I really want to start by saying that this anime series is one of my all-time favourites. And now to cut to the chase.
空の境界 – The Garden of Sinners (also known as らっきょ) is a light novel series whose author is Nasu Kinoko and illustrator Takeuchi Takashi. The anime series was produced by Aniplex, ufotable. Kodansha, and Notes. The series can be placed into the following genres (according to MAL): action, mystery, supernatural, and psychological thriller.
I have actually purchased the light novels in Japanese – and since they’re in Japanese, I could not read them just yet (I can only read the Kana alphabets and only very few Kanji characters as of yet). But one day I shall be able to read them. Anyway, as usual, I shall focus on the anime then.
I watched the series not in chronological order, but in the order in which it is meant to be watched. The very first time I watched the series, only the first 7 films had been produced and released and I was so hooked on it since the very beginning that I finished it [the series] in one night. Actually, everything started with my browsing Minitokyo and on the homepage there was this image of Fujino Asagami and it looked so cool that I had to look up the title of the anime. The person who had uploaded it said that they had been listening to Kalafina – oblivious while they were editing it. So everything just clicked the moment I heard that song, those voices, those accords – it was just amazing! I should mention that I have watched the first 7 films about 5 times now, the Epilogue 4 times and Mirai Fukuin + Extra Chorus twice only (the very first time I watched them they were raw – I just didn’t have the patience to just sit and wait for subtitles to be released – I needed to know). This is not meant to sound like boasting – it’s just meant to show that this is a series that I could watch (as long as I’m not exhausted) over and over and over and the more I watch it, the more I love it and feel a better connection with the characters, especially with Shiki.
The soundtrack of the series was composed by 梶浦 由記 (Kajiura Yuki) and the theme songs for each film were performed by Kalafina. I cannot, and therefore will not even attempt to describe in words the magic that Kajiura-sama creates, you have but to listen to it and you’ll know what I’m talking about. In this post you can find two of the ending themes; my favourite pieces must be M12+13, however, the music for this series is just out of this world (as pretty much everything that Kajiura-sama creates).
As the series was produced by Aniplex and ufotable, you can imagine what to expect. I, for one, was left breathless and was deeply impressed with both the art, and the animation. I can only describe it as magic.
The events of the series occur during the ‘90s and mostly centre on Ryōgi Shiki’s life and the relationships she develops with certain characters, but predominantly with Kokutō Mikiya. This series isn’t for the faint-hearted, as it depicts – and bloody well at that – themes such as suicide, rape, parricide, incest, and murder. A significant part of the films is concerned with religion (sin, life, death, and reincarnation), psychology (concepts such as multiple personalities – although…rather keep reading), and philosophy. The facts are: Mikiya wants to investigate a series of deaths in his town and is, at the same time, attracted to, and fascinated by Shiki. After deeper investigation, Mikiya starts believing that there’s a link between Shiki and the murders. At the same time, both Shiki and SHIKI start getting closer to Mikiya, but each personality wants him for different reasons, and so there’s a rupture between them. As a consequence of mental instability, amongst others, Shiki is hit by a car and falls into a coma for two years. When she finally wakes up, not only does she find that she’s a new Shiki (i.e., a part of her was gone), but also that Mikiya had always been by her side. Aozaki Tōko comes ‘to help Shiki speak again’ and ends up hiring her for her detective agenc, just like she has Mikiya. And this is the set for everything that happens next. As I talk about various aspects of each film, I shall also be talking about characters, at the same time.
Story and characters
On to the first film –俯瞰風景 (Overlooking View) – its timeline is September 1998 and this is actually the fourth film in chronological order. I remember my reaction the very first time I watched it – I was something like ‘holy shmoly!!!! This might just be the best anime I’ve watched so far!!!’ It was so awesome: the art was perfect, the animation – flawless, the soundtrack – divine (I mean it is Kajiura-sama we’re talking about!). In the first film I saw 両儀式 (Ryōgi Shiki), 黒桐幹也 (Kokutō Mikiya), and 蒼崎橙子 (Aozaki Tōko) as main characters. And also 巫条霧絵 (Fujō Kirie) as a secondary character.
