Review: Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon I & II

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.

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Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon II Episode 2

Players on the Stage

Another episode of Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon and, as expected, another whole bunch of information to make sense of. This second episode was relatively slower than the first one and contained less action. However, and especially with Kyoukaisen, that usually means more compressed information to sort out, which I’ll try my best to achieve, for it isn’t that easy a task.

Before diving into the infodump, first of all I’d like to point out that… Toori once again spends the entire episode naked. That must set a record for an anime protagonist. This idiotic feat aside, I seriously admire his shamelessness. He’s such a hard-to-classify character, coming of as both a complete idiot and a brilliant leader. In fact, I think he is both. By what means such an impression is achieved is still an unfathomable matter to me, though.

This episode obviously picks off where the last one left – the fight between Neshimbara and Shakespeare. They’re both authors, but seeing where their abilities do differ is a rather interesting point. Neshimbara makes up a story as he goes, which gives him total freedom to warp the reality around him but is limited by the time it takes to write and the requirement of ability to do so instantaneously on spot. I think that’s a rather hard thing to do. Writing a story is hard enough without the pressure of a fight in which your life is at stake. Shakespeare, on the other hand, can simply recite from her plays, written in outstanding old English and already finished and acclaimed. However, such a power still takes creativity to use, for she has to choose the most appropriate story and be able to properly adapt it to the enemies and circumstances. It does help that all of them consist in tragedies.

I didn’t like it that it ended up being too much of a one-sided conflict, but it was to be expected once you consider the magnitude of each writer. I mean, it’s not too hard to understand why one of the most acclaimed English authors would win against a Japanese fanfic writer. Especially considering he actually writes in English too. However, I think Neshimbara should have retreated sooner. It seemed to me that while Shakespeare can make her plays into reality at will, she can’t just randomly cast the roles as she wishes, for at first the characters of the play are some entities that look like ghosts. Unfortunately, Neshimbara let himself be dragged onto Macbeth’s role, a point which I’ll expand later on this post. I do admire his willpower, staying as long as it was needed for Musashi to be ready to make her move, but I think he was a bit of a fool in not disengaging the play earlier.

The most interesting part in this is, of course, the fact that Neshimbara and Shakespeare seem to have a story together, having known each other when they were children. First of all, there’s the very curious fact that they both attended a Tres Espanha academy, yet ended up in very different countries. I have no idea how that could have happened. Then there’s the fact that Shakespeare really resented Neshimbara for his criticism of her works when they were little kids. It’s not hard to forget someone you hurt as Neshimbara had forgotten Shakespeare, but she remembered and still resented the one who had hurt her feelings. That leads us to Britain’s Armament of Deadly Sins, the workings of which I have yet to fully understand. Shakespeare mentioned it turns the user’s pain into aether, but it’s not like it can fire some beam or something, right? It just gives the user an aether power-up. Perhaps it was with that boost that she managed to revive the Macbeth ghost and push Neshimbara into the role after contradicting herself in her play, as pointed out by Neshimbara. It’s a good ability, since everyone feels pain, physical or mental, whatever reason they might have for it. However, it does seem a bit bellow the sheer power of the Armaments of Deadly Sins we’ve seen so far. Providing extra aether to one user may enhance their capacities and boost her powers, but it’s still only one user and it doesn’t seem like a boost in aether is such an overwhelming power-up.

Anyway, just as Neshimbara finally pulls out from the fight, Musashi performs a full-circle around Britain, which was their intended move in the first place, and a very well-though one at that. Great Britain was showing them hostility, so it’d definitely be hard to simply achieve their goal of docking there. Making one of Musashi’s ships crash there was quite the nice excuse to stay around for negotiating on how to rescue their people. For that goal, Futayo purposefully cut the cable around which the rope that held Toori had unfortunately wrapped itself. It was quite fun to see her and Masazumi discussing who’d take responsibility what would happen at the trial, considering Toori’s protagonist status already makes clear to us viewers that he wasn’t going to die anyway. But…

Wait, wasn’t the rope wrapped only around his neck when he was sent flying by the ship’s movement? *checks last episode and takes a printscreen* Yep, Toori should be dead before Futayo cut the cable. Masazumi’s fault too. xD

Inconsistencies aside (let’s assume Toori’s neck is just that tough), the ship does crash safely in British territory, thanks to Tenzou, who stops a rather suspicious hooded character who was trying to attack it in order to save some children. And much to my surprise, Tenzou looked amazingly cool there. I really wasn’t expecting him of all people to have such a great moment. Well, that’s just to show how Kyoukaisen doesn’t neglect the side characters, which is a really nice thing to see, as in a mere two episodes plenty of characters that didn’t really get much of a chance to shine in the first season already got pretty nice moments in fights, complimented by good character development too. As for the hooded character, which is almost surely a girl, I’m rather interested in her identity. It seems she and Tenzou will end up having some kind of relationship as seen in the OP, but for now I don’t have grounds to speculate further than that.

