis of its various elements, and provide a simple recommend or not recommend in lieu of stars/thumbs/points/etc.
For today’s review we will be talking about Kyousougiga.
Kyousougiga is a 10-episode show from 2013, directed by Rie Matsumoto and with animation by Toei. This work is based on the 2012 manga by Izumi Todo, which is itself inspired by the ancient Choju-giga scrolls. However, beyond the manga there is really no other merchandising linked to the property. Without much in the way of action scenes, no fan service to speak of, and the fact that this was released the same year as Kill la Kill – it all becomes quite clear as to why this was not a runaway smash hit.
Synopsis – Kyousougiga is not the easiest show to unravel, but simply put it focuses on how a priest/god (Myoe) and a living drawing (Koto) start a family together. With their three children, two of which are drawings (Yase and Kurama) and an adopted son saved from near death (Yakushimaru), the setup is not exactly traditional. These two lovers are breaking all social norms and conventions by being together and playing house, so they create a special dimension called Looking Glass and run away to live there. After many years of bliss, the two lovers leave Looking Glass to handle tasks that need attending so that their children can continue to live on in blissful peace. They tell their children that one day they will return. After waiting for what seems like an eternity, things are further complicated when a young woman (also Koto, but not the same Koto) shows up wielding a mallet of incredible power that can tear the fabric of their little world apart.
What Works –
Art – The most obvious draw for Kyousougiga is the incredible art. Not only is it technically impressive in that things look pleasing and are well-animated, but there is a very strong sense of style and flourish. Characters are very distinct while not being too abstract, landscapes are understandable but very evocative, and little flourishes are added to every scene let the viewer spend some time hunting for points of interest in every shot. The world of Looking Glass has a very unique feel, much of which is brought to life by the incredible design aesthetics. Every aspect of the show is just soaked in artistry – from the way the civilians are basically monochromatic geometric figures with checkered patterns, to the visual of the city itself as a bland uniform square with a rickety red tower jutting from the middle. Even the little touches are great, like young Koto’s mallet being clear but full of a field of stars, or the pixelated swirls that dance in the air during most shots.
Characters – This is largely a character-driven show about exploring the show’s primary themes through personal interaction, and that takes a strong cast. Thankfully Kyousougiga has that in spades. All of the characters are interesting and multi-layered, but not so bizarre that they are not relatable. It is hard not to feel for some of their struggles and insecurities as you journey through the series. Ultimately they are the main impetus of the show, and exploring their feelings about events is where the show spends the majority of its time. As wild as the context for the story is, the engine underneath is an emotional human drama grounded in real experiences.
Themes – The show relies very heavily on themes of abandonment and social possibility. Almost every character is dealing with abandonment in some way, whether from parents, siblings, or a sense of opportunity. How they approach their feelings of being left behind and what coping mechanisms they use to deal with their emotional turmoil is where a lot of the run-time for the series goes. The other theme is of possibility in social spaces, or fighting against established cultural norms and rules. Many of these changes would benefit everyone except the rule-makers, but as always there is a cosmic catch to breaking laws. There is a lot here to digest about what people are willing to do for love, how the rules of the cosmos are ultimately unjust, and the importance of letting go of the ways in which we halt our own progress.
What Doesn’t Work –
Structure – There is a definite sense of “clumping” in how the show is structured. The first episode is a whirlwind of activity and exposition. Then the next six episodes are almost entirely character-driven, with lots of small moments and interesting world-building but no real forward momentum. Then the last three episodes deliver an almost relentless stream of exposition and information about the world, in some cases literally having the characters walk around explaining everything to each other. It feels like this could have been more evenly spaced out so that the viewer has the plot slowly revealed to them over time, rather than spending most of the show knowing so little and then having a dump truck full of factoids dropped on them.
Opportunities – While the character development is really strong and well-thought out, there are a few missed opportunities with how characters are utilized. The two older siblings, Yase and Kurama, each get a complete episode dedicated to their unique perspectives. The problem is that, beyond these two focus episodes, they do not really contribute much to the story. Neither seem to do much in the way of contributing to the events which are occurring around them, and at one point even admit as much to their younger brother Myoue. There also feels like there could be more world-building along the lines of the station/garbage episode. The way they weave the aspects of “How is garbage handled in Looking Glass?” with the emotional impact it has on the characters is brilliant, but it is a shame that the show never really does anything like that again. All of the other world-building is pretty explicitly explained through long strings of dialogue.
“God” – This is more of a cultural issue, but I feel like there is always a bit of confusion when the word kami is translated as God for western audiences. Even though it may seem like a minor gripe, I feel like that having some characters referred to as “God” carries a certain amount of baggage/connotation for a western audience that can make it difficult to parcel out exactly how the cosmology of the world works. I think just leaving them as kami makes more sense, or perhaps something less weighty like “spirit” or “being.” Even if the show does flirt with a mixture of Judeo-Christian/Buddhist cosmologies, this feels like something that will perplex western audiences who – regardless of belief – are probably quite familiar with a very particular way of understanding the word God.
Verdict – In the end, I would give this a hearty recommendation for any general fan of anime. This show is very much a work of art, and it aims for some pretty lofty goals. It may not achieve every one of them, and like most art is a bit messy in certain parts, but the complete work is incredibly strong. Ultimately, for those of us who want anime to be taken seriously as an artistic endeavor, as something that has value as a tool for expression, Kyousougiga is the kind of work that we need to be encouraging. It may not be perfect, but this show exists largely free of any commercial goals, exploitative content, or meaningless violence. This is a story about people dealing with relatable human struggles in a world which can only be expressed through the delightful visual language of anime.
Alright Rogues Gallery, what do you think? Has anyone else seen Kyousougiga? Do you plan to check out it now? Let me know in the comments below.