Kyoto Animation has achieved a rather illustrious status in the community and could rightfully be called one of the best studios in Japan. Their bright and brooding teen dramas like A silent voice or their melodramatic character studies like Violet Evergarden no shortage of praise, but beyond the borderWhere Kyoukai no kanatadoesn’t get enough praise.
Most KyoAni fans will be familiar with Taichi Ishidate’s most iconic work to date, Violet Evergardenwhich he directed the entire series, but less talk about his directorial debut with 2013’s beyond the border. It tells the story of a young girl with the power to control her blood like a weapon, who hunts a half-monster boy, only to end up falling in love with him.
The show was fairly well received, followed by a recap film and then a second film that concluded the story, but it has since been overshadowed by other international hits. What makes this story worth appreciating now more than ever is how different it is from the norm for the studio (at least lately).
A Different KyoAni Show
Kyoto Animation is not a studio one associates with a lot of action, sword fights or magic battles. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen and Beyond the Boundary isn’t alone in exhibiting these traits, but it’s a relatively rare sight.
KyoAni only produced Full Metal Panic!after proving himself with a comedy spin-off. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai had a lot of fights that happened inside the heads of the characters. More, Clannad had this oddly well-animated fist fight in this episode.
Most recent Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid can be loaded with action, but beyond the border is a special case, in that its illustrations are much more in keeping with the studio’s trademark style. The lighting effects, facial animations, face shapes, and close-up details are all reminiscent of other popular projects. Free! Where A silent voice.
Since Free!, the studio went beyond liquid effects and lighting animation through a mix of hand-drawn and digital effects. It’s the kind of quality that lends itself perfectly to an action series with various forms of magic, combat styles, and weapons.
Characters wield firearms that fire magic-infused bullets or wield transforming swords and weapons that can eviscerate crowds of Youmu. One of the main characters Hiroomi uses their scarf as a weapon and a conduit to cast magic, while his sister Mitsuki uses a friendly Youmu to fight, herself specializing in defensive magic.
The creativity of the magic and the characters’ signature styles aside, the action is simply stunning to behold. It makes sense that Chuunibyou’s Animation Director (AD), Miku Kadowaki, also contributed to this series. It’s often the speed of the action that impresses the most, and the transition between fast-but-simple choreography and slow-motion keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
modern fantasy novel
In this modern fantasy, the “Spirit World Warriors” are trained to hunt Youmu, monsters created from negative emotions in the world. Mirai Kuriyama is the last member of a clan that held cursed blood magic. She comes to town to earn a living as a warrior between duties, but she’s not very good at hunting.
She slowly befriends local warriors and Akihito Kanbara, a human-Youmu half-breed who is immortal. Considering Mirai spends early encounters trying to assassinate her, it’s not exactly love at first sight. Even when they grow closer, she constantly calls him “unpleasant”, a recurring hit that grows more playful over time.
Rarely has a show distinguished between melodramatic teenage romance and high-octane fantasy action with such committed treatment of both aspects of the plot. Both leads struggle with conflicting feelings about who they are due to the powers they have, and how they deal with that stress is very different.
The series’ action isn’t exhaustive and doesn’t take away from the drama of the character, and never feels like a distraction. Rather, the character moments and episodes dedicated to those relationships are what reinforce this whole story.
Aki’s friends, Mitsuki and Hiroomi Nase, siblings who are part of one of the most powerful clans in Spirit World Warrior, play a huge role in the story. Although they are friends with Aki, there is an additional context to their friendship that makes the story darker. Each character seems to have hidden reasons for being involved with the main characters.
As the curtain rises on the characters’ secrets and the competing motives of those in power begin to interfere with these children’s lives, this romance becomes much more complicated. And a big reason why this mix of genres works is because beyond the border has a rich and interesting world.
Building a Spectacular World
Right from the start, when Youmu’s nature and how to defeat them are explained, it’s explained by showing more than telling. Since Youmu is a secret to ordinary people, mechanisms are put in place to prevent citizens from getting into trouble.
There are unique talismans and devices to create barriers or ward off strangers and not only are they effective in explaining, but everything looks cool. Making a show cool goes beyond making fights cool; the story itself should feature cool ideas and often, preferably at the beginning when everything is introduced to the audience.
Secret societies knowing about magic and other threats to the world are popular in fiction for a reason. Having groups powerful enough to keep these things secret is inherently cool and as long as the chaos doesn’t make it too unbelievable that things are being covered up, it can be super effective.
A love story
When the dust clears and the battles are over, this show is ultimately a love story, which builds to a crescendo in its final episodes and only really reaches its climax in the final film. Looking back, the show and the movie can be enjoyed together, even if the wait was torture before.
beyond the border is a sometimes dark romance that lightens the mood with a humor that can be random depending on the person. But when it lands, it lands hard, with some of KyoAni’s best sight gags to come. It’s moments like the quirky mid-run filler episode that help audiences fall in love with these characters.
What results is a conclusion that seems particularly dire and without a clear path forward. Mirai and Aki are far apart, and the buildup keeps making their happy ending more and more unlikely. Aside from the playful animosity at the start of their friendship, their romance blossoms gracefully as the series progresses.
Many of the winning qualities of this show have been realized at other Kyoto Animation properties, but very few, if any, have been told in the way that beyond the border tells it. Its individual components can be found elsewhere, but combined it’s something that scratches an itch that few will realize was there, to begin with.
beyond the border is available through Sentai Filmworks and available to stream through HiDIVE.
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