TYPE-MOON Review Anniversary: Kara no Kyoukai

Yes, it's been two years today since I started writing these, and my motivation for writing them has far outstripped my actual work ethic. I'm sad to say that only 21 reviews in two years wasn't quite what I wanted, and recent circumstances don't stand to increase that rate much...at least, in the way of visual novels. Given that my preferred time to play those is late night, and my new job has me waking earlier than I was during college, I'm in kind of a troublesome spot. Either my rate of play and review slows accordingly (and keep in mind that I finished playing Symphonic Rain four months ago, and I'm only almost finished writing), or I start rearranging my schedule...

...of course, not everything I review is a VN. Hell, not even everything Type-Moon has released is a visual novel. This title, for instance, has had next to no involvement in video games at all (a guest character appearance in Melty Blood and a super-secret reference in Fate/Extra, is about all). It started as a series of online light novels, instead, before being adapted into an anime...which is the version I'll review. I haven't been all that impressed with online translations of the novels, and my Japanese isn't on the level where I can read a normal book easily, let alone a Nasu work.

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Literally, Boundary of Emptiness. It makes sense eventually...eventually.

.

"Everything in creation is has a flaw. Human beings go without saying, of course, but air, thought, and even time can come apart at the seams.
My eyes can see the death of things.
So I can kill anything before me that lives...even if that thing is God.
"

KnK and Tsukihime both have awesome "World of Cardboard" speeches.

KARA NO KYOUKAI

It hasn't been long since Shiki Ryougi woke up from a two year-long coma, with only a lingering sense of loss, memories that feel like they belong to another person, and eyes that see glowing lines and slashes over every surface...but with the help of a friend from her former school and a certain redheaded sorceress, she's done fairly well for herself.

Any of that sound familiar?

As well it should, since Kara no Kyoukai came before Type-Moon's breakout hit Tsukihime, and provided some of the story framework, character design, and characterization for that story, and even later for their mega-hit Fate/Stay Night. Some things are more obvious than others, of course; both stories involve a main character named Shiki with Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, who come to terms with the power with the help of one of the Aozaki sisters, certain characters are spitting images of each other (particularly Mikiya Kokutou and Shiki Tohno, or Tomoe Enjou and Shirou Emiya), and some motivations are carried over and elaborated on (Azaka Kokutou and Akiha Tohno share more than just looks, as do Fujino Asagami and Sakura Matou).

Any comments about the other Shiki are vulnerable to TIME PARADOX.

Beyond those, however, it's hard to find much in common between KnK and the later Type-Moon works. A part of that might be the sheer esotericism involved in the anime's story, second that I've seen only to a much later Type-Moon work called DDD (Decoration Disorder Disconnection), which involves either demonic possession or people going insane to the point of acquiring superpowers (or possibly both). This is keeping in mind that this is a universe that includes a spear that reverses cause and effect, an omnipresent force born of humanity's will to survive, and a woman who's immortal because the universe itself firmly believes that she's actually someone else who's still alive.

Part of this, though, is undoubtedly due to design. Direct adaptations of the novels, Kara no Kyoukai's story is told in seven movies corresponding to the seven "chapters" (plus epilogue), mostly in anachronic order, all but one of which is also a self-contained story. In fact, the first movie dumps the viewer just after the middle of the whole story, when the premise has since shifted to Shiki working closely with Touko Aozaki, a magus-in-hiding who nonetheless keeps an eye on supernatural occurrences in the city and occasionally dispatches Shiki to deal with things beyond normal police capabilities.

If I'm uncharacteristically vague in talking about the story, well...those are the reasons. The story is deliberately disjointed, but very tightly constructed; as with Nasu's other works, its really necessary to watch the whole thing to get an idea of what's really going on. Movie 4, for instance, despite coming chronologically before movies 3 and 1 and physically after 2, provides the lynchpin for those movies and leads directly into movie 5...which itself is divided between two characters' perspectives. Movies 6 and 7 are chronological, though.

Seriously, how many trenchcoated badasses has Jouji Nakata voiced by now?

