I watched Kara no Kyoukai all at once (9.5 fucking hours) a couple of nights ago, and I didn’t really want to post about it. There are only two ways that I know how to talk about this series: I can either say little to nothing of meaning, or say a whole lot of things that only have meaning to me. I intended to do the former because I had a good enough reason to do so: Haagen-Dazs. 2 years ago, everyone and their grandma bought strawberry Haagen-Dazs after the famous scene from the first movie where Shiki eats it with one arm. I, too, wanted Haagen-Dazs, but I never managed to buy it. Then, a couple of weeks ago I was at the grocery store with my mum and I got her to buy me a tiny thing of the ice-cream. I left it in the freezer – if my new computer had the head-mounted camera that my last one did, I might have eaten it then and taken a picture, but no matter what I wanted eating it to be an event, and I had to be in the right mood. After marathoning the films, I had already fully planned a post entitled “I Finally Got My God Damn Haagen-Dazs! (Oh, And I Finished Kara no Kyoukai)”, which would compensate for me saying little about the series by telling the story above. Sadly, I have a different story to tell – someone ate my fucking Haagen-Dazs. I spent five minutes pulling everything out of both of our freezers looking for it, but it was gone. Fucking bastards. So I still haven’t gotten my god damn Haagen-Dazs. But enough about that.
I am going to warn you up front that this post isn’t going to do much for you – I didn’t want to write it because I have become a coward. No matter how many times I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s alright to post things that are sort of ‘out-there’, I still seem to be somewhat scared of doing it. Hence the warning. Owen begged me to write this post, especially when I told him that it would probably ‘read like an Omo post.’ I actually got more enthused to do it thinking about that, because Omo and I are competing in that little Aniblog Tourney thing right now, and what better time than that to try and sort of ape his writing style? Helps that I’ve been reading him more than I have in a long time thanks to the tourney. So I guess I can thank it for that. I seemed to have forgotten that I read Omo because I really like Omo.
Alright, alright, Kara no Kyoukai. You know, I had been wondering for a while if something was going to steal my number 1 favorite spot away from Eureka Seven, which has had the title since December 2008. Gintama almost did it, but I couldn’t bring myself to topple the tower. When I watched Kara no Kyoukai, I was already revving up the wrecking ball to do just that. This series of movies had to become my favorite of all time. I had only seen the first movie in the past before this marathon, however it was early on during rewatching that movie that I realized in my head ‘this series has the potential to take over my number one spot.’ Somewhere around halfway the fifth movie it took that very thing, and sealed it off by the end of that film. Movie 7 was just icing on the cake.
Indeed, Kara no Kyoukai has made me feel already a lot more comfortable with my favorites list, because it is the first anime that I’ve seen that is definitively ‘me’ (well, ‘my interest,’ which almost defines me, but not completely.) It entered this kind of higher plane of favorites that I have. There are only two other pieces of media that I can compare to that feeling – Boogiepop and Others and The Dark Knight – the one (light) novel and one film that I like more than either of their entire respective medium. If you know anything about those three properties, you can probably see how they are similar in some ways, but the level on which I appreciate them is something like abnormal.
It kind of begins and ends with Boogiepop and Others, although now I feel it kind of ends with Kara no Kyoukai instead; Unless something else comes along (yeah, because there will totally be another 7-part movie light novel adaption by UFO table. *…fingers crossed*). I sometimes wonder if I was interested in some of my favorite things before, or if it was actually that novel that created those things in my mind. I certainly don’t remember being into that stuff at any earlier point in my life. So in a way, Boogiepop dominates my interest as well as my influence. It’s the reason that I am completely obsessed with the dark urban setting. It’s the reason that I am obsessed with non-linear storytelling to the point that I’m pretty sure I’m more inclined to like something if it isn’t told chronologically. It’s also the reason that I am obsessed with bizarre pulp characters and swift and sudden happenings (like death). I have read Boogiepop and Others at least 10 times in the past 4 years, not including the manga adaption (which just doesn’t quite cut it) and I’m always finding new ways to love it. I love every fucking sentence of that book (I could recite a lot of them pretty accurately, too.)
