Doppelgangers are an interesting facet of existence. With the billions of people who call this planet home, there’s bound to be a few who look similar, despite lacking a genetic connection. It’s pretty cool. Of course, when this causes gangs of superpowered tough guys to come hunt you down, it becomes substantially less cool. A fact that one highschooler now knows all too well. Captured on film performing a crime he claims to have no knowledge about, is this a case of mistaken identity, or is something much more heinous afoot?
Yashiro Isana is your everyday, carefree highschooler, content with swiping food from his friends and lounging in the sun. Truly a happy little life…until Tatara Totsuka was killed. Despite claiming to know nothing of the murder, Shiro soon finds himself thrown into a world of violence, superpowers and suspicion, as video evidence clearly shows him shooting Tatara in cold blood. As such, Shiro begins to fear for his very life, hunted from multiple sides as he tries to prove his innocence to those around him…along with himself. It’s not all bad though, Kuroh Yatogami, also known as the Black Dog, decides to stand by Shiro’s side in order to truly see if the boy is innocent. Of course he’ll kill him if he turns out to be the murder, but in these situations, beggars can’t be choosers.
As the story progresses, we are thrown for more loops than a rollercoaster when it comes to Shiro’s true identity. One episode we believe him to be innocent of the crime, another he finds evidence to the contrary. He establishes an alibi, it turns out to be false, he finds another, that one is false…it’s all over the place, but in a good way. The constant flip flopping serves to mix up the series a little, sure you might have your own theories regarding whether or not Shiro did it, but how can you be sure when even he doesn’t know? However, this strategy employed by the series also comes with some side effects, namely apathy towards the plot. Characters are the life of a story, what we as the audience latch onto. We’re supposed to trust that, at the very least, the cast of a series knows something, carrying us through our initial confusion and revealing the truth of a story. K treads a very fine line between mystery and uncertainty, unfortunately slipping off a fair few times. Shiro’s incredibly lax attitude despite his situation, whilst adding humour to the series, also serves to mete a majority of audience empathy. I mean if he doesn’t take the plot seriously, why should we? How do you care about the life of someone who doesn’t care about their life? The other characters aren’t exactly a major improvement either, coming across as rather flat in an interesting world. Despite his unwavering devotion to his Master, Kuroh’s original attempts at murdering Shiro seem pretty half assed. Though that could relate to his gentle demeanour, it just doesn’t come across that way. Hell, his decision to allow Shiro to prove his innocence occurred after an off screen fight/chase scene. It just feels like he’s kinda lazy about the whole situation.
Despite us being informed of events and relationships of the past, the series never truly escapes the “Shiro killed Tatara” storyline. Honestly, it’s like never leaving the shallow end of a pool. Sure you’re in the water, but there’s so much more you haven’t explored. Supposed badass Suou practically sleeps for half of the series, whilst his clansmen lazily search for their friends killer. The series outright states that the Reds are the most violent of the groups, yet they seem pretty chill about everything. Hell, two Reds even take the time to “borrow” passes to enter Shiro’s school instead of, oh I don’t know, jumping the turnstiles at the gate. Just how powerful are turnstiles in the world of K. Not to mention that there’s a door just off to the right. All I’m saying is that it would’ve been nice to see some of the so called Red passion, the fury that supposedly defines Suou. To truly drive home the impact of losing a friend.
Obviously the most unique and interesting aspect of K would have to be the Seven Kings. Seven beings imbued with power beyond the scope of human acquisition. Power that each obtained…somehow. Though the series does explain the existence of the Dresden Slate as the source of all Aura powers, it’s never really revealed how a person draws from it. Is it the will of the Slate? Does the one who “owns” the Slate decide who will be imbued with power? At one point Suou (the Red King) questions why he chose to become a King, hinting that each individual has a say in their acquisition of power…immediately followed by others saying that he was destined to take the mantle. So I guess just pick whichever explanation you like more. I will say however, that the Swords of Damocles was a nice touch hinting at the danger of each King. Their mere presence served as a reminder that, despite all of their strength, each King lived under the possibility of cataclysm. This also expressed the King’s a little more than vessels chosen to contain an undefined power, rather than beings who developed their own power. Though this serves to add credence to the supposed balance between Kings, it also destroys the notion of personal accomplishment somewhat. I mean, if the Sword of Damocles can simply find a new host when a King dies, how are we supposed to truly respect those imbued with its power? Were they strong before? Does that really even matter? All I’m saying is that a little more detail would’ve been nice, or at least better handles mystery. Though I will compliment the series on providing numerous interesting takes on what it means to be a King. From an organisation of military precision, to a roving gang of street toughs, K doesn’t disappoint when it comes to variance.
