The anime industry is developing a history, as proven by Tatsunoko Production which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2005. Not a really famous studio by name, but with a back catalogue including Speed Racer, Gatchaman and Macross it's responsible for a few stellar anime classics.
Tatsunoko Production celebrated its 40th anniversary by producing Karas and obviously spent a lot of time and effort making it into a flagship series for their company. The result is a 6-part oav, released in two chunks. The first three episodes were released in 2005, the final three in 2007. A smart move, as the buffer created a good window to replenish funding and resources for the project.
Karas is interesting in the sense that it's not only a 40th anniversary event, it also mixes that 40 years of anime into one big, explosive show. Watching Karas is like watching a milkshake of 30 other animes, covered with glossy make-up and dressed up as royalty. Its most obvious roots lie in Soul Taker, an anime with a similar approach (and produced by the same company) but less money to burn. Karas goes beyond those influences, treating us to fight sequences and camera work that resembles the insanity of Dead Leaves. The whole superhero universe is enhanced with yokai (creatures from Japanese legends) and it all ends up in tentacle mayhem, taking you right back to the days of Legend of the Overfiend (without the hentai).
The basic premise, the struggle for a city, reminded me of Tekkon Kinkreet. A similar showdown is started in Karas, where humans and yokai alike are muscled out of their homes by the Mikura, whilst the Yurines are trying to defend the city using the Karas. Be sure to be confused the first time watching through the series, as the information is sparse and often overshadowed by huge fight sequences. Still, a solid character study is not what this anime is about.
Most of the money was spent on the visuals, which is pretty obvious after watching only a minute or so into the oav. It all starts off with a crazy fight sequence, boasting abundant animation and camera angles, lasting for a good 5 minutes. When the fight settles down you should already have a good idea of the things awaiting you.
The biggest eye-catch is the splendid blend of 2D and 3D. The Karas are in full 3D but blend in perfectly with the 2D backgrounds. They are in a way cell-shaded, without losing their detail and fluidity. A strange effect I haven't really seen before, but I was seriously awed by the result. I can only slightly compare it to Sentou Yousei Yukikaze, which mixed 3D aircrafts in a similar way with 2D skies. The camera work is another point where the 3D treatment really pays off. Insanely dynamic (to the point where actual details become hard to follow) but always rhythmic and well-timed.
The character designs are quite strange, varying styles between the races. The yokai look quite cute, the Yurines look like they walked out off a promo for a Japanese PlayStation 2 RPG whilst the humans have a rather realistic figure. Somehow, this fits in the crazy blend of genres and atmospheres that Karas houses, and only fortifies this strange mixture of styles.
Karas is an anime that will most likely appeal to fans of the genre with some background into the anime universe. It's a culmination of styles and atmospheres, mixing several story elements and sculpting them all into one banging oav. It's impressive to see how a show like this is executed with such love and detail.
Karas took me back to the days when I had to watch anime from Manga VHSs, and yet it's one of the most modern animes out there. Strange blend, not perfect but overpowering and impressive. There's a little drop in quality in episode 4, obviously they were saving some money for the finale. Luckily that paid off very well, making this show one that can't be missed.