Judge Joel Pearce has just lost an important battle against demons. It was a sudoku tournament.
The wait is finally over…
The release of Karas marks the fortieth anniversary of the legendary Tatsunoku animation studio, one of the groups that defined the anime industry. They celebrated it by creating a film so large and epic that it had to be split into two parts and sold a year apart at full price (it was released as a six-part OVA series in Japan). My cynicism aside, Karas is a production that will delight animation fans. It is crisply drawn, creative, and edgy. Karas: The Revelation plays out as an action-packed, violent conclusion to the more perplexing Karas: The Prophecy that was released last year.
Facts of the Case
Leaping right in where the first half left off, Karas has just lost an important battle against the demons. His protector has been captured, the good demons are starting to fade, and he may not be able to transform without her presence. Newly acquainted with his body, though, he decides to take revenge on the yakuza for kidnapping his brother. Meanwhile, Eko continues his plan for the domination and destruction of the city, and only Otaha and Nue will be able to stop him if they work together. The struggle, though, will threaten to destroy the whole city and everyone in it.
Action films have a long and well-established formula, defined by the James Bond films and perfected over the last fifty years. It's a good formula, and it goes something like this: the film opens with a massive action spectacle, which may or may not be related to the central plot of the film. The characters and situations are then quickly set up, along with the relevant back stories, before the real action gets underway. Then we don't have to keep thinking through the whole film, and we can really enjoy the fisticuffs and explosions with minimal frustration.
Anime producers, it seems, find this formula undesirable. While Karas would have worked great with a simpler structure, we get the story another way. It does start with a great action sequence in the first film, but then we never get proper character introductions. Instead, we just get a string of action sequences with an ever-increasing cast of characters. By the end of Karas: The Prophecy, I was completely confused, frustrated, and perplexed. Who are these people? Why are they fighting? How are they turning into these monsters? The odd thing is that even the best action sequences are dull when you don't have any connections to the characters involved. I was looking forward to Karas: The Revelation more for its answers than its action sequences.
Fortunately, I got both in the second half. Early in this volume, we find out who the characters are, why they are fighting and what is at stake. Once things get moving this time, the audience has far more invested in the characters and the plot. Otoho is a particularly interesting character, and becomes the emotional center of the film. We come to care about him, which sets the conflict up nicely. As well, the end fight pretty much redefines epic battles in anime. The design team behind Karas went absolutely hog-wild with the ideas, threw them all together and came up with a monster of a struggle. It's bigger, wilder, and more explosive than anything I've seen in ages.
The animation, as noted in Judge Mancini's review of the first half, is truly astonishing. Anime fans get used to the shortcuts that are so often used in this medium, from repeating backgrounds to deformed characters to static cinematography. Even great anime uses these shortcuts, because it's too expensive to avoid them. In order to show off for the big birthday bash, though, Karas uses as few shortcuts as possible to create a living, breathing, varied, beautiful world. The detailed cel animation is bolstered by relatively impressive CGI, which blends together perfectly for once. For the animation alone, Karas will be highly regarded in years ahead.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Alas, things are not all rosy in Karasland. Even once we do understand who everyone is and how they are connected, the plot is awfully silly. Eko is a weak villain, and even when we figure out his motivation, he's a hard character to buy. His power comes from his physical force, rather than from any meaningful psychological menace. The protectors of the city don't do a commendable job, either, because there's not much of the city left to protect by the end. It becomes an exercise in destruction for destruction's sake, a battle that lasts far past its logical conclusion. Not that it isn't fun, mind you, but it would have had more emotional punch if as much effort was put into the story as was put into the animation.
Fortunately, Manga has also put together a great transfer. The video transfer is flawless, a brilliant reproduction of the impressive animation. The film uses a broad color palette, and the DVD exhibits good detail, strong black levels, and no visible compression—even in sequences with continual movement. The sound transfer is also awesome, with a choice between Japanese and English Dolby 6.1 tracks. Either choice is a good one. The English dub is professional and well-translated. Both tracks have a great soundstage, making full but judicious use of all channels. Voices come through clear in the front channel, and sound effects whip through all channels. The LFE channel has plenty of kick, too, making for an intense sonic experience. There are a few special features, but not much considering how seriously the studio takes Karas. There is a featurette about the English voice actors, but it's actually more embarrassing than helpful. There's also an excerpt from the rough cut, which shows the complexity that goes into this kind of animation. This sucker took even more work than it seems on the surface.
For anime fans, Karas: The Revelation is an epic visual treat, one that is sure to impress the most jaded viewers. Unfortunately, the story never manages to back up the awesome production values. It's a shame, too, because with a bit of better storytelling and some editing, it could have been the next Akira. Here's hoping that Tatsunoku's eightieth anniversary celebration lives up to expectation.
Not guilty, but barely. Good animation does not make a good film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Manga Video
• Voice Actor Featurette
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