Kara No Kyoukai: Satsujin Kousatsu (Zen), or for the more English inclined, ‘Murder Speculation (Part A)’ takes us on a trip down memory lane. The year is 1995, and a younger, more wide-eyed Mikiya Kokutou encounters a defiantly isolated Ryougi Shiki for the first time. This second ‘episode’ of the Kara No Kyoukai tells the story of the increasingly bloody and violent events from two years before the first movie and how those events relate to Mikiya and Shiki becoming acquaintances and then, perhaps, friends – depending on how you define such things. Compared to the first, this second episode offers a less complete story – understandable since it is clearly the first half of said story – but compensates for the lack of resolution by offering us some much needed insight into our two main characters. Whether or not that is enough to redeem the episode is a matter of taste; the episode offers a more graphic depiction of violence and a disturbing kind of bloodlust but again, those elements are weakened by much slower pacing and longer periods of relative narrative silence. There is also a notable absence of any sort of magical/supernatural/fantasy elements in this episode and you could be forgiven for thinking that the series was based primarily on a murder mystery instead of a magic-realism/fantasy novel.
As far as the plot itself goes, ‘Murder Speculation’ is flimsy at best. There have been a series of murders in town but the plot itself seems to split its attention between the murders and who committed them and the budding relationship between Shiki and Mikiya. Of course, these two prongs are not unrelated; Shiki is very much the prime suspect in these murders and only Mikiya believes that she didn’t commit the murders – in the audience’s mind the evidence is almost insurmountable. She knew exactly where the bodies were, she had the injury to match the police speculation and, most damningly, her school badge found at the site. Is there even anything to speculate about? Is all the mystery even necessary, when even Shiki herself is admitting to the crimes? As an episode, ‘Murder Speculation’ leaves too much too open-ended. If Shiki is indeed the murderer, it would explain somethings but there would be some sizable gaps. In a few instances, Shiki seemed to come across the corpse almost by accident. In the first instance, she stumbles upon the victim of a hit-and-run but clearly didn’t commit the murder. Next, we see her chasing a man by the river before stabbing him yet the next few corpses, she seems to just find. There is no doubt that the body found outside her estate was her handiwork but it is one of those instances where something doesn’t seem to add up – it’s almost too obvious. Even for a ‘part one’ movie, we are left unclear about just what happens at the end of the episode – how does Shiki and Mikiya’s confrontation end? We hear a car, see them on a road, so do we assume that Shiki was hit and hence landed in the coma that would keep her hospitalized for two years? Or is that what Mikiya tells the authorities to hide the fact that Shiki perhaps turned her knife on herself? Either way, if the episode’s aim was to set up a murder mystery, it didn’t do a particularly good job – the mystery itself is less intriguing than the characters involved in it. Yet, if the episode aimed to properly introduce the characters, then it had its work cut out for it, because this particular pair of characters is as confusing as they come.
Let’s start with Mikiya, shall we? On the surface of things, Mikiya is as bland as they come. He seems normal in every sense of the word – one could even go far as to say that he is just strikingly average. Yet, there seem to be a few circuits that weren’t wired quite right in his head and it manifests itself slowly but surely throughout this episode. There is a powerful case to be made that it was love at first sight when Mikiya met Shiki that fateful snowy night – ever since that point, he is always around her, despite her efforts to push him away. When Shiki, or rather, SHIKI, tells him about the split personality, Mikiya barely has a reaction beyond simple curiosity. That in itself is unusual; it is all too tempting to think that Mikiya is that passive a character that such revelations have no impact on him, but the truth is, he is so head-over-heels that he doesn’t realize just how warped the situation is. To put it more colloquially, where most men would see a red flag, Mikiya sees something cool and interesting. We got the sense in the previous episode that he is the silent, observant type, that he is emotionally intelligent in the exact way that Shiki isn’t and so, we must ask ourselves: is his defence of Shiki (despite her own claims!) founded based on some perception or just based on what he wants to believe? He says it explicitly enough; he believes in Shiki’s innocence, because he loves her but that begs the question, why does he love her? Has he seen something in her that no one else has? Has he cracked the code to the safe in which Shiki hides her true self? It’s possible, perhaps even probable but it results in him looking incredibly naïve at several points in this episode. Staking out the Ryougi household in the middle of the night is either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid and as is often the case, the line between them is blurry. The most interesting thing Mikiya said in this episode however, was his certainty that Shiki could not possibly be the murderer because of how well she knows the pain of murder. At first, it seems like an absolutely ludicrous statement to make of someone standing in a pool of blood and smiling but if you think about it, he does have a point. Shiki (specifically, SHIKI), as we will see in a moment, has a long, painful history of self-denial, of rejecting herself, of murdering her own self as a form of self-repression. Does that mean that Mikiya was right, that Shiki couldn’t have been possibly involved in the murders? No, I wouldn’t go that far, but it is an interesting piece of insight and not one we should discard easily.
