this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? Karas The Prophecy is not available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, or Amazon Prime.

Starring: Sohkoh Wada, Steve Staley, Takahiro Sakurai, Matthew Lillard, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Keith Burgess, Tohru Ohkawa, Paul St. Peter, Misa Watanabe, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Tomohiro Nishimura, Dave Mallow, Rokuro Naya, Michael McConnohie, Keiji Fujiwara, Jay Hernandez, Etsuko Kozakura, Piper Perabo

Directed by: Keiichi Sato

Japanese anime is always tricky to recommend to American audiences. Similar to Bollywood, anime takes a little getting used to in terms of its visual style and narrative themes. For many, especially those accustomed to American-style animation, Japanese anime may come off as being too weird, too dark, or confusing as to the complexity of its narratives. It took me awhile to give anime a chance, but even when I did, I was not completely sold. You have to understand that the very first time I saw an anime film was when my college roommates brought home a movie that was basically about a woman getting raped by a demon. After that experience, I figured anime just wasn’t for me. It was not until I had the fortunate experience of seeing one of Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpieces that I became sold on the ability of this art form to give me a compelling story.

Karas The Prophecy is a feature length film that collects the first half of a series of episodes of a series called Karas. The film was made by Tatsunoko Productions (Speed Racer, Gatchaman, Neon Genesis Evangelion), which like Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, is one of Japan’s most well known animation studios. Tatsunoko Productions is considered to be the Hanna-Barbera of Japan in terms of its influence in TV-production.

Karas was produced in commemoration of the studio’s 40th anniversary. The idea behind the series was to create a dark superhero. As director Keiichi Sato describes it, “Just as New York City has Spider-Man, and Gotham City has Batman, it’s about time for Japan to have its own local hero.” The series is set in a futuristic version of Shinjuku, Tokyo where humans coexist with yokai (Japanese spirits). Our hero/protagonist is Otoha, who is a former yakuza. He becomes reborn and is appointed to be a karas, which is basically a superhero responsible for protecting the city. Karas’ mission is to put a stop to Eko, his corrupt predecessor. There is also another hero (more of an anti-hero) named Nue, who used to be a bad demon, but now fights on the good side. The story also has a side narrative that involves an X-Files-type duo of two detectives who investigate supernatural occurrences. Predictably, one of the detectives doesn’t believe in the supernatural, but he’s been assigned to the unit against his wishes.

You may or may not dig the story or the concept behind Karas, but that does not really matter because what truly matters is the film’s gorgeous animation. Normally, whenever we see animation that combines 2D and 3D elements, you can immediately pick out the 3D elements and they usually jar the senses due to the lack of integration with the 2D animation. In contrast, Karas flawlessly and seamlessly merges the 2D and 3D elements and combines it with stunning Matrix-like camera angles and scene transitions that left me rewinding many scenes just to take in everything going onscreen. The first few minutes of Karas will totally suck you in. The opening credits are in Japanese characters that catch on fire while a fight between Karas and Eko (I think) takes place in the sky. The film contains many cinematic and beautiful looking sequences and, in some sense, its almost worth turning off the sound and just taking in the visuals. I do have one critique in that in a few places during the action sequences, it becomes very difficult to make out what is going on.

Characterization is not a very strong point of Karas The Prophecy. The story is full of characters, which results in none of them being fully fleshed out. The first 20 minutes of the film are especially frustrating as we are introduced to one character after another without really knowing who anyone is. I was eventually forced to refer to the film’s synopsis on Wikipedia to learn what was going on and who the characters were. With that said, although Karas does not give us memorable characters, there are a few that caught my interest. I especially got into the detective team that works on “supernatural crimes.” The film builds up some suspense as the team works its way to finding out what is going on. I was also intrigued by the shadowy evil organization led by Eko. Not much is revealed about this organization and I presume all will be explained in the 2nd half of the series.

The film’s biggest weakness is the story. To be fair, I should have watched the 2nd half of the series (called Karas the Revelation) before writing this review to complete the story. However, I do not believe this excuses the disorganized and vague storytelling at display here. Like I stated before, I had to go online to figure out what was going onscreen and who the characters were. Obviously I should not have had to resort to this. Very little is explained at the beginning of the film. Instead, we get beautifully shot sequences that jump from one sequence to another and from one character to another without any explanation. Nothing in the film explains that Karas is fighting demons, who Karas is, what he is, why he can change into different vehicles, or why demons need doctors. Without looking it up on the internet, I challenge anyone to decipher what the sequence in the bathroom with drowning women in ‘duck’ costumes was all about.

Karas The Prophecy is a beautifully rendered anime that unfortunately suffers from poor characterization and an incomprehensible plotline. The film reminded me of Zack Snyder’s Suckerpunch, which also contained a nonsensical plot but I would argue that Karas The Prophecy is far better than that Snyder’s film. Karas The Prophecy sets out to create Japan’s answer to American-style superheroes such as Batman. I do not understand the point of copying American superheroes when Japanese anime already has its own rich history of superheroes to draw from. I would have much rather seen a modern take on one of Tatsunoko Productions’ existing properties such as Speed Racer or Gatchaman. This would have also been in keeping with the studio’s celebration of its 40th anniversary.