Kara No Kyoukai is, in many ways, an inward facing, introspective work. It focuses on a small set of characters, characters that we grow increasingly familiar with – not quite in a warm, intimate manner since this series doesn’t quite lend itself to that – but enough that we come to learn about their chequered past and unique perspectives. The conflict in Kara No Kyoukai comes from within; yes, there is an external agent that sets that conflict in motion and keeps it moving but even in those cases, the real conflict is often within the agent itself. Whether it’s a character’s suicidal thoughts, their loneliness or their inability to come to terms with the world around them, it feels like almost all the conflict in the series not only originates from within the characters internal environments but is also tackled and resolved in that space. This means that the gorgeous action sequences that comprise each movie’s cinematic climax are often nothing more than the physical, external manifestations of the conflict that has been resolved within the characters’ headspace. This seems like a fairly obvious observation to be making seven movies into a series, especially considering that Fate/Stay Night also employed a similar technique (albeit more explicitly and overtly) but it wasn’t until this movie, Satsujin Kousatsu (Go) or ‘Murder Speculation (Part 2)’, that I felt like I finally understood the characters, particularly Shiki. Perhaps that is why this is my favourite movie of the series but I doubt it; as well done as the characterization was, what kept me glued to my seat was the story’s tension and the big questions about morality and choice that movie asked.
Right since the very beginning – the chronological beginning, ‘Murder Speculation (Part 1)’ – there has been a conflict within Shiki. Even without accounting for her endlessly confusing split personalities, Shiki’s perspective on things has never been easy to pin down. A part of her wanted to live a normal life, particularly after Mikiya exposed that normal life to her, but another part of her knew exactly what she was and why that normality was closed to her. Some of the previous instalments have paid more attention to that critical conflict than others but ‘Murder Speculation (Part 2)’ brings it to a head and forces Shiki to make a choice and, in doing so, forces her to confront herself in an exceptionally interesting way; by facing off against Araya Souren’s final pawn. The choice she must make is, in many ways, a choice between the past and the future. Her murderous impulses and bloodlust are not aspects that she associates with her future; while they are still aspects of her current self, she envisions a tranquil, blissfully normal future with Mikiya. That future is thrown into jeopardy multiple times during the course of this movie and not just because of Mikiya’s close shave with death but also because of how close Shiki herself comes to giving in to her bloodlust. In essence, there are two opposing forces acting on Shiki for most of this movie; on one side, we have Lio trying his very hardest to lower Shiki to his level (presumably so the two of them can live like animals for the rest of their lives) by getting to her to give in to her desires; while on the other side, there is the impossibly pacifistic Mikiya who tries his very hardest to appeal to Shiki’s humanity, her kindness and the goodness of her soul in order to pull her away from the abyss of her desires. Explaining it that way paints the picture of a very one-dimensional conflict – a devil with a pitchfork on one shoulder and a haloed angel on the other – but as the movie’s conclusion shows us, the matter is a tad more nuanced than that.
Consider Lio Shirazumi as a character and the nature of his draw on Shiki’s darker side. Lio, as a character, is at once both repugnant and sympathetic. Those emotions clash with each other but neither give way; Lio’s actions even before his ‘consumption’ Origin was awakened were vile but even at the end, before his final confrontation with Shiki, there were glimpses of a fast fading humanity. A large part of the sympathy I feel towards comes from Mikiya’s desire to save his upperclassman and friend – it’s not so much that I want Lio to be redeemed (I don’t, really) but more that I want Mikiya to be proven right in his faith in humanity so that Shiki will have an option that doesn’t require her caving in to her desires. Lio is the best antagonist that the series has had; he is manipulative and ruthless, yet just vulnerable and human enough to make you wonder, especially in his saner moments, if he’s really that bad. There’s something a little Joker-esque about him as well – you always get the feeling that he could go utterly insane at a moment’s notice. Still, the vulnerability that Lio displays, what little of it there is, is a crucial part of what makes Satsukin Kousatsu work; at its heart, the movie is really about these two deeply troubled youths trying to find company in a world that has no space for them. Lio is, in a nutshell, exactly what Shiki would become if she gave in to her desires. If she indulged her bloodlust as often and recklessly as Lio indulged his own cannibalism fetish, pretty soon, she would end up just as deranged as him, though perhaps less so since her Origin wouldn’t have been awakened. Yet, if this movie ended differently and we saw Shiki cut Lio down for pleasure, she would have become considerably less sympathetic in our eyes but we would still recall that there is a human within her somewhere. Lio appeals to Shiki not just because he is trying to induce him to kill but also because he himself is a perfect target; as far as acceptable homicides go, Lio is pretty much as acceptable as they get; the boy is a danger to himself and others and clearly cannot be saved. Absurd as it may sound, despite seeing slicing and dicing everything and anything from reanimated corpses to an infected appendix, Shiki hasn’t really killed anyone and despite her fascination with murder, she knows the burden it places on the soul too well to murder someone frivolously. Lio Shirazumi is a tempting opportunity for her first kill.
