Imagine if every city chose a special champion to defeat monstrous mechanical demons -- becoming the armored superhuman known as Karas.
That's the concept behind "Karas - The Prophecy," the first half of a sprawling, lushly animated series about a mystery hero who spans the worlds of demons and humans. The rather underdeveloped characters hamper the story somewhat, but the scintillating animation and explosive action sequences make this a brilliant experience -- and the twisty-turny plot doesn't hurt either.
Two black-armored men engage in an explosive aerial battle, until ex-Karas Eko triumphs over his successor. Three years later, a young doctor named Otoha awakens in an enchanted house, under the command of the city's avatar Yurine.
At around this time, Tokyo is being attacked by the gruesome cyborg demons called Mikura, and harmless small demons are falling seriously ill. Otoha -- the new Karas -- is charged to destroy the Mikura, who are also being hunted by the mysterious superhuman Nue, and investigated by demon-obsessed cop Sagisaki and his skeptical partner Kure.
But Eko has a plan in mind for defeating this new Karas and getting ahold of Yurine. When a battle between Otoha and the Mikura takes a nasty turn, Nue's true nature is finally revealed -- and when the Karas is called on to defeat a gruesome spider-Mikura, Eko takes the opportunity to target the source of Otoha's power... and his life as well.
"Karas - The Prophecy" is a bit of a brain-teaser -- several parts of it (including the first several scenes) don't make any sense until you see all of it. And there are three subplots which seem only mildly connected to each other. Then you go back and watch again, and suddenly all the little hints and disjointed puzzle pieces snap neatly into place.
Fortunately the twisting plot is riddled with moments of quiet beauty (Otoha tending to the sickly demons), humour (Nue chatting with an adorable little snail-child), and poignancy (the whole story about Sagisaka's mentally-ill daughter). And there's plenty of horror speckling the story, especially the Mikura with their glowing eyes and metallic roars. The height of freakiness is undoubtedly a girl dessicating into a mummy as she talks to her friend.
But what truly sets "Karas - the Prophecy" apart is the action and animation. Every fight with a Mikura is a kinetic, razor-sharp mingling of swordplay and acrobatics, full of bloody spiderwebs and water attacks. And the animation is simply stunning -- everything is depicted realistically, but with exquisitely glowing colours, deep soft shadows and lots of brilliant little details. For example: the spiky raven armor, the blinking Karas talisman, and the vast epic sweeps across a snow-covered Tokyo.
Unfortunately "Karas - The Prophecy is recognizably the first half of a story. Not only does it end on a massive cliffhanger, but some of the characters feel... unfinished, as though their development is yet to come.
Otoha is one of these -- he's a nice guy with a good heart, but he's something of a blank until the last scenes, though Stan Staley is brilliant here. Eko gives off a feeling of ennui and bitterness as a Karas-turned-supernatural-mob-boss, which is somewhat dampened by Matthew Lillard's lifeless performance. But Nue is a brilliant piece of work -- a monstrous, unnatural creature struggling to overcome his base self.
"Karas - The Prophecy" is obviously the first half of a whole, but it's a brilliant half -- richly animated and haunting. And it leaves you hungry for the second part.