Kara No Kyoukai seems hell bent on sending its audience to a darker place with each successive episode. The series opened with the theme of suicide before progressing to murder so it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that this week’s movie opens with sexual assault. The victim and, uncomfortably enough, villain (though antagonist might be a more accurate term here) of this episode, ‘Tsuukaku Zanryuu’ or ‘Remaining Sense of Pain’ is Fujino Asagami, a young woman with an inability to sense pain. The supernatural elements that were absent from last week’s movie, ‘Murder Speculation (Part 1)’ return in full force here, from twisting telekinesis to bafflingly violent appendectomies and the end result is an intriguing story that at first glance is about revenge, but actually asks its audience some probing moral questions. Chronologically, this episode takes place after the previous one but before the first movie; we see how Shiki comes to lose her hand and get a little more exposure to the complicated dynamic between her and Mikiya as well as an explanation of what exactly Shiki’s powers are. The episode features the same elements that held its predecessors together – interesting characters and considerable thematic depth – but it also exposes some of the series’ weaknesses.
As far as characters go, Fujino Asagami is a complicated mess. She is undoubtedly fascinating but her character becomes increasingly confusing as the movie goes on. From a purely plot-based perspective, her story seems consistent enough. She was intentionally made insensitive to pain as a result of medicine she was given at a younger age and as a result could not use her powers. The violent abuse she suffered during her latest sexual assault ended up shocking her system and resulting in her body ignoring the medicine and giving her back her sense of pain. She assumes she was stabbed since she can feel the pain but in fact, had a ruptured appendix. This much is clear but the exact reasons for her actions are not. Did she begin her rampage because she wanted revenge for the rape, the ‘stabbing’, or both? She clearly took some sort of pleasure from her murderous rampage, whether she wanted to admit it or not and that is exactly where things begin to get extremely complicated. On one hand, I think we can all agree that the rapists needed to die; there can be absolutely no justifications for their actions whatsoever. Yet, we enter an uncomfortable moral grey area when we begin ask if their actions justify Fujino’s. On a personal level, there’s a certain satisfaction to watching scum like that die painful, miserable deaths but on the other hand, there is undoubtedly some degree of discomfort that Fujino, who is otherwise wholly sympathetic, is the one performing these acts and a further degree of discomfort when we realise that there is a part of her that takes pleasure in the murders. Those degrees of discomfort further escalate when she kills the truck driver for no apparent reason because now we, the audience, are placed in the unenviable position of having to consider a character, who has suffered some vicious levels of abuse, the villain. The trouble in all this is that the explanations about just what is going on are not clear at all. Why does Shiki walk away from her first confrontation with Fujino? Was Fujino killing because her ‘wound’ hurt, or because she wanted to feel alive or because she’s just as broken as Shiki is? The answer is never explicitly stated, even at the movie’s end. It detracts from the ending to a degree; the story has effectively ended but the questions are left unanswered and while some people might appreciate the open-ended nature to the conclusions that the movie draws, there are times when definitive closure isn’t the worst idea.
By the movie’s second half, the theme shifts away from the morality of the matter – the movie has already condemned Fujino for her penchant for violence – and towards the question of forgiveness and recovery. Mikiya, being the soft-hearted optimistic that he is, wants to believe that Fujino can be fixed, that with time (and a whole bunch of therapy) she can go back to being the sweet innocent girl that she was. Shiki, unsurprisingly enough, just wants her dead while Touko doesn’t really care about the principle of the matter at hand but is instead much more interested in its specifics. Each of these three characters’ reactions says a great deal about them. We know from ‘Murder Speculation (Part 1)’ that Mikiya goes with his gut, even where this is really no reason to. In the past, he simply chose to believe that Shiki was not responsible for the last spree of murders, not because he had any reason to believe this, but because he wanted to. Likewise, Mikiya chooses to believe that Fujino is a good person deep down inside, that her guilt for her actions will be her punishment and while he might have some, vague, barely legitimate reasons for believing this, the fact that he consistently chooses to believe the best of people makes him in interesting foil to Shiki and Touko, who are much more rational and detached. This episode also exposes one of the more glaring weaknesses in the writing; in three episodes, we have seen three different girls fall for Mikiya. It doesn’t even make sense; Kirie, from ‘Overlooking View’ never even spoke to him though perhaps her isolation lowered her standards to the point that just seeing Mikiya was enough; Fujino has only marginally better reasons and we’ll give Shiki a pass since Mikiya actually puts some effort into wooing her. The point though, is that this romantic angle to it is wholly unnecessary and sort of weakens the characters in question – they go from being solely motivated by their own stories and circumstances to being partially motivated by their affection for Mikiya, and it’s just getting old at this point. Yet, there might be a purpose to it all; we know that Mikiya himself is drawn towards ‘soulless dolls’ and while it’s cruel to describe Fujino as such, it’s not entirely inaccurate. Her last surviving attacker even mentioned that she always had a passive, expressionless face, much like a doll and it definitely possible that Mikiya’s kind, accepting optimism draws these soulless dolls to him. After all, he’s not exactly the kind of guy that would hit them with a baseball bat just to see a new expression on their faces. We should keep in mind that while Mikiya’s kindness and warmth are both positive characteristics, both Touko and Shiki have raised concerns that he takes them too far; thus far their chidings have been comedic in nature, but it’s not hard to imagine that there might be a time when his good-nature becomes a liability.
