Kara no Kyoukai 4: Garan no Dou
Kara no Kyoukai review Part 4
One of the hallmarks of a good story is the ease with which it can suspend the disbelief of the reader or viewer, and in that respect the Kara no Kyoukai franchise has been good, but not truly great. That said, the fourth installment, Garan no Dou (The Hollow Shrine), is a tad more introspective than previous outings, and it may signify a shift into a higher gear for the series.
The story begins directly after the end of the second movie, with the unconscious Ryougi Shiki being transported to hospital in an ambulance accompanied by Kokutou Mikiya. When she finally awakens from her coma, Shiki discovers that she has somehow gained the ability to “see” strangely distorted patterns on everything and everyone, and also that she has been asleep for two years. During that time Kokutou has graduated from highschool and is now working for Aozaki Touko.
Unlike the first three movies Garan no Dou is surprisingly straightforward in that the focus is solely on Shiki, and while there are some plot twists, these are pretty easy to follow. The story flows at a pace that allows the viewer to absorb the relevant information with a degree of ease, and this makes a nice change of pace from previous episodes. Unfortunately, the simplistic nature of the plot means that the show is a tad predictable, and viewers may find themselves wishing for a little of the slightly demented nature of previous outings.
That said, the main goal of Garan no Dou is to offer viewers an insight into one of the franchise’s most enigmatic characters, and in that respect one might fairly say that this movie is a job well done. The simpler approach to storytelling offers the ability to develop specific characters or scenarios in a way that more complex plots simply aren’t capable of as they lack the “free time” that is required. The movie does dip into some complex themes though, but rather than use them as a means to drive the story forward these dalliances with conceptualisation serve to offer insight into the mind and heart of Shiki, something which has been missing for quite a while.
Ufotable have once again done an excellent job with the artwork and animation, however there are some small areas where the quality drops a little. The hospital environs have an appropriately clinical feel to them which are surprisingly adaptive as when the story takes a darker turn, these surroundings and backdrops adopt a far more ominous feel. Then again, they’re really nothing more than spartan rooms and corridors (which in anime terms is just above a blank canvas), so one has to wonder how much effort went into the environmental design.
The characters are depicted at quite a unique stage given that Garan no Dou covers the two year period between the second and third movies, and the audience is given the rather rare and welcome opportunity of seeing them physically age over the course of one episode (admittedly there is an accelerated sense of time but that’s by-the-by). The slight changes in the design of Kokutou and Shiki (especially facially), are subtle, but they are noticeable (something which Ufotable should be applauded for).
As for the animation, the action sequences are well executed and Garan no Dou features some very fluid natural and unnatural motions (you’ll understand what I mean when you watch the movie). In addition to this the visual effects are suitably ephemeral when necessary, and the incorporated CG fits in to the whole rather nicely. That said, some viewers may find the more physical aspects of the various supernatural phenomenon to be a tad mundane, but it should be pointed out that the main reason for this is simply because of the limitations imposed by “reality”.
To put it simply, there’s only so much that can be done with the “real” world and human beings in a movie like this as taking the more fantastic elements too far would only destroy the storyline.
In addition to some excellent visuals, Garan no Dou also features some highly atmospheric background music, with the tracks on offer ranging from hauntingly melancholy to chorally dramatic. The audio effects are sharp and clean, and it’s nice to see that efforts have been made to rectify the the overwhelming nature of the various sounds that sometimes marred the previous episodes.
One of the strengths of the franchise since the very first movie has been the quality of the acting, and in that respect this film has several things to offer. After much waiting and several fairly mundane appearances in the series so far, Honda Takako is finally able to add some character to the role of Aozaki Touko, and she does it very well. Additionally, viewers are able to see a new and different side to Shiki, and Sakamoto Maaya really manages to capture the feelings of fear and confusion in an otherwise stoic (and psychotic), lead character.
Now many people believe that the second movie, Satsujin Kousatsu Part 1, features the best development thus far in the series, and while the characters do receive a good degree of definition in that episode, Garan no Dou is at least equal, but from a completely different angle. This installment offers viewers the chance to see a far more complex side of Shiki than any of the previous outings, and allows some of her true potential as a character to shine through. That said, Kokutou is relegated to bit parts, but this is counterbalanced by the fact that much needed characterisation is given to Touko.
Which brings up an interesting thought. There’s an argument that the Kara no Kyoukai franchise would have been better off being released as a standard anime series of 26 episodes as this would allow all of the important characters the chance to get some much needed airtime. The current format seems limited in that respect as each episode can only focus on specific characters, with the rest appearing in minor supporting roles no matter how important they are in the overall storyline.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for the current approach as it has the benefit of really focusing attention on the important characters and events in that episode, and the fact that the series jumps around in time means that there is less for viewers to make educated guesses about, and this helps to keep future episodes fresh.
Whatever one thinks of the Kara no Kyoukai franchise, one of the nice things about the series is that it takes the the main theme of Lunar Legend Tsukihime, tears it apart, and rebuilds it as something new, and Garan no Dou signifies the difference between the two shows far more than any other episode thus far. Granted there are overarching plot points that still need explanation, themes that could have been explored in a bit more detail (the whole concept of The Void is just one example of this), and a degree of predictability to the story, but these can be forgiven in the face of some solid character definition and development. One should also remember that this is simply the midway point in the series, so questions will undoubtedly remain about certain aspects of the story, and it remains to be seen if they will be answered in future installments.
The fifth episode awaits….