Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon I & II
When I first saw Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon’s trailer while deciding my Fall 2011 lineup, I completely dismissed it at first sight for one simple thing: the character designs. Almost all the female characters having an oversized bosom is rarely an indicator of a good story, and I am definitely not a fan of ecchi either. Not to mention that combining that with the presence of high tech and mecha made me remind a much hated (by me, that is) recent series – Infinite Stratos. That said, it wasn’t until recently, when I heard some good things about it, that I decided to give it a try. As so, I assure you that Kyoukai Senjou is not one single bit like it – in fact, it is a full-fledged fantasy, with quite a good story, really interesting characters and one of the most in-depth depictions of politics I’ve seen in anime. Fanservice is present, but it’s more visual (with the character designs and all) than it is situational, and when it is, it’s usually simply fun. And this comes from a female viewer who usually hates most kind of fanservice (even bishies xD).
The complex setting might also be somewhat confuse, what is a put off for some people, but checking out some information and paying close attention to the episodes should be enough to understand (and enjoy) everything. Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon takes place in the future, a time after humanity supposedly almost reached heavens but fell short of it due to wars amongst themselves. Thus, someone had the brilliantly ridiculous idea of reenacting the past. In the stories specific time period, said idea had turned unquestionable law and humanity’s very purpose of existence. Something that put me off at first was how could everyone be so stupid as to sacrifice their wishes and future to do something like that, but then it hit me that “Hey, that’s what they’ve been taught since they were born. The principles that were engrained in them from a very low age.” Like our perception of society in reality couldn’t be drastically changed, such was their reality. That said, it’s not like they just go around faithfully reenacting history. In fact, most countries use that more as an inviolable excuse to reach their goals and mask their underhanded actions, taking advantage of how different interpretations of the same facts, specially past facts of which exists nothing but records, can be equally well defended. That gives rise to my most loved part of Kyoukaisen – the intricate politics. The politics in this series are quite resembling to real-life politics, which is really rare in anime. A kind of politics where reasons matter, but appearances matter more. A kind of politics where double meaning is given to illicit actions, and where formalities rule over purpose. In other words, a wonderfully dirty kind of politics that contributes to the plot of this series in every single episode. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s even an episode entirely dedicated to a political debate in each season. Add to the great script a flamboyant presentation and you get my favorite episodes of Kyoukaisen.
However, the plot is not the only strong point in this anime. In fact, while the politics sure are great, all the relations between countries and the implications of each and every detail are usually hard to grasp, which would make this a mostly tedious watch. Something else that really makes Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon shine is the wonderful cast of characters. Musashi’s students sure are no small group, and when adding to that some relevant characters from other factions, it sure seems like most will get simply forgotten in the middle of so many faces. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen. With only 13 episodes in the first season, it had already an impressive amount of character development considering how many characters there were. This second season only served to perfect that, sporting even a more impressive amount of it in such few time.
Speaking of characters, I couldn’t go on without mentioning the protagonist. Toori is just a wonderful deviation of a main character. In the first season, he’s terribly burdened with is own guilt, yet he’s all but an angsty brat. He’s just someone who lives life as it is, an idiot with amazing strikes of genius and someone who’s completely honest with himself and follows what he believes in. That’s what gathered that amazing group of friends around him. Most of Musashi’s group receives good development, but they shine more as the united group they are. Which is a great thing, since what drives the chain of events in Kyoukaisen is, in fact, the will of the characters. Let me proceed to explain how well such fact truly works. This series’ plot comprehends implications in a grand scale – the power balance of the factions/countries, the Armament of Deadly Sins, the politics, fighting strategies, heck, there’s even the apocalypse to worry about. While that’s usually a good sing in fantasy stories, such events are really nice for detail analysis, but due to how removed they are from a viewers’ daily experience, they, more often than not, fail at getting said viewers emotionally invested. However, while all those details and subtleties of every action, ready for those who love such components to put their minds in, all of it can be simplified in one goal: the selfish wish of one guy who wants to get the girl, even if that means declaring war against the entire world. If that’s not simplifying, than I don’t know what it is, and if that’s not romantic, than I have absolutely no idea what else could possibly be. Due to this, one can look at Kyoukaisen as the story of a group of comrades, fighting for their beliefs, or as a grand scale fantasy epic, with all the intricate aspects that brings. Or you can see it as both, taking in its entire splendor.
But unfortunately, not all about Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon is perfect. Not near it, in fact. Its greatest flaw is how incredibly contrived the plot is. Most developments require one’s entire attention to fully understand, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. The problem is that in the middle of its half-explanations, Kyoukaisen often forgets that not everything can be deduced from earlier information. This leads to something that’s never desirable in an anime series: watching it with a guide by your side becomes a requirement. I think they did quite well in adapting a light novel which was said to be impossible to be adapted into a visual medium due to its sheer size and amount of information dump. The lack of explaining that sometimes occurs is probably unavoidable, but it’s still something that detracts from the viewer’s experience, even if it can be remediated through a wiki or a conversation with a novel reader.
Sometimes there are things that impress you. Things you just don’t expect to be the least bit good and largely surprise you in a positive way. Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon is definitely one of those. What appeared few more than a cliché harem show with dumb plot and lots of fanservice, turned out to offer a fascinating fantasy setting with a rather complex and interesting plot and an amazing cast of characters instead. It’s also one of the best examples that fun + serious and fanservice + believable and deep character development is in fact possible, despite being the rarity that it is. The jokes are genuinely fun and often show some good originality, the plot is fantastic if one has the patience to try and understand it and the characters are simply great. Most of all, this series is both a great amount of fun to watch and a serious story that can evoke emotional response from the viewer.
Note: I found the 1st season to be slightly, just slightly better than the second.