What really made me scratch my head in this episode was the ship in stealth mode that fired at both Musashi and Great Britain. I’m almost sure it doesn’t belong to Tres Espanha, so we might be looking at the involvement of another faction here. Well, it didn’t cause much damage this episode anyway, in big part thanks to Ex. Caliburn, Great Britain’s ground defense system, which is pretty much overpowered (and carries quite the fitting name).

The negotiations end up taking two long weeks until the Queen decides it’d be to Britain’s benefit to use Musashi as a joker in the Spanish Armada battle.  Knowing the main characters, they’re not oblivious to such intention, but they’ll go along as long as it fits their purpose. I liked how they couldn’t leave the ship for the time the negotiations were still undergoing, as it makes up for rather realistic politics. While in the ship, they’re in their own territory, otherwise, they’d be entering Great Britain’s without permission, which is theoretically very much the same as invading. And after the negotiations are finally complete, Toori comes up with the most astounding announcement I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this guy knows not what diplomacy is. “Political intercourse” aside, he was screaming in the middle of the night, probably waking up the entire country. For an outsider to do this after a hard-fought negotiation for permission to land… Only Toori could ever be such an inconsiderate idiot.

Adding to all that was already mentioned here, this episode still managed to fit in two very interesting bits of character development: one concerning Malga and Neshimbara and another one for Tres Espanha members. I liked how Malga sought Neshimbara due to how both of them were losers in the skirmish with the Trump. The interesting part is that both fulfilled their roles, yet Neshimbara was ridiculed on the Internet and Malga didn’t feel like she’d been the least bit useful since she lost Weiss Fraulein. She wants to prove Margot she’s still able to fight, but hasn’t had much success so far. Well, I’m rooting for her, that’s for sure. As Neshimbara, I couldn’t really grasp her intention on seeking him and talking to him, but I do know it’s good to speak to someone who shares similar troubles. This scene also has rather important talk about Shakespeare’s curse and how Neshimbara supposedly can’t get rid of it unless he fulfills the role of Macbeth and kills the king, aka. Toori. It’s quite a troublesome curse for the Far East faction indeed.

As for the Tres Espanha scenes, we’re finally introduced their Chancellor, who is actually quite different than what I expected. He’s an emotional man with a kind heart who has saved orphan children in a war and aspires to repeat the feat. It really touched me to see him reading those cards, specially the little girl’s one. She whole-heartedly believes wars aren’t so bad, for the Chancellor would be there to save everyone in danger. Her naiveté was rather sad, as we know (and so does the Chancellor) a human can only do as much. Which brings me to one point that has constantly irked me about this series. The story recreation is perhaps one of the most cruel things humanity could possibly think of. Forgetting the past is stupid, but purposefully repeating the mistakes made for the sake of rediscovering a good future is even more stupid. The fact that all the factions will eventually have (or already had) to prepare themselves for a battle they’ll have to lose makes war strategy a lot more difficult (since the point isn’t winning,  but probably saving as many lives as possible) and the losses more painful.

I also can’t end this post without mentioning the amusement brought by Gin’s deadpan comments to the Chancellor’s tentative of recovering the fallen cards. Finding him in embarrassing situations twice, her quick and emotionlessness descriptions delivered with a face of utmost surprise, followed by something along the line of “I wish Muneshigue-sama would do that too” completely cracked me up.

All in all, a really good episode. It wasn’t as action packed as the first one, but probably due to that, I enjoyed it a bit more, due to everything that was going on and how these subtle politics keep my brain busy.

First Impressions: Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon II

Club Members in Scarlet

So, I’m really an unfortunate person, for after saying this series was quite tame in terms of fanservice, we get a first episode with more of it than usual. Great way to shoot myself in the foot. My previous words aside, some of it was stupid and some was actually pretty funny (being both is also always an option). Toori running around naked the whole episode was particularly hilarious. That guy is just plain weird…

Fanservice aside, I’m more interested in talking about the actual story development there was in this episode. As expected it started right where the previous season left of – the battle with Tres Espanha’s warships.  For those who don’t remember from season one, their move was a really smart one, for they were attacking for their own reasons (like recovering their Armament of Deathly Sins, for instance) but with their actions completely justified by the recreation of history, seeing as they were simply intercepting a ship delivering goods to England, with whom they’re supposedly at war with. Which brings me to my first qualm (or should I call it misunderstanding?) with this episode: the mentioning of the Battle of the Spanish Armada later on. Seeing as they’re now recreating the year 1648, a mentioning of such an event approaching had me confused, for in spite of having attended my last history class 5 years ago, I had the impression it had happened in the 16th century. Upon a bit of research, my thoughts were confirmed, as it supposedly happened in 1588. Whether this is an inconsistency or I am missing something is unknown to me, but I didn’t quite get it.

