The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Kara no Kyoukai – The Garden of Sinners

Title: Kara no Kyoukai – The Garden of Sinners aka Boundary of Emptiness
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: ufotable
Format: 7 Movies; 507 minutes.
Dates: 1 Dec 2007 – 8 Aug 2009

Synopsis: Ryogi Shiki possesses the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, a powerful ability that allows her to see the death of all things.  She works with Aozaki Touko, an experienced and knowledgeable mage, together solving supernatural cases.  Recently girls have been jumping from a tall abandoned building, inexplicably as the girls are unrelated and seemingly have no reason to kill themselves.  Shiki investigates in order to find out if this case has anything to do with the unconscious state of her friend, Kokuto Mikiya.

The Highlights
Animation: Dark and beautiful; as good as it gets.
Atmosphere: Grim and suspenseful; fitting for a mystery.
Themes: Philosophical; embedded in symbolism and several layers of the story.
Directing: Full of flair and intensity; builds the suspense.
Music: One of Kajiura Yuki’s better soundtracks, which says a great deal.
Seiyuu: Nakata Jouji gives a chilling performance.
Character designs: Type Moon isn’t above recycling character designs.

The hype wasn’t really there leading up to Kara no Kyoukai, but in hindsight it was a hugely ambitious project.  Seven feature films produced by ufotable and directed by relatively unproven filmmakers, based on a set of novels by Nasu Kinoko… it’s no small undertaking and the incredible visuals, polished soundtrack and star seiyuu cast suggest that more than a few dimes were spent to put it all together.  However, as each successive film was released more people outside the core Type Moon fanbase started paying attention and with good reason: this series is great.  It’s an enthralling series of epics that are brilliantly directed, absorbingly grim and beautifully executed… and the first Type Moon anime adaptation that has received almost universal praise.

While it’s the animation that instantly attracts, it’s the interpretation that makes for the primary appeal.   These are action films, but they’re also puzzles, crammed with mystery, philosophy and symbolism that all tie in to each other and beg to be analyzed and understood.  Type Moon works historically have an uncanny knack for being actively engaging mysteries, and Kara no Kyoukai is no different: many of these films are incredibly multilayered and demand intense thought and sometimes multiple viewings to be completely unraveled.  It’s the philosophy which is the most interesting aspect of these films, though: on several levels, Kara no Kyoukai is an examination of twisted morality in a harrowing underworld, which is explored through an especially dark set of topics like murder, suicide, rape and illicit drugs.

I have to come back to the animation though… this is one of the most utterly breathtaking visual experiences you’ll find in anime.  The murky night scenes perfectly match the gritty atmosphere, with a mixture of moonlit blues and magical purples and harsh, artificial oranges and greens and a reflective aura which surrounds all the characters.  It’s so morosely beautiful, but it’s enhanced by excellent aesthetics all-round: the cinematography and choreography are first-rate and Kajiura Yuki’s soundtrack is morbid yet occasionally (and appropriately) epic with tracks like the intensely climactic “Fukan Fuukei”.  Each film has a different director, and while most of them stay true to the series’ core mood, some stand out: the first film for its seamless scene transitions and use of panning shots, the fifth for its rhythmic pacing and use of repetition and the last for the quiet yet suspenseful moments that build in tension.  The seiyuu are superb too: Sakamoto Maaya owns the lead role, while Nakata Jouji is tremendous as the disturbing and malevolent Araya Souren.

I have no qualms calling this series “great”, but there are a few things which prevent me from putting it in the top tier of anime films.  The second and sixth films are a tad underwhelming compared with the others, and the latter of these two films is dominated by Kokuto Azaka, a mostly pointless character who is about as close as this series has to a moeblob.  The writing, while incredibly creative, isn’t completely watertight and deliberately obfuscates the story’s key themes.  As a work begging to be deciphered, it shows real respect to its audience, but it’ll inevitably frustrate viewers who want answers delivered more efficiently.  Such viewers will find the first four films particularly trying, but the fifth is a relief, revealing how the other movies tie into each other.  This film marks a culmination of the most important story arc and a refinement of the magic/murder mystery formula of its predecessors: it makes for the best outing of the series.

Kara no Kyoukai is an achievement: a technically brilliant and impressive experience.  It’s grim and gritty, and is executed with a mastery over suspense and shock.  The complex set of themes and penchant for philosophy make it incredibly engaging, and all of this is wrapped into an engrossing and at times visceral mystery.  I have to nitpick to find flaws, and while there are a few, they’re not enough for me to dissuade viewers from watching this.  It’s the best Type Moon adaptation to date, and one of the few anime that begs you to scratch at the surface of it all.  Do so, and you’ll keep unearthing things for days.

The Rating: 8
8/10

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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