Anime Review: The Garden of Sinners (Kara no Kyokai)

Before Kinoko Nasu created Tsukihime or Fate/Stay Night, he put out a light novel series titled “Garden of Sinners” (or Kara no Kyokai). The books set up some concepts that would be folded into to the collection of series that is generally known as the “Nasuverse” – though the series aren’t exactly in direct continuity with each other. In the mid-to-late 2000s, they were adapted into a series of animated films by Ufotable, prior to them getting the gig for Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works.

The Garden of Sinners series is much closer to a mystery series than the majority of Nasu’s other works. The films follow Shiki Ryougi and Mikiya Kokuto. Shiki is a girl who Mikiya fell for in high school. She had a case of multiple personality syndrome with two personalities – one feminine (Shiki), and one masculine (SHIKI). After an incident that lead to Shiki attempting to commit suicide (for reasons that are explained later in the series), Shiki loses the SHIKI personality, but ends up developing Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, much like Shiki Tohno did in Tsukihime after his brush with death.

Mikiya and Shiki end up getting a job with a magus named Touko Aozaki (the sister of the woman who made Shiki Tohno’s glasses from Tsukihime which blocked his sight) – doing private detective work. Over the course of seven films, we see them working to investigate various supernatural related killings – along with the serial murders in Shiki and Mikiya’s home town that set off her suicide attempt.

Tonally, this is probably the bleakest of Nasu’s works. Sexual assault and suicide are recurring themes in the show, and issues of drug addiction also come up in the course of the plot. Actually, that last is particularly unique, as in most works of anime, with a handful of exceptions, drug use is a thing that happens elsewhere, with only a handful of works that I’m familiar with (that are set in Japan) bringing up recreational drug use in any respect. That said, the show doesn’t exactly handle drug use well – though I don’t think Nasu had anyone in particular to consult on these points.

As with the other Nasuverse series that Ufotable has done, these films are very well done, with the animation looking great, and the action scenes in particular being very fluid. The fifth film, Paradox Spiral also does some really interesting stuff with narrative structure. I’m not sure if this was present in the original novel – but if it was, I’d be interested to see how it was executed there, as if it’s done there as well as it was in the film, then I’d be surprised that Nasu didn’t catch much attention as a writer earlier. Paradox Spiral‘s plot does stuff with time loops and non-linearity that I’ve never seen done to this degree and this well before.

The series is very light on humor though, which makes sense considering just how dark the covered material is. There are moments of humor every now and then, but they are few and far between. Also, the length of the films vary wildly. The first quartet of films are each about a hour long, as is the sixth film. The fifth and seventh films, on the other hand, run about 2 hours each. This also can make the pacing very variable.

The series is available on Blu-Ray from RightStuf, but it will cost you over $300, so maybe you might want to wait until it goes on sale. Alternatively – currently it is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.