Today I'm going to look at Kyoto Animation's Beyond the Boundary, a fantasy show based around some very cliche elements that manages to pass it all through just enough imagination, fun, and heartwarming subtext to overcome its tropes and forge its way into our memories.
I originally intended to review this series back in 2013 when I finished it but there was no shortage of reviews back then. Not to be deterred, I simply held this review off until now to avoid sounding like an echo. Do enjoy the belated review.
Beyond the Boundary takes place in a fantastical version of Earth where humans and fantasy creatures named Youmu live side-by-side, although most humans are completely unaware of this. Only those with an affinity for the supernatural can see them. In order to prevent the Youmu from affecting humanity, many of these humans with supernatural powers are Spirit World Warriors: hunters of the Youmu.
This series follows the story of both Akihito and Mirai whom are students at the same school, Mirai is a new transfer student. Akihito is an immortal half-youmu and Mirai is a spirit world warrior. As expected, this doesn't result in anything resembling a normal friendship.
Looks just like how all my friendships start!
In any case, the story that follows is a cliche but heartwarming tale of two fundamentally different people in a fantasy world.
One fascinating aspect of Beyond the Boundary is how so absolutely cliche it is. There's a whole ton of tropes, cliches, and storytelling tools that have been put into the series, to the point that I'm not sure if anything is really original at all; however, this series is a case study in how you can pull this off and make it work. Something we all tend to forget about cliches is that they are tropes. Tropes are tools. They are used to give the audience a point-of-reference that they can use to understand the series without a deep exposition by characters. Nothing is inherently wrong with using a cliche. We tend to forget this (myself included).
Beyond the Boundary is one of the rare series that almost seems like it is self-aware of its cliche status and actively strives to overcome it with imagination, powerful presentation, and shamelessly just playing the cliches straight. We've already seen all of these plot elements before, but they fit it together such that it doesn't really matter.
For instance, the entire world of magic and mystical creatures is incredibly cliche. Somewhat malevolent mystical creatures that humans can't see? Check. Humans that can see the creatures and hunt them to protect normal humans? Check. Not all the creatures are actually evil? Check in spades.
Even so, the show passes all the cliches through just enough imagination to make it seem new. The world is brilliantly rendered in both animation and presentation. As a result of this use of tropes and presentation, the world is built up extremely well by just the first episode. It uses tropes to shape our expectations and then exploits it. That's how tropes are supposed to be done.
Likely helping our suspension of disbelief is the pacing. One of the things that struck me from the beginning was how well they managed to keep both the tension and pace in sync. There's just enough going on that we aren't bored but not nearly up to the level of Valvrave the Liberator's trademark rapid pacing insanity.
I have to say, I liked the opening for its portrayal of the series' animation. The song is nice too.
Beyond the Boundary relies on a couple of things to succeed; one of them is its ability to believably portray a world filled with the aforementioned tropes. One way I grew to love the characters is how they manage to play off each other without becoming stilted. One of the endearing factors of this show is its completely natural humor. Sure, the characters are living tropes and those same tropes make the humor happen, but the humor doesn't feel forced at all.
This is one of many examples of how Beyond the Boundary manages to show off how it just feels organic and natural.
As I said, the characters are living tropes, but this doesn't make them bad. Somehow it helps make them even more endearing with every passing moment. Akihito and Mirai are great main characters that have a great number of character moments. Their relationship is sweet and endearing in a landscape where writers feel the need to put twists on everything (there is a twist in here, but I honestly saw it coming).
Much like reality, this show finds the nearly impossible balance between the lighthearted antics and the more serious underlying plot of the show. It does it far better than many shows in its position have tried to.
Lastly, the animation quality of Beyond the Boundary is beyond indeed. This is a show that will probably seen as a reference work in animation circles because of its absurd fluidity and the meshing of the different animation techniques. The action in the series is both stylized and extremely well conceived. Even the simplest scenes are portrayed extremely well with an incredible amount work devoted to making the scenes feel natural.
The biggest problem that many (including myself) will have is the ending. It is a cliche storm of epic proportions. Up until this point Beyond the Boundary had set itself apart by using tropes and acknowledging them with self-aware hand waves combined with an obligation to put its own spin on it. The ending falls down on this hard by completely forgetting to do any of that; it isn't acknowledged for its weirdness or twisted to make it look new. It just... is.
Speaking of which, by this point in the show, the plot slides dangerously into "this makes no sense" territory. Another thing the show avoided was too much crazy and not enough explanation. The ending and the arc leading up to it swing the wrong way and it starts to collapse a bit. The entire fight with Beyond the Boundary doesn't really make all that much sense to the average viewer.
My final criticism is the motivations and depth of some of the characters. When it comes down to it, most of the characters are walking tropes. This goes double for some of the supporting cast and the antagonist. There isn't much of an explanation for why they do what they do and not even their tropes can save them. It's disappointing that the characters didn't get more development.
Beyond the Boundary is a massive cliche in show form, but it manages to make its tropes work. Tropes are tools to be used, not ignored. It has a degree of self-awareness in its trope-y status and it embraces the tropes for what they are. This results in a show that is true to itself and avoids unnecessary deconstructions or aversions.
The plot is pretty good. It is certainly trope-ridden, but it also takes a couple of turns that weren't entirely expected. In that way, the plot manages to go its own way while retaining the tropes. The characters are the same way: trope-y but endearing. Akihito and Mirai have a remarkable amount of chemistry and natural drama.
At the same time, the plot takes a turn at Crazy Avenue in the finale. The climax gets a bit out there and difficult to follow. This is then followed up by a cliche storm of absolutely epic proportions without a hint of self-awareness. It was unfortunate that it happened.
This is best for someone that wants a fantasy show that's fun and endearing in all the right ways. There's a bundle of nice characters and excellent animation that drives the show to its conclusion.
Past all the tropes and cliches, there's a very endearing show here. We've all seen this plot before, this twist, and these characters, but we haven't seen them all together in a while.
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images herein.
I think it's safe to say that Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth, Evangelion 3.0, or The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is next.
This is part of Anime Marathon 2014, a continuation of Anime Marathon 2013 by popular demand. I'm on a mission to review every anime I can for the TAY community and anyone else that wants to read it. I can never guarantee when these reviews will be posted, but I'll do my best to keep it consistent.
You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner.