Well, it sure looks purty and, thanks to Yuki Kajiura (Mai Hime, Noir, etc), sounds purty too. But can this prequel to Tsukihime do anything more than the Grand Goth Gesture?
Many years ago, Ray introduced me to Shingetsutan Tsukihime, the anime adaptation of Type Moon’s eroge Tsukihime. I remember the show being very pretty, especially musically, and the atmosphere compelling–but being disappointed by its hollow characterization and anticlimactic ending, among other faults. It was certainly memorable and original in some respects, but it never struck me as being more than “good” rather than “great.” (Fans of the game tell me that from their perspective, the anime is horrid, not merely mediocre. I’ve never played the game, though.)
The same critique more or less holds for this first movie in the Kara no Kyoukai series. Kara no Kyoukai is a sprawling novel written and illustrated by the co-founders of Type Moon prior to its formation, which prefigured some of the same concepts and even character families as in Tsukihime. There are the life lines, for instance, the knife that cuts them; the woman who runs the supernatural agency is a relative of another character in Tsukihime. This adaptation by ufotable clearly tried to capture the same kind of Gothic, melancholy mood that Tsukihime did at its best, with fine music by Kajiura (she really does seem to do these kinds of soundtracks well; see Le Portrait de la Petite Cossette for more proof). There are stark camera angles full of shadows, selective shots full of blood, and psuedo-philosophical conversations about suicide, sin, and the path forward. It is a show almost tailor-made for the teenage goth, and I have to admit that the atmosphere drew me in more than it generally did in Tsukihime. The background artwork is superbly detailed and rendered, and the battle scenes fluid. This is OVA or film budget level material, not TV.
Still, one can’t help but wonder just who the creators were trying to reach in this movie. The movie seemed to assume that the viewer knew who the characters (Shiki, Mikiya, and Tohko) were, what their powers were, and what the nature of the supernatural agency that Tohko runs is all about. Some of this I was able to figure out by watching the movie, but it took some Internet research to find out the backstory about Shiki, for instance, and the reason why Mikiya seems to have the job of taking care of Shiki in a mostly platonic way. (The final scene of the movie seemed straight out of a romantic comedy, though.) I got the main plot, which features a dissociated girl leading other girls to suicide by making them think they can “fly,” but the impressive-sounding-but-hollow issue about “flying” versus “drifting” occupied too much time. My guess is that they were catering to the novel readers first, and to any new audiences second; I hear that this first installment, while a smash success, played in few theaters in Tokyo.
Further reading did convince me, however, that I want to explore this world some more. There is some interesting stuff going on with these characters, especially the dual-personality Shiki, and the atmosphere is delicious. So look forward to reviews of the installments that have been fansubbed so far (movies 2 and 3). At the very least it lets me bask in Kajiura-sensei’s string and choir soundtracks once more…she can make practically anything watchable.
PS: I should note the very funny opening sequence prior to the film. It may be the best “turn off your cellphones” message, ever. Also, there is more footage beyond the end credits, so keep watching afterwards.