Friday, December 27, 2013

Kyoukai no Kanata

I just finished watching Kyoukai no Kanata, so decided to talk about it in my last post of 2013.

Kyoukai no Kanata is an excellent series.  It’s a short, 12-episode series that is one of those that I really wish they had made longer.  It’s so much fun to watch - great plot, great character and animation style, great music, great interactions among the characters - that it’s really a shame that they only made it 12 episodes.

This series is about two high school students, Kanbara Akihito and Kuriyama Mirai.  Akihito is a boy who is a half human / half youmu (demon) and who also happens to be immortal.  Mirai is a girl who is the last survivor of a powerful clan of Spirit Warriors whose power is in their blood, which they can form into solid objects like a sword, and whose main goal in life is to destroy youmu.   The series starts out with Akihito thinking Mirai is going to jump off the school roof.  He races to stop her and  . . . Mirai does a back flip and stabs him through the chest.  So just as you’re expecting to settle in to a nice, slice of life, high school love story, this series begins as a very different, blood-sword-through-the-chest, right from the start, before you’re even aware of any of the background. 

The basic premise of the world the series is set in is that youmu are hunted down and defeated by Spirit Warriors.  Any defeated youmu becomes a gem-studded stone, which can be taken to a special shop and turned in for money.  Thus Spirit Warriors not only rid the world of bad youmu, they also can get paid for their efforts.  Akihito, as a powerful half-youmu, is under constant watch by a house of Spirit Warriors, the Nase, and especially by a brother and sister who go to high school with him, Nase Hiroomi and Nase Mitsuki. He’s also watched by two good youmu, Ai and Ayaka, who run the shop where youmu stones are turned in.  When Akihito’s human side loses control, his youmu side is insanely powerful and nearly uncontainable, so among others, these four watch him and try to keep him contained.
Mirai begins the series by trying to kill Akihito, time after time.  She’s remarkably unsuccessful about this, and he keeps working to befriend her and include her.  Eventually he talks her into joining the literary club that he and the two Nase sibs belong to.  Along the way, Akihito and Mirai fall in love.  Which is extremely problematic, because you find out later that Mirai came to town specifically because she was hired to kill Akihito.  The demon side of Akihito is a monstrously powerful demon, who everyone wants to either destroy or control.  When Mirai realizes she wants him to survive, she works a deal with the Nase, to separate the demon from Akihito and allow him to survive as a normal human – at the expense of Mirai’s life.  Then when Akihito revives and discovers what she’s done, he’s pretty pissed off because he doesn’t care to survive at the expense of Mirai’s life – he’s willing to give his life in exchange for her survival.  Of course.  After all, it is a love story underneath it all.

It’s touch and go up until the end of the last episode, but, major spoiler here, everyone survives the series.  I’m glad to be able to say that because the series would not have ended up so high on my list of good anime if they had killed off either Mirai or Akihito. Although you kind of don’t expect everything to turn out well, the ending is nice and satisfying.  Everything does turn out well.  In fact I'd have to say that the ONLY bad thing about this series is the length.  There are so many other details that could have been expanded on with side characters, and with the main characters, that I really wanted it to continue.  Like, what’s really up with Nase Izumi, and why did she have to step down in favor of Hiroomi leading the family (other than the comment that she’s carrying a youmu inside her)?  Or, how did Ai and Ayaka end up running a shop for turning in youmu stones?  Or, WHAT is up with Akihito’s mother?!?  And how did Akihito come to be?  See?  So many more things could have occurred.  

Still, the series is well worth watching.  The character interactions between the four main characters alone are often just priceless, with Akihito’s fetish for girls wearing glasses and Hiroomi’s fetish for his younger sister.  There’s even an episode where they become an idol singing group to defeat an odd youmu.  The series is so much more than just a high school love story.  I recommend it highly. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Saiunkoku Monogatari

Saiunkoku Monogatori takes place in a fictional Chinese-like land.  The story is based around the life of a young woman named Kou Shuurei.  Shuurei’s family is one of the eight noble families of the land, but they are from an impoverished branch.  Shuurei's mother died when she was young, so Shuurei is very self-sufficient.  She does odd jobs to get by and her father, Shoka, works as a librarian in the imperial court, a role which is very prestigious but pays very poorly.  Shuurei’s dream is to take and pass the imperial exam and become a court official.  Unfortunately, women are forbidden to take the exam or to be court officials.  So Shuurei and her father live relatively hand-to-mouth.  They also live with a young man named Seiran, who was taken in by Shuurei’s father and who acts as Shuurei’s bodyguard.

