[Anime] Kara No Kyoukai Review

600full-kara-no-kyoukai-1--fukan-fuukei-poster

Title: Kara No Kyoukai

First Aired: December 1st, 2007

Studio: Ufotable

Director: Multiple

Rating: 7.0/10

The anime adaptation of Kinoko Nasu’s light novel, Kara No Kyoukai (Boundary of Emptiness or alternatively, Garden of Sinners), demands in its audience some of the rarest, most precious of qualities – a keen eye, a sharp mind and an unwavering attention to detail. Split into seven movie length instalments, Kara No Kyoukai follows the story of Ryougi Shiki, a strange, aloof young woman whose eyes can perceive the ‘death’ of the objects she sees; and Kokutou Mikiya, a kind young man who takes an interest in her. It is a lean, almost minimalistic story in some ways; the cast of characters is fairly small story’s scope doesn’t extend too far beyond the characters themselves. Within these parameters, however, there is plenty of depth and vibrancy – whether in the richness of the world itself or the various characters’ numerous internal conflicts. Appreciating these things is no mean feat, however as Kara No Kyoukai doesn’t exactly hold the audience’s hands as it tells its story but instead relies on the audience to observe and understand. Passive viewers shouldn’t despair too much though; animation studio Ufotable’s visuals are characteristically gorgeous and even if you miss out on the story and character development, the action and animations ought to be entertaining enough to pull most casuals viewers through.

Obligatory spoiler tag

[Anime] Kara No Kyoukai: Epilogue

600full-kara-no-kyoukai-1--fukan-fuukei-poster

Considering the dark urban setting and graphic violence that characterized Kara No Kyoukai, the series’ epilogue is oddly serene and almost tranquil. The episode – I would hesitate to even call it a movie – is essentially a long, increasingly abstract conversation between Shiki and Mikiya. Perhaps conversation is a little bit of a misnomer here; Mikiya reunites with the third and final personality that resides within Shiki, the same persona he met at the story’s very beginning but what follows feels more like an exposition laden monologue by this third persona, with the occasional interjection by Mikiya than a real conversation. In considering this episode, it’s important to understand what the episode itself is and isn’t; it is not a self-sufficient, complete story with a plot and climax or any other discernible narrative structure; it is however, a philosophical footnote to the series, as Shiki’s exposition reveals Nasu’s perspective on abstract matters like the body, mind and soul. The episode also provides some additional information regarding Shiki and Mikiya though, this late in the game it feels more like something that’s good to know than an absolutely critical revelation. Lastly, it seems clear that this final chapter to the series is not meant to offer closure – the final movie did that very well and any further attempts to close that which has already been closed would only serve to ruin that – but instead is really meant solely for exposition purposes.

Obligatory spoiler tag

[Anime] Kara No Kyoukai: Satsujin Kousatsu (Kou) (Murder Speculation 2)

600full-kara-no-kyoukai-1--fukan-fuukei-poster

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.

Obligatory spoiler tag

[Anime] Kara No Kyoukai: Boukyaku Rokuon (Oblivion Recording)

600full-kara-no-kyoukai-1--fukan-fuukei-poster

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.

Obligatory spoiler tag

[Anime] Kara No Kyoukai: Mujun Rasen (Paradox Spiral)

600full-kara-no-kyoukai-1--fukan-fuukei-poster

Kara No Kyoukai: Mujun Rasen (Paradox Spiral) is an excellent example of movie that is meant to be watched twice. The non-linear narrative would have been reason enough to watch the movie twice but it is far from the only reason to do so. ‘Paradox Spiral’ is jam-packed with action; not just in the sense of swords slicing and people getting knocked about – though there is a fair bit of that too – but in the more general sense that at any point in time there is just so much going on on-screen.  ‘Paradox Spiral’ emphasizes everything that makes Kara No Kyoukai what it is – the elements that made the series stand out in the first four movies continue to be present in this fifth installation but somehow feel highlighted and a little exaggerated. Whether this is a good or bad thing really depends on your opinion of the first four parts of this series; there is a good amount of graphic violence that not everyone might be comfortable with and there is a lot of world-building exposition that can feel both too abstract and too complicated to take in within the context of this movie alone. Yet, at the same time, you could make a convincing argument that ‘Paradox Spiral’ finally provides the characters and overall story with the context that they have been crying out for since the first or second movie. Either way, there is no denying that it is quite possibly the best directed Kara No Kyoukai movie so far; it balances its various constituent elements very well, from the quiet character moments, to the beautiful action sequences to the tense, tight story-telling. More than anything else though, ‘Paradox Spiral’ is a movie that rewards an intelligent audience with an eye for detail.

Obligatory spoiler tag

[Anime] Kara No Kyoukai: Garan No Dou (The Hollow Shrine)

600full-kara-no-kyoukai-1--fukan-fuukei-poster

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.

Obligatory spoiler tag

[Anime] Kara No Kyoukai: Tsuukaku Zanryuu (Remaining Sense of Pain)

600full-kara-no-kyoukai-1--fukan-fuukei-poster

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.

Obligatory spoiler tag