Spectrum Nexus

Anime Info

Director: Keiichi Sato
Based on: Dark Horse comic by
Phil Amara
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Police Drama
Length: 6 Episodes edited into 2 feature length films
Purchase: Here From Amazon

Summary

+ The anime is beautiful
+ American voice acting is very good
+ The story is derived from an American comic which may be easier for U.S. audiences to follow.
– Action and violence often substituted for story and character development

Overview

Karas: The Prophecy and Karas: The Revelation are not terrible. They are entertaining and fun and a nice way to pass the time. Viewers who don't mind repetitive action scenes and can look past the convoluted story line may find it reminiscent of live action films such as The Crow or Batman. However don't watch it expecting ground breaking art such as Akira or Ghost in the Shell.

Public Rating

Our Rating

Score of 3 out of 5
3 out of 5

Karas: The Prophecy
Karas: The Revelation Review

Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 11/12/2007

Introduction

Keiichi Sato is an animation director, character designer, and mecha designer best known for his work on such series as Giant Robo, City Hunter, Sentimental Journey, The Big O, and Wolf's Rain. In 2005, he began work on the OVA series Karas for the legendary anime studio Tatsunoko Productions. Based on a comic book by American comic book artist Phil Amara; Karas is one of the few American comics adapted into an anime series. Set in the future, Karas tells the story of the war between humans and demons.

Review

Over the centuries Japan has been influenced by three major religions: Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity. Each of these religions has its own set of demons and supernatural entities with a variety of explanations for them. Depending on one's perspective demons are the natural spirits of a place, mental delusions, or fallen angels set on our destruction. With such influences on their culture, it is not a surprise when demons show up in Japanese popular entertainment. Demons figure in many of the most popular and anime and manga series such as Berserk, Bleach, and Spirited Away. Although most often depicted as antagonists and tempters, demons also appear in anime as heroes, heroic sidekicks, and even comic relief. Karas depicts a world where the world of demons and the world of humans overlap – with demons and humans occupying the same spaces but without contact. This order is maintained by armored warriors known as Karas – the souls of humans manifested outside the body by those who have suffered great sorrow.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Karas is that too much is going on at once. Karas combines elements of the X-Files with shades of The Matrix, Blade Runner, and even Blade. The result is a visually stunning and entertaining if not particularly original OVA series. In the futuristic world of Karas, humans are oblivious to the demonic world that lies just beyond their perception (Gee, where have we seen that before?) and go about their day-to-day lives without the terror once brought by the demons. A rogue Karas has set out to change all this – through a needlessly complex evil plan. The story begins one snowy morning just before Christmas with one of those hyperkinetic battle scenes that have been a staple of anime since – well, forever. Where ground breaking films such as Akira showed us sights we hadn't seen before such as that film's opening motorcycle battle, Karas shows us things we've seen hundreds of times before. Two armored warriors beat the living hell out of one another first above the skyscrapers then on the city streets. Eko, the apparent villain defeats his heroic counterpart and then delivers a cliché ridden speech warning humanity of the wickedness to come.

Show More The scene shifts, a few years have passed and Eko is beginning his needlessly complicated plan. At the same time, Detective Kure has just arrived in town to begin his new job working with Detective Sagisaka of the Observation Department – a special branch of the police force dedicated to investigating the murders attributed to demons. Nue, a rogue demon, has also come to town to stop Eko's plot for his own gains. Taking the form of a twenty-something kid, he roams the city with gold plated guns blasting the hell out of Eko's mechanized demons when they show up to torment and kill humans. The story proper begins on a typical day in Japan. Not only do the people not believe in the monsters once feared by their ancestors, they openly deride and mock the ancient beliefs. A TV "news" crew is filming from a subway station men's room as they playfully tempt a Kappa (water goblin) from its hiding place. Not expecting anything to show up they are unexpectedly killed by demons. And although Eko's duty as a Karas is to defend the city from demons, he refuses to intervene, believing that humans need a lesson in respecting and fearing the demons. Nue doesn't intervene either, the demons having paid homage to him, and besides he knows better than to take on water goblins on their home turf (Can follow all this?). Kure witnesses a portion of the attack while hiding in the men's room stall.

