Otaku USA Magazine
Karas: The Revelation

In the new episode of Karas, a gangster fat cat in a fur-lined coat shoves a gun in our hero’s face and says it best, “This city takes in anyone that comes its way. Even the worst scum can find some small function to serve.•bCrLf He’s speaking, of course, about Shinjuku Kaibuki-cho, Tokyo’s real-life den of ho, pimps, and playas that serves as the backdrop for Tatsunoko Production’s amazing anime about a dark hero rising.

Yes, this area of Shinjuku is dirty and dangerous, but the ultra-urban playground of adult-strength sin is not without a spiritual dimension. A Shinto temple lies on the borders of Kabuki-cho and the area is said to have its very own guardian spirits. To walk through the area is to feel that you are on the line between the divine and the debased, and perhaps a war with unseen forces might just be playing out in the shadows. But stay out too late, and you’ll probably just see lots of crows; flocks of menacing black birds that emerge every morning to pick at the refuse (instant ramen bowls, pork bun scraps) from the previous night’s revelry. It makes perfect sense then that the Japanese word for “crow•bCrLf is Karas, and that the Karas anime is set in Shinjuku.

Created by Tatsunoko Productions to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first anime, Karas offers several new twists on the classic “Tatsunoko Heroes•bCrLf tradition (see sidebar) that has made up the studio’s roster thus far. For starters, Karas himself is a darker kind of hero than, say, Speed Racer, or the bird brigade from Gatchaman. Second, series creator Keiichi Sato (previously an anime jack-of-all trades on series such as The Big O, Mazinkaiser, and Wolf’s Rain) opted to render Karas and many of his mechanical “Mikura•bCrLf foes in CGI. Tatsunoko is a name that’s been associated with high quality and consistency over the decades, so there was really no doubt that Karas would be anything other than awesome, but the results must have exceeded expectations. Karas was awarded Best Original Video at the 2006 Tokyo Anime Awards and went on to become one of the top-selling anime of the year in the US.

To my eyes (perhaps permanently damaged from too many neon nights in Kabuki-cho), Karas is of a piece with other great urban-centric anime like AKIRA and Tekkonkinkreet. All are stories that seek to externalize the forces that aspire to make, unmake, or maintain a city that is forever teetering on the brink of chaos. If any of that sounds too lofty, you can simply take pleasure in Karas‘s stunning animation, its dreamy atmosphere, and jaw-dropping action scenes. I’m trying to think of some faults here to balance out all the praise, but I can’t except to say it’s been a long wait for more Karas to arrive on our shores.

Happily, this fall the Karas saga continues with three more installments of the series collected together for US release as Karas: The Revelation. We begged and pleaded our pals at Manga Video to let us have just a taste of episode 4. They obliged and I swiftly devoured the latest bout of Karas like a demented and hungry crow!

Karas Minus Karas

Wow. The new episode of Karas does not waste any time with a long opening sequence, a recap of everything that’s come before, none of that tosh. Instead, we are right where we should be, pushing the plot forward, pausing only for breakneck outbursts of berserk action. But keep in mind, the story itself does take one massive risk; namely Karas is now unfolding without Karas himself.

Otoha (Karas’s alter-ego) is stuck in his human form, since his “controller,•bCrLf cute little Yurine, has been kidnapped by the menacing Mikura. Up until now, Otoha himself has been little more than an enigma, but we finally learn something about how his human soul got mixed up with the spirit world of the yokai. Via flashbacks, we get a bloody back story for Otoha’s pre-Karas life, which I’m happy to inform you plays like a Takashi Miike yakuza movie complete with samurai swords, severed limbs, and gangster posturing aplenty.

Just as soon as the series’ V-Cinema credentials have been cemented, it whisks right back into the strange spiritual-SF stew that makes Karas so unique. And the effeminate Eko, a renegade Karas warrior who used to watch over Tokyo for centuries before he decided to kill his successors, reveals a bit more about his evil plans for the world. Turns out Eko’s not pleased that human beings have forgotten about the demons and yokai that inhabit the same world as they do, so he’s out to correct the imbalance by some very nasty means. He’s already got Otoha, the current Karas, on the ropes by taking away his powers, and now he has plans for Yurine, who has fallen into his clutches.

All the while, nasty hordes of rats are seen rushing through the streets of Kabuki-cho and, thanks to numerous attacks by Eko’s Mikura minions, the area is acquiring an even worse reputation than it already had. The Governor of Tokyo shows up on TV to quell rumors, but even the beleaguered cops know by this point that something wicked has cometh to Shinjuku.

Things really begin to heat up as Otoha, unable to transform into Karas, meets his female opposite number as a hail of rocket- propelled grenades turns up the heat in Kabuki-cho. Soon, Nue, the show’s resident renegade Mikura, boldly lays siege to Eko’s high-rise hideout (which looks an awful lot like the NTT building that dominates the real Shinjuku skyline) by riding his motorbike straight through a crowd of innocent bystanders. As all the principal powers gather together, the episode wraps on a gut-wrenching cliffhanger that begs the question, “Lawdy, what’s gonna happen next?•bCrLf

Check out Karas: The Revelation, and find out. On sale 10/23/07.