On the other side of this divide is none other than Kokutou Mikiya. Mikiya has always been the peace-loving character and even though he occasionally gets agitated, he is quite possibly the most harmless character in the entire series – even Enjou at least stabbed his parents. Mikiya’s position in this matter is interesting; he wants to save Lio, understandably enough, and doesn’t think it’s right to just kill him out of hand. However, when it becomes clear that Lio cannot be saved, Mikiya accepts that Lio’s got to go but he is determined that it is not by Shiki’s hand. Mikiya seems to have taken to heart a lesson that Shiki’s grandfather taught her, one that Lio (appropriately enough) picks up on: to kill another is to kill yourself. This is a lesson that Lio learns as well; the hard way (it is another remarkable way in which Lio is Shiki’s evil reflection – if Shiki hadn’t been told since she was young that killing someone meant killing herself, it’s likely she would have learned the way Lio did). It’s an idea that’s been tossed around throughout the age – killing a person will permanently damage or destroy the soul. Mikiya, feeling the way he does about Shiki, obviously does not want Shiki’s soul damaged – he doesn’t want her to indulge in her murderous impulses, to give in to the dark side because he believes (perhaps rightly so, even) that once she gives in once, she will continue to do so and eventually end up like Lio. This is where the nuance I mentioned before comes in – as it turns out, Mikiya’s philosophy and his attempts to save Shiki’s soul does nothing but cause him and Shiki a good deal of misery. His statement, that he will not forgive Shiki if she kills Lio, hamstrings Shiki during her confrontations with Lio which in turns leads to both of them having to put up with the psychotic freak’s antics for a longer than needed. So, what exactly is our take-away from all this?
There is an age old discussion on whether mankind is born inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but one thing many (though certainly not all) schools of philosophy believe is that it is our choices that determine our morality. There is a notion in these schools that there is something noble and virtuous about rising above our base desires and urges, especially if we do so in order to improve ourselves or in service to whatever higher being is in fashion at that point. I wondered for a good while if that was the take-away from this episode – that Shirazumi is evil because he gave in to his lust instead of trying to emerge from it while Shiki is good because even at the end, she kills not for pleasure but out of what could be classified as righteous anger. I’m still not sure about that interpretation – from what I’ve seen of Kara No Kyoukai it doesn’t really drop into that nebulous zone of moral preaching and dictation but instead is more pragmatic in what it advises. So maybe the whole point of this movie wasn’t so much to say that Mikiya was right and that Lio was wrong and that Shiki’s instincts were right all along but rather that in their own way, everyone was wrong. Shiki ironically was spot on when she dismissed Lio as weak – he did not have the mental fortitude to endure her rejection – and it is clear that his plan never really had much hope. Yet, even Mikiya isn’t entirely correct either; while his intentions were good, his actions also put himself and Shiki in grave danger. In the end though, the idea we walk away with here is this entire affair helped Shiki come to terms with who she is and what she is.
Shiki’s conflict is the backbone of this movie but there are plenty of other aspects of the movie that deserve praise as well. Shiki’s conflict is built up carefully throughout the course of the movie and that in itself involves a good many different pieces coming together both from a narrative perspective as well as from an execution perspective. For example, Lio’s similarity to Shiki was a large part of my perception of him as an ‘evil’ Shiki; on a narrative level Lio dressed that way intentionally in order to frame Shiki and bait her into confronting him (which succeeds), but it goes beyond that, all the way down to how that similarity is demonstrated, in this case, both characters losing their left arms. The story-telling is also markedly better in this half of the story – the pacing is much tighter while still accommodating the incredible range of emotion that this movie offers. From the tense moments of Mikiya’s investigation to the fast-actioned of Shiki’s fights to the heart-breaking emotional flashbacks in the movie’s climax, the movie’s success owes a great deal to the pacing and the soundtrack. I’m also really glad that we finally got a good explanation of what an Origin is, even though by this point it was pretty clear what it was, more or less. The idea of something primal connecting us back through our past lives is a fascinating one to me, especially the idea that there exists something that resonates with you so strongly that once it has been awakened, it cannot be silenced.
The movie’s title, ‘Murder Speculation’ changed in meaning to me halfway through this movie. For most of the first movie, the focus was very clearly on whom the murderer was but in this movie, once Lio appears, the speculation, so to speak, was more about whether or not Shiki would be able to resist the urge to kill him. The movie ends with Shiki getting exactly what she wanted all along, someone who understood and accepted her. Fittingly and also more importantly, Mikiya’s acceptance led to her finally accepting herself; not just her current self but even her colourful past and all that it entailed. In some ways, it was a conclusion that was a long time coming – at the end of each movie, it seems like, Shiki would have a few moments where she would lower her guard and give Mikiya (and us) a glimpse of what her softer side was like. That softer side told a truer truth than her stoicism did but we should also not discount the degree by which her character has developed over the course of the series. Shiki’s character has always felt like it has been defined by what it lacked – warmth, humanity, emotion – but now that that hole in her heart has been filled, it seems that everything else followed suite and fell into place.