What a refreshing thing it is to be surprised. One curse of having read too many books and seen too many movies is that new material becomes predictable. New and original become qualities you cherish, even when a series might be otherwise uneven.
It was clear from the first few minutes that Kyousougiga was going to be an odd one, but I still had my theories about where it was going. These form autonomically, the trope lobe in my head sniffing a theme here and a character arc there as I breathe in a story.
I finished watching it almost two weeks ago. I’m still not entirely sure what in a flaming hot Naraka that was, but it wasn’t what I expected.
Priest Myōe is living in (I’m guessing) 12th century Kyoto. On another period he’d be your usual absent-minded flubber-inventing scientist — here he can draw pictures that come to life. That freaks the tengu out of the villagers, so he’s living alone in his mountain temple, always watched by a black rabbit called Koto.
Koto the rabbit is in love with him, so it makes a deal with a bodhisattva. Koto will get to borrow the bodhisattva’s body to use her love to save Myōe from some unspecified self-destruction the bodhisattva sees in his future. Myōe is shocked at first, but him and Koto get along like pork and curry and have three kids. The youngest one comes first, then two older brothers who look younger than him. They all arrive fully formed. The last to show up — the oldest daughter — is some kind of pink frill-dress demon.
Eventually, pressure from an unspecified temple that disapproves of Myōe makes them decide to leave Kyoto, so he does what any concerned family head would: he draws a mirror Kyoto on the wall and the entire family walks into the painting.
That’s not even the first episode — it’s something like the first 10 minutes. There’s about four more hours where that came from.
The rest of the series is set up in a bunny hop. Koto has nightmares, concerned that overstaying her welcome in the bodhisattva’s body is going to bring destruction to the Looking Glass Kyoto. Myōe and Koto leave, and the three young sons are left in charge of the Looking Glass City. Things carry on as normal for, oh, a few centuries, until a school girl carrying a gigantic see-through hammer arrives in the middle of a thunderstorm. She is also called Koto.
It makes sense by the end — for the most part — as you get an explanation of the whos, whats and whys, but requires some serious suspense of disbelief as it’s going on.
No, that’s not true. It’s not disbelief that you need to suspend: it’s judgement.
Part of it is my own lack of knowledge of buddhism and Japanese folklore. There’s an episode in the first half of the show where some of the voice actors go to Kyoto and take a tour of the various temples and sites that inspired the series. Some of the references they point out make me think I’m losing a lot. The meaning of the fox mask, for instance, didn’t become clear until I read up a refresher about kitsune and their relationship with other mythological aspects.
It feels weird having to go to Wikipedia to help fill in the thematic gaps of what could otherwise be a cute series about an over caffeinated hyperactive teeny-bopper bumping things with her high-tech hammer thingie. And yet it’s so refreshing to watch something that doesn’t slice its plot into tiny bits, chews them up for the audience, then regurgitates them into their begging mouths.
Almost as refreshing as having a peppy, strong female character that’s not an over sexualized loli (cough couhgh Kill la Kill cough).
Or the beautiful visuals. Its mixture of collage, scrapbook, watercolors and current animation make the Looking Glass City feel hand-created, which — silly me — I only now I realized it’s exactly what it is supposed to be.
What an odd duck this series is. It has attained thematic buddha-hood, trascended the worldly tropes that keep you tied to the topical reincarnation wheel, and become an anime zen koan. It walks on the wrong side of the street and skips where you’d expect it to step. If you think it’s going to jingle, instead of jangling it’s going off to jam on the drums.
It doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to untangle all its plot threads until the last two or three episodes. But if entertainment is a consciouness-altering drug, then we should care more about how the trip felt than how much sense it made when we try to explain it to others.
And it was a fun, different trip.
Originally published at filmsnark.tumblr.com.