The Spiral: Symbolism, Imagery, and a little Direction for Kara no Kyoukai 5

by eternal on February 5, 2009


The spiral is a recurring image in the latest installment of Kinoko Nasu’s Kara no Kyoukai, representing the pathway to Araya’s elusive origin of the universe. Mathematics confuse me, to be frank, and I doubt that Nasu was thinking about physics when he penned the novel, but looking at thing from a more figurative (or possibly religious) perspective sheds a bit more light on the matter.

However, the fifth movie in the series is chock full of not only skillful imagery and symbolism, but also brilliant fight scenes that brought even me to the edge of my seat. While the plot and characters of the franchise are something that I will avoid discussing at least until the series ends, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Paradox Spiral is as aesthetically and technically appealing as it is simply good.

Before I begin with the screencaps, let me refer to the image used in the beginning of the post: the Yin and Yang. Put simply, as one can tell from the sheer power that seems to resonate from the symbol, the Yin and Yang represents contradicting forces and the necessity of one’s existence for the other to survive. As described in the show, the two smaller circles present within the image are representative of the piece of one that exists in another. The example used was Shiki’s gender, stating that we all hold a piece of the opposite gender within us.

Kara no Kyoukai does a good job of tying their Spiral motif into an ancient philosophical theory like this one, but alas, there was more to the movie than just this. Keep the “spiral” idea in mind while I move into the screencaps.


One thing that impressed me tremendously with this instalment was the powerful visual effects. While nothing Shinbo-esque, the visuals and direction of the film struck a chord somewhere with me, though it was a far more dissonant chord than the ones struck by the like of Clannad.

Take, for instance, the rather shiny intestine pictured above: I’m nothing close to a serial killer, but if I had to guess, I would say that intestines normally aren’t that shiny. Regardless of the colour of real intestines, however (as I doubt ufotable had a box of intestines prepared in front of them while planning the animation), we can see – not quite so clearly since screencaps aren’t the best for these things – that the highlighted colour of the object make it stand out far more. These effects are used often throughout the movie, highlighting things here and emphasizing things there – and due to the nature of the story, the emphasis is more often than not focused on the violence.


Another example can be found much later on, as Aozaki’s blood pours into the fountain after her defeat. The colours were not accentuated in this picture, but the use of the water to dissolve the blood created an interesting visual effect, making the violence instantly seem more harsh. We’ve all seen trails of blood in anime, but making the stream flow into liquid where it slowly breaks apart is an interesting twist.


The decision to focus on Alba’s face instead of the battered head of his victim was also a wise one, because it shows a different side of the violence. Instead of focusing on the victim, the director chose to show the viewer the dark, twisted side of the antagonist, complete with the constant shaking of the camera and splattering of blood to assure that you don’t forget what he’s actually doing.

And that leads me to one of my favourite aspects of the film: the fight scenes.



The effects in the background to emphasize Shiki’s hand as she twists the victim’s stomach are skillfully done, causing the viewer to flinch without showing so much as a drop of blood. Once more, it would have been easy to show a picture of her grabbing the person’s stomach and follow up with an over exaggerated twist, but the simple effects were far more powerful. The action occurs before you can comprehend precisely what’s going on, and yet at some level, the viewer is still able to understand it. It’s as if your body reacts to the action and the violence faster than your mind can.

The camera angles used when she threw the second person to the ground were also good, following her eyes for a moment while the victim’s head started to rotate. For a split second, you can see the person being spun to the side, eyes widening in fear – and before you realize it, the camera moves to the ground, looking up as the boy falls flat on his face. It is a simple sequence that could have looked far more boring had they simply shown the entire conflict from a third person perspective.





As the movie continues, the battles don’t become any less awesome. Using the backgrounds to her advantage like every good fighting/action game encourages, fending off zombies with crazy weapons, pausing in all the right places for style, and concluding for a final slash in the moonlight: she did it all. The action is so fast-paced that it’s near impossible to get a good screencap, but it’s visually appealing despite – no, probably because – of that.

It’s also worth noting that I generally hold zombies in very low regard. I haven’t played the Resident Evil series yet and I’m not much of a fan of horror movies, so my opinion of zombies is more or less that they serve as cannon fodder for the hero. Which is effectively what occurred here as well, but true cannon fodder is never this exciting to kill.


Shiki’s little dagger-tossing attack also worked out quite well, with the animation capturing the ridiculously high speeds of the weapon. It was moving so fast, in fact, that I could hardly get a good picture of it.




