Region: 2 - UK
Length: 300 minutes
English 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Shiro is an easygoing teenager content with just being a student until his seemingly perfect life is halted when a bloodthirsty clan, glowing red with fire, attempts to kill him in the streets. Unbeknownst to Shiro, he is suspected of murdering a member of their clan and will need a miracle to escape their vengeance. Miraculously, a young man named Kuroh Yatogami swings in and aids Shiro in his getaway, only to reveal he is also after Shiro's life. Now a hunted man, Shiro will have to evade the clans of seven powerful kings and desperately try to prove his innocence before it's too late!
Yashiro Isuna has just found out that a group of powerful beings have targeted him for assassination because one of their clan was killed by someone who looks just like Yashiro. On top of that, an extra-paramilitary group who work within the Tokyo government also want to track him and just now a young man wielding a katana has said said he is the Colourless King (King being the title these groups give to the head of the clan), he must die. Did I mention his cat just turned into a naked, flaxen haired girl?
With a premise like that, K the series really has its work cut out for it. The brainchild of animation studio GoHands and helmed and designed by director Shingo Suzuki, the show looks like it has all the hallmarks of anime that I can't understand the appeal of. Shows like it, for me, are Guilty Crown and Nabari No Ou which pride themselves on having complications within their plot structure after the show starts. Personally, I think plot complications should be restricted to the start of a show or the end. This makes the audience invest or divest in the characters wellbeing rather than confuse the viewer by building up characters and plots to then suddenly make them irrelevant. As I said, K looks like it will be like that. Truth be told, it does have that twist about halfway through but in its defense, the changes it makes improve the characters and the concept rather than undermine them.
Yashiro, or Shiro as his friends call him, is a happy enough teenager. He helps out in the school council activities. He hangs out with his friend, Kukuri who also works on the council's art programs. He lives with his cat in a campus dorm on the Ashinaka High School grounds which is on an island in the city's harbour. Which is why when Kuroh Yatogami, a vassal of the Colourless King, turns up and tells him that he must die for killing Totsuka, a lieutenant of the Red King (Homra), it's definitely a downer. There's something not quite right about the open and shut nature of Shiro's involvement in the murder of Totsuka. Along the way, he forges links with Neko, his cat given human form, and Kuroh as he wins him over despite all the evidence pointing to Shiro being a killer. I like how Kuroh's loyalty doesn't automatically shift to Shiro, it takes time and their trust takes some setbacks. The upswing of all this is that when the final arc in the story takes place, I believe both characters motivations with respect to both. Kuroh isn't all business though, showing a weirder side as he loves every word his master says in the recordings Kuroh made of him. Neko starts off as supremely annoying and is completely childish for the first couple of stories. Shiro explains her's and Kuroh's presence by saying they're transfer students. Good in-joke. But when the big reveal happens in respect to what's really going on with her story, she becomes a solid, if somewhat pigheaded, supporting character.
Where the show struggles is in depicting the power struggle going on between SCEPTER 4 (dumb name in my opinion) and Homra. S4 (I'm not going to use that full name again) is full of those quasi-Nazi types complete with sabres and an almost benign SS grip over local government. S4 don't feel like they're involved with atrocities and they are not set up in that kind of sinister manner. They do however have an unwritten agreement with the governments and civil authorities that they have super authority in most areas. This is tacit and understated and most officials seem resigned to their fates. Homra by comparison seem like rabid dogs in the rough, punk manner they present themselves to the world. This, however, is a feint and it's interesting to contrast their brash approach with the S4 group in that they both get the same results and suffer the same problems.
One thing of note that I saw repeatedly in the show is the use of camera tricks and looks. Fish eye, steadicam, tracking shots and characters point of view are all used and it shows the creators want to try new things. I liked the use of techniques that live action films have pioneered and finding a new home for them. Voice acting wise, I liked the transformation of Shiro (Kenjiro Tsuda) from shy student to confident leader and thought his interactions with Neko (Mikako Komatsu) and Kuroh (Daisuke Ono) helped build the three characters into a solid team. Along the way, the other actors reveal more and more about themselves and I thought the English dub did nicely. Nothing to write home about but Sam Riegel, Matt Mercer and Stephanie Sheh worked as the leads. Sheh goes a bit overboard as Neko but as I said, when her character enters into a serious side, her performance starts working better.
As the show goes on, we find that the order established in the first episode is not what it appears to be. Director Suzuki starts unravelling all the hard work he's set and gives you a different set of goals that the characters have fight for. As we learn about the power of the seven kings and how they impacted the world, we get bits and pieces and just enough to form some opinions and follow the logic of some characters motives. When the final arc starts, we get the hint of a theory which at first looks like another feint but will be a very important moment in the final episodes. I like how I didn't see it coming and how the characters didn't see it coming either. Normally, as I've said, the bits of a show that were unnecessary get carried along and sink whatever tension had been built up. K takes a different approach and drops everything that isn't needed so it can make to the end. Not that everything gets resolved by the end. We still haven't seen the resolution of Homra turned S4 member Fushimi and former friend and wild dog Homra member Yata. It's not explained in any real kind of detail how Seri Awashima (right hand deputy to S4 leader Munakata) knows the Homra guys, specifically Izumo Kusanagi. I think the answers to some of the questions will come in the movie sequel coming this summer. Even if it doesn't answer everything, it will be nice to return and see how this universe has evolved.