I’ve been on a hot streak with Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project- I’ve liked every anime I’ve decided to watch among the recommendations from years past. I figured this year would be the same, as two of the recs I received (Kara no Kyoukai and Garden of Words) were already high on my “to watch” list, and the third, Aoi Bugaku, also piqued my interest.
In the end, I picked the one I’d most been looking forward to watching, Kara no Kyoukai. And I’m glad to report that my streak of winning Secret Santa anime continues.
Kara no Kyoukai (The Garden of Sinners) features Shiki Ryogi, a mysterious woman with incredible killing abilities and a past shrouded in mystery – and one that involves our other protagonist, the mild-mannered Mikiya. Based on a light novel, I watched the original seven main movies, skipping one that was more or less a clip show, as well as the later-released OVA. I also have not seen this year’s newest release, either.
Strangely enough, the series is at its best when it’s also at its most confusing. The first movie begins right in the middle of the story, and it works, as we slowly uncover Shiki’s past and learn the “rules” of this world (something I had to pay particular mind to, being only marginally acquainted with the Type-Moon world). The second movie lends itself even more to this blessed confusion, and it begins the time jumps in the story – in between movies and well as within. This whole framework felt very literary, as certainly early on, and throughout much of the series, I felt I was reading a great work rather than watching animation.
Of course, the startling visuals never let me forget the medium I was witnessing. There is a ton of graphic imagery in the series of films. Almost all of it is used to good effect, though the scenes involving sexual assault (a rape scene in the third movie, which Japes pre-warned me about, and another disturbing one near the climax of the final film) were very discomforting.
More disappointing, though, is that the series started to become too normal by the final two movies. The storytelling became more direct and the choices in plot and characterization were less compelling. I thought that Shiki, who was such a strong female character in the first several movies, was unnecessarily tamed in the final one, which additionally had surprisingly little pull for me when it came to emotional involvement, though I was still vested in the series by this point.
Still, Kara no Kyoukai has immediately become one of my favorite franchises, even if it doesn’t come away from my review unscathed. At it’s worst, it’s still a very good anime, and at it’s best, Kara no Kyoukai is simply brilliant.