Series Recommendation: Kyoukai Senki

It’s been…almost a decade since Sunrise made an original mecha series that isn’t tied to an existing franchise, and they are giving their new studio – Sunrise Beyond – the chance to shine as well as polish their 2D mecha animation – which is something only Sunrise can do consistently nowadays.

Kyoukai Senki settings is quite…familiar for a Sunrise show. Japan has been invaded and put under chains (again) by foreign powers (who else? Aliens? Ha!). And the people of Japan have to bend under the unreasonable rule of other economic blocks as their economy and society was near the brink of collapse. However, under the surface, a liberation war is happening to free the nation by patriots. In comes our main character, which is…a totally normal civilian student who has nothing to do whatsoever with the war and is just living his daily life normally while pursuing his hobby – tinkering with machine. Little does he know that his “hobby” will lead to a fated encounter between him and a non-human, and lead him down the path of conflict.

+ Plot: This is, down to the last plot point, Sunrise’s stock-standard Real Robot show. Kyoukai Senki is basically watered down Code Geass with more nationalistic tropes and characters. There’s little to zero “new” stuff that really breaks the mould that make viewers go “Oooh”. However, it played the stereotypical mecha characters quite well, with the whole unwilling protag, the serious and strict secondary, a poster girl, and the overpowered rival character that is literally discounted Graham Aker without a mask. It’s by no means a bad “plot”, it’s just a very tried-and-true Real Robot plot that has become quite predictable over the years, but since Sunrise is using this series as an “animator training” project, not much investment made to the plot is understandable.

+ Animation: Move over, every other 2D mecha anime in the past decades or so, cause Kyoukai Senki is taking you to animation school! Sunrise Beyond flexes its incredible hand-drawn animation staff in this series with spectacular animation. The movement are fluid, the details are well-drawn even the background units, the combat feels impactful and heavy. During scenes with jumping motion, you can feel the feedback from the leg-joints of the unit, which is extremely immersive. It is not an exaggeration to call Kyoukai Senki the best 2D animated series in recent years (even moreso than Gundam). Furthermore, even mass-produced units have a chance to shine, albeit not as much as the main mechs, but they have their highlights which are also well done.

+ Mecha Design: The mechs are called AMAIM in the series, while the mc’s team’s mechs are called MAILeS, since they have AI and are manually controlled from inside the cockpit. Which is a pretty familiar system. The MAILeS are designed by Yuuya Koyanagi from Ken Okuyama Design, so they have a very “industrial” feel to it. The rough edges and segmented joints are actually quite unique and rarely seen (another one with segmented limbs is Kuromukuro). The forward-bent legs are very Metal Gear-ish as well. It’s like a weird mix between KnightMare Frame and G-Reco aesthetic. For mooks, they are designed by Ebikawa Kanetaka, Ippei Gyoubu and Kenji Teraoka for three different factions. A really nice touch to give each faction a distinctive aesthetic using Sunrise’s iconic mecha designers. As mentioned before, Kyoukai Senki is all-in on the mecha.

+ Music: Pretty okay actually. The opening is energetic. Quite a bit of electronic but nothing too crazy, and it suits the series. The BGM is quite nice during tranquil scenes where things are relatively peaceful. The battle BGM is well done, it’s not on the same level as, say, Gundam 00 but still very good. It helps increase the immersivity which is nice. Well, it doesn’t help the fact that the companion AI voices are quite high-pitched and may distract you from the scene.

+ Conclusion: Overall, Kyoukai Senki is a gorgeous-looking mecha series with a run-of-the-mill mediocre plot (for the first cour). It sticks to the basics and checks the boxes of a typical Sunrise Real-Robot show, which is understandable considering the intended purpose of the show and how it was marketed – with heavy emphasis on the animation. If anything, we’ll get some new twist-and-turn in season 2 that is coming up this April. So check out the series with its beautiful action scenes before we start the 2nd part!