I could talk about that novel all day if I didn’t know that almost no one in the ‘sphere has read it (seriously, I think it’s next to zero, or at least no one cares enough to talk about it) – it just occurred to me that I could probably open a side-blog just dedicated to the novel. But this is a post about KARA NO KYOUKAI, which I still haven’t talked about, but it’s rather important that you truly grasp how influential that other novel is to me if you are to understand how influential Kara no Kyoukai is going to be for me now into the future (I mean, I was already desperately trying to come up with a new story concept right after watching it, because I wanted to write something like it SO BAD.)
Some of the reason that the movie did so much for me could be called shallow, albeit important to the anime medium. The art is utterly fucking spectacular, and all of it is pictures of my favorite thing in the entire world to look at – dark buildings (similar to my fetish for Christopher Nolan’s cinematography in The Dark Knight. KnK is the first thing I’ve seen that’s drawn as well as that film is shot.) It’s also exceedingly well-animated, which is important because there are a lot of fights, and ho boy do I love those fights. I became an anime fan because of fights, and I’ve grown very hard to impress over the years (Sword of the Stranger ruined me towards swordfighting forever) so when I got to see Shiki’s lengthy knife duels (the seventh film, OMG) I was a very happy camper. Shiki is brutally attractive – I think it’s got to do with my liking her character design, but I’m not sure because I’m not usually a big fan of Type-Moon designs. The only other one I really love is Canaan, but I know that the thought ‘wow, she’s badass!’ occurred before the thought ‘wow, she’s hot!’ Chicken or egg, I like Shiki’s design enough now, and Touko’s too (dat cigarette). And of course, one of my favorite Yuki Kajiura soundtracks, though you can’t call it shallow when it does so much to supplement the eerie tone of the films. (I had to watch them all in the dark. I simply HAD TO.)
And all of that is pretty much why I gave the first movie a 9/10 on MAL in 2008, even though the review I wrote then implies that I was kind of being a bitch and didn’t want to like it because it was popular (changed my mind in, what, days? Be still my fickle heart.) I didn’t even like the second, third, or fourth films as much as the first one, but by the end of the second film, that didn’t matter anymore. I was fully aware of what I was watching now – a light novel! Those things that only get better as you go further and further into the world and learn new things about the story (well, that’s how the good ones go), and what’s more, I knew already that I needed to be on constant lookout for every detail. The first time I watched the first movie, it confused the hell out of me that Kokuto was apparently out of his body for most of the film, and I didn’t catch onto it until the end. So the second time, I wasn’t looking at the film as a linear experience, but as a puzzle.
Maybe this is something tied to my personality. My psychologist tells me that I have a problem where I am incapable of thinking in a linear format, and that I see everything as a swirling mass of ideas which I must piece together. It’s a problem in some senses, but a good thing in others, like watching Kara no Kyoukai, because I saved away every single detail. Oh man, the end of the second movie drove me nuts. When Shiki was about to stab Kokuto, but she stops and then the screen goes black, and we hear what we are meant to assume was Shiki being hit by a car. It drove me NUTS because I just KNEW that something had to have happened there. This movie series had never cut away from anything, and it would continue never to do so. In the fourth film, we see the aftermath of the situation, Shiki being loaded into an ambulance. I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until the seventh fucking film that I was given the relief of seeing that, yes, there had indeed been much more to that scene. It was like this that I held all the loose ends in hands in my mind, just waiting for the chance to tie things into a knot and form a line. And I’m not totally sure of myself either. As soon as I finished the films, I wanted to watch them again and see what new things I could find. Because I knew they would be there.
A light novel indeed – like Boogiepop indeed. Kara no Kyoukai doesn’t give you everything. It might give you enough to enjoy it and understand it on some level. I’ve gotten a few people to read Boogiepop and Others, and I always told them ‘you really have to read it 3 or 4 times before you are going to get everything’. Those lazy readers would always claim to me that they ‘got everything’ after reading once. Oh yes, of course you understood the plot, but that’s not what I’m talking about here – there are things in that novel that are literally impossible to grasp on your first read-through, because they were intentionally positioned in such a way that having more knowledge would enhance your understanding.
