A better title for Kara No Kyoukai: Garan No Dou or (The Hollow Shrine) would have been ‘The Re-Birth of Ryougi Shiki’. Shiki has always been a confusing character to say the least; between her inherently morbid visual ability and her multiple personalities (or, as this episode informs us, her compound personalities), she has been a rather difficult character to fully understand. ‘The Hollow Shrine’ provides us with a good deal of additional clarity on the matter by picking up where ‘Murder Speculation (Part 1)’ left off and walking us through how Shiki emerged from her self-imposed murderous isolation to join Touko’s little band of misfits. It is a short story but one full of loneliness, confusion and grief as Shiki must come to terms with the new status quo within herself as well as her burgeoning abilities. ‘The Hollow Shrine’, while a perfectly serviceable story in its own right, lacks the punch that the earlier episodes provided – while it doesn’t really do anything wrong, the story feels limited. There isn’t any particular aspect of the episode that the audience can latch on to as being exceptionally well done; the development of Shiki’s character is perhaps the most interesting thing into but apart from that the episode lacks tension and it doesn’t seem like there is enough for the audience to really sink its teeth into.
A fair portion of the blame might lie with the odd chronology of the series; we already know how Shiki turns out, more or less, and thus some of the tension beneath her inner conflicts is automatically, prematurely diffused. The episode’s entire purpose seems to be to further explain just who and what Ryougi Shiki is while also providing partial closure to the events of ‘Murder Speculation (Part 1) by revealing the aftermath of the fateful accident that probably saved Mikiya’s life. The episode also provides some further explanation to just what is going on in Shiki’s head but while an explanation was very much necessary, the one this episode provides doesn’t quite cut it. Here’s what we know so far: Shiki has a compound personality in which one half of her, the male persona SHIKI represented all her repressed desires and impulses, so the female half Shiki could live a relatively normal life. Shiki suppression of SHIKI manifested as an internal ‘murder’ so all SHIKI ever knew was death and destruction while Shiki grew up being keenly aware of what kind of ugliness the human soul was capable of. This delicate balance is thrown into chaos in this episode, when SHIKI sacrifices himself in order to give Shiki a shot at true happiness. Is there a comment hidden in there about how we can only be happy when we accept as aspect of ourselves? Perhaps, but it is probably more complicated than that. SHIKI’s death didn’t just leave her without the only real companion she has ever known since birth nor did it simply leave her alone and dazed; SHIKI’s death left a yawning emptiness in Shiki’s mind, a space that wasn’t filled with memories or experiences or anything at all – just empty space. All of this should help us understand the frame of mind she is in right until the episode’s final sequence; not only does she have to deal with the disorienting effects of having lost two years of her life, but she must now also somehow begin the process of recreating her entire identity from scratch. She no longer has the energetic colour of SHIKI in her but at the same time, she can remember having it. Now that it isn’t there any longer, is she still the same Shiki she was before, or will she become a new person, with elements of the old Shiki mixed in whatever she picks up on to fill the void along the way? It doesn’t help that she cannot really come to terms with being alive – she remembers dying, she remembers the chilling terror of being dead, but yet, she is not dead. Is it any surprise that she shows the symptoms of deep depression? Worse still, she has begun to have frightening visions as her amazingly over-powered abilities begin to kick in.
Between her bizarre visual ability and her highly unusual compound personality (is that even a real thing?), we can see why Shiki is not a character that people tend to empathize with. Even on a good day, she is pretty much on the far end of the abnormality scale but despite that, the emotions she feels and the circumstances she finds herself in, in this episode, help humanize her. This is particularly interesting in light of how detached and unnatural she seemed in ‘Overlooking View’ – she did seem to feel some sense of loneliness but there was also an disconcerting degree of emotional independence in her during that episode. Yet, in this episode, we see her distraught and certainly out of sorts; we see her freak out and almost blind herself; we see her in the depths of depression after emerging from a two years coma but more importantly, we see her emerge from all that as the hyper-competent, hyper-lethal knife-wielding badass from the previous movies. Unfortunately, by the episode’s end, she has still not fully come to terms with her new self – she remains detached and her struggle with loneliness seems like it will continue for some time yet. Interestingly though, the episode offers us something more than usual, extremely pessimistic interpretation of the hollowness in Shiki’s heart. Sure, for most of the episode we associate that hollowness with the loneliness, despair and grief that Shiki feels but at the episode’s end, Touko offers a different outlook. Instead of seeing hollowness as a lack of something (which is definitely is), Touko tells an unconscious Shiki that it could just as easily be seen as an opportunity for a fresh start, that she (Shiki) could fill all that empty space with new experiences and memories with new people. It is a refreshing bit of advice one that Shiki seems to be taking to heart, if she interactions with Mikiya later in the series’ chronology are any indication.
Speaking of Mikiya, he had a fairly minor role in this episode; he is Mr. Puppy, the man with a crush so strong that not even two years of Shiki being in a coma can dissuade him. In that time, he graduates from high school, meets Touko and begins working for her. Did his interest in lifeless dolls begin from observing a lifeless-seeming Shiki on such a regular basis? Probably. There is also the matter of why Touko told him not to see Shiki till she got her head back in the game, so to speak. For a while, Shiki didn’t remember Mikiya’s name at all – was Touko trying to protect his feelings? It would suck to regularly check on someone for two years only to find that they didn’t even remember you name. Touko doesn’t seem like the kind to really consider such things though, so perhaps it was more of a case of her not wanting Mikiya’s presence to throw Shiki off her recovery. Touko herself gets mixed feelings from me – on one hand, it’s great that she’s this knowledgeable, wise mentor who knows what to do to salvage a situation but this episode especially made it seem like she had it too easy. Right from the get go, it seemed like she knew just what to say and do in order to get Shiki on the road to recovery and that was an important part of what killed the episode’s tension, the other major factor being that we already knew how it would turn out. Will we ever get to see Touko actually do something instead of explain what someone else did? Perhaps, perhaps not; in all fairness, none of the threats we’ve seen so far have been beyond the paygrade of Shiki and Mikiya (though, based on how easily Touko was going to giving up on the zombies this week, Shiki’s paygrade seems higher than Touko’s). Still, Touko’s character has too much potential to be wasted on purely exposition and the usual meandering philosophising.
This episode effectively concludes Shiki’s origin story but also exposes one of the deficiencies in the story that the series has yet to properly address: where is this all going? After four entire movies, it still doesn’t feel like the series has a definite end point or a narrative goal that it is working towards. Each episode tells a strong enough story but strung together, the individual plots don’t quite mesh the way you would expect them to this far into the series. There is some hope though; the post-credit scene in this episode introduces Araya Souren, a magus who seems to be the one behind the incidents in the past few episodes. Is he the major antagonist that this series has been building up to? It seems very likely – thus far, these first few episodes have done little beyond introducing us to our main characters and highlighting what makes them stand apart. Even the situations they’ve been in so far seem to have been for the sole purpose of establishing the series’ universe and the characters’ place in it, as well as setting the tone. It seems that we will see what all the setup has been building up to next week.
I haven’t forgotten about the FSN mega post by the way, I just underestimated how much I have to say. It’ll be out soon, I promise.