Speaking of characters...yeah, I'll get it out of the way quickly. I like them all (Touko is even my current avatar), but other than with Shiki, explaining why might be beyond me. This is very much a story-driven anime, barring movie 6 with Mikiya's younger sister Azaka. It would likely work even if it had only Shiki's characterization as an alternately normal if standoffish young woman and competent if surprisingly bloodthirsty antihero, searching for her place in life (I can't say why; watch movie 2), and with a self-aware sympathy for others who exhibit those traits (whether they're a barely-restrained potential murderer, trapped ghost, or accidental runaway). Touko being an eccentric and mildly snarky mage with a berserk button you should not press and Mikiya being, well...a lower-key Shiki Tohno, and Jouji Nakata voicing a trenchcoated badass are delicious icing on the cake, as is Shiki and Mikiya's growing relationship over several anachronic movies.

So the story probably doesn't have universal appeal, due to its structure. I personally love it, and love wrapping my brain around the supernatural mystery/suspense enigmas, but I can see how people might prefer stories more straightforwardly organized. But aside from all that, does Kara no Kyoukai at least look good?

Oh sweet me, that it does.

I don't believe I'm exaggerating much when I say that Kara no Kyoukai is possibly the most gorgeous anime I've ever been privileged to watch.

I almost feel I can leave those videos there and let them speak for themselves. Visually, Kara no Kyoukai is a masterpiece. UFOtable is a great studio is begin with, and their animation work here is among the best I've ever seen. At worst, even their moments of slower animation still convey calmness and urgency equally well.

A splash of color in the dark.

Character design also quite good, with the animators translating rather than aping Takashi Takeuchi's art style fantastically, and daytime scenes very well-rendered, but nighttime scenes (thankfully in abundance) are what ironically shine most; the dark aesthetic of the backgrounds and the contrast with light and reflections and the flatter, more colorful tones of the characters themselves are beautiful enough to make my eloquence falter...or, in some cases, bloody enough to convey a certain level of horror.

Soundwise, the results are no different. The voice acting is top-notch, and I'm absolutely in love with Maaya Sakamoto's performance as the reticient, rather masculine-talking Shiki, even more than my usual love for Nakata's performance as Araya Souren. The soundtrack, too, is wonderful, especially the motifs and chorals that usually accompany Shiki's more action-packed scenes.

...okay, okay, yes, I'm very much a fan of Shiki Ryougi, more than any other character (barring perhaps the sympathetic and strangely hot Fujino Asagami). Think I'll cut myself off here before I start complimenting her iconic kimono and leather jacket ensemble.

Verdict

Watch this.

Kara no Kyoukai is an anime with a confusing story, a mindscrew from beginning to end...but a mindscrew that remains consistently interesting. That said, it's possible I may have gotten more out of it by being a Type-Moon fan to begin with, and understanding what, for example, the Counter Force is or what magi do in general probably helped me not have to watch each movie multiple times to understand the plot.

That said, even if this type of story isn't generally your cup of tea, KnK is worth watching even simply for the spectacular production values. It may be confusing, but it's a rare anime that looks and sounds this good, so there's always the chance that sheer visual appeal alone could hold your interest.

Next Review

Symphonic Rain next, I swear.

Symphonic Rain next, I swear.

ABOUT DAMN TIME

Oh, right. Excellent review as always, makes me want to rewatch the whole series again now that I have a slightly less vague understanding of the events. KnK laughs at my pathetic attempts to put it in some sort of chronological order.

I'm surprised you didn't talk up the soundtrack a little more, I found it absolutely fantastic and got me head over heels in love with Yuki Kajiura. That music accompanying the all-too-brief fight scenes was just beautiful to watch; like a perfectly coordinated dance of death.

Deskimus Prime:

Symphonic Rain next, I swear.

ABOUT DAMN TIME

Oh, right. Excellent review as always, makes me want to rewatch the whole series again now that I have a slightly less vague understanding of the events. KnK laughs at my pathetic attempts to put it in some sort of chronological order.

I'm surprised you didn't talk up the soundtrack a little more, I found it absolutely fantastic and got me head over heels in love with Yuki Kajiura. That music accompanying the all-too-brief fight scenes was just beautiful to watch; like a perfectly coordinated dance of death.

Mostly because I'm writing based on memory; it's been months since I watched any of the movies, and the only one I've seen multiple times to compensate is the first.

The fact that I had to turn this review out in only two-and-a-half hours also had something to do with it. Unless I'm in a ranting mood, I really like to spread my time out, proofread, revise, and expand more.