Getting back to the first minutes, the fight was certainly very entertaining, with some good flashy action and the interesting yet somewhat ridiculous fighting style of the Tres Espanha forces, divided in a baseball club and a track club. Gin also deserves a mention here, blocking Lype Katathlipse like a boss. Yes, it had been powered down by the weapons of the Secretary and Vice Chancellor of Tres Espanha and she would have been sliced in half if it hadn’t been for Michiyuki Byakko, but it was still damn impressive. I actually like her and the fact that she has her own personal reasons to fight, namely maintaining her husband’s status and position, for has inherited them, but earned them through his relation to her. It’s nice when a character from an opposing faction to the protagonists is so likable. I just didn’t like it as much that she interrupted Masazumi, since I always love her political speeches. Well, it’s not only her fault, as Masazumi had already interrupted herself with a nonsense joke due to misunderstanding Horizon’s declaration about her speech. (Not that Horizon had any reason to intervene in the first place…)

One other notable thing to observe in this fight was the weapon that made the people bear the ‘disgust’ for themselves. In the moment it was used, everyone got wrapped in those weird purple things, except for Toori, who stood around like it was nothing at all. It’s almost unimaginable that someone completely voided of self-hatred  exists but well, Toori isn’t called Mr. Impossible for nothing. Horizon, on the other hand, had her whole body covered in that, which made me wonder what makes her feel that way. I’m sure we’ll get what that was about later on, since this series has yet to fail me in the foreshadowing department.

In the end of the eye-candy skirmish, Musashi seemed to have the advantage, though things wouldn’t be just that easy. However, they’re goal from the very beginning was just running away, hence activating the gravitational acceleration. Gin tries to stop their escape but is stopped by Futayo and her Slicing Dragonfly. I seriously can’t wait to see those two clash.

Then they keep moving towards England, but are stopped in their tracks by the British people. I mean, of course they wouldn’t want to ally themselves (and by extension they wouldn’t want to give hospitality) to the Far East, that is now completely rebelling against the Testament Union. After all, that could mean getting on the bad side of the supreme international authority. On the other hand, as they state it themselves, they have nothing against them either, hence Neshinbara’s claim that if they manage to land despite the attack, they win the right to do so. Of course England has sent their elite unit, ‘The Trumps’. And of course they’re totally over-the-top famous figures of the 17th century. If the name inheritance thing is to be taken seriously, then England has actually some big names to speak of on that time frame. One could also take the characters themselves as parodies of the real famous figures, which is a rather hilarious take on it. Nonetheless, the ‘Trumps’ are really powerful, for they all have amazing abilities. That reflecting one is particularly useful. Despite that, Musashi manages to hold on, the next part of the fight being left for the next episode.

For me, the best part of this episode was actually how characters that didn’t have much time to shine in the first season are now getting some more attention. Naomasa’s fight was pretty amazing, and we’ve finally got to see Neshinbara’s powers, which are simply amazing, as he can make all of his words come true. As it couldn’t be avoided, though, he has a worthy adversary in Shakespeare. Due to that, next episode will definitely be interesting, as we have a fanfic writer up against a renowned author. Entertaining stuff, it must be.

But the character I loved the most to see shine was definitely Naruze. She’s not one of my favorite characters, nor did she manage to be of much help to the situation, but she deserved that screen time, and simply her courage, standing by herself against those four was very nice to see. I would just have loved to understand what happened as Asama took that bow shot at her. They spoke in code, but as I can’t understand kanji, the solving that appeared in Asama’s screen meant nothing at all to me. Either way, I felt bad for her for not managing to do anything. It’s such a shame she’s lost her flying broom (sorry, can’t remember all the armaments names in these series!) last season.

As expected, this season started with an episode full of both action and information dump, which can be hard to take on, but is always a pleasant experience. Either way, I don’t think this was a great start, but it was still a pretty good one, as long as all the info left hanging is further explained later on. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking forward to next episode.