Yeah, I know I was supposed to review Makoto Shinkai’s “The Garden of Words”
But after watching the 7 parts of the Kara no Kyoukai film series, I thought that it would be a travesty NOT to review this immediately.
Also, I want it to still be fresh on my mind, because I want to channel all of my raw thoughts of it before I forget.
So yeah don’t feel bad, Makoto Shinkai and everyone wanting that Garden of Words review. You’ll get your chance next time for sure.
For now, time to lead you guys to my thoughts on a different kind of garden. A garden that is dark, grim, morbid, and very, very beautiful.
What’s up, everyone, my name is Ken, from thebuttonsmashers.com Anime Reviews, and today I present to you my immediate two-cents on what happens when studio Ufotable makes an anime-movie: Kara no Kyoukai- The Garden of Sinners
Anime Title: Kara no Kyoukai: The Garden of Sinners, Movies 1-7
Source: Light Novel (originally by Kinoko Nasu)
Genre: Mystery, Supernatural, Thriller, Action, Romance
Aired on: December 1, 2007 (Movie #1: Overlooking View) – August 8, 2009 (Movie 7: Murder Study Part 2)
Directed by: Various (different directors for each movie)
Music by: Yuki Kajiura
Shall we begin?
Story & Characters:
Taking place in Mifune City, Kara no Kyoukai’s main plot is that of our main protagonist, Shiki Ryogi. Being part of the Ryogi family, Shiki has a dual personality, one male and one female. The male Shiki is the violent and outspoken part of her self, while the female Shiki is more shy and unsociable. This leads to some rather complicated interactions with Mikiya Kokuto, a classmate of Shiki’s who aimed to help her be more sociable. After a string of murdurs occured involving the male Shiki, he/she gets involved in a traffic accident and, upon awakening from her coma, Shiki discovered that her other half has “died”. Feeling lost and empty without the male Shiki, she takes on a colder more ruthless persona, as well as discovering that she has attained the Eyes of Death Perception, allowing her to see the inevitable death of people and objects. Touko Aozaki, a magus in charge of an investigation agency, employs Shiki to help her deal with her newfound powers, as well as reunite with Mikiya, who has worked for the agency since. The story follows our main female protagonist, as she struggles to deal with her her powers, the supernatural crimes that abound the streets of Mifune city, her personality and quest for redemption, and her relationship with Mikiya.
Yeah, that was a dozy, wasn’t it.
Ok, so, chances are, you’ve heard that this series is a rather complex one, but how exactly does one think that Kara no Kyoukai is as complex as it is?
Well, there are multitude of reasons.
First off, the mindset that viewers have upon watching something like Kara no Kyoukai, that is, a movie series. Traditionally, if you watch any 12/24-episode anime, each singular episode is easy to grasp, as they would normally have a beginning, middle, and end to each one, culminating over the course of the series. The same concept can be applied with movies, as there is a certain mindset that makes viewers expect everything to be conveniently wrapped up by the end of the hour-and-a-half or so time-frame.
Kara no Kyoukai isn’t like that at all in that there are multiple movies that all lead up to one conclusive end. The fact that each movie isn’t conclusive as what viewers traditionally expect is one of the reasons why a good amount of people are turned off by this series and instantly run away from it.
Another reason why people normally would shy away is the rather slow start and odd pacing that the series has. There are many parts of the movie that are dialogue-heavy. Sure, they do have brilliantly animated and choreographed action to keep people genuinely interested (more on that later), but generally, this series isn’t one to skimp on their dialogue and it may be a chore to keep up with the subtitles and to constantly think about what you’re watching.
And finally, the viewing order.