One thing I will say about K is that it is a gorgeous series. From its numerous establishing shots, to its tight focus on characters, it retains an aesthetic quality that truly stands out. Centred around Kings defined by their Aura’s colour, you can expect to see countless instances of a clan’s signature shade, though Blue and Red definitely feature more heavily. This serves as an immediate sign to denote a character’s allegiance, saving all that pesky exposition time…though the series will often opt to utilise both. However, the flames of the Red Clan are often presented with a purple tint that, whilst going against their colour scheme, provides an interesting visual element. It’s not every day you see purple flames after all. Speaking of power, each King’s Sword of Damocles is also inherently unique, varying from person to person. Generally intricate in design, these monolith of power serve to further the notion that each King is a force unto themself. Which they are.
One negative I’ll note about K’s visuals is facial expressions. Though the characters themselves feature solid designs, moments of powerful emotion will often be let down by a distinct lack of interest on their faces. You’ll definitely notice it more towards the end of the series, as a character who actually varies their expression appears. Though not too drastic a negative on its own, this does factor into the series’ numerous elements that amount to apathy.
Alright, how about a positive? A big one at that. Hands down K feature some of the most interesting visual I’ve seen in an anime. Now, I’m not talking about what is actually shown onscreen, but rather the way it is shown. In the first episode along, the series utilises slow motion, tracking and a rotating shot. Awesome. Though used fairly regularly in live action productions, seeing these techniques utilised in an anime format was amazing. Just think how much work went into that one rotation of perspective. The visual tracking also adds a realism and true sense of movement to Yata’s skateboarding which, like the rest of the series, is animated with remarkable fluidity.
Suiting its cast of mismatched Kings and clansmen, K utilises a fairly diverse soundtrack. In most situations, the series will employ use of classical instruments, such as the piano, to add a sense of drama and regality to the proceedings. Violin is also a common sound, amplifying the calm drama elicited by its fellow classical companion. However, whenever the Reds roll onscreen, the series changes its tune, throwing a little hip-hop into the mix. The sheer contrast between the two genres of music draws your attention, raising each beyond simple background music that you’ll forget soon after. It’s just a nice touch that adds a little personality into the series.
Though not bad by any stretch of the imagination, the English dub of K is a little lacking in certain regards. Though some dialogue will perfectly suit a situation, it may not entirely match with the visuals. I don’t mean that the lip synch is off or anything, but rathe the tone or pacing of a line contrasts the speed of movement of a character. Though only noticeable in a few instances, it is nevertheless noticeable. Characters also have a tendency to sound rather mellow, despite current events. It imbues everyone with a strange sense of calmness that serves to remove the impact of some scenes. Though, listening to the Japanese dub, characters also speak with a similar lack of intense emotion, so it could just be a trademark of the series. This isn’t to say some characters don’t show emotion, it’s just often overshadowed by the surrounding cast. Though it does help Yata and Neko stand out vocally, so that’s something.
Surprisingly for a complete series collection, K features absolutely no on disc extras. It does however feature a Character Art Book, showcasing, you guessed it, art of the characters. Though definitely a nice little bonus, some additional extras would’ve been nice.
There’s so much about K that makes me want to love it…but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I honestly can’t put my finger on what was missing, I just know that something was. Despite all of it’s positive elements, interesting premise, diverse cast, setting of mystery and suspicion, the series just feels…hollow. Like there’s just one missing element that will cause everything to fall in place and create a truly brilliant series. I mean, when you explain the pieces individually it sounds fantastic, but something prevents K from equalling the sum of its parts. Even just looking at the visuals of the series invokes interest and excitement, it just never truly eventuates. There’s just so much potential in K that wasn’t so much wasted as it was missed. Yet despite all of it, there is still a part of me that want to defend this series…I’m just not entirely sure why.
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