Beyond the Boundary – The Genuine Empathy of a Flawed Tale

This post is the eighth of my 12 essays for the 2016 edition of 12 Days of Anime, a joint project between many anibloggers. For more info about the project, check out appropriant’s introductory post here, and check out the full blog spreadsheet here if you’re interested in the work of everyone participating!

Let me get this out of the way first because I’ve seen comments about the show online and I know what people might be thinking about me writing this post: yes, Beyond the Boundary is a confusing, messy show with oddball characters (varying from charming to creepy) and wanderings into occasional melodramatic nonsense. The ending of the show is mostly inexplicable and there are many parts leading up to that point that could be described the same way. It may look pretty on the outside, but go any deeper than the surface and the show is a mess.

And yet, Akihito and Mirai together makes me not care at all.

How unpleasant.

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Beyond the Boundary was actually one of the first shows I found when I first started watching anime over a year ago. At that point, I hadn’t yet dived into the realm of anime bloggers or even started browsing /r/anime, and while I had a general feel of what might be more widely considered good or bad (here’s looking at you, Psycho-Pass 2 and Red Data Girl..), the general guide for what I liked was almost entirely dependent on my emotional response to what I was watching. Even still today, my favorite shows tend to be the ones that best use strong storytelling, characters, and themes to create an emotional response from me, and thankfully I’ve gotten better at recognizing how those things build into those emotional moments. In light of that, it’s hard to say if my response to Beyond the Boundary would be the same as it was a year ago, or if I’d focus on the same parts of the show as I did then.

But what I saw then was something I couldn’t help but love – two flawed, hurting characters oft-rejected by society finding solace and healing in each other. Akihito Kanbara struggles with self-contempt due to his uncontrollable youmu-half and openly states his desire to die if his youmu side can’t be controlled, while Mirai Kuriyama faces scorn due to her family’s cursed blood and suffers from regret over having to kill the one person in her past that accepted her for who she is. They share stories of pain and suffering, but in each other they find understanding and empathy.

But those traits alone aren’t so uncommon to not show up elsewhere, so what was it about this messy tale that I found so moving? Was it empathy for characters who carried such heavy burdens within themselves, who so desperately longed for someone who understood the pain they felt? Was it a desire to see these characters rely on each other and pick each other up? I’m still not sure – it could be one or both of these things, or something else entirely. But as I reflect on Beyond the Boundary, on its quiet strengths and its many flaws, I think of scenes that stood out to me as moments of empathy for Akihito, Mirai, and the other characters within this story.

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I think of Akihito quietly listening to Mirai’s self-condemnations in restaurant scene after restaurant scene, not ever judging her but allowing her to voice her pain and her regrets. Akihito never runs away from Mirai, but stays with her and goes back to her, and helps her become more comfortable in battling youmu despite her still-unspoken trauma.

I think of when Mirai saw Akihito in his youmu form in episode 4, and finally realized his full understanding of her own pain. Her embrace of Akihito in his worst moment may be a clichéd escape from his rampage, but it communicates her sorrow over her past blindness. At that same point, I see Akihito in his moment of despair over the destruction he has caused yet another time. His sorrow is immense, but Mirai’s presence in that moment dulls some of the pain, continuing into the following restaurant scene as Mirai stays with Akihito despite his feelings of depression.

I think of the time the literary club spent together, in brighter moments like episode 6’s youmu hunt and in quieter moments like episode 5’s festival scenes. Moments of the club working together on an idol routine to try (and ultimately fail) to defeat a pesky youmu, or formed out of Mirai’s desire to spend the festival together rather than continue to be alone, show us all 4 main characters coming together in friendship and deepening their bonds with each other.

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I think of Mirai’s willingness to choose a path that will save Akihito, even at the cost of her own life. And I think of Akihito’s willingness to bring her back from within the mirror world, putting his own life on the line to see Mirai return together with him – continuing into the sequel film, where Akihito can’t help but to reach out in compassion for Mirai.

Beyond the Boundary is littered with these moments of empathy between its characters. Perhaps when I first watched the show, these moments stood out far more prominently than any flaws in the plot, or issues with the characters. It’s not likely that I would see the same show if I was only watching it for the first time now, not with how I’ve changed as an anime watcher over the past year. Would I really care about these sparks of compassion amidst despair while also simultaneously seeing a tangled mess of plot threads? Or would I look past the unpleasant quirks of characters to find their hearts filled with their hopes and burdens? I’m not sure, but I know from my own feelings that those empathetic moments are genuine snapshots of emotion, of joy and sorrow, of heartache and love. And so Beyond the Boundary stands as my biggest personal contradiction in anime – a show with flaws that I cannot ignore, filled with emotions I cannot deny. It is a mess, and yet I love it all the same.

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