A few years ago I almost lost the hearing in my left ear. The gory details are best omitted, but I was left with (what the doctors claimed) was 20-30% hearing and only two thirds of the bones I should. For all intents and purposes I was deaf in that ear, a lopsided and mono world where car alarms didn't exist (a boon at 3am) but wearing headphones was painful.
Two years and two operations on I have most of my hearing back. All of this is just context for me to say: my hearing is precious to me and I am precious about it. It is a cliché to say that you don't know what you've got until you've lost it, but when it's personal it really brings it home.
Perhaps a reflection of a troubled production or the lack of faith placed in the source material, but the opening episodes of Arakwa Under the Bridge are supremely underwhelming. Individual components of the prototypical SHAFT show are all present - the reliance on abstract close ups and over-coloured backgrounds, the ponderous and circular script, the abjectly peculiar concept - however here they've all been weathered by time and overuse and sit bluntly against one another. Without a strong story to carry it, the show is forced to rely upon a script which is bereft of the sharp writing past series have been known for. Only memories of past glories and faith in the studio's ability will determine how much one can both stomach the lacklustre start and how long one can wait for the series to hit its stride.
the charming misadventures of the outlandish river folk
After an unfortunate incident with some hoodlums and a faulty bridge support, Kou Ichinomiya finds himself sinking to the bottom of a river. He is saved by Nino, a local blonde waif; unfortunately the mantra of his life is to never be in a position to owe anyone anything, this is how he came to live under the bridge with Nino and a cavalcade of eccentric characters. This includes the mayor of the riverbank - a man dressed in a full body kappa suit - a belligerent man with a face in the shape and colour of a star and a man who can only walk on white lines, making the trip down from Hokkaido using a linesman's marking machine. This is to say nothing of Nino herself who claims to be from Venus and demonstrates only a fleeting grasp of common sense. Kou's decision to live under the bridge could, for better or worse, entirely undermine his privileged upbringing.
Kara no Kyoukai is, without hyperbole, one of the most ambitious and intelligent series, movie or otherwise, to come out in the past ten years. As the progenitor of the Type-Moon dynasty it is afforded the means to avoid the overbearing franchise overload that can scare away fresh viewers. It presents a world precariously balanced between a chaotic realm of magic and spirits, and the more mundane world of humanity. Instead of falling prey to the common fantasy trap of treating the setting as the story, a stunning selection of characters is carved out who are not attempting to simply survive but trying to thrive in the ordinary world of emotions and ego. Bolstering this cast are some elegantly malevolent antagonists: from the physically tortured to the mentally deranged, rarely has there been as solid a set of evildoers in one series.
they are painted in shades of grey: whether twisted by magicks or a natural predisposition
Following the story of Mikiya Kokuto as he leaves high school, he is immersed in the unseen world through his affection for the stoic Shiki Ryougi who suffers a near fatal accident which causes a dormant power within her to awaken. Araya Souren, a mage of immense skill, meanwhile wishes to reach the Spiral of Origin, Akasha, the source of all knowledge and a kind of holy grail for those seeking knowledge; to do this however and to avoid the universe's natural defences against this sort of intrusion, he constructs an elaborate plan to use Shiki's now awakened power: the mystic eyes of death perception. Summoning aggressors to temper and hone Shiki, his quest has severe ramifications and the aftermath spills out long after he is assumed defeated.
The last movie in the Kara no Kyoukai franchise is in no hurry - two full hours to complete one of the best series of recent memory and it does so with grace, thoughtfulness and poignancy that surpasses even itself. Pulling together threads which have run throughout all of the films, it sublimely finishes the narrative which saw Shiki's alter ego perish, an event which has haunted her emotionally and physically since awakening from her coma. As well as slowly revealing the minutes before the incident which put her in the hospital, the last gasp of the mage Araya Souren is revealed and with it, the truth behind the murders that started four years prior.
The special brand of darkness which is continuously plumbed has layer upon layer of detail
Set after Oblivion Recorder, a new spate of ferocious murders has caught the eye of both Shiki and Daisuke, Mikiya's cousin who investigated the murders before. Shiki wanders the back alleys of the business district, searching for the murderer and avoiding attacks by local thugs while Mikiya becomes more and more worried about her, beginning his own investigation that takes him down a path populated by drug pushers and prostitutes. The perpetrator, Lio Shirazumi, finds Shiki first but loses an arm in the resulting scuffle; retreating, he discovers Mikiya in his apartment which has become a madman's shrine to Shiki. She is captured and tortured by Lio, still struggling with murderous urges, her salvation relies on Mikiya who may befall Lio's uncontrollable cravings.
"Don't burn, be moe" is how Kara no Kyoukai: Oblivion Recorder starts, the stop-motion vignette ufotable are known for as adorable as ever. It's an inauspicious message for a series which so far has staunchly avoided anime tropes, but unfortunately the new protagonist Azaka is every bit as vivacious and animated as the slang suggests, and it can't help but seep into the rest of the film. Making sporadic cameos throughout the other movies, it was a foregone conclusion that she would eventually move into a lead role, this does not automatically imbue her with any of the qualities one expects from Kara no Kyoukai and her pronounced lack of them is key to the film's drastic shift in tone.
Action is now a prismatic eruption, colour spewing from magic and faeries with complete disregard for scene comprehension
Taking place in a Christian boarding school somewhere in Japan, Azaka has been ordered by Touko to look into reports of faeries causing unrest on campus. Shiki is brought on to combat the visually ephemeral creatures, however this only antagonises Azaka who sees her as a competitor for the affections of Mikiya. A recent suicide by one of the students of the school raises suspicions, especially when her classmates are unable to recall anything about the incident or the girl in question. A teacher who resembles Mikiya catches Shiki's attention, but it transpires a student is behind both the faeries and the stolen memories; Azaka confronts the student, pleading for them to stop while Shiki faces a powerful sorcerer known as God's Word who seems to be the architect of the entire affair.