At the end of the film I was already in love with the three main characters and eventually felt sorry for Kirie. Shiki seemed badass, Mikiya was so sweet, and Tōko was just brilliant – as pretty much always. I hated how Kirie was used (fact which I discovered in a later film) – she could have, perhaps, been saved. I think I’m adopting Mikiya’s manner of thought… Anyway, back to Kirie for a second there, I loved the concept of ‘double existence’, of ‘controlling two bodies with one mind’ – as Tōko put it. It’s bloody creepy and brilliant at the same time. Basically, Kirie’s mind was controlling both her physical body (which was in the hospital in a coma) and the one in the sky – but she tells Tōko that the ‘her’ in the sky has abandoned the ‘her’ in the box. From a psychological point of view, I find that truly fascinating and that bit of the story was on my mind for quite some time.
Anyway, the translation of the series was fairly accurate, if I can say so myself. I quite like the terms they used – most times. I won’t lie, there were times when I was feeling they were a bit off – but hey, who am I to argue?! Also, just to make it clear, I always watch anime in Japanese with English subtitles. I simply can’t watch anime if it’s not in Japanese (unless it was released in another language on purpose).
My favourite scenes have to be the very first one (when Mikiya brings strawberry-flavoured Häagen-Dazs ice-cream to Shiki), the fight between Shiki and Kirie’s spiritual body on the rooftop of Fujō building, and lastly, the last scene where Mikiya and Shiki talk. I just couldn’t help myself when she told him to eat the bloody ice-cream, when he replied that she should do something about her language since she’s a girl, and when, at the end, she asks him to stay with her overnight.
There is also a very funny moment which I experienced – in real life. I was watching the film and it was at the part where Shiki eats the strawberry ice-cream from Mikiya. So my flatmate comes in and he sees Shiki sitting on the bed, using her right hand to do something between her legs while giving out funny sounds – can you actually imagine his initial reaction?!?!?!
Now, on to the second film – 殺人考察 (前) (A Study in Murder – Part 1). This film’s timeline is August 1995 – March 1996 and this is the very first film in chronological order. This film depicted the very beginning of everything – which started with Mikiya asking Tōko to hire him and then later his meeting Shiki on that snowy night. In this film there’s some light shed on Shiki’s ‘double personality’ (I’m in love also with this concept – purely fascinating!).
To talk a little more about her double personality: what I’ve read is that Shiki’s family members are part of the Demon Hunter Organisation. Now, apparently, “their special skill involves creating two separate and distinct personalities within themselves. When a child is born, he or she is given a single name written in two different kanji, each one relating to each personality” – interesting, huh? Well, at least to me. Although I’m not entirely sure I’d like to have that done to me. Anyway, this film actually shows pretty well the two personalities, the similarities and differences between them.
I loved it when SHIKI dates Mikiya. I also loved it when they were at school, in the classroom at sunset and Shiki and Mikiya talk – I loved the way they confess to each other (although it’s a love confession only on Mikiya’s part – for now). I loved the chase in the forest and the abrupt ending (well, maybe not so much for the latter since I had to wait another film to find out what happened actually).
I remember I was puzzled by what Shiki’s grandfather explained to her about the act of murdering. I couldn’t quite grasp it the very first time. Thus, for a very long time, I was wondering if Shiki had committed any of those murders in the first place. Everything seemed to point to her as being the culprit, but this idea didn’t quite go hand in hand with Mikiya’s opinion and with Tōko’s explanations. I also remember I didn’t really pay attention to 白純里緒 (Shirazumi Rio), who is a pretty much not-important-at-all-yet-just-you-wait-for-the-last-film-character. And it is times like these that make me say again and again – the way this story unfolds is bloody brilliant!!!
Anyway, on to the third film – 痛覚残留 (Remaining Sense of Pain). This film’s timeline is July 1998 and it is actually the third in the chronological order. Here 浅上藤乃 (Asagami Fujino) was introduced, as well as Mikiya’s younger sister, 黒桐鮮花 (Kokutō Azaka) – although just for a very brief period of time.
Since this film was mostly about Fujino, I will focus a little on her and say that everytime I watched the series I felt confused about the mixed feelings that I had for her, since they were ranging from pity to love to admiration to quite a bit of dislike to misunderstanding or not understanding at all, only to get to a final point of simply ‘liking her more than Azaka’. I obviously despised the fact that she had a crush on Mikiya, but I think he was quite oblivious to it – so I just got over it. Again, I felt it was awfully unfair how she was used. That intrigued me so much – it was unbelievable. I loved her power, though. Colours mean a lot to me, and the fact that through Shiki’s eyes I could get a glimpse of what her ribbons looked like made it so much more enjoyable.
