Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.
How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.
-“On Death,” John Keats
Death is naturally something that we, as the living, consciously try to avoid. How many times, while watching the horror movie or science-fiction television series of your choice have you heard a character say something along the lines of, “I want to live, damn it!” when cornered, figuratively staring death in the face? Presumably, we all want to live. Amidst the angst-ridden and dramatic plot of half-demons and teenaged spirit warriors, Kyoukai no Kanata has some intriguing thoughts on death. The primary one being that, regardless of the circumstance, when faced with death, one will always instinctively fight it.
The John Keats poem above says that death as nothing more than a dream. Written while nursing his brother, Tom Keats, who was afflicted with tuberculosis, “On Death” describes death as a journey that we all must take, likening it to waking up from the dreary world of the living. Death was something that seemed to follow Keats at every turn, with his father’s death coming when Keats was only eight years-old, and both his mother and brother passing away from tuberculosis. Keats himself only lived to the age of 25 before succumbing to the disease as well. Through his poetry, Keats mused on our natural fear of death, specifically in light of our tendency to worry about dying while being alive. The crux of his argument being, as shown in the second stanza of this poem, that we don’t make enough use of our lives while living and yet continue to fret over the unknown act of dying.
“Back then, fear gripped my heart. ‘I might lose my own life.’ That thought clearly flashed through my mind.”
-Mirai Kuriyama, Kyoukai no Kanata, episode 3
The third episode of Kyoukai no Kanata explains the circumstances behind Mirai Kuriyama’s thoughts as she acted on impulse and killed her childhood best friend, Yui Inami, who was possessed by a powerful demon at the time. In Mirai’s own words, her immediate actions – that also resulted in Yui’s death by Mirai’s own hands – were inherently selfish. Mirai was motivated to kill Yui in order to protect her own life. While Mirai is revealing this to her half-demon senior, Akihito Kanbara, the series also makes it a point to show that Mirai didn’t have the happiest of upbringings. As a spirit warrior who wields cursed blood as her weapon, Mirai is already an outcast within her own society (which is by nature a subset of humanity as a whole), with Yui being her only window to the outside world. While living with the Inami Family, Mirai was constantly reminded that she was not “one of them,” and purposefully isolated. Yui made Mirai’s existence far more tolerable and yet, when faced with death, even with her position as an outcast, Mirai fights to live and Yui becomes a casualty of that desire.
While Mirai firmly believes that this makes her a murderer, Akihito continues to assure her that she’s not. This is presumably driven not only by his growing feelings towards her as an individual, but his own struggles to contain his demonic powers. One could make the case for each of these two characters – both being social outcasts who are actively dangerous to those whom they come to care for – that they continue to choose the more difficult “life of woe,” as Keats says, in instinctively avoiding death. Of course, they can always actively fight the social pressures that make them outcasts, therefore making the most of their lives and finding solace in one another.