Between Linux and Anime

Kind of like Schrodinger's Cat

Living on – Kara no Kyoukai 04

In my original, very first watch-through, this was the first episode that really stood out to me. It is not, in retrospect, notably more brilliant than the other episodes (though it is a great episode nonetheless). I think it is more the resonance of some of the feelings and emotions it explored with some of the things that were happening to people close to me. While episode 1 was the episode which more apparently explored the theme of suicide, this was the episode that, I thought, wove and lingered around the subtler sentiments around the act. It is a comparatively simple episode, but nonetheless one that is quintessentially Kara no Kyoukai.

You would want to have watched this episode before moving on. Folks who have yet to watch this amazing film series: watch it now! You’ll find few better uses for your time.

This episode picks up where episode 2 left us. You might remember me speculating that Shiki’s ghastly smile at the end of that episode was in involuntary happiness that, even at that keening, insane moment, Mikiya did not reject her. Well, Mikiya is certainly going the distance. He visited her unconscious form with the same unflinching vigil and stubborn frequency with which he stuck by her in episode 2, continuing a full two years without relenting.

Mikiya is truly an intriguing character. You look at him going about his routine, bringing fresh flowers to the unconscious girl who had tried to murder him, at his radiant face when told Shiki had awoke, and before you can charge him a blinded, lovesick fool you remember this is Mikiya – composed, shrewd, great instinct, the Mikiya who goes about the rest of his life and philosophy in the same unflinching, unwavering earnestness. And you realize Shiki is not a lapse in his rationalism but a part of the surety with which he held the rest of his well-defined world, and you wonder. Mikiya is meant to project the same image on us, the audience, as he does on Shiki – he seems to saunter through his life maintaining his sort of simplicity and purity of thought with a maddening, inexplicable, enviable effortlessness, and we all cannot decide whether we think he is one of the wisest, most admirable people in the world, or an unbearable, unbearable fool.

It’s a simple charm.
I’m switching my personality depending on how I see things.

One of the more important and interesting ideas subtly explored in this episode is the self, and its definition. What defines our sense of self? Is it the way we usually behave, our professed likes and dislikes, our manner of speech? How much of “personality” is really social constructs that we built around ourselves? Touko switches her personality according to her glasses – as Mikiya swiftly asks, which one is the “original her”? Is she playing gentle when her glasses are on? Or is she acting fierce when her glasses are off? And Shiki, who had two simultaneous, living personalities within her, now reduced to a lost and foreign one – who is Shiki? Has she finally found herself? Or has she lost herself forever?

I love the detail administered to the window in Shiki’s room and the rush of nature beyond. As pretty as the vista was, it was opened multiple times when Shiki couldn’t see, and yet the sound of the wind and rain really made it come alive.

I remember Dustin once commenting on how convenient rain is in anime. We get generous amounts of it throughout the episode, always murmuring in the background and often accompanied by quiet, uncertain music as we wallow alongside Shiki in her continued brooding. Audiovisual ambiance as always is a great strength of the series.

She is empty
Her chest is open, just like a hole

Shiki literally losing an entire chunk of herself is a nice setup for the continued exploration of self versus personality. Here’s how I’m interpreting it. Having a personality is like having a “temple” that you’ve built around yourself – a collection of features you have gathered and adopted in order to project a definition of “you”. Not having one means you’re lost and vulnerable to the molding of external influence, of being “filled”. In fact the entire temple itself is in the first place constructed with respect to one’s environment, according to what virtues or skills are held in high opinion in your surroundings, what people you hope to emulate and how you want to be to the people in your life. Shiki has lost her temple, but does this temple really define the self?

A rose is born as a rose
It won’t turn into another flower just because it was grown using a different kind of soil or water

Kara no Kyoukai seems to hint at the existence of something deeper and more intrinsic than that “personality temple”. Something that is underneath everything you have been taught or that you have taught yourself to like or hate or value or despise. An so the “temple” is at its core somewhat superfluous, it is simply a reaction of your true self while interfacing with your environment. Exploiting that knowledge Touko has learned to project different personalities as she needs, using the simple charm of putting on and removing her glasses. Mikiya’s question is thus meaningless: neither of her projected personalities is “truly her”. The self runs deeper than our temper, temperament, attitude and manner of speech.

“He’s been waiting for a whole two years”
“She’s so lucky”
“Yeah. I want someone who’d love me like that too”

With this in mind we watch Shiki, embittered by her loss and her new lonely vulnerability. “I don’t have the will to live”, “Don’t talk like you undestand me!”. Shiki’s condition stood out to me as reminiscent of the mental states and emotions surrounding suicide. Loss of sense of self, loss of sense of meaning, lacking anything to live for due to that loss, constantly seeing a broken, ugly world. “No! I don’t want to see a world like that again!”. And the result is a sort of motivational cave-in. “I don’t care. If those things are going to possess me, then let them”.

But Shiki didn’t have long left to brood. As the possessed corpse shattered Touko’s rune and attacked her, she was swiftly forced into what amounts to a choice of sorts: to go down, or to fight. As she fumbled against the monster, Mikiya quietly sang “Singing in the rain”. Like a quiet reminder beneath the turbulent and desperate reality, of Mikiya’s continued, unflinching acceptance, loyalty, and care for her. Often in the darkest of times, it could feel like you’ve lost everything, but more often than not there are important things that remained.

