After all the eventful action and mayhem in the previous Kara No Kyoukai movie, things quiet down in this sixth movie, Boukyaku Rokuon (Oblivion Recording). Well, quiet down is one way of putting it; ‘Oblivion Recording’ is still plenty energetic but after the breakneck action and the developments of the previous movie, ‘Oblivion Recording’ really feels much more like enjoyable filler than anything else. Compared to its immediate predecessor, ‘Oblivion Recording’ is much lighter in theme and tone – there is less graphic violence and while there are some mentions of heavier topics like suicide and drug abuse, on the whole, the movie feels more like a typical young adult adventure story (Nancy Drew comes to mind, oddly enough) than a Kara No Kyoukai story. The movie’s protagonist, Azaka Kokutou, is the main reason that the movie never takes itself too seriously – unlike Shiki, Azaka is considerably more cheerful and cutesy though she offers little beyond that. Her generally bubbly character is something of an extreme rarity in the Kara No Kyoukai world but offers a fairly refreshing change from the consistently troubled characters we have seen thus far. Yet, whatever novelty Azaka offers as a protagonist is ultimately offset by the fact that ‘Oblivion Recording’ simply does not have enough substance to sustain its audience beyond a certain point; it works very well as a respite from ‘Paradox Spiral’ but is a flimsy story on its own.
One of the biggest problems with the story is that everything about it feels, for the lack of a better word, inconsequential. We are placed in entirely new settings, with an entirely new cast of characters (with the exception of Shiki, of course) and a plot that we are not really given a reason to care about. The suicide of a student under less than normal circumstances isn’t a terrible plot per se, but it’s not nearly enough to grip the audience on its own. Normally, you would need some kind of emotional connection to this suicide in question – maybe the detective solving the case has a personal stake in it, or the investigating student lost a really good friend – but in ‘Oblivion Recording’ there isn’t anything like that and as a result it feels rather impersonal. To some extent this is symptomatic of Kara No Kyoukai in general; each movie features new villains and characters and we never really get to see a villain built up and then taken down. It makes it hard to care about the villains when you know that they are probably going to be dead by the movie’s end. It’s particularly grating in this case because ‘Paradox Spiral’ felt like the climax of Kara No Kyoukai and coming on its hells ‘Oblivion Recording’ feels a little like an afterthought that was put in just for the sake of making another movie – which is exactly what it would be if not for the fact that there is one last movie to go.
The movie is also not helped by the quality of its villains – after seeing Shiki pull of some intense inter-dimensional stunts in the last movie, it seemed like the outcome of her confrontation with the villain in this movie was a foregone conclusion. It wasn’t just Shiki, who we’ve all come to recognize as stupidly overpowered, but even Azaka, the real protagonist of this movie, barely broke a sweat against her own opponent. Whether or not Shiki actually beat her opponent is left open to interpretation – Kurogiri mutters something cryptic about Shiki’s memories but leaves before the battle can be properly resolved and is part of the reason that it feels like nothing really happened in this movie. In fact, the movie begins with the claim that Kaori committed suicide but ends with her regaining consciousness – regardless of whether or not that’s a plot hole, it makes the whole endeavour feel thoroughly unnecessary.
Given that this movie had perhaps four speaking characters – Mikiya and Touko don’t count, really – and that two of those four were Shiki and Azaka, there was never really any suspense about who was behind the ‘suicide’. Instead, what little tension there was, revolved around how and why Kaori killed herself and what she knew or saw that needed to be silenced. For most of the movie, I was expecting either Oji or Kurogiri to be the murderers or at least indirectly responsible for incident and while I wasn’t wrong, per se, it didn’t happen the way I expected it to. The whole plot twist with the memories and the real reason for the suicide was pretty good – until you start thinking about it. The more you think about it, the more absurd the whole thing seems; the plot of this entire movie was motivated by Kurogiri playing people for shits and giggles. There is no greater significance to the events of this movie beyond that; basically, Kurogiri was summoned by Araya, but then Araya died and then Kurogiri got bored so now he’s trolling schoolchildren. The story made sense and I can honestly say I didn’t see the twist coming but looking back, the whole affair seems rather lacklustre and trite. If there was one redeeming aspect to the movie, it was that the change in setting really seemed to work out for the better. We moved away from the urban settings of the previous movie to a new, intriguing setting in a mage school. It’s a little like Hogwarts, except darker and full of creepy malice.
Against this backdrop, we have our protagonist, Tohsaka Rin Kokutou Azaka. Azaka is a strange character – in a universe that is unfailingly bleak, violent and depressive, Azaka is this bright burst of light-hearted humour and cheeriness. At different points in the movie and to varying degrees, it is either refreshing or jarring; seeing her comically light hearted rivalry with Shiki is the former but her incestuous attraction to her brother is very much the latter. This isn’t just because of my personal (extreme) dislike of the sibling incest trope in anime but also because thus far, I feel like Kara No Kyoukai has done a fairly good job of avoiding the more egregious anime clichés but Azaka is the one anime archetype walking in a field full of subversions, like a Smurf in a HP Lovecraft story. It seems like her entire purpose in this story is to serve as a cute, bubble-gum sweet alternative to Shiki; where our series’ knife wielding heroine is quiet, dry and closed-off, Azaka is exaggerated, open and just full of life. It’s hard to dislike her but at the same time, it does feel like the character doesn’t have depth beyond the attributes I just mentioned. A part of it is that she has just not received nearly enough screen time but it’s also that, in a world where everyone seems to bear some kind of twisted past or psychological burden, Azaka’s carefree cheerfulness just doesn’t seem right. Even Azaka’s issue, her incestuous love for Mikiya, isn’t really treated like a real issue and instead is just a source of humour as Mikiya clearly has eyes only for Shiki. On a related note though, the relationship between Shiki and Azaka is an interesting one. Azaka’s (light-hearted) hostility towards Shiki is just laughed off, but you have to wonder what Shiki makes of Mikiya’s sister. She probably knows that if it came down to it, she could take Azaka down fairly easily but she probably also knows that Mikiya wouldn’t like that one bit. Mikiya’s comment about Shiki thinking of Azaka as a little sister gives us a good idea of what their relationship really is; after all, Shiki gave Azaka a shot at taking Mikiya out on a date by going back to the city ahead of her and more importantly, by not ratting out Azaka’s crush to Mikiya (apparently, everyone knows about it except him).
There really isn’t much more to say about this movie. There really isn’t anything to sink your teeth into beyond the surface level but despite that it was a rather fun to watch. The previous Kara No Kyoukai movies were all absorbing in their own ways but they were also extremely intense, requiring a good amount of focus if you didn’t want to get thoroughly lost (‘Paradox Spiral’ being the pinnacle of this). The relative lack of engagement from the story gave me a chance to really appreciate what a good job Ufotable has done with the production and the soundtrack. The soundtrack has been amazing from the get-go but the fight sequences (especially Azaka versus Oji) are just a treat to watch. Next week (yes, next week, not two weeks from now), we’ll tackle the last Kara No Kyoukai movie (not sure if anyone would really recommend the two ‘other’ movies, but I think I’ll decide next week). As some of you might have noticed, my posting frequency has been dropped to the point where I almost never post anymore. That’s a temporary thing – it’s been exam season and I’ve been trying my best to manage everything but decided that I’d rather just wait till the exams are done before picking everything back up. Sorry for the inconvenience!