Next, fourth film – 伽藍の洞 (The Hollow Shrine). Its timeline is March 1996 – June 1998 and this is the second film in chronological order. After this film, the next three will automatically fall in chronological order. And here I have finally found out about Shiki’s Mystic Eyes of Death Perception – another bloody brilliant concept. I will not attempt to start conversing now about the link between some characters in the Garden of Sinners and others in Shingetsutan Tsukihime. However, I will say that I loved – as always – Tōko’s explanation: how she details that everything in this world is flawed and that the accident that Shiki had two years earlier caused her eyes to be able to ‘see’ such flaws; so Shiki can see lines that others can’t and, since she’s been close to death for so long (since she was in a coma), her brain can actually understand what those lines mean, hence, she can see deaths. What’s more, she can also touch them – lovely!
Anyway, except for the fact that those eyes look awesome, they are obviously pretty useful. I wonder, though, if I could cope with their burden if I was ever given such a pair…. I think that, just like Shiki, in the beginning I’d freak out. Well anyway, this is just a speculation, unfortunately (?!) I will never get to experience those eyes. So, to move on. This was one of the films I loved the most – it picks up where A Study in Murder Part 1 ended. I couldn’t not get even more attached to Shiki and Mikiya and the two of them together. I couldn’t not appreciate – to say the least – SHIKI’s sacrifice. I couldn’t not love how bloody brilliant Tōko was once again (especially when she told Shiki “you’ve already realised that you’re alone now, right?” and then again when asked Shiki “but did SHIKI-kun really die for nothing, Ryōgi Shiki?” and most definitely when she explains that Shiki and SHIKI are composite individual personalities). I couldn’t not love Mikiya’s attitude, his love for Shiki which drove him to behave the way he did. I couldn’t not love Shiki even more when I saw what she had to go through and how she coped with those changes.
I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or disappointed though, when Shiki cut her hair in the hospital yard. But then again, Shiki is Shiki and I love her, that’s really all there’s to it.
So, on to the fifth film – 矛盾螺旋 (Paradox Spiral), whose timeline is November 1998.
In this film there are quite a few new secondary characters: 臙条巴 (Enjō Tomoe) and his parents, 荒耶宗蓮 (Araya Sōren) and コルネリウス＝アルバ (Cornelius Alba). Now, I pitied Tomoe, I honestly did; but I also liked him. I had to smile at his innocent infatuation with Shiki. As for Cornelius Alba – I despised him. Definitely not more than I did Sōren, though. I will admit that the very first time I watched the film and I saw how Tōko ‘died’ I freaked out. I literally freaked out so bad, no, no, I wasn’t by any means scared, I was angry – my blood was boiling! I honestly couldn’t believe what I was watching. But then I felt so much better when I realised that was not what had actually happened. So, back to Sōren for a bit – I hated how arrogant he was, let alone selfish and just plainly idiot. Well, one of my Buddhist friends actually liked him the most. I do understand where he comes from but still….I couldn’t bring myself to understand him, let alone to accept his behaviour and attitude.
Anyway, here I should mention that this was actually the film which was the most difficult for me to understand. I know that sounds stupid and maybe immature, but it took me quite a while until I actually grasped the concept of the film – how it actually worked – or they, as in the plot, the building, the characters – and by ‘a while’ I mean the more times I watched the series the better I understood this film.
I also had to love how well Shiki can fight in those kimono of hers – bloody gorgeous, not entirely feminine, but then again, it wouldn’t quite be Shiki in that case, right?
And Mikiya was awfully cute, just as usual, especially when he was shown learning to drive. I’m not even going to mention how brilliant Tōko was once again…
Anyway, I’m getting to one of the films which I like a lot because of Shiki and which I kinda hated (although that is a very strong word for me to use even in this context) because of Azaka. So, the sixth film – 忘却録音 (Oblivion Recorder), whose timeline is January 1999. And here I was ‘forced’ to learn more about Azaka. Which wasn’t too bad, but the fact that she had a crush on Mikiya and despised Shiki for only-she-knows-why made me strongly dislike her almost immediately. Not like I hadn’t already a little from previous films, but now it amplified. Anyway, I read that she and Shiki actually like each other a lot, but because of their relationship with Mikiya they cannot become too close. Yeah, right, blame it all on the only soul in this anime series which is really compassionate. Anyway, I will admit that despite my saying that I strongly dislike her, the truth is that, deep down, most probably I like her quite a bit. I also like that she can use magic (I just love this kind of characters).
