An appreciation for Kyoukai no Kanata episode 10
By my standards, Kyoukai no Kanata is not a particularly great show on the whole (cf). But I had a very positive reaction to episode 10 and today I feel like explaining why I feel that episode 10 is an excellent single episode and in fact retroactively improves the whole show.
(There are spoilers in here, especially by the end. Also, if you want an idea of what actually happened in the episode see eg Bobduh's coverage, which of course contains full spoilers.)
Episode 10 is excellent in not one but two ways, in both its narrative structure (and associated directing) and in what it reveals about one character. I'll start with the narrative structure because it has fewer spoilers. Previous episodes have been mostly told straightforwardly as linear stories. Episode 10 could have been done the same way but instead it opts for an indirect narrative using three independent strands of story, all braided together in a way that builds up to the dramatic revelation and climax. It is this braiding that is the really powerful part, as both secondary stories are woven into the mix to make us more and more unsettled with the main strand.
And that is the real goal and excellence of the narrative structure of this episode. All of its directing tricks are deployed to show us, right from the beginning, that something is up. Things are wrong and we feel that right from the beginning when the episode starts well after the cliffhanger at the end of episode 9 and in fact completely ignores it. All through the episode the directing works to unsettle us, as it does things like cut to the inexplicable and odd third story just when we're getting comfortable and quietly uses inappropriate background music during what should be cheerful moments. All of this sets us up for the climactic reveal, both giving it extra punch and making it so that the reveal is not a complete and disconcerting surprise from left field.
When a show does this sort of thing there is a delicate balance between shoving things in our faces in an obvious way and doing it so subtly that people miss it totally, making the climactic reveal terribly disconcerting. Kyoukai no Kanata hits the balance excellently.
(It also doesn't overstay its welcome. Although I'd remembered it as running through the entire episode, in checking Bobduh's coverage again I see that the major reveal actually happened a bit less than halfway in.)
The other way that episode 10 is excellent is that it reveals Mirai's backstory. Well, that's a completely inadequate way of putting it, so let me phrase it better: the show forces us to completely re-evaluate Mirai's character in light of what it reveals. The Mirai we thought we were seeing from outside over the past nine episodes is not the real Mirai. The real Mirai is a lot more complex and interesting than what we thought and in the process much more morally grey. In the process the show retroactively mostly but not completely justifies a number of Mirai's more obnoxious traits and strengthens the links between her and Akihito. To push the point home the show reruns a number of earlier scenes (sometimes from slightly different angles) and leaves us to reinterpret Mirai's reactions in them in light of what we now know.
(In retrospect the show did this sort of character reveal once before, with Akihito.)
Sidebar: Where this episode's revelations fail
The revelations about Mirai can be used to justify a certain amount of her early moe clutziness on the simple ground that this was not actually clutziness, it was Mirai flinching away from genuinely killing Akihito (especially as she began to know him). But early Mirai was too moe-clutzy for this to fully pass muster and it can't explain why she couldn't even bring herself to hunt dreamshades. Mirai the killer makes cutely clutzy moe 'can't bear to fight dreamshades' Mirai even more bogus than it was before.
(You could try to argue that Mirai is doing this deliberately to throw Akihito and everyone else off, but the problem is that you're reaching here and the show is giving you no support. Occam's Razor says that early Mirai was made that way to give her moe appeal and for no deeper reason. And that is one of the show's failures.)