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.
If part one of Murder Speculation was grisly, Remaining Sense of Pain is abjectly brutal. Rape, murder and torture all feature heavily in this pitch black story where a girl aggrieved slaughters her tormentors in a most barbaric fashion. Unflinching throughout, this entry in the Kara no Kyoukai series of movies explores the meaning of pain - both emotional and physical - and the nature of murder.
gone are the warm sunsets and delicately cold whites, replaced with streetlight ambers and frigid blues and greens
Mikiya is older now, Shiki has awoken from her coma and once again someone is murdering indiscriminately. After caring for a girl in pain he finds on the street, Mikiya is asked by an old school friend to track down a junior who has disappeared. Toko, after splashing out on an extravagant purchase, accepts an unsavoury job and assigns Shiki to track down the murderer. The two investigations converge when it becomes apparent the murderer, Fujino - a classmate of Mikiya's sister Azaka, is after Keita, the classmate Mikiya is tracking down. Regularly raped and beaten by Keita's gang of deviants, Fujino is massacring them one by one, but wracked by unfamiliar pain and hunted by Shiki, her power grows as her sanity slips.
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The danger with a seven movie project such as Kara no Kyoukai is that certain entries will be little more than stop-gaps meant to prime for forthcoming releases. This could be no more worrying than with a title suffixed "Part One", thoughts of incomplete plots and abrupt conclusions abound. The series has somewhat mitigated this by chronologically shuffling the releases; whereas the first movie was keen to eschew understanding for suspense and action, the second favours a sedate but no less gripping narrative that starts at the very beginning of Shiki and Mikiya's relationship.
the characters all occupy a space in the penumbra of supernatural fantasy and routine reality
Meeting by chance on a snowy evening, Mikiya - bespectacled and easy going teenager - strikes up an uneasy friendship with Shiki - a kimono-wearing misanthrope - which gradually leads to an infatuation with her. Grisly murders meanwhile are happening around town with bodies gruesomely disfigured or dissected and as the number increases, evidence points to Shiki who frequently roams the solemn town in the night time hours. Mikiya's cousin Daisuke is investigating the murders which indirectly leads to Mikiya becoming mixed up in them. Events escalate and a confrontation between Shiki and Mikiya takes a deadly turn that has long term consequences.
Based upon well-known Japanese literature, no opening music and a simple perfunctory closing animation, Aoi Bungaku could barely be more art-house. It's an odd situation coming from a media that is still mostly marginalised, even in its country of origin: aiming for a further niche would seem counter-intuitive especially for something with such stunning production values.
when the only noticeable fault is a merely proficient soundtrack, one knows that the series is something particularly special
At times it is breathlessly beautiful, judicious use of soft filters and colour grading means everything has an ephemeral reality to it - helped by a keen eye for details in the most fleeting of scenes. Combined with a story of childhood, loss, sex, suicide and emotion it's dangerously easy to fall in love with the series and be utterly enthralled by it. A live action introduction by Sakai Masato, notable drama actor, explains the aim of the series is to introduce viewers to well known stories, the first of which is "No Longer Human" by Dazai Osamu. At only twelve episodes long and six works to get through, the first story is the longest occupying four complete episodes and tells the life of the troubled Yozo Oba.
So how are we going to follow Higurashi? We can't diverge too much from the formula otherwise people won't like it! What about if we set it on an island? And use a bunch of aristocrats instead of teenagers! We'll have to have some annoying teenagers in there somewhere. And a creepy child! But keeping with the murder theme? We'll use a witch this time, totally different from the demon we had scuttling about in Higurashi...
her insistence on emitting an infuriating noise at the slightest provocation
And so the first three episodes of Umineko naku koro ni unfold in a similar but no less enticing way than its predecessor, Higurashi no naku koro ni. Building on the success of its forerunner, Umineko continues the same malevolent and supernatural atmosphere while subtly twisting it into its own beast. With nary a reset in sight, the nouveau rich are bumped off with surprising speed until only a select few are left to solve the mystery of whether a witch is to blame (similar in nature to when wizards do it) or whether one of their own is taking up finger painting with other people's blood. The switch from a remote village to a closed-off island serves the same isolating purpose but opens up the alluring possibility of using the island itself as an antagonist rather than simply letting the box of scorpions scenario play out; likewise the shift from village dwellers to an affluent family keeps the paranoia and tension running thick. Indeed, the story revealed in the first episodes of Umineko is just as captivating as the first arc of Higurashi.