Time out for a bit – I shall go back to where I said ‘[Azaka] […] despised Shiki for only-she-knows-why’. Well, I might have a vague idea regarding why she hates Shiki, but that doesn’t mean I find it fair. It could be that she despised Shiki for the sole reason that Mikiya is actually in love with Shiki (and not with Azaka); it could be that it’s because Shiki is so much more beautiful and gracious and intelligent and strong and mature (?! – maybe sometimes) and simply superior-in-every-aspect; it might be that it’s because Shiki is in love with Mikiya, that she gets to spend more time with him (although it was Azaka herself who decided to pull herself away from her brother so…. There you have it). Anyway, I don’t find it fair. I mean, Shiki could hate Azaka as well (and she wouldn’t need much of a reason to, anyway) but she does not. That says a lot about Shiki, in my opinion.
I loved the uniform in the girls’ school. And hell yeah I loved the child Mikiya – he was soooooooooooo adorable!!! I loved Shiki’s tact – I honestly did not see that coming. I loved the dog of Azaka’s flatmate (I love all animals, but I just love dogs a lot). I definitely did not like the negative characters: 黄路美沙夜 (Ōji Misaya) – the chairman’s daughter and玄霧皐月 (Kurogiri Satsuki) – a Welsh magus known as ‘God’s Word’. I couldn’t care less about whose Word he is, but he and Sōren deserve to be cut by Shiki into minuscule pieces – ugh! While I am at it, yeah, I don’t think this is very Buddhist of me to say, but I’m simply being honest.
Anyway, I did like the concept of the fairies – pretty much so, actually. And I loved the scene where Azaka ripped her dress and ran on the benches – bloody sexy! Not quite as sexy as Shiki fighting while wearing a kimono (or anything else, for that matter).
So, the next film would be the Remix, but since it’s just a recap (with some new scenes) I shall skip it. I will mention though that the soundtrack was just as amazing as always. And I suppose it proved useful for people who were watching the series as it aired and might have forgotten the events of previous films and wanted to refresh their memory without actually rewatching all of them before the release of the seventh film.
Without further ado, the seventh film – 殺人考察 (後) (A Study in Murder – Part 2), whose events happen in February 1999. I should most probably start by saying that I cried at this film, I cried a lot. More than I cried when I watched AnoHana (the series as well as the film). I cried for many reasons: for how kind Mikiya is; for Shiki’s resolve and then her giving up on it and murdering for the very first time; for how good the ending was – both before and after the credits – especially when Shiki says ‘I didn’t want a knife or anything, I just wanted his hand. I don’t think I’ll ever let go of his hand, no matter what may happen in the future’; for how adorable and sweet was Mikiya when he told Shiki at the end ‘I’ve selfishly loved you since many years ago. Even now’; for how much Shiki has changed throughout the series which can be seen best when she says ‘I’ve accepted my previous self and my current self, and now I’ll live my life’; for Tōko’s moving away…
Now, back to the ‘pretty much not-important-at-all-yet-just-you-wait-for-the-last-film-character’ that I have mentioned above: I despised him. I hated him with a passion. I couldn’t believe Shiki could have so much self-control so as not to kill him with the first opportunity. But mostly, I hated him for what he did to Mikiya. I know he had his most selfish reasons to do that, but I simply cannot bring myself to even try to understand those reasons, let alone accept his drive. Nope, never ever. I was thrilled when he died… I was devastated by the fact that it had to be Shiki the one to kill him.
Also, Mikiya on drugs?!?!?!?!
I found it brilliant how oblivious (really?! I mean, really?!) Tōko was when, yet once again, Azaka asks her to tell Mikiya to cut his ties with Shiki, and instead Tōko replies with ‘cut ties, huh? You’re right. I’ve stayed here too long’. And that was one of the simplest ways to distract Azaka from her thoughts of Mikiya and Shiki. Speaking of Azaka, I didn’t find it fair, let alone reasonable of her not to let Shiki visit Mikiya at the hospital, but since that didn’t have any effect on anything, I’ll half-forgive her.
