Beyond the Boundary review

Beyond the Boundary is an ineffectual mix of dark urban fantasy and moe slice-of-life, resulting in a tragically unengaging series that fails to excel comically, dramatically or viscerally, silver linings aside.

Plot synopsis:

Mirai Kuriyama, a blood manipulating warrior of the spirit world, meets Akihito Kanbara, a half-yomu human, and things start happening.

The world-building, characterisation and structure in Beyond the Boundary, from the very beginning, is done excruciatingly poorly. Starting out on a well-animated but completely irrelevant wide shot, it immediately shows the main herione, Mirai, seemingly attempting to commit suicide. Akihito Kanbara, our obligatory protagonist, stops her by shouting “I love glasses!” She then stabs him, and we skip forward an unspecified period of time to where to two of them are suddenly friends. It is then revealed that they run a literacy club (in spite of none of them actually ever implying that they like books) and two of their friends are also citizens of the spirit world. Already, the story has moved so erratically that the viewer hasn’t had a chance to gain their bearings.

The first few episodes consist of the same unfunny jokes played out over and over again, such as Mirai’s budgeting problems and use of the term “How unpleasant!” and Hiroomi’s sister complex which is tonally inappropriate for this series and sadly acts as his only real defining trait. Then a fearsome monster appears, with minimal foreshadowing and Mirai goes off to fight it, in spite of her relative inexperience. She battles a rival, causes a major catastrophe to occur and then we go back to the comedy. The series then ineffectively tries to stuff all the character development into a couple of flashbacks of them performing for an unnecessary dance instead of actually showing it, resulting in the climax, which takes up nearly half the series, falling flat. The time in between is taken up with flashbacks that contain information that should have been presented chronologically, at the beginning, and horrible comedy and drama.

In terms of world-building, this series does one of the most unapologetically deplorable jobs I have ever scene. There is never any indication given about how many people interact with the spirit world, how many families there are or even what yomu (demons) are. A member of the Society of Spirit Warriors claims that they were born from the negativity of man kind, so therefore they should be intrinsically even, and for the most part they are. However, this explanation is contradicted by Ayaka Shindou, a benign yomu who takes the form of a human most of the time, being essentially the most level-headed and kind character in the entire series.

How wide is the sphere of influence of the Society of Spirit Warriors that they can be thwarted be a prestigious family and have no consequences? Are yomu allowed to live in the world as long as they are peaceful? What effect do they have on normal humans, and why are teenagers able to hold their own against adults who should be fully trained, and why are teenagers being put in mortal peril when the series shows dozens of trained fighters? Each of these are major details, but the anime clumsily ignores them as though they expect the viewer to have seen the non-existent prequel.

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Both lead Akihito and the poster girl Mirai are about as bland as main characters can possibly be. Akihito has few distinguishing qualities, outside of his glasses fetish that’s brought up way too often, given that it became tired after one minute into the first episode. Mirai is similar, as vulnerable and uninteresting as they come, always complaining about money and treatment and calling everyone unpleasant. When she gets into a fight, her physical abilities feel completely unnatural and her fighting style is very inconsistent. On paper, she looks like she may have been interesting, but a series that couldn’t even pass the basics should never have attempted something like this.

From the beginning, Akihito has no reason to let her use him as target practice, and that she never says thank you should have prevented this horrible attempt at romance from every taking off. Neither of them develop naturally, with the series basically telling the viewer that they love each other in spite of the near absence of romantically charged dialogue. This is not a minor problem; the vast majority of the series is ruined by their poor chemistry because it essentially comprises the core of the anime, with everything else being a detail. The drama consistently falls flat because of both a weak foundation and poor development, leading to the good conquers evil ending feeling unearned.

Not only does the drama fail to make an impact, but the comedy is arguably handled even worse. Playing out like a checklist of moe slice-of-life skits, it feels shoe-horned in to what was advertised as, and what seems to want to be, a very sombre series. From the very first scene the comedy is enough to induce vomiting, with Akihito’s attempts at convincing Mirai not to kill herself ultimately boiling down to an excuse to reveal his glasses fetish, which isn’t quite as overdone as some of the other comedy here, but isn’t even remotely smart. To make things worse, this is just continued throughout the entire series, though it does work as a good summation of their half-baked romantic chemistry.

Mirai, like many other main characters, is perhaps dealt with even worse, with the writers clearly wanting her phrases like “How unpleasant!” and “It’s all your fault!” to come of as endearing, but instead they feel more like an annoyance due to the absence of any sense of her actually having developed a meaningful relationship with anyone. They also throw in the whole “Main character with small breasts.” cliche, even though she is supposed to be considered intimidating at some point. Even in the climax, this comedy is prevalent, destroying much of the tension.

The supporting cast also suffer from this awful plague of failed comedy. Nase Mitsuki doesn’t fool anyone, including the audience, in her tough girl facade that she drops by the mid-point, leading to questions about why she’d bother putting it on in the first place. Her brother, Hiroomi, is in love with her because the writers wanted to insert incest in here somewhere, though this wouldn’t be as big of a problem if it wasn’t insisted that this be brought up at every conceivable opportunity. To make things worse, the timing of the comedy is woefully unimaginative, often immediately preceding or following a cataclysmic ordeal.

