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Karas - The Prophecy
voice cast: Jay Hernandez, Matthew Lillard, and Piper Perabo

director: Keiichi Satou

80 minutes (12) 2006
Manga DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Michael McCalmont
Karas - The Prophecy is the first of a two-part series of anime released to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tatsunoku Productions studio that was responsible for such classics as Speed Racer and Gatchaman. Boasting a celebrity voice cast for the English-language version and a Dark Horse comics tie-in, the release of Karas is everything that Manga's support for the Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex series isn't, namely a concerted try to appeal to the mainstream audience.

The Karas is the mystical guardian of Tokyo. A healer and a warrior, the Karas polices the boundary between the mortal world and the world of the spirits by preventing demons from crossing over and hunting humans. However, in the last three years, a former Karas has started to grow in power, using a combination of magic and engineering, he has managed to find a way to give demons human bodies and to allow them free access to the human world. This imbalance in the metaphysical status quo has lead the mortal police to become aware of the activities of demons and has even prompted one demon to take up arms and to act as a vigilante, using what magical powers he has in human form to hunt rogue demons. This first part of the series shows an inexperienced human Karas trying to face down the demonic forces only to be lured into a terrible trap.

The most obvious thing to say about Karas is that it has amazingly high production values. The characters are beautifully designed and the voice acting is of a higher than normal quality, in particular the deadpan delivery of Piper Perabo is bang on the money. Even beyond the characters, the film is visually arresting. After five minutes you'll want to slap the director, after 15 you'll be convinced he's a genius and by the end of the film you'll begin to see method to his madness. Keiichi Satou throws everything and the kitchen sink at the screen, the normal visuals are gritty and atmospheric but are built-on and expanded-upon by effects, tricks and techniques that go from the subtle ghostly shapes of the spirit-world to the explosions of colours and ceaseless switching from 2D to 3D imagery during the combat scenes. Initially this makes the combat difficult to follow as these aren't so much 'fights' as spectacular exchanges of magics and require a quick-fire editing style to work properly. However, while difficult to follow, these techniques are as much a genre convention in anime as pneumatic female characters and slapstick comedy.

While this means that as a piece of genre filmmaking Karas is a joy to watch, it also means that it has a plot that might prove difficult to follow for people unaccustomed to the conventions of genre and that the visuals might be a little too much for your average mainstream viewer. The likes of Akira, GITS and Spirited Away managed to crossover to the mainstream because they coupled accessible storytelling with spectacular visuals. Karas is not quite in the same league as those three films but it should appeal to any animation fan and might just serve to convert a few new people to anime. Well worth a look.

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