Minor spoilers ahead!
A boy walks down a snow covered road in a snowy night, umbrella in hand. On the far side of the empty road, he sees a girl with dark hair, wearing just a kimono against the elements. She is quietly gazing away from him, taking in the beauty of the snow-covered
city. He greets her. In return, she looks and offers a subtle smile. He is smitten for the rest of his life.
So opens the (chronologically) first movie in the franchise known as Kara no Kyoukai – which translates to Boundary of Emptiness. For those who only want the English title, that’s The Garden of Sinners.
Mikiya Kokutou is a gentle boy with a poet’s heart and an intuitive understanding of the condition of the forgotten, the injured, the unwanted and the emotionally bereft. He is kind. He is patient. He sees the good in you when others would reject you without a thought. He is definitely not cut out for combat.
The girl he meets is Shiki Ryogi. Or maybe SHIKI, the dual personality living within
her. By day, Shiki is an introverted first year in high school and the scion of a wealthy family. Her father trains her brutally, expecting her to take over the family leadership. By night, Shiki might be a raging serial killer, glorying in the dismemberment and disembowelment of her victims.
Shiki is a girl obsessed with death. SHIKI is a boy who only knows murder and will do whatever it takes to protect Shiki. They don’t split time on the body, they occupy it simultaneously. Yet both come to care for Mikiya, who remains smitten despite their bloody history.
Mikiya has an uncle, Daisuke Akimi. He is a police detective working on the string of gruesome deaths. Daisuke shares the information he gathers with his nephew, hoping Mikiya’s special brand of understanding could illuminate the situation. What he doesn’t know is that the case appears to have been already been solved by confession to Mikiya. The nephew sets out to save his love from herself.
It doesn’t look like it is going to turn out well for any of them.
Let’s skip to the second movie. You know the MCs will still be around.
Shiki has been in a near death coma for two years. Mikiya has been visiting her every week with fresh flowers. He has also refused to go to college and gotten investigative work with… a beautiful chain smoking magus.
Touko Aozaki solves mysteries as a kind of magical private investigator. She can do many things but her specialty is puppetry. She can make you a new arm, or eye, or even a whole new body.
Sometimes she gets a job to kill another magus or mystically powerful individual when that person goes rogue.
After floating around near death for 2 years, SHIKI lets go of Shiki. He proceeds to descend into oblivion while she ascends to life.
By all rights, Shiki should barely be able to move after that much complete inactivity. Still, she is miraculously able to stand and move around. But there are a few problems. She has a huge psychological and emotional hole in her heart where her alter ego used to live. Her vision has gotten strange. Sometimes plants die when she touches them. And the vague yearnings of the patients have gotten together and are trying to kill her.
Of course, she and Mikiya and others survive to go on to 5 more movies and three specials. There are many surprises up ahead. Like:
Mikiya’s sister Azoka joins magus’s team as an apprentice mage. She seems to be drawn to things that are taboo. And to her brother…?
Is Mikiya bisexual?
Shiki has learned from being almost dead. Now she only wants to kill things that deserve to die. She’s kinda good at it.
Is this dog hopelessly upstaging the humans in Boukyaku Rokuon?
Or is the cat an even bigger star in its own short?
It is an epic series of movies. Not a series of 22-minute episodes, but full-length movies, from 55 minutes to 2 hours long. Ufotable, more recently famous for its Fate franchise, produced this towering epic based on a series of light novels written by Kinoko Nasu and Takashi Takeuchi and released between October 1998 and August 1999 online and at Comiket. Kodansha then republished the story a couple more times.
Ufotable created 7 individual films based on the light novels from 2007 to 2009, an extra for the DVD set, an OVA in 2011 and a final film in 2013. There were a variety of directors on the different films. Look closely and you may feel the difference in styles.
They were not released in chronological order. You can watch them in order of release if you want but I found it confusing. This is a list of how I recommend you watch them.
- Kara no Kyoukai Movie 2, Satsujin Kousatsu Part 1 (A Study in Murder – Part 1)
- Kara no Kyoukai Movie 4, Garan no Dou (The Hollow Shrine)
- Kara no Kyoukai Movie 3, Tsuukaku Zanryuu (Remaining Sense of pain)
- Kara no Kyoukai Movie 1, Fukan Fuukei (Overlooking view)
- Kara no Kyoukai Movie 5, Mujun Rasen (Paradox Spiral)
- Kara no Kyoukai Movie 6, Boukyaku Rokuon (Oblivion Recording)
- Kara no Kyoukai Movie 7, Satsujin Kousatsu Part 2 (A Study in Murder – Part 2)
- Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin (Future Gospel)
Each builds on the previous, sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously. If you watch them in release order, at least the first two will leave you confused.
Mirai Fukuin – Extra Chorus is 3 side stories, about 10 minutes each, released as an extra. You will do best to watch it after Tsuukaku Zanryuu at the earliest. It has an adorable cat and all you neko-philiacs will overdose. Good luck finding it outside of pirate sites and the boxed DVD set.
Kara no Kyoukai: Gate of Seventh Heaven (I’d list it at 6.5 in my sequence.) is a recap movie covering everything up thru Boukyaku Rokuon. It won’t do you a lot of good if you have already seen the previous episodes unless just wish to refresh your memory. I suppose you could watch it and skip everything before. You would miss an incredible amount of goodness if you did.
Epilogue is an OVA and a curious bird in the KnK aviary. It is a philosophical discussion between our two primary characters set after Satsujin Kousatsu Part 2. Shiki does most of the talking, discussing everything from how she came to be a double personality to the meaning of life. No action at all, just talking and gentle music.
Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin is the 2013 sequel, following our heroes ten years after the action in Satsujin Kousatsu Part 2.
How do I love Kara no Kyoukai? Let me count the ways. Oops! I just ran out of fingers!
Sometimes the artwork leaves me in awe. You’ve already seen a fantastic action sequence. The opening vignettes are wonderful. So is the ending music.
The voice actor I loved the most was Kenichi Suzumura for his ever level headed, calm and gentle Mikiya. Maaya Sakamoto and the late Tomoko Kawakami shared the role of Shiki and breathed life into her alternating kuundere, yandere and tsundere phases.
I love deep philosophy in my anime. This one is full of it. Philosophy. As well as complex plots and subtle hints that are mind blowing – if you remember them two movies later.
There are plenty of triggers including a horrific gang rape scene and vast amounts of gore. Suicide in copious quantity. The plots are somber, tragic, violent, sometimes fatalistic. Yet there is underlying humanity and optimism. Even occasional humor. Happily lacking in fanservice.
Mikiya doesn’t have much of a character arc. He is who he is, a good boy and then a good man. Eyes only for Shiki, yet never obsessive about it. You don’t see any overt passion in the relationship, yet you know it must be there offscreen. Struggling to remain “normal”, yet special in his very humanity in the face of inhumanity.
Shiki has the great arc. Moving away from a psychopathic monster, overcoming all obstacles in her way, taking terrible damage along the way and still trying to become fully human.
I loved this franchise so much that I am going on my third viewing for some of the movies. That puts it up there with the Monogatari franchise, GITS and Spirited Away in terms of how much I enjoyed it. If you like dark horror/mystery with a touch of philosophy and humor tossed in, you’ll like it too.