Yes, the ever-famous yet so-rarely-done viewing order. While a good handful of anime aren’t strangers to this type of story-telling, Kara no Kyoukai definitely is more difficult to grasp due to its more serious and morbid tone as well as the aforementioned movie-mentality. To put it into perspective, the first movie, Overlooking View, is technically the 4th part of the story chronologically, followed by movie #2, Murder Study Part 1, which brings everything to the beginning of it all. This format is, again, generally new and unheard of in anime, and the fact that Overlooking View is supposed to be the first movie, with all these plot points and characters we haven’t heard of prior, can be rather jarring to most viewers, thus turning them away from the series as a whole.
Which makes me feel sad, because I do feel bad for the people who dropped the whole series after its first movie. I feel like if you can give this movie series your undivided attention, as well as keep an open-mind to the story format, you would discover something brilliant. With that said, however, I do recognize the slow start and the initial confusion that people could get watching the first movie, as it does nothing to develop its characters and, as I mentioned, plunges you straight into the world of the movie.
There, I think I’ve covered all my negative points on the show. Everything else from now on are the positives of the series and why Kara no Kyoukai is an amazing piece of art.
In a word, this series is mature. The setting is dark, gritty, and the show does not sugar-coat anything at all and is very much different from pretty much every single modern anime out there. It tackles very mature themes, such as rape, suicide, abuse, and murder, tastefully and without any sort of glorification whatsoever, and interweaves those themes into a complex plot each episode, all while giving the viewer brilliant characterizations of both its main cast and supporting characters, as well as the overarching story involving the main characters’ past.
It does require one’s attention and focus while watching it, especially since there is no dub to speak of as of late, so reading the subtitles will be the best you can hope for, and that’s not always fun. However, the writing in and of itself is intricate enough to warrant one’s interest, especially with concerns to the main plot and the overall theme of the show. It keeps you thinking “what’s going to happen next?”, “what are their motivations for doing this?”, “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON????”, and so many other intriguing stuff that it just gets you immersed with the story itself.
The characters are another high-point of the series. The main cast is small, only 3 (4 if you’re counting the little sister) main characters, as well as a slew of supporting cast that differs each episode, and they were all brilliant (except for the little sister, who was a bit overbearing).
Each episode introduced a different character to be focused as either an antagonist or a protagonist, and what you would notice is that each of them were played out really well and with a lot of development in a span of one movie, compared to a lot of characters coming out nowadays who sometimes uses up an entire series to develop. The supporting cast were characterized in a way where we can either sympathize with their actions due to their experiences up till that point, or we can really REALLY hate them because of their purely malicious intent (for those who did watch, YOU KNOW WHO I’M TALKING ABOUT). Really, what makes each and every episode fresh is how each new character is introduced with a purpose and their own set of motivations that make them more than just one-off characters, and that’s something that I really appreciate in a good story.
But of course the focal point of the whole series is the relationship between Mikiya and Shiki. They have this development throughout the course of the series: through what they have and are experiencing, Mikiya understands Shiki’s case more and more and continues to be steadfast in his love for her, while Shiki herself becomes more and more receptive to these feelings given to her, as well as her own. The romance might not be the most realistic, but it has what every romance should have: a proper build-up and emotional investment to make what characters’ feelings believable.
Each individual movie is almost entirely self-contained with brilliant stories, but taken as a whole, it becomes even more than that. This unique style of storytelling, coupled with its mature themes, brilliantly written cast AND AN ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL ENDING, create one of the most terrific spectacles that any anime fan can hope to experience in terms of storytelling.
And part of what makes this movie series such a spectacle, is the animation and soundtrack.
Animation & Sound:
Let me tell you something impressive:
This movie series was first made in 2007.
Judging from its animation, I’m pretty sure no one would think that at first glance.
Ufotable shows us that they are simply way ahead of everyone else in terms of animation. The scenic backdrops, the attention to detail, and the extremely fluid animation that, to this day, have not been fully replicated by anyone, or at least to the same level of quality and polish that Kara no Kyoukai has.
