Beyond The Boundary (2013) Review: An Entertaining Kyoto Animation Mashup
When it was announced in April that Australian distributor Hanabee would be releasing Beyond the Boundary for a DVD release and stream, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get a sneak peek. I intended to watch one episode, but found myself writing this review two days later. The original creator, Nagomu Torii, got the light novels published by winning a competition. Considering light novels are the equivalent of young adult novellas, one could assume this is a first-time writer getting some exposure. Keeping that in mind, the quality of the material is about the same as Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online, only it is 12 episodes. It is a fun, silly show which shouldn’t be taken seriously, but strangely enough tries to be. Like Shakugan no Shana or Mai HiME, Beyond the Boundary is one of those flawed productions which is akin to a guilty pleasure: you know it isn’t really great, but it provides solid entertainment! There are a number of ways the series could have been improved, but more on that later.
Kyoto Animation has received a high profile over the years for its animation, and this is no exception. The highlight of the series is, without a doubt, the action scenes. They are fluid, extravagant and beautiful -- with sparkles, intricate weapons, and explosions that are animated to their full potential. Anime often has action as an element but it is something special to see it animated properly, for that is when the magic happens. The backgrounds are pleasant with nice coloring. The characters also use body language a fair bit. The only flaw in their work is that their character designs retain features from K-On, even though they are not designed by the same person, with similar hairstyles, eyes and body features. While they are cute there is nothing new to see here. The main character, Mirai Kuriyama, looks the most original with the glasses and her conservative dress style. You could have substituted in the side characters of Free!, Tamako Market or Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions and no one would be any the wiser. Still, in a sea of shows with badly animated fight scenes, Beyond the Boundary was refreshing in this regard and this can’t be underestimated.
The soundtrack is also solid, which is nice considering AIR, Kanon, CLANNAD and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya suffered from some lackluster tracks. The music by Hikaru Nanase (Scrapped Princess) has a nice set of melodies which create ominous, exhilarating, and sad tones when needed. No tracks stood out or were particularly memorable like renditions of Dango Daikazoku for example, but it was a decent effort. The songs are fantastic -- the opening song has a powerful guitar track with a different sound for Kyoto Animation. It fit the mood of the anime. What brought the soundtrack into the realm of amazing was the ending song Daisy by Studio Dive Foundation. The beginning of the song bleeds into the ending of each episode which helped bring the scenes to a satisfying close. The colors and animation for the ending sequence are also creative and beautiful. As always, the Japanese performances are great. Mirai sounds overly cutesy but the acting is impressionable. In fact, her obvious moe features were one of the biggest drawbacks of the show.
From a glance, Mirai Kuriyama looks like she could break the mold of previous Kyoto Animation characters because of her more ‘mature’ look, but as soon as she appears on screen, this expectation is shattered. This isn’t a new character. She is simply Yui Hirasawa from K-on, only older, with pink hair and glasses. Her mannerisms, facial expressions and gestures are identical -- from the way she moves her arms awkwardly around, to the pathetic way she plonks to the ground or trips over something. I was convinced her voice actress was the same until I looked it up. The Yui (or even Fuko) clone was infuriating -- this is coming from someone who loves Yui from K-on. The most disappointing aspect of this is that Mirai Kuriyama is a very different character compared to Yui. She is cautious of people, functions independently and likes to keep to herself. She even has an interesting back story. It seems like a disservice to both her character and the series to doll her up with unnecessary moe traits when she could have been portrayed as the intelligent, calculating, socially awkward girl she is. Her catch phrase is “This is unpleasant”- didn’t that tell the creators anything about her mindset? Removing Mirai’s overt cuteness would make her more believable, real and likable. Kyoto Animation could have made her have some other quirk than falling over. Maybe she could have been obsessive compulsive. She seems like the type who would.
The male protagonist Akihito Kanbara is more likable even though he seems to be a means to express otaku wishes. He has a fetish for glasses, and even though this is funny, it is exploited to an unnecessary extreme. It is something that is brought up over and over during the series -- we get it, okay? The biggest problem with Akihito besides the overindulgence in his fetish is the ridiculousness of his mother. His mother simply exists for comedic and fan service purposes. She is an eccentric cosplayer (with big breasts and skimpy outfits, of course), who seems to have the answers to everything, but the series never explains why. There was definitely a story to be told about Akihito’s mother and father, but the series never explores it. Akihito simply says in the second to last episode “One day you have to explain all this to me” to her. Considering what Akihito’s big secret is (you’ll find out), it seems like this would be a natural place for the narrative to go.
Akihito’s glasses fetish seems as innocent as a teddy bear compared to the side characters; Hiroomi, Ai and Mitsuki. There is nothing to them except the various fetishes they exploit. Hiroomi is very flamboyant and open about his little sister complex; Mitsuki is very down to earth but often fits an aggressive tsundere archetype by always calling him ‘pervert’, and Ai is the obligatory, underage-looking, bundle of adorableness. They are entertaining to watch, but somewhat tiresome and unoriginal as well. If it is any consolation, I found Ai far more adorable then Mirai!
The story is a simple entanglement of spirits, the real world, and the drama between family lines- something seen in Inuyasha, Kamichu, Shakugan no Shana, Spirited Away, as well as many other anime. What Beyond the Boundary fails to do in comparison to these series is construct an original setting and rules for its monsters which should add to something greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps this is the fault for it being 12 episodes and the show trying to do too many things at once, as its attempts at creating a well-defined story often lead nowhere. The strongest aspects of the story were the character backgrounds of Mirai and Akihito, and as a result the first 5 episodes are some of the strongest material. When the attention went off the main two and tried to flesh out the rest of the characters’ motivations, it fell on its face. The main villain was more like cardboard than the rest of the cast put together, and considering how the series resolves itself, Beyond the Boundary didn’t need one at all. Time here could have been better spent on Akihito’s background and fleshing out the relationship between Mirai and Akihito. The simple, somewhat generic nature of the plot could have been forgiven if the characters had been done justice.
Beyond the Boundary is often credited as being a drama, fantasy, romance series, which couldn’t be further from the truth. If the show decided to follow on the path the first 5 episodes did, perhaps it would have achieved this. Instead, especially with the gag episode 6, it comes off as a fantasy comedy series. Throughout the entire series there were no hints that the two protagonists were attracted to each other, or even thought of themselves in that way. It seemed like a very solid friendship story between a male and female, but that’s it. The romance element is only introduced at the very end of the series, and it seemed unbelievable and out-of-nowhere, much like the resolution to Kanon. The characters are separated near the end of the series and this could have been a great way for the two of them to analyse their thoughts of the other, but no such exploration takes place. Even if they had, it seems more fitting that the series could have ended with perhaps a simple love confession rather than the route it did go down.
Beyond the Boundary is what would happen if someone made a collage out of all Kyoto Animation’s previous shows. The combination doesn’t quite work and its elements have been done better in other series. For cute girls, watch K-on. The romance aspects are better done in CLANNAD, the slice of life/drama section is more captivating in Hyouka, and story in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Beyond the Boundary could have been a lot greater if it focused more time on its two main characters, and sticking to the dramatic portions of the narrative. That being said, it is probably one of the better fantasy series out there for its production values and succeeds in being entertaining despite its shortcomings. Hopefully the film in 2015 will fix some of these problems. Until then, it is recommended to those who want light, fluffy fun.
Add half a star if you are not sick of fan service and adorableness yet.
What do you think? Leave a comment.