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AKA: 鴉 -KARAS-, The Karas
Genre: Dark superhero fantasy action
Length: OAV series, 6 episodes, 30 minutes each
Distributor: R1 DVD from Manga Entertainment
Content Rating: 16+ (violence, mild adult situations)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll
Notes: While this was originally released as a six-episode OAV series (30 minutes each), the Manga Entertainment release has the episodes edited into a straight, no-break "movie"-like format (2 DVDs, 80 minutes each), which sometimes makes it hard to determine where episode breaks originally were. I'm not terribly fond of this practice, especially as Manga seems to be the only company in the industry persisting in doing this to otherwise solid productions.

The title simply comes from the word karasu, meaning "crow".
Rating: Four StarsFour StarsFour StarsFour Stars

Karas

Synopsis

In the edge of perception, beyond the bounds of mortal existence, there is another world, a world of demons and other supernatural beings. Not all accept the prosperity of humankind, but from this world come protectors, known simply as Karas, raven-black shapeshifting warriors who follow ethereal spirits known as Yurine, and duel against those who would upset the balance of existence.

However, one Karas, Hoshunin Eko, decided to turn on his brethren, and together with demon-machines known as the Mikura, has decided that no amount of human sacrifice would be enough to bring his own kind of order to his domain, which conveniently enough, lay in the dense heart of humanity known as Shinjuku.

The old Karas is slain, and three years later, an enigmatic doctor named Otoha is chosen to topple Eko and restore what Shinjuku once was ... but will even help from the most unlikely of sources be enough for him to accomplish his important mission?


Review

It's been forty years since Tatsunoko Pro opened its doors, giving us titles as varied as Speed Racer, Casshan, Gatchaman, Tekkaman, and, well, other shows ending in man. While Tatsunoko is very well known for its superhero classics, not a lot of people think of them as the producers of slick, modern anime.

Karas changes all that. This is as slick as anime gets, with its shiny metal shapeshifting warriors given the best CG treatment money can buy. This is really impressive animation, and on this basis alone, more than a few reviewers are going to send this one to the shelves with a five-star tag, and that's certainly their prerogative to do so. If your taste in anime is based on graphics and action, you don't need to read any further. Buy this now.

Of course, all the rest of you who are still reading understand that I'm not that kind of reviewer. As much as I like my action, I get a little bored if you don't stimulate my brain with something resembling a plot or characterization. Thankfully, while Karas doesn't give us the most memorable characters in anime history, it gives us a few bits of interest. Granted, the hero himself, Otoha, is a fairly typical Tatsunoko cipher, and his search for identity is clearly a sideplot at best. However, the inclusion of two detectives working on "supernatural crimes" is what really draws my interest here -- sandwiched between all these amazing action scenes is what amounts to an X-Files style mystery, only we know what's going on, and the detectives don't. It's actually a fairly effective way of building suspense, though you don't really get to see the two main casts interact, as time essentially stops for the humans when Karas dukes it out with the bad guys. Another point of interest is that there's also more than one faction involved, so after a while, who's who and who's planning what almost becomes a bit byzantine. A strange side effect is that the "subcast" (as it were) seems to get more actual speaking time than the actual combatants, who are too busy fighting to be very talkative.

The plot, of course, is little more than an excuse for the action, and at times it seems nigh-incomprehensible, what with all the secrecy that enshrouds Eko and his cadre of Mikura, but this is a surprisingly minor problem, as things get revealed relatively quickly. This is also just part of a series, and revealing too much too soon would be counterproductive in any case.

Sound-wise, I didn't see any problems. The musical score is well-executed, and far superior to the usual, cheesy synthesizer-ridden scores of many anime these days. While the DVD cover mentions the voice talents of folks like Matthew Lillard (who, as Eko, actually gets very little speaking time!) I sampled the Japanese track, which was perfectly serviceable, despite the inclusion of voice acting neophytes Wada Toshihiro (Otoha) and Suzuki Kasumi (Yurine) as the leads. I really enjoyed Shibuya Asuka as the chirpy, optimistic Hinaru, a ray of sunshine in an otherwise rather dark-toned series.

While I'd like to give this a top rating thanks to the simply amazing animation and well-done, suspenseful storytelling, I wonder if Karas is going to hold up in the end as a five-star series. For now, it gets a solid thumbs up as an action series that lives up to the majority of its hype, though folks looking for a deeply philosophical series may want to hold off until the release is fully complete for a final verdict. It is still, of course, far better than the last anime we profiled that was named after a crow.

My only super-major complaint so far is actually with the cheesy comic given away with the first DVD, which not only manages to misspell "cicada" on the very first page, but turns Eko into an even more hilariously obvious villain than he already is, and shoehorns in Usagi Yojimbo as one of the folks "from the other world" who is drawn into this cross-dimensional conflict.

For goodness sake, folks, leave Usagi Yojimbo alone!

Misappropriation of beloved characters aside, Karas delivers a potent dose of action in a darker tone than Tatsunoko has given in the past. Hats off for a splendid production -- folks who care primarily about animation quality can easily give this a five and keep it well ensconced in their collections.Carlos Ross

Recommended Audience: The frequent action scenes are fairly brutal, with innocent bystanders often being killed by having their vital fluids drained in a second. While it's gruesome, it's not the blood, guts, and viscera of early 1990s OAVs, and while it's not suitable for children, this should be okay for most older teens. Certainly not for the gentle-hearted or squeamish. Parental discretion heavily advised in any case.



Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Partial (3/6)
Karas © 2005 Tatsunoko / Karas Committee
 
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