I know that Kara no Kyoukai is the same way – if I watch it again, I know that even if I really did manage to put everything together accurately on my first go through, I will still be able to enjoy everything that I see on a far deeper level with the knowledge of how everything connects and what it all means and that retrospective view. There are a number of anime like this – I was really pissed off at myself shortly after I wrote a review of Darker Than Black last year, because I recognized that it was impossible to enjoy the series to the fullest if one hadn’t seen it before. And I was proven right by Owen’s magnificent posts on the series that made me feel like a bastard for not having taken the time to read into the show. I have not made that mistake again since then.
So, while I didn’t feel that the third film captured the same level of a haunting tone that the first movie did and felt a little iffy with the whole rape business (maybe if they’d developed her character a little more it would be something different, but I couldn’t help but feel like she was only meant to be a girl with a certain power and the vehicle of delivery was gang-rape, which I have very mixed feelings about as a plot device) I still managed to enjoy the film a lot and recognize it as no less important than the other films, because it was a whole experience. It took all seven films to create the story that is Kara no Kyoukai, or else it could not have accomplished what it did. (Although I will admit here, that the sixth movie went either over my head or under my feet. I didn’t really get the point of shoe-horning Kokuto’s sister into the plot when she was so utterly insignificant to it, other than to have a rival for Shiki and, I guess, get some moe going. Unless I just missed it.)
The fifth film was the most fun that I can recall having while watching anime for two straight hours (although it felt like a fucking lifetime). It was precisely because of the somewhat ‘formula’ of the first and third movies that the fourth one works so well, and goes so far as to lampshade this fact in it’s first half-hour. In fact, I think the biggest factor that made it so enjoyable was the after-the-credits ending of the fourth movie, where we see Souren for the first time giving (or taking) the strange powers to the girls from the first and third movie, as well as to some unknown man who we expect will show up later (and does he ever!) This was combined with the opening scene of the fifth movie, which featured Souren’s interaction with the next ‘episodic character’ as it were, and solidifies the idea that this movie will be a part of that formula. And then it proceeds to kick ass.
The first half-hour completely buys into the idea that this is another story of a person in a strange situation tangentially related to the story, and it does this with the most experimental visual effects and pacing of the entire film series. It honestly felt like they’d taken the fact that you were already used to the formula to go bankai with it and reach a new level, and I was already declaring this either my favorite anime of all time or close to it by the time that there is a false ending to that half hour – and then reality falls the fuck apart. Follow up with an insanely long but utterly exciting onslaught of exposition that had me on the edge of my seat as much as anime ever does – that is, anime other than the second half of the film, which was like a roller-coaster through an alternate dimension known simply as ‘awesome.’ The film utterly destroyed the idea of the formula, completely cracked open and redefined the entire nature of the plot up to this point, re-rationalized the events to have transpired throughout the series, and then simultaneously thrilled and chilled with scene after scene of brutal whiplash plot-twisting.
The Touko-death scene was the best. I knew she wasn’t dead. I knew that she couldn’t be dead. The plot couldn’t make sense without her. And yet, her severed head is being mutilated by an obsessive madman. I was shocked, awed, appalled, and enthralled all at once, and then of course Touko pulls one hell of a xanatos gambit (or just a deus ex machina, in any case it was badass.) I could hardly sit down.
I love madmen. I love human beings who go beyond ordinary reason to become something else. Something self-justified and powerful. I don’t like a remorseful killer. I don’t like a sympathetic villain. I like characters with conviction. The reason that I’m such an incredibly huge fan of The Dark Knight (besides it being just a badass fucking movie) is that I love the Joker’s pure desire to create chaos. He doesn’t need morals. He doesn’t need sympathy. Because to him, chaos makes sense. He doesn’t see it as something ‘evil’. It’s not that he doesn’t understand why other people see it as ‘evil’, and on the contrary, he understands it better than they do, which is exactly why he can take control of it and possess a greater knowledge and conviction that makes him able to enjoy his actions. The Joker is just having fun – being happy. And I love people who can be happy and true to themselves. All the more so if they are happy with being a ‘freak.’
