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An ambitious project that in the end failed to leave a mark.

I hope I don’t have to mention there are spoilers in this post, right? :P

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STORY

The plot of K was one of the biggest mysteries of the past season. The gorgeous looking previews revealed little besides some scattered mentions of “Kings” and cool-looking fights. The first couple of episodes didn’t help either; things just *happened*, with almost no explanation or exposition. I could understand, if this was done in media res, but this clearly wasn’t the case here. It seems that the creators wanted to keep the plot secret for as long as humanly possible, only revealing bits of information in the latter half of the series. I wouldn’t call that an especially wise decision, since the plot itself hardly justifies all this secrecy.

The story goes along the lines: there are seven humans with supernatural powers known as “Kings”, who can also share their inhuman abilities with their minions. The main storyline follows Isana Yashiro, a high school student who is thought to have murdered both the seventh, Colourless King as well as a close friend of the Red King. This earns him the hate of the Howling Flame, the Red King’s group, and Yatogami Kuroh, the late Colourless King’s minion. Yashiro sets off to prove his innocence, only to find out that he’s involved far deeper than one might have suspected. This plot is intertwined with the struggle between the Red King, Suoh Mikoto, and the Blue King, Munakata Reisi.

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While this setting does have quite a potential, in the end it was all too little too late as far as I am concerned. The plot-twists about Yashiro becoming the first king and the revelation about the seventh king were quite unexpected, but they failed to generate any emotional response from me.

What is more, there was very little exposition in the entire series. Terms like “Weismann level” or “King’s Sanctum” were thrown around without any kind of explanation; we also do not know anything about the basis of the supernatural powers. Yes, they come from this mysterious stone tablet discovered during World War II, but how they affect humans is never properly explained. Viewers have no idea how or why a king is chosen or whether a new one is appointed when the current one dies.

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CHARACTERS

The story isn’t the only problematic issue in this series; the character department is also lacking in some manners. Yashiro, who is supposed to be the protagonist of K, isn’t very likeable. He is a spineless boy, about whom we can never be sure whether he is telling the truth or not. He lies and deceives the people all around him – a useful, though not very admirable trait. On the other hand Kuroh is your typical shoujo-transplant – an honourable gentleman, displaying all the virtues a woman could possibly expect from an ideal man. He’s a warrior, he acts according to his own code of conduct and fights like a samurai. He’s as good as sidekicks come, but he lacks any kind of complexity or depth to be more than temporary entertainment. The same basically applies to Neko – her antics are quite funny and you can’t deny all the fanservice she provides, but in the end she is hardly memorable.

The struggle between the Howling Flame and Scepter 4, or more personally, between Mikoto and Munakata is an interesting concept, but it’s sadly left undeveloped. We get the sense that these two kings go way back, but are left wondering as to the true nature of the relationship between these two. This renders Mikoto’s final sacrifice flat and not very emotionally involving.

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Lack of development is the key word to describing most of the characters present in K. For example, the Red King, Suoh Mikoto, is revered by all of his companions, but for what reasons? We are *told* that he is a great leader, but we are never *shown*. The series doesn’t allow the viewer to form his own opinion and instead feeds him with information through the in-universe words. That is certainly not the way to go.

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VISUALS

If there is one department in which K shines, it’s visuals. Lavishly detailed, each scene is quite something to look at. Perhaps it’s not Hyouka-level visual porn, but the consistent quality of K is nothing to scoff at. Moreover, the subtle play of lights makes the whole reality seem a bit off – almost as if we were watching some kind of a dream. This, along the the rather strong artistic style of overall visuals, makes K one of the best looking series of 2012.

Even more gorgeous is the animation. The few animated fights, like between Yata and Fushimi or Kuroh and Munakata is sight for sore eyes. Beautifully fluid, the action scenes can even compete with the movie-grade Fate/Zero, and that’s quite telling.

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As for character designs, it pains me a bit that so many characters seem like direct transplants from a shoujo series. A megane cool commander? Check. Violent red-headed punk? Check. Long-haired honourable samurai gentleman? Check. At least the clothing didn’t make my eyes bleed; Scepter 4 wears blue uniforms reminiscent of the ones used by the military in Fullmetal Alchemist, while Howling Flame is full of hoodies and street-wear. You could almost believe that these people could wear such clothes, unlike the ridiculous clothing usually shown in other series. A big plus.

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AUDIO

As for the audio, not much can be said. The soundtrack doesn’t leave much of an impression apart from one or two battle tracks, though the ambients really do suit the city landscape present throughout the entire series.

The cast brims with big names like Namikawa Daisuke, Sugita Tomokazu or Ono Daisuke, but they rarely get to show off their legendary acting skills. There is nothing to complain about, that’s for sure, but there is a painful lack of memorable dialogues in the entire series.

SUMMARY

In the end, K is a series that set out to tell a story, and that it did. However, there is little to back it up. The lack of any exposition wasted the chance to create a compelling world, the viewers are too emotionally distant to really care about the struggles of the characters and the story itself fails to grip the audience and leave them on the edge of their seats.

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But the biggest blow is the lack of a message. A story should be a tale about something – a tale about bravery, about love, friendship, morality… This is a trademark of Japanese animation, which can imbue even the most shallow of shows with some meaning. Unfortunately, in the case of K, there is no such meaning. The issue of self-identity is far too brief to be the centre point of the show and the friendship/rivalry between Mikoto and Munakata is too undeveloped to become the backbone of the series.

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To conclude – although I know my supervisor would kill me for such a statement if she ever read it, but I declare K to be a triumph of form over substance. It possesses an interesting style and is quite a treat for our eyes, but offers little more in terms of substance – not even a chance for reflection.

FINAL VERDICT – 7/10

(a good, if uninspired series)

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