These trends continue into the last battle, where Shiki faces off against Araya. The strikes move at a rate too fast for FRAPS to comprehend, the weapons spark and glint in the light, showing a tremendous amount of aesthetic appeal, and the camera circles the combatants to force the viewer’s mind into disarray. I can only assume that the director’s goal was to create a situation in which the viewer is just as confused as the person in the battle, and if that were the case, I must admit that it worked.




Speaking of aesthetics, the movie strikes with incredibly well-designed imagery and effects that are simply pleasing to the eye. The clashing blue of the night sky in the first image, mixed with the yellow-orange of the apartment lights: both are extremely exaggerated, and yet both do their job. The lighting creates a surreal setting, which is perfect for the air of mystery that is carried by both the initial confrontation between Araya and Shiki (see what I did there?), but also by Kara no Kyoukai/Tsukihime as a whole.

The sheer appeal of the lighting is continued in the second image, with the contrasting colours meeting on opposite sides of Araya’s ominous body. A brilliant dichotomy between red and blue – I’m sure there’s an artistic word for this, but you get the idea.

And speaking of ominous, the ridiculously dark shadows over Araya’s eyes don’t make him look like the most cheerful of antagonists.


Moving away from the lighting for a moment (which I am far too fond of in general), the movie contained quite a few well thought out shots as well. For instance, the image above, where the camera was followed the characters as they walked. The steady up-and-down motion of their footsteps, the sensation of moving first-person toward the end of the spiral, and the all-around eerie tone of the story culminate into an engrossing experience. Considering the amount of effort put into the physical structure itself, it’s no surprise that the director chose to emphasize it using techniques like this.


This was also a clever shot, emphasizing the uncanny “decoration” of Araya’s personal throne room more than the character itself. However, from the dim lighting and location of the camera, the viewer gets enough information to become curious but not enough to figure out what’s kept within those scattered cylinders. It makes for quite a shock when the truth is revealed.



And now for my personal favourite shot in the movie: the transition between the gruesome fight scene and Tomoe’s dark discovery in the basement. The blood sent flying from the battle splatters into the air, and in an instant, transforms into the liquid evaporating in the bottom floor. It’s an effortless yet seamless way of transitioning between the two scenes, one action-packed and intense, the other somber and suspenseful.


And now for something a little different: the repeated symbolism throughout the movie. The ad above was shown near the beginning, before the viewer has any clue as to the key’s true significance: it was chance that I caught it when looking for screencaps. The foreshadowing in the film is done at all the right places, providing enough hints to get you thinking, yet hints that are subtle enough to only be useful in hindsight. Somewhat like Ever 17.



The former is what I assume to be a close-up of a lock mechanism opening, while the latter is an image of Tomoe’s key after he passed away. It was the last portion of his body to disappear, proving that he was thinking about his family to the last.



We know now that the item is symbolic of Tomoe’s bond with his family. However, this isn’t revealed until the very end; until it’s too late.


The clock was another recurring image, an obvious symbol of the constant passing of time early in the movie.


There also must have been something going on in the director’s mind when he decided to place such emphasis on the puppets in the background. And this is one of the less unusual designs. That said, I’m unsure of what relevance the dolls have to the story; if there was any significance in their existence, I’d certainly like to know about it.

But anyhow, with all of that said, let us return to the original aim of this story (and to a lesser extent, the purpose of this post): the use of the spiral motif.



The Yin and Yang symbol recurs throughout the movie, no doubt a subtle attempt at driving their point home.


And finally, the use of the episode’s title: Paradox Spiral. The moment I try to comprehend the true scope of this name, my brain is likely to explode. Philosophy, theology, and Nasuism are a tricky combination, and certainly not something that I’m prepared to tackle. However, when looked at from as distanced a perspective as possible, a paradox spiral might not be that complicated after all.

Tomoe’s comment was, I believe, a literal reference to the episode’s plot. The building did all sorts of confusing things – confusing enough that I can’t properly explain it here – but the bottom like was that Araya was messing around and that the building didn’t exist for the purpose that most buildings exist for. It was a sort of paradox, trapping people inside, confusing the residents, setting a trap for Shiki so that he could gain access to the Spiral of Life, as I call it – who really knows? It was something of the sort, though, and the investigation ended with the conclusion that the building was in no way normal.

But in this case, the building, an actual spiral, was not entirely a paradox. It actually had a very simple, logical conclusion: something to do with brains and cylinders. The Nasuverse strikes again, targetting my very weakness – stories that make as little sense in practise as they do in theory. However, upon witnessing the truth of the building, Tomoe sarcastically wishes for the spiral to be a paradox. Maybe then the truth wouldn’t have been so dark, so incomprehensible.



