Beyond The Boundary
written by Taichi Ishidate, directed by Jukki Hanada, produced by Kyoto Animation, available on Crunchyroll
Supernatural horror meets teen life
To describe an anime series as ‘a supernatural high school drama’ is sort of like saying ‘the one with the catgirl’ or ‘the one with the robots’. A whole lot of the medium falls into that very vague category. And that seems particularly appropriate to describe Beyond the Boundary because, on the surface, nothing about this show is outstanding. Nothing is particularly original. In so many ways, this is a rudimentary, plain-face, by-the-numbers anime. And that’s part of why it’s so good.
Art goes in cycles. And it always returns to its most lucent core. In rock & roll, that’s simple garage-band rock. MC5’s Kick Out the Jams was followed a decade later by What I Like About You by the Romantics, followed a decade later by Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, followed a decade later by Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet, and so on. In the intervening years, a lot of genres and styles come and go, but rock always comes back to simple guitar-drums-vocals.
Anime is the same way. There are a handful of anime stories are simple, direct, easy, and entertaining. Boy-finds-mecha is one, but the nigh-superheroic magical protagonist dealing with day-to-day life set against the backdrop of a growing supernatural threat, is just as common. In the wake of the anime industries struggles at the dawn of the new millennium, it’s no surprise that many studios are returning to classic form to rediscover themselves. And if Beyond the Boundary is any indication, they’re in good shape.
Story – 3 out of 5
Akihito Kanbara, the head of the Literary Club at school, is half-youmu (reflection of human fear, jealousy, greed, blah blah, you get the idea). Mirai Kuriyama is a shy socially-awkward Spirit Warrior from a cursed and outcast clan. Mirai attacks the immoral Akihito daily, but that doesn’t stop him for falling for the bespectacled beauty, thanks in part to his glasses fetish. They call a truce and Akihito walks the seemingly-inept (but powerful) Mirai through life as a Spirit Warrior, including attempts to bring down some youmu that haunt their city. This leads into a larger plot involving several different super-powerful youmu and the complex inner workings of the Spirit Warrior Society.
There’s really nothing here that will surprise even a casual viewer of anime. The plot is exceptionally by-the-numbers, down to the episode where the heroes have to form an impromptu pop band and sing a rooftop concert. But while there are no surprises, it lets the show focus on executing the elements really well. So while there are no surprises, there is a lot of entertainment and creativity in the otherwise run-of-the-mill story.
Art – 4 out of 5
While the story is by-the-numbers, the art is a cut above. The characters are all very believable and well-drawn, with more realistic proportions and designs than seen in other anime. There are no ‘super-deformed, chibi’ comedic breaks and while there’s a lot of humor, it’s in the banter and dialogue, not the imagery. The backgrounds are gorgeous and, again, the character designs are understated by excellently done.
Animation – 4 out of 5
Like the art, the animation is a cut above the rest. The movements are smooth, the deceptively-numberous action sequences are very fluid, and the cinematography is well-planned and laid-out. It’s not truly outstanding, but it’s better-than-average and far above ‘merely adequate’.
Characters – 4 out of 5
Much like the plot, the art, and the animation, the characters aren’t particularly brilliant or innovative, but they are just very well executed. Akihito is a legitimately and demonstratively nice guy (unlike many anime we’re the protagonist is just referred to as ‘nice’), but isn’t an out-and-out saint. He gets frustrated with friends, even Mirai who he adorably has a crush on. Mirai is socially awkward, but has a blog where she gripes about every little thing. The idiosyncrasies of the characters are all classic anime stuff, but are just executed endearingly and very well.
Acting – 4 out of 5
Based off the Japanese voice cast, the acting is very solid. There’s very little ‘characterization’ in the voices, meaning the voice actors don’t seem to be striving to create some dynamic and unique sound for the characters. Instead, the characters sound like normal people, with normal voices, and express their emotions with normal inflections. There’s no effort to be dynamic and memorable, merely really good. And the performances are just that: really good.
Overall – 4 out of 5
This show is a good example of what trying to be good, rather than great, can result in. It’s a solid anime offering that delivers in every aspect. It isn’t a GREAT anime, but it’s just a really solid and entertaining one that pretty much anyone can enjoy. Recent anime have tried too hard (see: Kill la Kill) or have gone out of their way to be different for the sake of being different. Here’s a good example of getting back to basics and delivering a solid hit.