Dammit anime industry, why are you sabotaging yourself like that?
Kyousougiga could have been a show ranking alongside highly acclaimed titles such as Tatami Galaxy, or Furi Kuri. It had the themes, the budget, the set-up, and the liveliness to achieve greatness.
… And messed it all up.
First things first; the 2013 version is a remake of the older one from the previous year. No reason to watch that one, other than scratching your head with Toei doing 3 versions of the EXACT same thing so close to each other (since there is an even older single episode set in the same universe).
Upon watching THIS version, be prepared to see 90% of the plot in the first episode. I am not kidding; the first episode is basically one huge infodump; introducing a cast of a dozen people, a bizarre setting where pictures can create alternative realities, a world that is like a second feudal Japan where nobody can die or nothing can break, and a bunch of themes that go deep into religion, philosophy, and existentialism. After you are bombarded with a gazillion things happening in a short amount of time, you are just left there wondering what the devil they can do with all that. Because they could do a heck of a lot, expand to anything they like, combine it with everything else, and create a 1000 episode series that is about everything and everyone. And what do they do with it?
… A 10 episode slice of life comedy about a goofy Japanese high school girl breaking stuff with a magic hammer. ARGH!
I am not saying it is not an enjoyable watch. There is a lot of stuff happening in each episode, accompanied by lots of jokes, and motion, and pretty colors, and weird imagery. We get to see how each character feels and acts and how his beliefs affect the world he is living in, a place where nothing changes, everything is perfect, and yet feels boring and sterile. It seems like everybody is looking for someone as means to fill the void in their souls.
… And they do so little with it.
It seems like while everybody REALLY wants to find salvation, they aren’t really looking for it. Each episode shows them being sad and depressed but they are otherwise just fooling around to the most part, taking part in all sorts of silly events and just talk about it. Meaning, they aren’t taking the whole situation seriously and by extension ruin the themes they set up so well in the beginning. Shame, since although it is a fine slice of life comedy, it doesn’t really do much with what it has, and essentially uses the interesting themes as dressing for plotless randomness. Granted, it is way more interesting and memorable thanks to its catchy animation and themes. It has lots of dialogues that offer immersion to the setting and a touch of existentialism pouring through everything. Yet it fails to be something truly amazing in the longrun for not being serious about its own premise. That is what made SE Lain and Haibane Renmei so amazing; the very fact that they weren’t comedies. And if some of you find them boring, well, you are not supposed to be watching them for what they were made to be. Kyousougiga was never made to be a bigshot series; it is sadly nothing more than a nice time waster. Why? Because instead of being about the exploration of interesting themes, it ends up being about a goofy Japanese high school girl breaking stuff with a magic hammer. ARGH!
What I Liked: Energetic and spritely animation, with great imagery and background art that added to the "unreal" feel of the setting. Thought-provoking plot full of reveals. Interesting cast of colourful characters. Buddhist and mythological symbolism out the wazoo. Great OP. Mesmerising and wonderful soundtrack.
What I Didn't: Plot may come off as convoluted to some viewers. Inari, despite all the flashbacks, still lacks motive from the viewer's perspective.
Final Verdict: Hiding within a whimsical and energetic shell is an emotionally-charged and wonderful series awash with Buddhist symbolism and one of the most interesting "families" of the medium. With an amazing soundtrack and brilliant animation, this remake of the ONAs is certainly well worth it (minus the specials, of course). On my Favourite Anime of All Time list.
The premise? Awesome. Ideas? Great. Artwork? Excellent. Depth? There. Character development? Yup. Overall? Meh. There were so many things going for Kyousougiga that it really hurts me to say that it is just a nice thing to waste time with. It isn't that it is a bad series, it is rather good. But the show had potential to be up there with the very best in anime history and squanders that with impunity.
Really, how do you foul up something with so much potential? Well, you start by making the main character an annoying brat who solves things by hitting them with a giant mallet. You continue with skimming or outright ignoring the philosophical questions posed, and when you don't you give condescending open-and-shut solutions to them. Then you leave all the deep psychological issues brought up and make everything all right in an instant. Finally, your solution to everything is playing it off as a religious metaphor hoping people don't notice it is a cheap cop-out rather than something with substance.