Anyway, I will talk a little now about 未来福音 (Gospel in the Future) and Extra Chorus. Basically these films show bits and pieces of the story; bits and pieces which were not in any of the previous films; bits and pieces which are scattered across the timeline of the whole series; bits and pieces which, the very first time I watched them, made me rage because I couldn’t understand a thing (not because I couldn’t piece together when they happened, so as to integrate them in the whole story, but because they left me with not-a-very-pleasant-feeling – and I couldn’t put my finger on it as to what it was and why it was there). Bits and pieces which, after I watched them for the second time, made me realise how brilliant they were, just like the rest of the story. Bits and pieces which introduce three new characters: 瀬尾静音 (Seo Shizune) – who seemed really cute, very cute, as a matter of fact – I liked her a lot; 瓶倉光溜 (Kamekura Mitsuru) – he was one hell of a sexy guy – after he started being Mana’s tutor, honestly, that guy was so hot!; and lastly, 両儀未那 (Ryōgi Mana) – Shiki and Mikiya’s daughter. Now, I don’t quite like what is said about her: that ‘she wants to defeat her mother in order to be with her father’. It’s very easy for a psychology student like me to misunderstand: does she really have an Elektra complex on Mikiya?!?!?! Really?!?!?! Did Nasu really do that?!?!?! Until I watched and rewatched Mirai Fukuin and I realised she had been referring to SHIKI, not Mikiya. Now it makes more sense, now it actually clicks. While I do not particularly like this idea, I could try to understand where she’s coming from – maybe she really just wanted to see what her mother’s other personality was like. Anyway, the fact that it is impossible for SHIKI to come back really put me at ease, so I started to like Mana a tad more. Well, in fact a lot more. Maybe because I like to think that through her, I can get a glimpse of the sort of child that Shiki might have been. Maybe because I simply like this kind of characters. No idea. But she really is cute – physically as well, well obviously, considering who her parents are.
What I did not particularly like was that I couldn’t find out anything about Mikiya from the film. I had to search the internet to find out that he now works under Shiki’s family apparently – for quite a while (while watching the film) I thought he was dead and I literally freaked out. I also wish I could have found out a bit more about Tōko and Azaka (yes, I actually am curious about her, too). Anyway, I loved the cat in the Extra Chorus. I loved how Shiki did not want to give it to Azaka. I loved how the cat completely ignored Azaka. I loved how Mikiya gets Shiki to do his bidding. And then… I loved finding out more about Fujino. I was a bit confused regarding her blindness but I was really happy to see her again. That, and she was badass when she taught Miyazuki-san a lesson on the bridge.
Now I’ll just start talking a bit about certain aspects of the series, including characters, plot etc. And I really want to start by saying that, for as long as it lasted, I was pretty much intrigued (as I have already said) by Shiki’s composite individual personalities. I loved how they made the distinction between the female (式 – Shiki) and the male personality (織 – Shiki); I mean beyond the simple usage of different pronouns when talking about themselves. And while I’m at it, I shall also get into the Epilogue (終章); its events happen in March 1999. I know that there were quite a few people out there who said that after they watched it, they felt that they had just wasted their time. Actually, I found the Epilogue very deep, very serene, I was actually scared that I didn’t comprehend what they [Mikiya and 空 (Void)] were talking about. Anyway, apparently, Shiki doesn’t only have two personalities, but also an actual third one. 「 」, or Void (空) is pretty much the initial will of the body, which then manifested as a personality of its own. Since the Void has always existed in the space between Shiki and SHIKI, she hid her existence from both personalities. Void calls itself Akasha, “the origin of all things”. This personality exists apparently solely in the body, unlike the other two which are in the mind. Anyway, from what I understood, the connection between one’s life and the Origin is normally cut off at birth (and apparently even if that connection was not cut off, this personality wouldn’t be able to become self-aware), but the Ryougi family have some sort of a special trait, which allowed Void to survive and keep its intelligence. However, since Void is indifferent to pretty much everything, she usually lies dormant within Shiki. I don’t know where those people – who think they wasted their time by watching this little film – have lived and how they manage to cope with everyday life’s demands and challenges, such as dressing up properly (as in, not wearing their underwear on their head), or even just walking to the restroom, but that over there seems to me like of the most beautiful, obscure and brilliant (to say the least) concepts ever presented and explained in an anime series. And this is yet another reason why I love this series so much, not to mention Shiki. Who wouldn’t and couldn’t possibly love Shiki after how much she changed?!?! I mean, she was born and forced to create herself another personality, got attached to it – obviously, only to lose it and have to live with that sense of emptiness, tried to fill it in (even though she’s not entirely aware that she is doing it and with whose help she’s doing it), eventually accepted what she’s been through and who she was and who she is and that she can only move forward, like each and every one of us. How could I not love and admire her?!
Anyway, just as the series’ OST did, the ending themes for each film was spot on with their mood. What all these people did with this series (from the writer of the novels to the band who performed the songs) is still leaving me speechless. I might have already said it, but I’ll say it as many times as it takes: the more I watch this series, the more I love it. There, that should say it all. Well, that and everything else I’ve said above.