In a chaotic, brightly-colored mirror version of the old Japanese capital Kyoto, 14-year-old Koto and her companions A and Un cause mayhem and gratuitous destruction in the name of finding a way back home to the real world.
When the first Winter 2011-2012 release list came out, we found ourselves looking at the art and synopsis and thinking, "Hey, this might be interesting." But we expected this to be a series, which it isn't - it's only one episode, 26 minutes long.
Lewis Carroll adaptations are generally less hit, more miss in Japanese animation; even CLAMP has had a marked misfire in this department (the best-left-forgotten Miyuki-chan in Wonderland). Sadly, the act of trying to distill such a surreal novel as "Through the Looking Glass" and retool it into a Japanese context within the space of less than half an hour is a set-up for disappointment: Kyousougiga is a dazzling, riotous mess.
We start off with what has to be the most stilted rendition of the opening poem ("A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky") ever, thanks to the Japanese animation industry's continuing inability to find anyone with both fluency in English and voice acting skill. All set to images of what looks like the world's largest, flashiest baby mobile - you know those things that hang over cribs to soothe babies?
Except that the crib is Kyoto. Just not REAL Kyoto, but actually a mirror version of Kyoto, because this is supposed to be a Japanese version of "Through the Looking Glass". And here is an intrinsic problem with Kyousougiga: there is no way to truly understand this film's intentions without a good deal more than twenty-six minutes of explanation of what on earth is going on. I really shouldn't need the Cliff's Notes to the Works of Lewis Carroll in order to keep tabs on who's who, where's where's and why things are happening, and neither should anyone else: that is patently unfair to the audience and should not be mistaken for anything but poor storytelling.
Sure there's a lot of action here: cute middle-schooler Koto jumps from rooftop to rooftop and smashes things with her twin buddies (while ostensibly getting her friends free cable). At one point in time, a giant robot shows up. There are lots of bright lights, shiny objects, and explosions. And not a damn bit of the action makes any goddamn sense whatsoever, because clearly, if we have learned anything from the fan reaction to FLCL back in 1999, nonsense equals genius.
What's more is that the often caricaturish style lends itself to a sense of inconsistency; characters go quickly off-model, perhaps intentionally, but the effect is that this looks less well-animated and less talented than it actually is. What is intended as surrealism looks more like someone forgot the laws of perspective, or that the backgrounds are just plumb poorly drawn. Instead of seeming avant-garde and groundbreaking, Kyousougiga often just looks lazy.
Adding to this feeling of laziness is the complete and utter lack of characterization in this film. Not a single character seems to have any sort of depth whatsoever, not even the putative, hyperactive lead Koto (yet another role involving squeaky-cute Rie Kugimiya yelling at the microphone as loudly as humanly possible). I know those twins are supposed to be Tweedledum and Tweedledee, I know the rest of the characters are supposed to be Lewis Carroll analogues, but by the end of the show I neither cared to research nor bothered to fact-check because despite all the references, Kyousougiga is so sloppily handled that none of those constant allusions and name-checks even matter. Not even Koto seems to know what's going on by the time this thing concludes, and I don't blame her.
Maybe if I were younger, and didn't care so much about things like "plot" and "characterization", I'd love this thing. There is a definite energy and sometimes even charm to this that I'd love to champion, and I do appreciate that this isn't a by-the-numbers rip of the first novel (or a total and utter disaster like Kagihime Monogatari - Eikyuu Alice Rondo).
Unfortunately, I'm not able to practice the complete suspension of disbelief necessary to truly enjoy this show. Bright colors, explosions, and cute characters aren't enough for me - those may be aspects of why animation grabbed our attention all those years ago, but that's not why we're still here. FLCL at least has interesting characters and a coming-of-age narrative that shines brightly through the chaos. Kyousougiga is like those shiny LED toys people get at raves only to chuck in a box when the high wears off: little more than a superficial distraction, and for all but the most easily-amused, a complete waste of time.
If you're willing to shut off the critic switch and just watch the pretty pictures, you can add a star, but make sure to keep that Dramamine ready, 'cause you might need it. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: There's a lot of slapstick violence and collateral damage, but nothing truly offensive. No fan service, no nudity. The bright flashing colors might set off folks who are hypersensitive, though, so take great caution if you are prone to light-induced seizures - no, this is not an exaggeration in the slightest.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Kyousougiga ONA © 2011 Toho Animation / Kyousougiga Project
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