K – All style and no substance
October 7, 2012 9 Comments
There are some anime series that are so stylish, so beautiful, so cool, and so sexy that they cause themselves pain. The mental anguish created by this potent concoction of stylish sexiness makes them want to scream from the rooftops, proclaiming their greatness to the world at large. K is one such series, the way every character constantly swaggers, the ever-present blue/green filter and the entire aesthetic of the series screams coolness from every pore. There are parallels to be found between K and Durarara, Air Gear and in some respects Akira – the setting involving Tokyo street gangs, along with the whole ‘urban-cool’ vibe that K has going for it produce this a strangely beautiful series. However, while Durarara and Air Gear take these aesthetic elements and create an off-kilter, almost ludicrous interpretation of what Tokyo gang culture and inner city life is like, K plays it dead straight. The outlandish levels of lunacy found in the other series are largely gone, with every character acting in a very serious and almost dull manner, and yet K manages to embrace to lunacy and eccentricities of these series while still keeping on the straight and narrow.
In doing so it creates a heady cocktail of style and beauty that draws the viewer in, while simultaneously almost entirely lacking in substance and meaning. The series is trying to embrace counter-culture, using the style and mannerisms of those who glare out of fashion magazines daring anyone to say that they aren’t cool. It’s the kind of style and fashion that everyone has been into at one point or another but cant quite remember when – it is the anime equivalent of a rebellious phase, with K giving the impression that despite what everyone else says, no one truly understands its feelings or knows what it is going through. By setting the story in an alternate world where history has taken a slightly different course, K manages to inject an element of eccentricity while still maintaining the very straight and narrow approach to its characters and setting.
Even though in other series the presence of psychic powers and ‘Seven Kings’ may seem ludicrous, the way it is presented in K produces a feeling of normality. By doing so, the series almost manages to wash over the fact that the entire street gang is oddly attractive. By adding another ‘gang’ full of blue coat wearing-sword carrying men and women who continue the attractive street gang look while adding an element of 18th century style. The series also looks amazing, showing that there is a substantial budget behind it, and arguably, without such a budget K couldn’t pull off the ultra-stylish swagger that it has going on. The colour scheme and blue/green filter gives the series an almost permanent feel of walking through the city at dusk when all the neo signs are turned on. The actions scenes are also well choreographed, with the use of numerous camera angles and settings to follow the action, simulating the hand-held camerawork that so many films now use.
What is curious about the series however is the almost total lack of meaningful dialogue throughout this first episode, with the characters merely existing rather than saying anything. One of the main elements of K was its supreme and hyped voice cast, something that the series wanted to push into its audiences face right at the beginning during the first set of credits. However, despite the clearly well known and talented voice cast, there is little said, and what lines we do have don’t seem to mean much, which might indicate that the entire budget was spent on the skateboard scenes and the swagger. K expects its audience to figure everything out, as it happens, wasting no time in even the most rudimentary explanation. Characters such as Shiro are simply thrown into the action, with the fire gang chasing him for an as yet undisclosed reason. Darker than Black did something similar with how it introduced different characters and settings, while there was some simple narration explaining the appearance of Hell’s Gate, the reason for its existence, along with the appearance of those with psychic powers was left to the audience to work out as the series progressed. In doing so the audience are forced to piece together visual images and markers, along with watching how the characters act and react, almost as if we were piecing together a puzzle.
While being allowed to work out what is happening for ourselves instead of having an ever present narrator explaining every little detail is nice, the direction that K has taken almost seems to be too far. Furthermore there are esoteric signs and signals used throughout the episode, including a reference to the Sword of Damocles, something that most people may not understand. The Sword of Damocles is a metaphor found in classical Greek culture:
Damocles was a courtier in the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse. Pandering to his king, Damocles exclaimed that, as a great man of power and authority surrounded by magnificence, Dionysius was truly fortunate. Dionysius then offered to switch places with Damocles so that he could taste that very fortune first hand. Damocles quickly and eagerly accepted the king’s proposal, thus he sat down on the kinds throne and was surrounded by luxury. But, Dionysius had arranged that a huge sword should hang above the thrown, help at the pommel by a single hair from a horse’s tale. Damocles finally begged Dionysius to switch back with him, because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate.
The Sword of Damocles is frequently used as a metaphor, epitomising the imminent and ever present peril faced by those in positions of power. In this respect the reference has been used to suggest that when kings fight one shall lose their kingdom. Unfortunately many other anime have tried using references to Ancient Greek Philosophy or elements of the bible to greater or lesser extent, and in doing so create a pseudo-philosophy that can lack its original meaning or significance. This is partly because the way it is used, or the particular piece of philosophy may be unknown to a lot of people, and very often such ideas can turn the series into a dull and pretentious farce, where such elements are used to cover up the lack of meaningful story and character development. My worry is that by starting off in such a fashion K will go along this same route and use esoteric references that in general dont mean all that much. And yet by that same token, the use of such a metaphor is both striking and rather fascinating, seemingly suggesting that there is some sort of unwritten pact or set of rules involved with this psychic war.
K is a ludicrous series, one that takes itself far too seriously, but in doing so allows you to laugh and enjoy an anime that is so full of its own greatness that it has become caught up in its own little world. When deconstructed and pulled apart, K is made up of a serious of annoying and pointless elements that are either over thought or under-thought, however as a whole it produces a beautifully stylised work, which is as visually stunning as it is preposterous. The completely lack of information or distinct plot are however problematic, with the series relying entirely on its visuals to get through. This is not a complete catastrophe though, and I prefer a series that is beautiful and stylish, with excellent use of camera work to one that fills entire episodes with nothing but dialogue and exposition (Hello Fate/Zero in all its dull glory). Being allowed to sit back, watch and work things out for yourself is wonderful, the problem arises when a series is all about style and has no substance. This first episode of K is skirting around that boundary, and while there is clearly a story-taking place, the complete lack of substance is somewhat worrying. My fear is that the series becomes so caught up in its blue/green swaggering style that the story is forgotten about or perhaps nonexistent. However, there are times when a series is so stylish and sexy that there the story is forgotten about in our rush to watch more.