Lastly, Aozaki and Araya conclude the film by repeating the same sequence of questions that she asked him when they first fought. Araya seeks the knowledge of the world, and he seeks it within himself. However, this time he chose to answer her final question: the location of that which he seeks.

On the more philosophical side of things, Araya’s last words target the twisted spiral of the world. In his eyes, humanity was twisted, and like many villains, it was too much for him to take. So – to phrase it as simply as possible – he decided to find a way to find the origin of all things. That origin, in his eyes, existed beyond the spiral that he used to describe humanity.

However, humanity could also be described as a sort of paradox in itself. I have no clue how far Nasu dug into philosophy to get into all of this, but I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between the contradictions of the Yin and Yang and the Spiral of Life ™. After all, isn’t the Yin and Yang – a symbol of the contradicting forces of the universe – a sort of spiral? And wouldn’t that contradictory spiral be a paradox?


And so, this post concludes with a googled image of Paradox Spiral (credit is given where it is due, etc etc). However, even aside from the brilliant – albeit complicated – symbolism used in the story, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Kara no Kyoukai is about more than just plot. Certainly, the story is what drives it forward, and the truth behind Shiki and the main plot of the novel is the only thing that truly matters, but the aesthetics and visual techniques implemented by ufotable in this anime adaptation are nothing short of amazing. Much like with ef, I’m certain that I would enjoy the source material, but I can’t help but feel that I enjoy the adaptation as much as I enjoy the actual story.

Between the adrenaline-pumping fights to the subtle foreshadowing and scattered philosophy, Kara no Kyoukai 5 is easily one of the best anime I’ve seen, and it accomplishes this not only through excellence of story and writing, but also through mastery of the meduim at hand.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

APepper February 6, 2009 at 4:10 pm

*clap *clap XD

I found this blog before yesterday, and I am a huge fan of type-moon, I already read everything translated except for the kara no kyoukai and Fate/zero light novels.

So, I am very happy to find a article of this level about knk.Now I could notice others minnor details of the movie.

And about the dolls exhibition, I have the information that Kokutou knew Touko after seeing this exhibition

Ah, and I liked the 5cm/per second and school days review too o/


Sorrow-kun February 7, 2009 at 10:41 pm

This movie is an utter behemoth and it could be years of people trying to dissect it before we get to the bottom of it. As a piece of film-making, it’s simply incredible. It’s probably the most intense and exhausting anime film I’ve seen since Jin-Roh.

There’s just so much to talk and think about in this film. I can think of at least three different meanings to the title “Paradox Spiral” (the building, Araya’s view of nature, the origin of the universe, and I guess there’s possibly also the counter force as well), and there’s probably far more.

Philosophy is something that the entire Kara no Kyoukai series has handled seriously well so far. I think it’s worth debating the philosophy which drove Araya, since I slightly disagree that he was railing against a twisted humanity. I think he was railing against nature, in general, and that he saw humanity as a victim of nature. He was motivated by “meaningless deaths” and wanted to try to bring meaning to them by making a record of these deaths. This (somehow, I’m a little confused about the link) turned into him collecting deaths, hence the building which replays the final days of its inhabitants. I think the building itself was probably a means to an ends (Araya himself seemed to be disappointed with the results of his “experiment”), but he must have thought there was something at the origin which could bring meaning to meaningless deaths (my thought is that it’s got something to do with the non-existence of time at the origin, time being something which was fairly important in this film). The he was bringing about the end of the world was probably of little importance either way to Araya.

The puppets are another interesting element to think about that I haven’t quite got my head around. As far as the plot is concerned, the puppet is basically a second life (I had a vision of a Super Mario style 1-UP going through my head when Touko came back), but as far as a higher meaning or metaphor is concerned, there’s nothing obvious. Maybe it’s just a plot device in this case. But there’s not like there’s many plot devices in these films. Almost everything has a deeper meaning attached to it.


ETERNAL February 8, 2009 at 5:11 pm

@ APepper: Thanks for reading! It really makes a blogger’s day when readers and lurkers come out of the shadows to leave a comment on something they enjoyed reading. I’m also currently working my way through Fate/stay night, so my Type-Moon passion will probably last quite a while longer :P

@ Sorrow-kun: Indeed, there truly is a lot to analyze, much more than a single writer can fit into a single blog post. Your theory about Araya makes sense, especially since his purpose was to “count” deaths and all, resulting in his unusual experiment. That would also explain quite a bit of his intent with the building’s design.