Next up, we have Shiki whose eyes, we learn, allow her to see flaws and weaknesses in objects. Essentially, her eyes let her see ‘death’ but since the concept of life and death only generally applies to living things, perhaps that’s not the most accurate term to use. Shiki’s role in this movie is interesting because for the first time, she is faced with someone who is possibly her equal. Fujino parallels Shiki in some ways, not least of all their shared doll-like existences; they are both hyper-violent women, obsessed with death in their own ways, strong enough to turn their murderous fantasies into horrific realities but yet damaged enough to not be in full possession of themselves. The contrast between them is more revealing though; despite their shared bloodlust, Shiki expresses her murderous desires while Fujino represses hers but when it comes to actually acting on those impulses, Shiki is the reserved one while Fujino runs amok. Perhaps, on some level, Shiki envies Fujino that freedom – surely, there is a part of Shiki that would love to do the same but since she knows the pain of death too well (as established in the previous episode), perhaps she doesn’t feel quite as liberated to follow through. Shiki’s desire to kill follows some very precise criteria though; she loses it when her opponent doesn’t possess the right kind of attitude, for example. It brings up the question of just why she chose to save Fujino’s life; if the fight went out of Fujino in those fateful seconds, surely Shiki could have just walked away and let Fujino die from either her injuries or the appendicitis. She didn’t and it’s possible that what we’re seeing is Mikiya’s influence at work. She might not really have swallowed Mikiya’s optimism pill whole, but at the same time, it possible that she let Fujino live because it’s what Mikiya would have wanted. The conversation between the two of them seemed like a continuation of a different conversation that we have no heard yet so we will return to it at a better time.
There is also the matter of the amusingly antagonistic relationship between Mikiya’s sister, Azaka, and Shiki. It isn’t clear just what Shiki did to annoy Azaka so much but the comedy comes from how one-sided the dislike is. Shiki doesn’t seem to particularly care one way or another if Azaka likes her or not, but Azaka seems convinced that Shiki is bad news. Given that Shiki did almost kill her brother that’s not like Azaka doesn’t have a point, though. Based on the post-credit scene in ‘Overlooking View’ it would seem that Azaka is also familiar with Touko though it’s not clear exactly how all these characters know each other just yet. For her own part though, Touko seems to be content with sort of sitting things out – of the three major characters, she has so far been the most passive. Her role in this series seems to be that of the wise mentor but once again the execution is a little rough and she ends up talking in circles without really explicitly explaining anything. Her lack of moral judgement on the whole matter is interesting though; she neither condemns the rapists for their actions nor does she excuse Fujino for hers but instead seems much more interested in the details – what is up with Fujino, why is she doing what she does and so on. The end effect though is that Touko’s own story, motivations and ambitions are still a total mystery to us.
All in all, ‘Remaining Sense of Pain’ offers more of what we’ve already seen in the first two movies; the story for each individual movie is not exactly top-notch but at some point, the movie stops being about the plot itself and instead, more about the larger series-level implications of it. This series seems thus far to be one in which the sum is very much greater than the value of its individual parts – each movie is absorbing enough but the real story of the characters emerging only when the movies are considered together. Yet, one barrier to digesting the series as a whole is its non-linearity. The non-linear chronology of the series seems like a double edged sword – in some ways, the mixed chronology adds a new layer of complexity to the story telling but you have to question whether that complexity is even necessary and if it isn’t just an artificial way of giving the series an appearance of additional ‘depth’. The chronology does hurt the storyline a little since it means that certain plot threads are left untied for a good while and it means that the character development we see in the movies is sort of retroactive – we know how the dynamic between Shiki and Mikiya ends up and the development happens in a backward manner since we aren’t from point A to B in their relationship but instead the other way around. On the other hand, there are still plenty of promising pieces that have not been fully deployed yet; Touko’s story, the resolution of the murder speculation, and some of the last bits of the group’s history.
Some housekeeping matters as well:
- I’m sorry I didn’t use the ANE release for this post. When I first saw the link, for some reason I assumed that it was a streaming site instead of a torrent. I’m downloading it right now.
- The 4th Kara No Kyoukai post will not be next week but on 9th August instead. I’m going to be out of town next week and I don’t think I’ll have the time to cover KnK 4. I’ll be done with Heaven’s Feel by then so I’ll make it this huge Nasu mega post, which should be fun.
- I should mention that the parallels between the FSN and KnK haven’t slipped past me. Fujino reminds me far too much of Sakura (yeah, I’m that far into HF) while I’m getting some serious Rin vibes from Azaka and some mild Shirou vibes from Mikiya. I haven’t really stopped to think how FSN was shaped by KnK but I will once I’m done with both works.