Shurrei’s life takes a change for the better one day when one of the high court advisers stops by her house and offers her a job.  It seems the new Emperor, Shi Ryuuki, is uninterested in running his country and spends his time flaunting his preference for men instead of working on getting heirs for the throne.  Because Shuurei is known for her intelligence and teaching, and is pretty as well, the Grand Adviser asks Shuurei to enter the imperial household as Ryuuki’s consort for a few months, and to teach Ryuuki how to be Emperor.  In return for this job, the adviser will give Shuurei an unheard of amount of money.  Shuurei accepts the job and her peaceful life changes forever.

Shuurei brings Seiran with her to the palace, meets Ryuuki and begins the job of turning him into Emperor.   She finds that he’s not stupid or lazy, just unwilling to accept the role that's been thrust upon him.  As the youngest of six imperial sons, he was never expected to rule and was treated badly as a child.  He secretly hoped that his exiled older brother, who he loved as the only one who was kind to him as a child, would return and take the throne.  It turns out that Seiran is in fact that brother, but doesn’t want the throne.  Between that and Shuurei’s teachings, Ryuuki turns around and begins to govern.  Shuurei  also gains Ryuuki’s love and admiration. 

As part of the imperial family Shuurei also becomes embroiled in countless and continuous plots and schemes being run by the eight noble houses.  Politics in the imperial court is incredible and convoluted and Shuurei becomes involved in it a lot of it. 

The under-plots run deep in this series and occasionally it’s difficult to remember who is related to whom and whose House is scheming against the Empire or other House.  Besides Shuurei, Seiran, Ryuuki and Shuurei’s father, the other main characters include Ri Kouyou, Vice-Secretary of Civil Administration who is serving Ryuuki directly and who has a penchant for getting lost in the palace, Ran Shuuei, who is a general and exceptional swordsman, and Ro Ensei, who is something of a vagabond, the former governor of Sa province and a person from Seiran’s past.  This group of main characters is joined by a large cast full of relatives and adoptive relatives and various House connections. 

After meeting and working with Shuurei, Ryuuki straightens up and rules his kingdom.  One of the things he does for Shuurei after she leaves the Palace, is make it possible for women to take the imperial exam, allowing her to follow her dream of becoming a court official.  It’s not easy being the first woman to do so.  She ends up retaking the exam orally in front of all the court and advisers because some of them wouldn’t believe she could pass it.  In addition, she barely makes it to her oral exam since other factions plot to keep her away so she can't pass it.  She manages to overcome all of it and become a court official. 

Ryuuki then posts her far away in problematic Sa province as co-governor with Eigetsu, another candidate who passed the exam but who others are also having trouble accepting because of his extreme youth.  Out in the Sa province Eigetsu and Shuurei overcome lots more political intrigue and deal with a different set of politics and characters.

The plot in this series is occasionally hard to follow because of the interconnections between character families, but overall it’s very interesting and the series is worth watching.  It borders on being a reverse-harem anime, with Shuurei surrounded by lots of attractive men, but that aspect is played down.  There is a love triangle undercurrent between Ryuuki, Shuurei and Seiran which runs throughout the series and Shuurei is attracted to a Sa family schemer once she’s in the Sa province, but Saiunkoku Monogatari is not a love story as such. 

This series is actually two season, each 39 episodes long.  Most, if not all, of what I’ve discussed here happens in the first season.   The second season brings more intrigue and different problems for Shuurei-tachi to solve.  I recommend the whole two seasons, but at least watch the first season.  It’s a good series.