And at the moment, I’m not sure if anyone can truly assign a meaning to the puppets. Like you said, they’re a second life (quite literally, actually), and I don’t believe there’s been any real indication as to what they mean. But ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised if we all got a slightly different meaning out of the movie, or came out of it with different ideas on the symbolism and implications: it’s depth is something that one can only appreciate after truly applying one’s mind to it.


Shinndou February 9, 2009 at 10:49 am

Good post, I enjoyed reading it.

As for the puppets, while they certainly do have a certain degree of symbolism (especially regarding Tomoe), the scene you mentioned about with Touko surrounded by puppets isn’t really supposed to hold a lot of meaning. Simply put, besides being a sorcerer Touko also works as a designer (and she’s quite notorious) and she happens to design marionettes and puppets as part of that job (and that’s how Mikiya got to know her and got interested in working for her). That whole mansion is the HQ of her own design company. So it’s pretty normal for her to have some of her creations on showcase for all visitors or people who are interested in requesting her job. The symbolism is added by the fact that Nasu (and the people who made the movies as well) decided to show this side of her job exactly on this chapter which “casually” (and it’s not) places the focus on Tomoe.


Jason February 9, 2009 at 5:19 pm

i personally loved this movie. definitely in the all time greats of anime.


Jinx February 13, 2009 at 10:21 pm

This movie is like reading Slaughterhouse 5, except ultimately cooler. I have been a fan of Nasu since Tsukihime came out, and I understood why Kara no Kyoukai (the novel) was not as successful as its descendants. The ideas they have in KnK is incredibly complex, yet at the same time based on very simple feeling.

Let’s discuss the nature of Araya’s philosophy. He was not some evil man in search for power to conquer the world or take revenge. He was trying to find a meaning to life. When he saw so many people being slaughtered meaninglessly, he became afraid of his own sense of meaning. He did not want people to die and live without a meaning. Ultimately this quest to find meaning lead him to the Akasha. I respect Araya, because even in the last few seconds of his life, he continued to fight for that meaning

Maybe this is because I’ve read the book, but as Yin-Yang symbolism, I saw Shiki as Yin and Tomoe as Yang. Shiki is described to be an beautiful and handsome girl (which she is. I spent way too much timing fanboying over her). Tomoe on the other hand is also an attractive individual (as Shiki kindly points out) but is also quite girly in his features (or at least that’s what the book said). Both are murderers, but both reacts very differently to their actions. This opposite-but-the-same continued until the end where they are mirrors of each other, saying goodbye to each other. I wonder if Shiki sees SHIKI inside of Tomoe.

Last but not least… CATERPILLAR SHIKI MOE!!!! But seriously, this is the difference between Serial Experiment Lain, which barely had any entertainment value, and Kara no Kyoukai. It has both complex philosophy, and very awesome girls and villains, with moments that simply left you breathless. Examples: The water slide in the first movie. The creepy Shiki in the second movie. The destruction of the bridge in the third (which was very VERY awesome). The zombie scene in the fourth.

This series of movies is a masterpiece.

Does anyone know a film (I forgot title) using a similar Spiral ‘experiment’?


ETERNAL February 20, 2009 at 4:29 pm

@ Jinx: I’m not sure about the answer to your question, but I think your comment summed up the series pretty well. As you said, Araya isn’t an average villain, and in many ways he can hardly be classified as a villain to begin with. As for everything else, I don’t have much to add – you stated it as well as I could.

Also, I have yet to read Slaughterhouse 5, but I’m certainly looking forward to the day that I do :P


balance February 22, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Ep 5 was a bit confusing at first with all the back and forth but near end of the movie, it started to make sense. Most good villains I find are not bad at heart. They usualy have a some what good reason for what they have done.

Tomoe kind of remind me of Shirou from Fate/Stay Night, maybe cuz of the hair.

Kara no Kyoukai is a great series but it is very deep. You have to kind of read a bit extra to see where the author is getting the literature from. That being said I probably have to rewatch ep5 in the future to make sense of it. Things was just happen too fast near the end. I like fast forward scenes like “door open/closing by Shiki and Tomeo.

I find it interesting how Araya kept repeating the last day of the resident’s death and they still die the same way. Fate or because notthing has change (cause/effect theory) to cause a need for a change?

I want a shiki figure now lol

balances last blog post..First Figures, Haruhi Suzumiya goodies!