Shiki rules because she does, indeed, see herself as a murderer. Murder is the only thing she knows, and she can satisfy herself with this thought. She doesn’t have to make up a bullshit excuse for her tendencies other than ‘murdering is what I like to do’ – even if she can’t actually murder someone. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that she was lying to herself, but merely that she was ignorant. Ignorance is something I can always forgive, but dishonesty (or inability to accept the truth, in another sense) is not. As Shiki does eventually become aware that she is not a murderer, but a lover, whose object of affection is Kokuto, she is able to find solace in that new idea.
Kokuto is hardly normal either, and yeah, you could almost call him a plot device and little more. His entire thought process is dedicated to Shiki, so in some ways he is a vehicle for Shiki’s development more than anything… but that doesn’t make him less likable. In fact, it’s why I like him. As I said before, I like characters with conviction. The fact that Kokuto is opposed to murder does not make him normal. No, he’s a freak, unrepentant, caring for nothing but Shiki, fully willing to forsake the rest of the so-called normal world. He is certainly qualified for her. And he’s honest, too – if they had written him to just stand there while Shiki came at him with a knife and say something manly about how he knew she would stop short of his neck, I’d have been pissed. No, he ran like a bitch, because that’s what people do, even if they are trying hard to believe in their pursuer.
He also admitted his lack of sympathy of the gang rapists who were killed. He doesn’t believe that murder is justified, and I don’t think it’s a moral thing. I think it’s more similar to the way that I hate it when a character dies who still has more to offer with their existence. Death is an end to possibilities. If you kill someone, you end the possibilities of what they might eventually offer the world. It’s always sad to see a character die, because it means that you can’t think about what will happen to them afterwards. When Kokuto was stabbed in the face, they waited an awful long time before showing that he was still alive, and even I had doubts. I didn’t believe that he was really dead – I didn’t think this series would do that, and yet I was uneasy – the film is brilliant in this regard. But he didn’t die. He lived on, and now I can dream up the distant future of possibilities between himself and Shiki. So I don’t dislike Kokuto’s anti-murder bias as I ordinarily would, because I don’t think he’s telling Shiki that she can’t murder out of a sense of moral obligation – it’s out of his personal and thought-out opposition to murder, and a desire for Shiki not to go against his ‘personal code’ if you will. And I can respect that.
And then we’ve got the final boss, the crazy fuck who is obsessed with Shiki. I love this guy to death. He’s a cannibal! Yes! I’ve waited a while to have a really cool cannibal character in an anime, and leave it to my favorite series of all time to meet my needs. The guy was the perfect psycho, and a ton of fun at that. Similarly, Souren was an incredibly driven antagonist. He wasn’t quite as exciting (but he had the guy in the Hellsing trenchcoat to help on that end, Jesus Christ), but he was the right man for this story. He was the the only thing I could have accepted, at any rate.
And… I think that about covers it. The characters, the production, the storytelling style, the gruesomeness and brutality of the entire collective ordeal… is the ultimate summation and culmination of my interests in the anime-related mediums, or maybe in every medium altogether. Perhaps it speaks to and for me as a person. Maybe it really does define me, or at least define the way my mind works. In any case, it’s what I feel completely comfortable with as my favorite anime of all time, and I can’t see it coming down. It’s up there in that untouchable triforce of my obsessive influences (incidentally, I’ve also seen The Dark Knight, in parts, something like 20 times. So I’m probably just as into that, but not quite on the Boogiepop level. How many times will I watch KnK? It’s 9.5 hours long! But I guess I can just give 5 a whirl over and over and over again~)
(Alright, it wasn’t really Omo-ish. I fail at being cryptic. Not that I necessarily think that’s a bad thing.)
(Afterthought: KnK and TDK both came out around the 2008 era (albeit, KnK was written as a novel in like 2000). I’ve always realized that most of my favorite things come from the last few years, because it happens to be now that the things I want to see are produced (well, that’s how influence works anyway) but Boogiepop and Others came out in 1997. Kadono was always ahead of his time, though at least he was more or less what brought his time into existence. But why did it take so long for all these damn novels to get adapted? When are they gunna fucking re-adapt Boogiepop and Others as a 5-part movie extravaganza?!)