All of this does not mean that the strengths of the series aren't there. It is still overall fun if a bit silly at times. The psychological and philosophical issues are thought provoking (even though they seem to be taken out of a basic course about existentialism with a side of Psychology 101). The world created in Kyousougiga is awesome. Some of the characters are even rather cool. And throughout, there is a general charm to how things work.
What is really annoying is that the execution is light hearted bordering on shallow, while everything else is deep. This dissonance will be annoying to the extreme to people who want the depth explored, and hinders this show from being more than just fun. Kyousougiga is good, yes, but the wasted potential is painfully obvious.
Writing (Story and Characters):
Uneven pacing is the name of the game in Kyousougiga. Also, the story is not told in a particularly linear way, which on one hand gives extra depth, but on the other makes it much more of a miss than it should be. From a strict potential standpoint, this could have been up there at the top with shows like FLCL, Serial Experiments Lain, Tatami Galaxy, and other deeply introspective pieces of writing that stand out. Instead, it focuses on the perspective of a girl that wants to have fun hitting things with a mallet. Avoiding depth can be awesome, but this is not such a case.
Where the first chapter starts off with a bang, things going at a fast pace, and off the wall insanity... Kyousougiga then slows down and turns into a slow, near slice of life type of writing. Then in the end it speeds up again, only this time in the most foolish of ways. This removes a lot of the greatness of the premise and themes. The exploration of existentialism and the human psyche is hinted at, then suddely hits you in the face, then ignored, and finally resolved in a simple way. That being said, it uses the fantastic premise and has moments of greatness all the same. Saying the story is bad is clearly an overraction at the lost potential.
Characters, on the other hand, are one thing that Kyousougiga fails at miserably. They are kept simplistic (angry young man, cold intellectual, selfish douche, spoiled rich girl, etc) and while they do get development, it isn't quite an organic thing but rather something forced upon the viewer. The show lacks the courage to dig deep into the darker side of its cast despite it being readily available and low hanging fruit. And add that to an unlikeable bunch of protagonists, and it just feels flat. That being said, the characters do have depth, backstories, distinct personalities, and some form of growth.
Kyousougiga could have had great writing. Instead, it is filled with technical issues all over the place. It isn't that the writing isn't good, it is just so frustrating to see something that could have been in the very top tier end up as yet another "watch super-girl be happy-go-lucky and solve everything" show. A part of me is still angry at the writing staff, but at the very least the ambitious premise doesn't allow for wallowing in mediocrity.
Art (Animation and Sound):
Now comes to the part of the show which cannot be denied as excellent. The artwork of Kyousougiga takes what is technically flawed writing and brings it up a couple of levels. I cannot help but praise the excellence in not taking the realistic approach but having a clear artistic vision behind everything. There are few technical issues, and some moments of greatness that are both pleasing and deep. Some of the artistic metaphors give a ridiculous amount of depth.
The facial expressions and body language give a depth the characters don't deserve, the proudly unrealistic backgrounds give the world an amazing depth it shouldn't have had. The character designs are rather nice, but nothing quite out of the ordinary, and the few fight scenes while good are not great. Yet what is really nice about the art is taking a proudly non-standard approach, taking a lot of retro feel with modern execution and plenty of artistic merit to give one of the strongest visual performances available that doesn't have Madhouse, Shaft or I.G behind them.
If only the voice acting was a stand-out, then perhaps this show could have still been awesome. Instead, it is effective but essentially lacking. Too often does the show try for cute when it had a chance for depth, too often does it try to be simple when it could have been expressive, and most of all, the dialogue is kept on a very clear emotional level without going beyond it. Still, the soundtrack is rather good and used well, the effects make the visual gags work (but are otherwise nothing special), and even the use of stereo positioning is rather clever. And my bashing the voice acting? That's over lost potential more than anything else.
From a strict "does it do the job" standpoint, the artwork deserves tremendous praise. Kyousougiga has some excellent artwork with moments of brilliance. The choice to stray away from realism helps the world much more than the writing does, and some of the visual aspects were downright inspired. And yet, the artwork is let down by the writing. It is usually the other way around, but there you have it.
Kyousougiga could have been great, but isn't. Instead, it is a pleasant way to spend your time. I'm just particularly salty about that wasted potential.