The overall art style of the show really compliments the dark theme of the setting itself, making the whole thing even more atmospheric. Amazing lighting and highly-detailed backgrounds also improve on the setting, from the bright city lights on a dark spring night, to the single lamppost illuminating a street alley, to the moons eerie glow against a bamboo forest, there is just so much to gush over in terms of just how masterfully crafted this series is.
Every single yen allocated to the 7 films were used at their utmost level, it seems like, as throughout all films there was a consistent degree of high-level animation and very minute dips in quality. And that seems to be the name of the game here with Kara no Kyoukai’s animation: consistency. The fact that the budget had to be spread out through 7 movies and each film had a different director and 4 different animation directors and yet Ufotable was still able to create such a visually stunning masterpiece is just….insane.
It’s no wonder that they’re such big household names to this day.
And then, we have the soundtrack.
Ho boy, the soundtrack.
Another household name in the anime industry is Yuki Kajiura, who was famous for composing the soundtracks for Fate/Zero, Madoka Magica, the .hack franchise, Tsubasa, and many others.
And if I had to choose a soundtrack that would be considered her magnum opus, it would probably be this series’ soundtrack.
Each individual song just works so well with the dark tone that this show has, but the magical part is that it takes any particular scene in the show, and then compliments it beautifully regardless of what tone the scene has. It amplifies any given tone and then adds on to that, giving the show its own mystic, supernatural atmosphere, and that itself is proof of just how amazing the soundtrack for this series is.
Now, if you take that brilliant animation and that godly soundtrack and mash them together, this is what you get:
Now, before I end things, I want to just get into how to watch this series as a whole.
Personally, I recommend watching movie 1 (Overlooking View) first, as although it pretty much throws you into the setting without much background, the whole spectacle of it, as well as the on-going intrigue that it provides, should be enough of a reason for you to continue watching. Follow that with movie 2 (Murder Study- Part 1), 4 (The Holy Shrine), 3 (Remaining Sense of Pain), 5 (Paradox Spiral), 6 (Oblivion Recording), and finally 7 (Murder Study- Part 2). I feel like this viewing order would provide a more cohesive timeline, while still remaining complex enough for you to fully appreciate trying to piece the overall story together by the last movie.
I couldn’t say much that wasn’t said before about this series, to be honest. The only way to truly appreciate what I’m saying right now is to buckle up and give the first movie a try. My advice is to get into the mindset for this type of show: watch darker, more complex series first before diving head-first into this one, to make the transition smoother and less sudden.
I know that this show isn’t for everyone. The way it presents itself is not user-friendly, the way it tackles its dark and morbid themes are not sugar-coated in any way and could be jarring for some, it is definitely GOREY as sin, and the overall dreadful atmosphere is a real far-cry from most shows that have come out in recent years.
And yet, all of these culminated with such well laid-out story that is mature and thought-provoking, fantastic character development and character study from both the main and one-off cast, GORGEOUS animation that is ahead of everything else that came out during its release and about 95% of what’s out right now, and a soundtrack that can only be described as orgasm for the ears.
The result is an anime series that attains high marks on all aspects and is an absolute must-watch, if only for the experience of having seen one of the best anime series out there.
And trust me, it is one hell of an experience.
I hereby award Kara no Kyoukai- The Garden of Sinners with an overall score of 95 out of 100, and my own personal “Yay” recommendation, brought to you by Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream.
While it does require a certain mindset and your utmost concentration while watching it to get the full experience, this movie series is still completely worth it just for how complex the story and characters are. Kara no Kyoukai is an experience that only anime greats have been able to match-up with. Not many anime can pull off such an intricate and mature storyline while having the same production quality that ufotable has, and so, The Garden of Sinners is definitely a must-watch, if only for the spectacle that is the animation, which was years ahead of its time and even exceeds that of most shows to this day.
As per usual, leave a comment down below pertaining to your thoughts on this review, on the show itself, or if you would like me to review anything.
Aaaaaaand, with that, I bid you all adieu. This has been Ken for thebuttonsmashers.com Anime Reviews, and I’ll see you guys in the future!