[Review] K – A beautiful mess in the best way possible

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K is set in an alternate future where psychic kings rule over Tokyo. A tale of intrigue is brought to light when the Red King’s vassal, Totsuka Tatara is murdered by one who calls himself the Colorless King. Things get even more complicated when said Colorless King turns out to be a seemingly harmless and carefree highschool student by the name of Shiro Yashiro.

Emerging from the primordial soup of anime tropes, K is many things. It is a combination of fantasy, mystery and science fiction all rolled into one audaciously exuberant package filled with mythological allusions. On the surface, it is a polished product, lovingly animated and put together with an outstanding and memorable score. It is both a visual and auditory delight. 

While it is chock full of great ideas, K is ultimately squandered by its lack of focus. The narrative flow is uneven, there are certain parts of the series that drag, almost forcing the progression to a  standstill. There are times when the dialogue is sparse and there are times when the characters inexplicably feel the urge to dish out exposition. These are the noticeable shifts in writing style that prevent the series from tying together plot points seamlessly for the casual audience. Blending genres like nobody’s business and reluctant to provide easy answers, K can be a very tedious affair and a disjointed mess.

And yet, as flawed as it may be, K is a fun show. It has a knack for subverting expectations and continuously lures the viewer in with its visual clues and mythological references. Sometimes, it even surprises you with the occasional introspective dialogue. The characters, while not completely original, are always fun to watch. There is a lot of thought put into the design of these characters, their personalities, quirks and even fighting styles, allowing one to grow familiar with them.

There is no doubt that this show’s greatest strength is its ability to coax the viewer to take on the role of the sleuth. K is an entertaining series if you’re in the right state of mind to enjoy an unusual mystery mixed with delicious eye candy.

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10 Comments

  1. I guess I’m just generally more tolerant to not top quality writing because the pacing didn’t bother me at all. Looking back on it, K obviously spent a lot of time doing nothing at all. But somehow it didn’t really drag on me.

    It’s definitely nothing epic or even outstanding, but it was a fun ride. Which is what I’m generally looking for and more than I can say for most shows.

    I miss having something to look forward to every Thursday…

    • One thing that K manages to do despite the long intervals of ‘nothing much happening’ is that it’s capable of staying interesting, either thanks to its characters or intriguing world.

      It’s definitely nothing epic or even outstanding, but it was a fun ride. Which is what I’m generally looking for and more than I can say for most shows.

      Exactly! I may seem harsh on this review, but I still think K is one of the better shows from last year because it’s consistently fun.

      I miss having something to look forward to every Thursday…

      Me too. Although I am starting to enjoy Zetsuen no Tempest these days.

      • I’m quite a bit behind on Tempest, but it really just didn’t do much for me. It was very pretty and competently directed, but I just didn’t care what happened. I didn’t like any of the characters, and there is no way the whole Aika murder can end well.

        I guess you could say it comes down to this: I liked Shiro and enjoyed trying to guess what his deal was (Had he actually done? What was up with his memories/-loss? Was he really a King?), but I was very much “meh” about Yoshino. They both obviously have something going on under their nice facades, but where Shiro felt cute and quirky (that first scene freeloading lunch, that little sister lie), Yoshino never quite rose above passive aggressive and vaguely… dissonant.

        Also, I am probably the only person who quickly started getting annoyed by the Aika flashbacks.

        (It all goes back to that “is it a mystery” discussion. It acts like a mystery but isn’t. And that’s frustrating.)

        • Zetsuen no Tempest’s second half is far more enjoyable than the first. It took me a while to get used to the change in tone. Your comments on Yoshino are on the spot, he’s difficult to fathom, and this has been going on for too long. 16 episodes for a show to turn enjoyable isn’t really the most ideal thing, but it has been pretty funny lately. The mystery (?!) is still convoluted so I doubt that aspect of the series will ever change. Yoshino doesn’t really have the kind of charisma to carry a show on his own or entice viewers as much. Part of why he’s so interesting is the result of interacts with people and how these people can never figure him out. I like the Aika flashbacks, but I’m starting to wonder about their intended purpose other than making Yoshino a somewhat likable and believable character.

          Compare this to Shiro who is as charismatic as a ‘king’ should be in K. He was a king in title, but he never really ruled over anyone. There’s something more human about his character especially when it was revealed that he was Weissman from the very beginning. I’ll probably have to rewatch the series some time. K seems like the kind of series where things start making more sense when you do.

          • I kinda feel like everyone is overselling Yoshino. Seems like half the recent episodes have been speculations how Yoshino is the Mage of Exodus, blah blah. I admit Yoshino gave Hakaze the idea for how to get off her island, but mostly I find him unimpressive.

