I have a complicated relationship with Kara no Kyoukai.
I watched the movie series when I was a teen—much younger than I should have watched it, quite honestly. I liked it well enough back then; I wasn’t in love with it. It was chopped into parts on YouTube, and I skipped to the action scenes. My concern was primarily with the coolness of it. With Shiki and her glowing blue eyes and her red jacket and prosthetic arm. That there was this whole world with rules and magic around it only heightened the appeal.
When I revisited the series in college, I actually watched the whole thing. This time I was concerned with just experiencing it all, rather than trying to figure it out. After finishing it, I found myself thinking about it from time to time though. It left an impression for sure, I’m just not sure what that impression was. But one thing hadn’t changed, I still really liked Shiki.
Which brings us to here and now. I’m basically revisiting this series on a whim. I wanted to write some reviews, so I thought why not? And here we are, here we go. Kara no Kyoukai, also known as The Garden of Sinners, follows Shiki Ryougi, a knife wielding badass with mystic eyes that let her kill anything—and I do mean anything, even concepts like distance and pain; Kokutou Mikiya, her not-quite boyfriend; and Touko Aozaki, the magus they sort of work for.
For the most part, each movie consists of our protagonists investigating some supernatural occurrence in the city. In Overlooking View, conflict revolves around a string of suicides committed by high school girls. Sometime before this movie, Mikiya decides to investigate these deaths and ends up losing his soul which brings Shiki into the thick of things.
Kara no Kyoukai looks stunning. The art is beautiful. As morbid as this sounds, I especially love this movie’s framing of corpses. The red flowers across the sidewalk so vividly. The scenes at night have a dark, mysterious atmosphere. The music is also spectacular; I mean, it’s Yuki Kajiura, so that’s to be expected. But while I do think the action scenes look great, they aren’t the best, especially within this series. There are also a few scenes where the characters kinda stand around and talk with not much happening on screen.
If anything was going to put you off watching Kara no Kyoukai, it would be the story. For one, the movies were not released in chronological order. You could watch them this way now, I’m sure there’s a guide somewhere, but the production order was a storytelling decision so watching them this way is recommended. While there are references to the events of other films in this one, their omission in no way hinders your understanding of the plot.
No, the movie does a good job of hindering you on its own. The reasoning behind the girl’s suicides was already obtuse—Touko explains it as something along the lines of them not being able to reconcile their vision of the world with the overlooking view from the skyscraper, a theme echoed somewhat in the writer’s later works, but it was also a ghost luring them to suicide? Which, okay. I somewhat understand this. But towards the end Touko and Shiki start talking about “falling,” “floating,” and “flying,” completely losing me in the process.
Making this more annoying is the writer, Kinoku Nasu, knows exactly what he’s doing. Upon Mikiya’s return he has this lampshade to hang:
If you get to the point where the characters themselves comment on how little sense your story is making, then maybe you should do a second draft. I know this is Nasu’s early work, but this is still a professionally made movie. Also, no one talks like this. Mikiya is the only person in this scene who sounds like a person.
This is a real shame because this film shines brightest when it’s at its most human. Near the very beginning, while expositing about how time moves differently at the building or something that completely went over my head, Touko says this in reference to how people don’t simply vanish after their death:
The thing is, for most of this movie, Mikiya is effectively dead. His soul, as far as I can tell, is separate from his body. Even if he isn’t dead, he’s a lifeless doll, like the others in Touko’s workshop. But he hasn’t disappeared. All around Shiki are traces of him. The coffee he told her to get for the office. The strawberry ice cream in Shiki’s freezer. The bottles of water in her fridge. The messages he left on her answering machine. Mikiya is gone, but his memory remains, lingering like smoke.
So, when Shiki eats the strawberry ice cream, in this scene:
She’s reached a turning point. She’s decided she doesn’t want Mikiya to be a memory. She’s decided she wants him to be a part of her life. In contrast to the girl in the hospital who can only dream of Mikiya and cause his soul to wander, she can actually live with him. I like how this is conveyed through details and actions rather than dialogue.
This whole movie is about Shiki realizing she likes having Mikiya around and then stabbing a ghost to get him back. It’s so sweet. I love the connection between these two. Their relationship is so interesting.
Finally, at the movie’s end, Shiki and Mikiya directly discuss one of the film’s themes through their exchange on the morality of suicide. He uses an extreme metaphor to make his point, which Shiki lampshades, but I think this one works better since you can understand what he’s trying to say. He condemns suicide while empathizing with the people who commit it because living while alienated from everyone around you is so difficult. I’m not sure how I feel about this exchange. However, the idea of there being a kind of courage in living itself stuck with me.
And that’s Overlooking View. This was a fun movie to revisit, if a bit frustrating at times. It’s funny, looking back I can’t condemn the way my younger self watched this series. If you’re not about exercising your brain, then watching the most interesting scenes on YouTube and enjoying the animation is valid. But there’s enough detail and complexity here that if you do the work, you’ll be rewarded for it.