When someone mentions the animation studio ufotable what is that comes to mind? Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works, the extremely delayed God Eater, or perhaps the most recent Tales of Zestiria the X? The truth of it is, it shouldn’t really be any of these shows that ufotable are most known for (though I am a huge fan of their work in the Fate franchise). Their first major work comes from the same ‘world’ as Fate and as is the eight film series, Kara no Kyoukai, or Garden of Sinners. I may come around to writing reviews of each movie, but today I want to give you a spoiler-free, overview of the main eight films + the Mirai Fukuin finale.
The plot focuses on Shiki Ryougi and Mikiya Kokutou, with a focus on the relationship they have as well as the criminals they bring to justice. However, this is far from a crime drama with some romance on the side. While Kokutou may have fit nicely into this model, Shiki certainly does not with multiple personalities and, after a certain point in the cities, the aforementioned ‘eyes of death’.
To go into any further plot details would be to spoil a fantastic story but there are some things worth saying. Firstly, while Kara no Kyoukai are individual films, where they really excel is as a complete series – possibly the biggest quirk of the series is that events aren’t presented to us in chronological order and while this can be confusing in the first couple of films, by the end of #5 (Paradox Paradigm), we really see the benefits. The first two films in particular are interesting, and even exciting at times, but most noticeably enigmas in terms of most of the particulars. As three and fours play out many of the initial questions raised are answered with previously unnoticeable nuance becoming apparent.
Shiki is the centre piece of the series – an intensely troubled and mysterious character, you sense that we are not the only ones in the dark about aspects of her character throughout the series. Besides her multiple personalities, which despite seemingly resolving itself relatively early on make multiple cameos throughout the series, Shiki has to deal with a great deal of innate power that becomes the focus of some very unpleasant people. On a more simplistic level though, what makes Shiki most interesting is that she enjoys killing people: this isn’t to say that every film is a mass murder ‘not-so-mysterious’, but that the threat of death is never far away for any character.
Mikiya on the other hand is less exceptional. This though isn’t to say I disliked his character. He is very caring character who spends most of the series trying to understand others around him as well as doing a pretty good job as pseudo-magical-detective. Kokuto, as he is generally referred to, very much grounds the, other wise very supernatural, unbelievable, series. One such example of this is when he meets a girl who can see into the future: instead of freaking out, getting excited or doing anything else particularly over the top, Kokuto shows a great deal of empathy making the power seem trivial and commonplace, thus contextualising the negative effects upon its wielder.
Besides the two main characters, there are few recurring characters to speak of. Most notable of which however would be the magician Touko Aozaki, a creator of dolls which she animates through her magic. She acts as the series’ guide, info dumper and teacher for the two main characters. While she is involved in the first seven of the main films, her main involvement comes in the form of a teacher in films four and five. The other character I will draw attention to is Mikiya’s sister, Azaka. As I mentioned, most characters, don’t get recurring important roles in the series, and Azaka is no different with her main appearance coming in film six (Oblivion Recording). The point of her character though (other than reminding viewers that Rin Toosaka is a thing in this universe) is to make the viewer acutely aware of the potential nature of the relationship between Shiki and Mikiya. I also mention her to emphasise, that as the character with the fourth highest amount of screen time, side characters really don’t matter very much in this series!
On the whole, another real strength of the series is the combination of action and suspense that it manages throughout. Apart from the final film, which in my opinion rather drops the ball on this front, the build up to climatic, explosive action scenes is pretty spot on. While pure mystery films can work, I find having an output for conflict to follow on from any suspense generally works better and Kara no Kyoukai is one of the best examples of the two genres together.
If the dark and mysterious aspects of the female lead aren’t enough to encourage you to give this series a go then I’ve got a couple of other points worth mooting. Firstly, ufotable do a fantastic job with the animation in this series – it’s basically impossible to get hold of legally in HD, but I would implore you to find a way to watch these films in 1080p. Considering they are several years older than either Fate series, the quality is quite incredible and by Mirai Fukuin you would be committing some kind of sin by not watching it in the highest quality.
In addition, Kara no Kyoukai is part of Type-Moon’s universe and as such shares many parallels with Fate/Stay Night and Tsukihime (if you’ve seen that… or Carnival Phantasm). Suffice to say that explaining those similarities could be a lengthy article in itself, but should it be enough to say that one particular character is searching for a magical place that holds the knowledge of everything that ever has or will happen – sound familiar does it not? Add onto that some nice Fate style martial art fighting skills and supernatural/magical abilities and I’ll wrap up.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Kara no Kyoukai to any anime viewer who enjoys mystery, supernatural, fantasy shows. In addition, I would advise anyone who wants to see an anime character fully develop and grow to watch the films, regardless of what genres they are particularly interested in. Finally, I would offer a word of warning – when I watched the first film, I didn’t find myself particularly enjoying it. Sure, it was pretty and the concept was interesting but I felt that things were relying far too much on me wanting to find out what was going to happen rather than what was happening at the time. That said, stick with this and you will be rewarded most thoroughly.
How do you think Kara no Kyoukai rates in comparison to ufotable’s other works? Does a long series of films work just as well as a TV series for a story like Kara no Kyoukai? Let me know what you think in the comments and let’s chat!