Hmm, I'll probably have to watch this one again sometime, maybe in chronological order. I have the feeling that many of its larger symbolic themes eluded me to some degree, although a familiarity with Buddhist philosophy and the world of the similarly set VN's is probably required to crack it.

Still, even the more immediately approachable things have impact, and the artwork alone make it worth (re)watching. Good and solid review, though I agree with Deskimus that the soundtrack could have warranted a sentence or two more (maybe a few examples), since Kajiura's work is on par with the visual artwork in terms of quality.

Imperator_DK:
Hmm, I'll probably have to watch this one again sometimes, maybe in chronological order. I have the feeling that many of its larger symbolic themes eluded me to some degree, although a familiarity with Buddhist philosophy and the world of the similarly set VN's is probably required to crack it.

Apparently, one advantage of the novels is that they explain more (like what exactly helped Enjou escape in Paradox Spiral). I'll probably have to try reading them again at some point. Something about the translations just threw me off

Still, even the more immediately approachable things have impact, and the artwork alone make it worth (re)watching. Good and solid review, though I agree with Deskimus that the soundtrack could have warranted a sentence or two more (maybe a few examples), since Kajiura's work is on par with the visual artwork in terms of quality.

Again, I apologize. If it hadn't been 1:15 AM when I finished, I probably would have thought to throw in some more youtube links (not that second one, since it's apparently unavailable in my country). As is, I was kind of lazily hoping that the videos would make up for some of it, since the theme during Overlooking View's rooftop scene was part of what made me fall in love with the series in the first place.

Also, it's actually been a while since I watched any of them, so I'd forgotten how fantastic the ending themes are. Thanks!

NeutralDrow:
...
Apparently, one advantage of the novels is that they explain more (like what exactly helped Enjou escape in Paradox Spiral). I'll probably have to try reading them again at some point. Something about the translations just threw me off

They aren't really worth sitting through if the translation is bad. And since the overarching concepts of magic and such seem to be the same, then I'll probably learn more about it when I get around to Fate/Stay Night... or more likely Fate/Zero, since more Gen Urobuchi and far less Shirou Emiya is decidedly my thing.

Again, I apologize. If it hadn't been 1:15 AM when I finished, I probably would have thought to throw in some more youtube links (not that second one, since it's apparently unavailable in my country). As is, I was kind of lazily hoping that the videos would make up for some of it, since the theme during Overlooking View's rooftop scene was part of what made me fall in love with the series in the first place.

No need, you do mention it's good, and the videos given do give a taste of it. I'd just have thrown in a few more adjectives in on it like you did the visual artwork, since it's another - and in my opinion equally - strong selling point for these movies. But I certainly understand you can't get around everything.

Also, it's actually been a while since I watched any of them, so I'd forgotten how fantastic the ending themes are. Thanks!

No kidding, Sprinter is my second favourite piece of music from anywhere, and Oblivious and Serenato aren't far behind.

Definitely a series where it pays to pay attention, and even if you've seen it once, rewatching it again will often reveal amazing details missed the first time through.

NeutralDrow:

Again, I apologize. If it hadn't been 1:15 AM when I finished, I probably would have thought to throw in some more youtube links (not that second one, since it's apparently unavailable in my country). As is, I was kind of lazily hoping that the videos would make up for some of it, since the theme during Overlooking View's rooftop scene was part of what made me fall in love with the series in the first place.

Need more youtube vids, you say?

Where applicable, watch in HD.

paulgruberman:
Need more youtube vids, you say?

Specifically, youtube music demonstration videos.

Ah, yes, that one's been in my favorites for a while. I almost used it...but it's slightly lower quality than the rooftop scene from the first movie (and I really wanted to show off the awesome water effects). I also almost used the Shiki vs. Fujino fight, but that was a little more spoiler-filled.

Then again, since the rooftop fight video desynchs near the end, maybe it would have been for the better...

Where applicable, watch in HD.

Ooh, haven't seen that one before. Thanks!

I have to say the art style of this anime does look quite appealing. I've only watched through one anime series in the past year (FMA Brotherhood, hence the avatar), and I've just been "moving on" from anime in general in that time, but this might just re-kindle my interest. It's a good review, even if it's a little confusing (through no fault of your's, though, apparently due to the story structure).

 

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