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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Symphonic Rain next, I swear.