            Compare Shiro, his cute lunch-bumming intro, his second episode escape from Kuroh, etc. I wouldn’t say that Shiro could have carried a show alone either, he’s pretty bland and un-proactive, but he at least played off other characters well enough to be interesting. And the ambiguous parts of his character made it pretty clear he was more than a high school student. His completely underreaction to magic really stands out.

            On top of that, at least Shiro showed actual emotions that helped to endear him. His shocked, horrified reaction at finding that bloody shirt was just priceless, especially at that point. And then his reaction to realizing that his memories are fake… Oh man.

            It helped that K mostly balanced its cast well, considering they only had one cour to work with. Sure, a lot of them were pretty two-dimensional (Kuroh was really just loyal and honorable, Neko only had her loneliness and attachment to Shiro, Yata was just on a revenge quest), but that worked well with the short length. Everyone was also pretty distinctive, if only with one of two characteristics.

            Tempest’s characters don’t endear themselves nearly as much. You could say they’re all deep and realistic, but…

            You could fanwank a lot about Mikoto and his state of mind, too, if you wanted to. He never wanted to be king and always felt unprepared for it. He also always feared his powers. His Weissman level had probably been rising toward the critical point for a while by that point, and it’s almost to the limit. His only choices are to step down, and lose the family he had cobbled together, or let himself be killed by another king (Munakata). And then one of his closest “family members” is killed by a new king. If you think about it, Mikoto had probably already decided on ending it the way it did at the start of the series, when he allowed himself to be taken in by Scepter. He wanted to stall long enough to find the Colorless King and either go down fighting him or trust Munakata to kill him right afterward, since it would almost certainly push him over the edge.

            One thing I think K did really well were these kinds of unspoken relationships, accusations of boys love aside. Munakata and Mikoto clearly had a special understanding, even without Weissman’s comment at the end about how Kings can understand and be understood only by other Kings. Homra’s ties to each other were also minimalist but clear. And then there’s stuff like Kokujouji and Weissman, etc.

            By comparison, I’m not really sure what to say about most of Tempest’s characters, aside from maybe Samon and Mahiro.

            • haven’t seen zetsuen but going to echo pretty much all of this with respect to K balancing its cast well and doing a really great job at a bunch of unspoken, vague relationships that made the characters and their dynamics more interesting.

              also, i think you’re right on the money with mikoto’s state of mind (or well, that’s the closest to my personal interpretation of it anyway) and a lot of the stuff coming out of the side novels seems to support that he had the whole crumbling damocles issue long before tatara was killed. basically, being the red king has always been somewhat of a death sentence so i felt that he tried to make the best of it with the cards he was given, etc, etc. i am curious to know how abdication even works in this universe though. hoping that they give me more on the worldbuilding/kings system next season..

            • Everyone was also pretty distinctive, if only with one of two characteristics.

              That and K managed to make it so that every character reacted in a way that made sense in relation to those characteristics.

              On Mikoto…

              One thing that bothered me is that I felt like that series understated the personal bonds Mikoto shared with Munakata and Tatara which would’ve greatly helped in comprehending Mikoto’s final actions in the series. In retrospect, him stepping down would’ve left some feeling of disappointment for HOMRA members. Death would’ve made him a more noble figure, either way it just wouldn’t have ended well for him.

              By comparison, I’m not really sure what to say about most of Tempest’s characters, aside from maybe Samon and Mahiro.

              One thing that I do find notable in Tempest’s characters is that they’re fairly intelligent with their own motivations. However, I do agree that they’re not necessarily as endearing as the K characters. Maybe it’s just the lack of personality and how they’re mostly used as tools for exposition. It’s always troubling when that happens.

              • I can kind of forgive K for failing for explore some things, given that it was a one-cour show that managed to wrap itself up surprisingly well. Sure, there are loose threads, but I can honestly say I feel like I can a complete experience with just one season. Some more about those connections would be nice, but I think the limited scenes we got were enough to convey the general feeling behind those relationships — Tatara’s quiet and steady support of Mikoto, the way Munakata and Mikoto just got each other (those ending episodes, where they argue, smoke, and fight…)

                Tempest would do a lot better for me if it didn’t take itself so seriously. I guess it gets better about that in the second season.

  2. aw yes! a beautiful mess is a pretty good summation i think. this was unsurprisingly my favourite show of fall season and it had a little bit of everything going for it, probably brimmed over the top every now and then, but i thoroughly enjoyed the ride (even when it broke my heart). i’m also really glad you blogged about it the way you did. i’ve seen it be dismissed as trying to be one thing or another, but really, i think it ended up accomplishing a great deal of what it set out to even if it could have been paced a bit better. can’t wait for season 2!

    • K is one of those shows that took me by surprise. A second season should prove to be interesting, perhaps even better than the first now that the staff is given more time to explore the series’ world. Thematically, K has been one of the most solid ones from last year, blogging it never felt like a chore.

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