Posts from 2009

Anime of the decade: Prologue

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Ten years of anime. Somewhat fitting to pick the ten shows that personally rank as the best. This is a case of comparing apples to oranges, but some releases transcend their genre and, most of all, this is opinion rather than edict. One cannot of course have seen all that is released within the decade, some will slip through the cracks or just be ignored due to indifference, cynicism or underappreciation.

In the lead up to the new decade a ten article series, in descending numerical order and ranked wholly arbitrarily, will be posted at 20:00 GMT (15:00 EST, 12:00 PST) every day, culminating in the pick of the decade on the 31st December 2009.

Below is a short list harvested from the brilliant AniDB which, if you tweak the search settings correctly, you can peruse as well. To make the list the series, movie or OVA must have been released or started on or after January 1st 2000 and must have completed by 31st December 2009. This is why series such as Bleach and Book of Bantorra are not present.

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Kara no Kyoukai: Murder Speculation (Part Two)

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.

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Kara no Kyoukai: Oblivion Recorder

"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.

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Kara no Kyoukai: Spiral Paradox

This is the movie that Kara no Kyoukai has been building up to. This is the movie that propels the series from brilliant to astounding. This is one of the best anime movies ever created. It starts with a stark black and white divided screen, the name of the film emblazoned across it, and is followed by a chaotic medley of scenes before settling in with, what seems at first blush, a more traditional narrative. However nothing about Paradox Spiral (Paradox Paradigm the officially translated title) is traditional as it twists different threads together in a story that covers time, death, family, gender and the perception of self in a way that is enchantingly cohesive and utterly enthralling.

it permeates the fibre of the film defining its structure, guiding its antagonists and adorning incidental but important props throughout

Set chronologically after the first film, Overlooking View, it is roughly divided into three interwoven stories. The first has Shiki meet up with Tomoe, a teenager who believes he has murdered his parents despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The second focuses on Mikiya and Touko as they investigate an apartment building that Touko apparently had a hand in constructing. The third and final arc binds the previous two together with a face-off against two powerful sorcerers that play fast and loose with the sanctity of human life and the governing laws of the universe. Surpassing even the previous film's fantasy quotient, Paradox Spiral is the most involved and unfettered indulgence in the fundamentals of the Kara no Kyoukai universe yet and manages to weave them flawlessly into a greater exploration of some less travelled topics.

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Kara no Kyoukai: The Hollow

Four films into the Kara no Kyoukai series and the expectation is for a quality dip, something thrown together to appease fans and cover some of the source material that wasn't as glamorous or directorially challenging; The Hollow is none of these things, but it is the closest the collection has become so far to being formulaic. Following a similar tempo to the first film and of comparable lengths, whereas the first was meant as a soft-landing to the dense and chaotic universe of the series, this is more preparatory by taking away the focus from Mikiya and letting both Shiki and Toko expand and develop. Toko is no longer just a quirky red-head and the juxtaposition in Shiki's circumstances from film to film is elaborated upon.

Brutality and intrigue draw and engage but without exposition and understanding, the long term entertainment of the audience suffers

Opening moments after the calamitous ending of film two, Murder Speculation Part One, Shiki is taken to hospital and stabilised but remains in a coma for two years, watched over by Mikiya whom the nurses refer lovingly to as a puppy. Upon awakening her vision is besieged by scratchy, ephemeral fissures and hallucinations of death; after attempting to physically exorcise the visions, she is wrongly diagnosed with aphasia and a speech therapist is called in. Touko masquerades as the therapist and tells Shiki of her affliction while reporting back her progress to her new employee, the expectant Mikiya. At night however, spirits roam the hospital and take a deadly interest in Shiki's predicament.

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