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Karas: The Prophecy (2006)
3rd Apr 06
Demons fight amongst themselves in downtown Tokyo.
It’s not hard to work out why everybody has been raving about Karas: The Prophecy. The pre-credits battle between two supernatural armoured warriors is worth the price of admission alone. Beautifully rendered hi-end 3D modelling, faultless integration with traditional 2D cell animation, kinetic sword play and weird floating ancient glowing symbols which transform the warriors into fighter jets rule the day for a very hectic few minutes. It’s amazingly stylised, poetic in its execution and stunning to watch, even if the fast cutting does sometimes make it quite hard to work out who’s who, who’s fighting who, and where the hell they are. But who cares? I for one have never seen a sword fight that then breaks to the air in a barrage of homing rockets, and then ends atop an ancient tower, although not before trashing the bridge across Tokyo harbour in the process. Ouch.
And then the title credits role, the pace shifts, and we spend the next hour or so trying to make sense of the plot, as usual. Because let’s face it, full length anime features do not usually come with plots that you’d call pedestrian and Karas is no different. But Karas goes one further than most and introduces the alternate reality demons living amongst us concept that we haven’t encountered in a modern setting since Urotsukidoji all those years ago. Apparently it’s war, and as usual good demons and bad demons are fighting over the future of mankind. But the bad demons are cheating, melding demons with machinery to produce these half breed monsters of incredible power called mikura, which tend to attack and eat humans who drive through motorway tunnels. Thankfully for us the good demons have the yurine, who regularly sponsors a human to become Karas.
But it’s not just the human’s that can be Karas; a former Karas called Eko, who is of demon kind, is the brains behind the mikura and is quite clearly power mad. He has his own private yurine imprisoned in his demonic fortress and he uses her power to transform himself in to Karas whenever he needs. And then there’s Nue, a demon turned mikura who now fights for the humans too, and stays in human form all the time, refusing to turn to his augmented demon self no matter how much goading the may get from the crazed Mikura he hunts.
At the heart of all this though, are two ordinary human detectives. They perform the empathy role in the movie, investigating murders supposedly carried out by demons, and they try to rationalise that at the same time as we try to rationalise the rest of the plot. And it’s heavy going; the second encounter of the movie where the water demon is teased out of hiding by the TV presenter waving cucumbers around is bizarre, but Nue’s appearance on film at the scene is the catalyst they need to connect him to the carnage in the motorway tunnel where he was also spotted. Little do they know that that was another epic battle between the gun-toting Nue and a large car demon mikado thing, and it won’t be the last either.
So, to say that Karas is beautiful is an understatement. Every scene has the lushness of a triple A video game title cut scene, and it looks like they’ve used a host of CG special effects that are usually reserved for top dollar Hollywood action spectaculars. But as wonderful to look at as this film is, it’s also pretty difficult to fathom what the hell is going on. Why the yurine turn humans and demons into Karas to fight for them I couldn’t tell you, neither could I explain the motivation for Eko’s lust for power. And that fight at the beginning, it’s obviously Eko but who is that other guy? He looks like Karas, but in that case is he a different Karas to the one that appears when the doctor at the demon hospital transforms? And, talking of hospitals, who is the patient that intervenes in Nue’s fight at the end? And what kind of ending is that anyway? Is the pre-credits intro actually the ending? If so, how come Detective Sagisaki is on the bridge and not the hospital, and if it’s not why is the cucumber girl TV presenter dressed in a Santa outfit in both scenes?
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Voiced by rising Hollywood stars Jay Hernandez, Matthew Lillard and Piper Perabo, the English dub of Karas is a joy to watch. Hernandez nails the arrogant swagger of the demon rebel Nue, Lillard gives depth to Eko’s mad ravings and Perabo’s yurine is about as haunting as you can get as the ethereal yurine. Karas is a joy actually from start to finish, whether it be the strong voice performances or the stunning visuals, and I guarantee you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen from start to finish. However, I recommend you find a friend to view this piece with as you’ll definitely need someone next to you to say “I don’t know!” and “How should I know?” when that whole complicated plot thing gets in the way and you start asking questions that nobody knows the answers too. This reviewer for one has watched this movie twice, and I’m still none the wiser as to what is really going on here. I had a great time though, and that’s all I need until the next instalment clears things up, fingers crossed.