Death is so lonely and worthless
Death is so dark and ominous
Death is more terrifying than anything else
I don’t want it! I’ll do anything but fall in there!

Shiki makes her decision, and it’s interesting that she addressed death directly. Losing the will to live and suicidal sentiments tend a lot to revolve around life and what’s left of it, and it spirals down a destructive cycle of revisiting everything that is wrong with your life, while reiterating all the things to live for that you’ve lost. At the critical moment here, Shiki chose life not because of what she saw was left to her in life, but in fear and revulsion of death itself. It is an interesting perspective I think. We live in a time where the idea of death is perhaps more than a little over-romanticized. Kara no Kyoukai renounces that, going so far as to imply that if you needed a reason to go on living at all, it is that death is so much worse, so much more meaningless, and so much more terrifying.

“Don’t hesitate!”

Dilemma dissolved, I loved the sudden rush of music and movement as Shiki shoved off her hospital window into the windy, rainy night. Like a fresh rush of purpose and motivation, of Life. As usual, Kajiura’s BGM gave the climatic scenes its fiery touch of magic. Wonderful. In the light of all the discussion above, it’s also almost symbolic that Shiki in the climatic scene battles a limp corpse animated by forces beyond it. Fearlessly, beautifully, elegantly she fought. And then

I’ve lost count of how many key scenes in anime involve hair-cutting. The connotation is as always mostly the same. Shiki cutting away her hair is symbolic of her ceasing to cling to her past, shattered “temple”. “You’re in the way”, she muttered to the fears and the pain on which she spent the better part of the episode brooding – and cut them away. With calm purpose, she faced her adversary, stabbed, and slew the living corpse, the mockery of life.

“Lump of death, begone from my sight”

“Use me as you please
After all, I have no other purpose”

“You’re still mistaken
To be hollow means you can be filled as you please right?
You lucky bastard
What better future is there than that?”

“All things have flaws. Nothing is perfect, so everything has a desire to break down and rebuild from scratch”. Kara no Kyoukai brands that rebuilding as a greatly positive thing, a future of limitless potential. The way I interpret it, it comes down to the realization that everything you could lose is external to yourself, and once you realize that, you see that what you’ve lost only has value as long as you cling on to it, to what you insist defined you. Kara no Kyoukai’s solution is to let it go, cut it off, and start from scratch. When you are no longer bound by what you believed you wanted and what you believed you feared, and can begin redefining a new self, the future is boundless.

Notice that Maaya Sakamoto gradually switches to a new manner of speech, similar but yet unlike that of the old Shiki and the old SHIKI, as a symbol of Shiki’s transition.

And of course, at the end of it all, even having embarked on a new journey, you discover, every now and then, that some things, important and cherished yet scarcely remembered, never left.

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Anime and the Nepomuk Metadata Extractor


Brainmarks return for Fall 2012!


  1. legendary8

    Awesome, I was waiting for this review. :)

    Last week I rewatched these movies for what I think was the fourth time, and I had my mind blown again. They’re just THAT good. It’s cool to come here afterwards and read your comments on them. I like the screenshots as well.

    Looking forward to your Paradox Spiral review.

    P.S.: The BGM in these movies is amazing.

    • Jason "moofang"

      Yeah the films are amazing! I hope I was able to say some useful things and bring out some insights :) Reviewing Paradox Spiral is going to be a colossal task – I think that is the densest and most complex of the 7 films. So it’d probably be awhile before that one is up x)

      And yeah, Kajiura’s musical work on this series is beyond phenomenal.

  2. V.L

    I see it’s been just over a year since this review, but I have to say that your Kara no Kyoukai reviews are very insightful. They helped me gain a greater understanding of what’s going in Kara no Kyoukai, the themes behind it and how it connects together. In the end, it’s helped me enjoy the series even more. Thanks for writing them.

    • Jason "moofang"

      Man I really wanted to publish the fifth review before christmas, but life has been keeping me busy.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Swarnadeep

    Your analysis is perfect. I have watched the series more than 5 times but its still awesome. When will you do 5,6,7?

    • Jason "moofang"

      Goodness >.< to be honest I've hiatus-ed for so long it feels really hard to get into it again, but I do really want to do a post for the next 3 films as well. Thanks for commenting, that helps me with building motivation.

      • I’m watching these movies for the umpteenth time, I’d read these posts before, and forgotten about them but found them again…, still no Paradox Spiral… Your insight into these movies remains unmatched… I pushed The Anime Review author to do a writeup on this series and AkiraKaneda did fabulous work on it, but reading your thoughts on this series is to fall in love with it all over again. Alas, both of you seem to have been hit with a case of the ‘life getting in the way,’ we all only have so much time to give a voice to our dreams don’t we?

        • Jason "moofang"

          “we all only have so much time to give a voice to our dreams don’t we?”

          That kind of hit home a little hard :) FWIW, I’m gonna make a push to start writing again soon. If a Paradox Spiral post makes it out, you’re getting shoutout!

          In the meantime I’m gonna try and dig out The Anime Review’s writeup and see what’s over there.

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