Thus far, things have been straightforward enough, but now we dive deep into much more confusing matters. Shiki’s personality is divided into a more feminine, quiet Shiki and a louder, more tomboyish SHIKI – that is for certain. SHIKI seems to get along well with Mikiya; they go to the mall together and seem like an all-round adorable couple. Yet, it is SHIKI who longs to kill Mikiya, perhaps because murderous, destructive impulses are all that SHIKI knows and I believe it is SHIKI that confronts Mikiya in the woods in the episode’s climax and that it is SHIKI that emotionally confesses to Mikiya that she really wants to kill him. All of this presents one of the most fascinating presentations of duality I’ve seen in a while – SHIKI, being the side of Shiki that exists only to destroy, deny and negate, actually begins to take a liking to Mikiya, which should be an absolute contradiction in terms. SHIKI can’t like or affirm; that’s Shiki’s territory. Yet, on Shiki’s side, she tries to reject and deny Mikiya (and perhaps her feelings for him) because he is trying to end her isolation from the rest of the world. So the side that exists to affirm, is being forced to deny while the side that exists to only to destroy is being coaxed into affirming. It is no wonder then that Shiki eventually decides that Mikiya has got to go – he is ruining her carefully crafted system and his death is probably something both sides can agree on. SHIKI can only express murder as an emotion and thus feels compelled to express it towards Mikiya while Shiki sees that Mikiya is a problem that will not just go away on its own. Yet, why do both sides hesitate for so very long? Well, consider that both Shiki’s also like Mikiya in their own way; it would be fair to say that he is literally their only friend. Shiki probably likes him romantically while SHIKI things he just a cool guy all around. If anything, that affection from both sides probably saved Mikiya’s life by the end. So what does this mean for Shiki? We know that she recovers from the coma eventually but the Shiki that wakes up seems much more normal – there was nothing in the previous episode to suggest that she had a split personality and her interactions with Mikiya then suggested that she was able to both affirm and deny, though she did seem to struggle with expressing that in a way that SHIKI probably wouldn’t. It is interesting to note that by the time of the accident, the two Shiki’s were beginning to blend together, perhaps bonded by their mutual affection for Mikiya and their desire to see him dead. It’s possible that the coma forced that reconciliation or that Shiki just ‘forgot’ that SHIKI ever existed. Either way, the Shiki we saw in the previous episode seemed much more functional.
Fascinating as the characters are, however they aren’t quite enough to hold this episode up to scrutiny. The pacing felt much slower than the previous episode’s, with lingering shots and overly length scenes focusing on setting the mood. There’s always a delicate balance to strike between a story’s momentum and artistic pacing but this episode seemed to be a little too generous to letting the music (which is still great) play on and showing us pretty pictures. It might just be that the contrast between gory, grizzly murder and sweet high school romance is too jarring to reconcile but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate – there were a number of scenes where the switch from kindling romance to brutal murder was executed incredibly. It might just be that the episode’s story didn’t have quite enough meat to it and as a result left it trailing off instead of with a nice, neat ending. There are also a couple of Chekov’s guns left unfired in this episode – apart from a proper explanation of who was responsible for the murders that felt like Shiki couldn’t have been a part of – specifically, the question of Shiki’s classmate, the mysterious boy who knows about the four deaths and chides her that four is too many. We don’t get a name and Shiki doesn’t respond but the whole literally reeked of significance and I’ll be paying close attention to whether he makes a second appearance. For now though, it seems we will be returning to the more fantasy-centric origins of the series next week, should be fun.