ETERNAL February 24, 2009 at 8:24 pm

@ balance: I neglected to mention it since it was completely irrelevant, but Tomoe and Shirou really do look remarkably similar. When I first saw him I could have sword it was some sort of crazy crossover…


Jinx February 24, 2009 at 8:39 pm

@balance and eternal: In a way, Kara no Kyoukai is the starting point of Nasuverse. There are many “prototype characters” that developed into different characters in Nasu’s later work. I find it amusing that (personality wise) there are a total of 6 Shiki in nasuverse.

Actually, places and organizations in KnK are mentioned in both FSN and Tsukihime. One example is the Asagami Private Highshool, which Fujino, Azaka, and Tohno Akiha attended. Another example is the four demon hunter families (Ryougi, Nanaya, Asakami, Fujyo). I will also mention the “Clock Tower” Magic Academy.

For those who like Nasu’s writing should read his Angel Note, available at Gaku Gaku Animal Land…somewhere….


Matt June 18, 2015 at 12:42 am

Great write-up of an amazing movie

Can’t believe I’m only now watching KnK series. Certainly disturbing, but so much depth .. lol


DCH13 July 26, 2016 at 12:54 pm

In the event that you were wondering about it after all these years, here are my thoughts on meaning of the puppets and their role in the symbolic level of the story.

There are three Magi who create the Paradox Spiral Experiment. Touko provided the plan for the building and likely the puppets. Cornelius created a system to connect the brains of the residents to the puppets. Araya used his ability to manipulate the soul to bring them back to life constantly. Araya’s theory was that by these lives and deaths repeating over and over, he would be able to reach the root. However, there were no results and the group parted ways. This continues until the events of the fifth movie.

Body – The Building, The Puppets — The Container — Touko
Mind – The Brains, The Connection Between Brains and Containers — Alba
Soul – The Repetition of Life and Death — Araya

So we have Body, Mind, Soul. These are core things that are analyzed, however, none of them are enough for the experiment to succeed. This is also a continuation of a core examination of the series (Id, Ego, Super-Ego — Shiki, SHIKI, Shiki3)

The film then explores what it means to be an authentic or real person through Tomoe Enjou contrast against the other puppets. The argument is that it is not just about having a body, a mind, and a life-force– that create an identity– more is needed and the Paradox Spiral experiment is missing too many of the required things to have ever worked.

The most essential of these things is Time. The residents of the Paradox Spiral are stuck in time, they relive the same day over and over and follow the exact same routine. Nothing changes for them and they are not growing or moving forward. They are not sufficient to replicate real life because real life is dynamic and they are static. They cannot build new memories or grow which is vital to being alive.

Self-awareness and making connections. While touched on above, these are also vital distinguishing features of Tomoe. Rather than living on script, he finds a friend and one-sided love interest in Shiki, a rival in Mikiya, and an enemy in Souren. Through interacting and sincerely connecting to them, he builds identity. His ability to reflect on his own situation and determine his own purpose, rather than being stuck to the repetition.

So, Tomou shows us a body that has gained a consciousness and an identity and has become a human. There are probably a few ideas from Heidegger’s Being and Time that are also relevant.

But back to puppets. So, Cornelius is the mind. To him, Touko, the body, is an object. His conception of the body is that of a picture because visual information is the domain of the mind. He sees the body as a “thing” a “thing” that must be dominated (the dolls shown are all being controlled/manipulated/mocked/degraded in some way). This is about the Ego and how it wants to get the body to submit to it entirely and gratify itself by doing so. Of course, all of this translates into his feelings for Touko. The room itself is his hateful contempt towards her.

Why this antipathy? It is because of the minds pathetic inability to fight the demands of its own body. This is why Cornelius cannot fight Touko and why he feels emasculated and impotent when forced to recon with her. However, Araya, the soul, is what governs the body and thus can win.

The final puppet is Touko’s puppet. While Cornelius and Araya create scripted puppets that are made to work for their benefit or be “more” or “less” than a real existence, Touko’s puppet is given absolutely everything Touko is, no less and no more. This may be a conversation about what it takes to create something authentic, which is respect for it and a willingness to let it be itself. It may also be a meta-conversation about writing characters– your characters will always be inferior if they are stuck saying scripted things, or if they have shallowness, or if they are too strong.

There is also a connection here to the Id and an exploration of “what is real life anyways” (a core theme of Paradox Spiral). When Touko normally dies, she immediately creates another puppet, to confirm her own reality by separating herself from the new puppet. This time she skips that because her subconscious urge to violence is so strong. Her primal hatred of Cornelius for calling her a Dirty Red serves as all the confirmation she needs that she is a real person and she immediately acts to exact her retribution.

“What is life anyways?” This is touched on by nearly everything in this story and the puppets serve as an important part of telling that story.


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