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The animation quality of Beyond the Boundary is quite stellar, particularly during the fights scenes. The fluidity and sometimes sharpness of the sword slashes and jabs can make the yomu battles, particularly towards the end, entertaining enough for the weak build-up and resolution to feel satisfying. Throughout the entire series, the character animation is fluid and expressive, which makes the aforementioned cringe-worthy cliche-checklist character interactions somewhat more bearable. In terms of visual presentation, the high point would have to be the chorus of the opening, making use of high-frame rate, high impact action in a way that the series could never do.

Outside of the technical merits and, to an extent, opening of Beyond the Boundary, a great deal is handled badly in the visual department. Character designer Miku Kadowaki provided this series with some of the most dissonant designs I have ever seen in anime. Bearing the typical bubbly facial structure and movements of a Kyoto Animation production, they are unfortunately framed at a distance that brings to light most of the studio’s shortcoming, such as their inability to draw fine lights on character fingers or hair and their difficulty with more specific details, such as shirt buttons or creases. To make things worse, the minimalistic colour and shading on the moe designs ultimately falls flat, feeling more like Chuunibyou with a darkness filtered forced over rather than genuinely dark.

The lines aren’t thick enough for the anime to look severe or dark, and the soft cell shading on the hair of some of the characters greatly weakens their intimidation factor. The character designs also suffer from a lack of diversity, with seemingly everyone having the same facial structure, and the monster designs are as unimaginative as they come. Additionally, the action sequences move too quickly, feeling both anti-climatic and unsatisfying, though the lack of tension due to the aforementioned poorly developed characters are partly to blame for this. Not only that, but most of the characters lack memorable mannerism, with their expressive qualities and fighting styles failing to offer them particularly noteworthy characterisation. With all of these problems, even the high animation quality prevents me from considering this a particularly good looking series.

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Beyond the Boundary’s mediocre soundtrack suffers as much as the visuals do for wanting to fit so many categories, with silence or standard guitars dominating the all too abundant character interactions, and the tense or action packed moments having a violin or piano play in the background. The former doesn’t really add much even when it is present, and the latter occurs too infrequently and with too little meaning for the soundtrack to really shine. Even so, there are a few good music moments, such as the otherwise dreadful scene where all the main characters are dancing to use sex appeal to weaken a yomu. The strongest song of the series is Stereo Dive Foundation’s quite strong “Daisy”, though the visuals of the ending seem to rely on the negligible attachment the characters had with me, simply showcasing Mirai’s hair and the other characters walking with irrelevant flowery or cosmic overlays. The Opening song has quite a few sour notes from Minori Chihara, who also voices Mitsuki, misusing her vocal style in a high-pitched song that brings out the cracks in her otherwise soothing voice. The visuals are also, for the most part, uninspired, with the main cast simply walking and staring at nothing. The action in the middle is impressive to look at, with notable fluidity and fire animation, though the lack of clear direction prevents it from being as impactful as it could have been.

Both the English and Japanese voice actors sound either as bored as the viewer is likely to be, or act on complete auto-pilot for most of the time. There is nothing new provided here by anyone in either cast, though the lackluster character writing didn’t exactly provide much potential for a strong performance. Risa Taneda plays Mirai as an undiluted moe blob, with weakness seeping out of every pore in a way that makes her, the main female, feel more like an obstacle to be overcome than a person to watch the journey of. Ayako Kawasumi delivers Izumi Nase’s utilitarian lines with the professionalism that you could find in other, more layered characters she’s played in the pastpast. The biggest problem with the Japanese is that the voice actors fit their characters in a way that makes the casting feel boring, instead of fitting, and the script makes all the characters sound mechanical, much like the way in which the develope.

The dub script, for the most part, is very true to the Japanese script, though with an appropriate edge of bitterness that gives the darker parts of the series more edge. Clint Bickham provides much more of a presence for protagonist Akihito than the more airy, indifferent KENN could. However, as uninspired as Risa’s moe performance was, Krystal LaPorte is unfortunately unable to make Mirai’s character any more tolerable in English, though I don’t blame her. Monica Rial’s portrayal of Mitsuki is higher-pitched than Chihara’s, though it comes across as very natural, and does Carli Mosier’s no-nonsense approach to Izumi, matching Ayako’s strong performance and even bringing a bit more presence to her, which is apt, given her important role in the story. Both languages give about equal performances as characters who don’t really deserve their talent.

On the whole, Beyond the Boundary is something of an embarrassment for an otherwise acclaimed studio. With a horribly established and maintained balance between light-hearted shenanigans and heavy drama, incompetent and unconvincing character development and even botched aesthetics, Beyond the Boundary has little in it to like.

Overall (English & Japanese): D

Story: D-

Characters: D-

Visuals: B

Sound: C+

 

Beyond the Boundary can be streamed on Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Hanabee, where it may also be bought.

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