Meanwhile (There is always a meanwhile), in a scene we have seen a thousand times, a young man, Yosuke Otoha, has seemingly passed away and his soul has manifested itself as the new Karas, replacing the one killed by Eko in the opening scene. He joins with Yurine, an apparently young woman who functions as the Karas' guide and partner. Otoha's first test as a Karas comes soon thereafter. Eko is disguised as a wrestler at a crowded WWE style wrestling match. Nue has his weapon trained on Eko when Yurine and Otoha show up. Otoha's transformation in the Karas and his subsequent battle with Eko's mechanical demons is visually spectacular but we've seen it all before.

Where Karas is better but still disappointing is developing some of its characters. The creators of the series begin to sketch in potentially interesting characters but instead of developing them into human beings they remain content in leaving them recognizable types. Kure and Sagisaka are take offs on the X-Files Scully and Mulder. Kure, the rational, secular skeptic denies the existence of demons and the supernatural. Much like Dana Scully he is considered an asset to the force because of that skepticism. Sagisaka by contrast believes in demons and folk beliefs; his cubicle is decorated in charms and folk art related to demons. At one point Sagisaka even utters the line, "The Truth is Out There". Yurine and Otoha in contrast have a mentor/student relationship akin to Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker and sometimes reminiscent of James Bond and Q with Yurine giving Otoha training and guiding his missions. Nue, the demon who fights demons is a tragic figure at war with his own nature as much as he is with Eko's minions. While Eko is the kind of moody and self important villain we have come to expect from Japanese fantasy films. He speaks slowly in grand style; his speeches peppered with metaphors and analogies. However, whenever an interesting character moment threatens to develop, the producers throw yet another mind numbing battle scene at us. As Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung once pointed out, battle scenes are fairly easy to animate but they aren't as interesting as human interaction and character development.

Show More
Where Karas is best in when it works as a police procedural as it follows Kure and Sagisaka's investigation into the demonic murders. These scenes are so full of mood and details of police work that it is a shame when they are interrupted by carnage and violence. It is as if Karas is schizophrenic – it feels like those who worked on it couldn't decide if they were doing a police drama with fantasy elements or a fantasy action piece so they did a little bit of both. Neither idea is that original but a moody police drama with a demon antagonist would be more interesting than a moody police drama interrupted by clichéd noisy over-the-top action.

Visually, Karas shows the influence of Satoshi Kon, eschewing traditional anime style character design for more realistic looking animation. The characters look like realistic human beings with individual features including wrinkles and moles. The cityscape is plastered with hi-tech billboards, TVs are everywhere, and characters are weighed down with the accoutrements of cotemporary life such as cell phones and MP3 players. Unlike Satoshi Kon, who would use such details as social commentary, the creators of Karas simply use such details to create atmosphere. It is a rich atmosphere; the city is peopled with denizens of all walks of life from middle class office types to hip hop dee jays but it is largely wasted as a backdrop for battles between Karas, Nue, and Eko's demons.

All the mind numbing overwhelming battles and numerous plot threads come together in exactly the kind of hyperkinetic battle one would expect from such a series. However, because the series has never slowed down long enough to fully develop its characters we have a hard time caring about any of the action. Fight scenes and explosions are fun and exciting but eventually wear out the viewer, how these fights and explosions affect the character are far more interesting. What the great science fiction and fantasy films of the past did well was not only showing us exciting special effects but also giving us characters we could care about. In Star Wars we could identify with Luke Skywalker's yearning to trade his life on the farm for excitement and adventure, in Akira we could understand Tetsuo's teenage angst and the overwhelming feeling of being granted great power. In Karas, although we sense Otoha's occasionally reluctance to fight and his longing for the life he knew before becoming a Karas we meet him after he has become one and only get hints at his past life, once his past is revealed it is too late to even care.

Conclusion

KarasKaras: The Prophecy and Karas: The Revelation are not horrible. Watching them is a good way to pass a Tuesday afternoon but they aren't really a memorable experience. The explosions and fight scenes are exciting but wear thin after a while. If the creators of the series had bothered to invest their characters with some humanity rather than settling for recognizable archetypes, Karas, with its beautiful animation, and mythos would be on par with great anime such as Akira. As it is, it's a well paced supernatural police procedural interrupted by fights and explosions.

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