Anime Review: Kara no Kyoukai: Garden of Sinners, Chapter 1: Overlooking View (俯瞰風景)

~Paul Tung

Over the years, Type Moon has slowly made its way from anime obscurity into proverbial limelight. With animes such as Fate Stay Night quickly becoming instant hits with anime fans around the world, producing an almost limitless amount of both authorized and unauthorized third-party goods, it’s no wonder this once-doujin group has quickly made itself into the archetype for quality and unique storytelling. Aside from games and their anime renditions, Type Moon is less known for the line of books it has published under its name. One of these books, also one of the first works Type Moon writer Kinoko Nasu ever published, Kara no Kyoukai (Borderline of/to Emptiness), has recently been made into a series of seven movies, one for each chapter of the novel. The first movie, has recently been released on DVD in Japan (and the second and third will be released by the time this article is published), quickly reaching 2nd place on the Oricon DVD charts (first among anime DVDs). With the DVD obviously selling like hotcakes, comparisons between the movie and book are all but inevitable.

“If He is alive, then I can even kill God.” ~ Ryougi Shiki

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Kara no Kyoukai tells the story of Ryougi Shiki, the youngest daughter of Ryougi family, involved in an accident that left her in a coma for three years. When she woke up, she realized that she had lost a part of herself and her eyes could see lines that when cut, the object would die. Now Shiki is searching for that lost self in hopes of regaining a sense of purpose and maybe even confronting her feeling for her long-time friend Kokuto Mikiya. Aside from the obvious parallels with Type Moon’s first game Tsukihime, Kara no Kyoukai is both an action/suspense thriller and a psychological analysis of the human psyche. The first chapter is set in the middle of the series, with Shiki already awakened from her coma and is helping her long-time friend Mikiya’s employer Aozaki Tohko investigate a series of suicides occurring in the city.

Although captivating in its own right, Ufotable’s the superb animation style provides a visual feast like no other, making the original, and very much two dimensional sketches from the novel, lifelike to the point where only the flawless tones of the clothing and skin give away its animated nature. The action scenes are fluid and unwavering, transforming Shiki’s unrelentingly vicious knife-work to an almost artistic fervor as she glides across the rooftop. The music, exotic and almost haunting, an epitome of Yuki Kajiura’s talent, elegantly flows with the dark, moral ambiguity of the movie’s atmosphere. It’s a pity that all of these beautifully enchanting elements combine to create only a mere fifty minutes of sheer visual delight, but without a doubt, it’s a fifty minutes that could give Studio Ghibli a run for their money. With this much artistic fervor placed into just the first of seven movies, it becomes quite hard to see how a simple novel could possibly compare, but like all great things, this movie is just as flawed as its creator.

“Is it alright to cry?” ~ Asagami Fujino

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To put it bluntly, the only downfall of the movie is in how the characters are played out. With no form of introduction and barely a name to go on for most of the film, this first chapter drops the viewer into the middle of a very foreign world, completely oblivious of why anything is happening. Although the movie rendition is simply following the novel almost scene by scene, the novel solves this problem by telling the story through a first-person narrative from the main characters. Through their inner thoughts Shiki’s past is quickly revealed, along with her relationship with Mikiya and his boss Tohko. By leaving it out, the movie greatly alienates people who haven’t read the novel, which quite interestingly enough, is being re-released in a new three volume format instead of the original two.

However, the novel is not without its own set of flaws which Kinoko Nasu openly admits. In an interview with him posted on Akiba Blog in September of 2007, Nasu says that he wanted to rewrite the first chapter for the movie, and rightfully so, but the producers insisted that he leave it. The biggest problem with the first chapter of the novel is in the order in which the story is told. After the initial introduction, the novel jumps to the end of the story, showing the aftermath and Mikiya waking up (it was never indicated that he was under an enchantment), before going back to Shiki and a lackluster final confrontation with Fujou Kirie. The first match between Kirie and Shiki, which was very nicely done in the movie, was never featured in the novel. With gaping flaws such as these plaguing the first chapter, it’s no wonder Nasu wanted to rewrite it, but the producers’ insistence was very well founded as the resulting movie, albeit flawed, is still quite the spectacle to behold.

“She probably just couldn’t fly today.” ~ Aozaki Tohko

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Unlike most novel to movie/anime renditions where either one or the other is clearly the superior, for Kara no Kyoukai Chapter One, the movie and the novel are more like supplements to each other as opposed to separate interpretations. With the movie creating a far more logical telling of the story and beautiful action scenes that are severely lacking in the novel, it forfeits the gradual introduction for a first-time audience and a sense of the characters’ personalities and relationships. With the novel comes a far more detailed look at the characters and philosophical rhetoric akin to any Type-Moon story, but at the expense of coherent plot development and beautifully vivid action scenes. Fortunately for fans those who aren’t familiar with the novel, chapters two and three are on their way to alleviate any of the confusion created by this sudden drop into the world of Kara no Kyoukai.

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