I’m sure many of you reading this will be familiar with the name The Garden of Sinners (or Japanese title Kara no Kyokai), a series of eight films, a TV series adaptation, and an OVA, handled by studio Ufotable. MVM Entertainment brought the original seven movies and OVA to DVD back in 2014, but now they’ve been given a fresh release on Blu-ray, offering me an opportunity to watch them for the first time. Do they offer a compelling story? Let’s find out!
The Garden of Sinners follows the story of Shiki Ryogi and Mikiya Kokuto, who were classmates in high school. The films chronicle the two’s lives, each taking place within a different period showing the two in school and later when they work for Toko Aozaki’s detective agency.
Each entry revolves around a mystery that Kokuto and Shiki are out to solve. These cases usually involve murder or the disappearance of people and underneath it all is often a supernatural beings involvement. Shiki herself has multiple personalities and wields the ‘Mystic Eyes of Death Perception’, which allows her to see the inherent morality of both living and no-living things. With it, Shiki knows precisely where to strike something to bring its life to an end.
The one thing these films all have in common is that the subject matter is grim. Even discounting murder, through the course of the eight stories we see rape, incest, drugs, cannibalism and a lot of things in-between. That’s not something every viewer is going to be able to stomach, especially when the movies do require being watched in quick succession.
Because the stories jump all over the place in the timeline the only way to keep track of what’s happening is to watch the movies almost back to back. It’s not just the fact the stories jump around that make them difficult to keep track of, it’s also how much they vary in quality and length.
Most of The Garden of Sinners’ entries are around an hour-long until you hit films 5 and 7 which are both roughly two hours in length. This probably wouldn’t be as notable if not for the fact that the fifth film is extremely hard to follow on your first watch and requires more than one viewing.
While most of the stories are driven by emotion and a more grounded portrayal of the supernatural, the fifth entry takes things to the extreme, playing with concepts that make no sense the first time you watch. It’s very metaphorically heavy too, which doesn’t help. With such a long runtime it’s difficult to focus on what the story is trying to say, which only makes everything more confusing.
The fact the timeline jumps around so much also means that Shiki and Kokuto aren’t very well developed. Kokuto exists as a window into Shiki’s world for the viewer, but otherwise doesn’t have much personality of his own. What little he does have certainly doesn’t change from story to story. Shiki is more interesting, especially given her multiple personalities, but again doesn’t develop that much film to film. The tales unfolding around the cast are far more interesting than the characters themselves, which is a shame.
Having said all of that, I did enjoy watching The Garden of Sinners. I like mystery stories, even more with an element of the fantastical, so this series certainly scratches that itch. The animation, handled by Ufotable, is delightful to watch too. Although the earliest of these films are from 2007, the collection still looks incredible today and has Ufotable’s signature eye for dynamic direction and fast-paced action. It’s easy to see the makings of a studio who went on to work on the Fate franchise.
The music for the films has been handled by Yuki Kajiura who many will recognise for her work on Sword Art Online, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Demon Slayer. The soundtrack for Garden of Sinners is incredible, with a mix of piano, string and vocal tracks that intertwine with the action and emotion perfectly. It’s certainly some of Kaijura’s best work and well worth a listen even if you aren’t a fan of the films themselves.
All of the voice actors throughout these movies do a great job too, especially Maaya Sakamoto (Shinobu in Monogatari, Akito Soma in Fruits Basket 2019, Tamayo in Demon Slayer), who plays Shiki. Sakamoto manages to handle Shiki’s various personalities with charm, keeping all of them distinct and different enough for the viewer to be able to tell what’s going on. Mikiya Kokuto is played by Kenichi Suzumura (Katai Tayama in Bungo Stray Dogs, Crowley Eusford in Seraph of the End, Rogue in Fairy Tail) and Suzumura brings the character to life well, managing to find the balance between an almost bored-sounding tone and someone quiet and confident.
As previously mentioned this release comes to the UK thanks to MVM Entertainment who have released the seven films and OVA in one box set. The set includes a 36-page booklet and on-disc extras include short adverts shown before the film in Japanese cinemas, warning viewers to turn their phones off. There is no English dub so everything is in Japanese with English subtitles. One oddity I noticed with the discs is that they all automatically played without subtitles on, so I had to remember to manually put them on all the time.
It’s a shame that this collection is the only way to watch The Garden of Sinners because not only is it incredibly expensive (£90 on Amazon at the time of writing) but it’s also a large commitment if you don’t end up enjoying the films. There are enough elements to turn potential viewers off that it’s a shame they aren’t streaming on Netflix or Crunchyroll so customers could try before putting down so much money. If you’re someone who owns MVM’s old DVD release though, this is a worthy upgrade, though, as the animation looks fantastic on Blu-ray.
Overall, The Garden of Sinners is a mixed bag. The films are interesting but the quality varies a lot and they’re not for everyone. If you’re a particular fan of Ufotable then they’re well worth watching for the animation, but that won’t overcome their shortcomings for everyone.