There are certain anime that I will always remember for one reason or another because they were not simply well done but they did something completely different and worth praising. karas is one such show that, at least visually, blew my mind in a way that I had never experienced before.
This six episode OVA, compressed into two movies later on, set a precedence for what true quality is as far as animation , music and design is concerned, at least for me.
The story is set in a fictional Shinjuku, in Tokyo, a city inhabited by Yokai (demons) and humans. For generations humans and Yokai have lived side by side in pseudo harmony, with human tradition
and culture intertwined with their belief in and respect for demons and their kind.
Standing in between the two worlds has always been the Karas, the crow. Each city, though static and immobile, is an entity, living and as close to sentient as a city can get. Imbued with the hopes and dreams of those citizens that inhabit it, the city will express its desire, something akin to the lifeblood pumping through its imaginary veins through the Karas.
These human beings, infused with supernatural forces are the manifestation of the city's own will, a force generated to protect the people within the city and execute the will of the city as a power of considerable strength.
Standing besides each Karas is a Yurine, usually taking the shape of a little girl, a guardian, part of the city itself, that carries out the city's will, responsible for infusing the Karas with his/her power, as well as choosing when to seal and unseal the power of the Karas sealed within his sword.
Together these two individuals stand between a city and those that wish to cause harm to it, be it
human or demon. Each city exists as a pseudo living organism. Each city will generate a Karas to defend its will. There is always one Karas for one city. And no Karas may interfere with the activities of another city.
For centuries humans have bowed to, respected and worked along side demons in an increasingly progressive manner. However as the advent of science and education brought about modernity and industry, the old ways, the traditions, cultures and sites began to disappear and soon demons began to lose not only their place in human knowledge but their homes as well.
An age came were Yokai were reduced to nothing more than myth, no longer visible to the human eye. For some Yokai, it came down to a matter of evolution and adaptation to the new regime of humanity.
Others haven't been nearly as accommodating and for years have nursed a grudge against humanity. Now the time has come for them to strike back, to recreate the fear that humanity once held for them and hence allow their existence to return to the human plane.
The Mikura though, yokai with demonic forms fused with machinery to increase their power, do not march to their own beat. An old Karas, Shinjuku's own 400 year old Karas in fact, has risen to lead them into this war.
Conscripted during the Edo era to guard the city, Eko, over the centuries, came to lose his faith in the people he had been charged to protect, coming to revile them in time and determining that to protect the will of the city he would have to destroy it and start anew.
It is this threat that Otoha, the newly conscripted karas faces, an ancient Karas with a grudge, hell benton forcing the city into a state of rebirth, leading a charge of demons incensed by the ignorance and disrespect humanity has come to display to its kind.
This is a battle that will test Otoha's faith in the city and forte even as he contends with crises closer to home than he would like...
I will admit to feeling a little bit of disappointment the first time I watched these movies. I had been lusting after karas for a year before I finally watched it. I remember coming across it on some anime website and, having watched very little anime by then, I was blown away by what I saw.
A few other you tube clips only made my intrigue for this show grow; and I wouldn't say I created an exaggerated expectation for the quality of this movie, because in a way it was even better than I thought it would be, and by the end of both movies, I was blown away.
However there was also a level of disappointment in some of its execution that I simply couldn't ignore.
The story: The story of Karas is dark, darker than I actually expected, especially in its depiction of
the Karas. It also raises a bunch of philosophical questions that I rarely appreciate when watching anime. The episodes mostly revolve around a contention between the modern and traditional.
The Mikura are angry because they have been forgotten. More than that though, there homes have been stripped away and destroyed by years of industrialization and modernization, replacing shrines and forests with tall buildings and concrete.
They are essentially fighting to regain their lost homes and prestige, albeit using violent means.
Eko comes off as a more realistic hero than most. Actually Karas has been compared to batman by a great many reviewers, and that last shot on the skyscraper didn't help. But I get the link. Karas are tragic heroes, forced to serve a city that might not really deserve them.
And that is basically Eko's story. He served and protected the city for 400 years and it isn't that he simply lost himself in corruption and hate and all that.
No. Eko spent so much time protecting the humans that he came to see them in a true light, no longer
innocents but creatures that over 400 years finally proved to him just how vile they are. Eko chooses to destroy the people of the city not merely because they prove themselves unworthy of his protection specifically, but because they do not deserve to be protected by anyone, be it himself or another Karas.
Eko is what someone like batman would become if allowed to live 400 years. Like Eko he could come to see Gotham as nothing more than slime that never learns or grows. IN a way this made Eko more intriguing. He wasn't evil, he was simply tired, and he told Otoha as much, that the young man can't even start to judge him because he hasn't been a Karas for more than three years.
Not that Otoha's life was any easier. Born of incest, this young hero grew up with violence, eventually coming to join the Yakuza and dying before he was recruited by his Yurine. There is no denying that Otoha's life has been one of misery and it is fascinating to consider the fact that as a Karas, one of his abilities outside armor is that he cannot fee pain; maybe this is a sort of reactive mechanism to the deep seated pain within his soul.
He doesn't brood per say, but he is like a cloud of moving gloom. There times he smiles and manages to show that the world hasn't beaten him just yet and he can enjoy life. As a Karas though, he is a walking machine of justice fused with vengeance, that could border on hate depending on how you view the story.
None the less you can contrast his immaturity with Eko's wisdom; Eko sees in Otoha his past, as a young Karas with every hope and dream that he can save Shinjuku, before a few hundred years showed him the foolishness of hope.
This story has so much potential, especially with the other characters; Nue, a half demon formerly loyal to Eko but who came to despise the old Karas and now seeks to save his older brother from Eko; the detectives Minoru and Kure following the trail of the supernatural, one of them keen to prove the existence of demons to exonerate his daughter who is incarcerated in an asylum for claiming that demons were responsible for a massacre from which she was the only survivor, and so many more.
The problem is the execution. This story is non linear, jumping back and forth quite rapidly and, more often than not, causing confusion. By the end of the OVA I felt like I didn't really know who Otoha was or Nue for that matter. Even his claims of revenge made little sense to me before the last 40 minutes.
The story basically felt a little too rushed; maybe this show would have done better as a 12 episode series, with enough time to flesh out the characters and plots. These six episodes were simply not enough to get the point the writer had across. I will commend it for the potential it possessed and a portion of the plots it executed well.
But I would have liked to understand Otoha a little better. This is Karas' one failing, and unfortunately it is a massive one. I will admit to being bored while watching one or two particular portions.
The Karas: These guys single handedly made the show forme. I loved the designs, so unique and so dark and intricate, especially in the last episode when the other Karas of all the other cities showed up to watch the final show down between two Karas.
Simply put, these Karas look good in armor. And their transformation is nothing short of unique, the way they run through and emerge from a circular golden ring of runes armored, steam rising, before the eye on their swords open on the command of Yurine unsealing the Karas power...it is all so excessively dramatic that it is awesome.
I am actually reminded of mew mew power. The first time I came across the show, and the magical girl genre, I was 11 and, quarter way into the episode, I found myself wondering why the theme song was playing once more. A minute or so later, I came to realize that the it wasn't the theme song replaying but a transformation occurring.
These girls, for some unknown reason, required the entire theme song to replay to transform into what they claim is armor but is actually a more colorful outfit than the first. I really do not like this genre
The first time I saw a Karas transformation I was afraid this was what would happen. I was pleasantly surprised. And these Karas are powerful as heck.
I do not think I have come across heroes so powerful yet so grounded. It isn't merely the enhanced abilities, it is how enhanced those abilities are. Calling Otoha super fast would be to underestimate just what he can do.
I remember this one scene that starts off with the destruction of a building, and as its ruins collapse,
Otoha and another enemy engage in battle. The battle lasts nearly 15 minutes and I was so engrossed in its intricacies that I didn't even notice the building was still falling.
These beasts had just engaged in an elongated battle in what was nothing more than a blink of an eye. And the transformations...just...wow; I remember the first time I read that the Karas could transform into a vehicle, a tank and a fighter jet. I couldn't quite picture how this would happen and I was afraid at how ridiculous it would seem.
I was duly impressed by the display though. Karas were basically designed to fight in ways that are nothing short of breath taking and amazing. Which bring me to...
The action:> Karas is one earth shattering action scene after another. I have never seen action scenes
as epic as Karas, outside of two other shows at least. These fights blew my mind several times over and that is partly because of how breath taking the animation was. I remember going back to Karas every few days to re watch some of these fights just so I could understand how awesome they were.
If there is one thing that makes Karas a must watch, it is these fight scenes. They more than make up for the failing story. Otoha is one of those dark and bad ass of bad ass action heroes I rarely encounter in anime.
Even Nue and his golden guns were a sight worth drooling at.
The Animation: Most OVAs make it a point to break their necks with the animation. Karas went beyond even that. It was a beautifully and artistically animated OVA, one that justifies the awards it has won for its work. I
like the lack of laziness that so many other anime display. When we get shots of the city, we are not treated to a hazy display of nebulous figures; the anime does its best to actually display to us humans walking and going about their business on the streets. I don't know why but that is something I always notice in an anime, how active the background is.
Most tend to keep it static. I like that Karas kept every scene alive.
The music: these scores were perfect. Karas was designed with an international look in mind, rather than being restricted to Japan, even though the setting was Japanese. The music showed this intent, including less Japanese instruments and focusing on a more international orchestral score.
This is the sort of music that should accompany a dark series such as Karas, with epic battles and dramatic finales.
MY RATING:> This is a 10/5 for me, in other words it exceeded my expectations. It had
faults, major faults with regards to the story, and as such it wasn't perfect, but I could ignore them in light of the visuals. The music was excellent and the animation was breath taking. The character designs, especially the armor and vehicle transformations were amazing, along with the Yokai and Mikura.
This anime, Karas, is a must watch, though I suggest watching it in its compiled form as the Karas: The Prophecy and Karas: The Revelation movies.
Karas is a six episode long OVA; it was produced by Tatsunoko production as an anniversary project celebrating 50 years of anime. Karas won the Tokyo anime award for its 2D and 3D animation techniques., especially with regards to the Karas fights.
Tatsunoko has been responsible for productions like sket dance, Evangelion, The money of soul and possibility control (C), Casshern sins, Robotech, Akira, flying house and even south park.