From the very start, you can see how Kara no Kyoukai Movie 5: Mujun Rasen is going to be better than one through four in the series. The opening has intelligent backgrounds, original cinematography, hints of extreme violence and the supernatural, and most of all, a sense of intrigue. What's more, the movie continues to build upon that. But the big thing is that this is the first one of the series to actually have movie length, quality, pacing, and production.
The artwork, while still has some minor flaws (people in crowds are too still), has an artistic purpose to it. The soundtrack is well thought out and doesn't force itself to be too orchestral. The artistic themes are wonderful and intelligent. The use of metaphors is magnificent rather than tired (people walking superimposed over a mechanical clock, the spiral structure, metamorphosis of water to steam, et cetera). In general, there is a coherent structure that bring everything together in a fantastic way.
I have some (very large) qualms with the earlier installations of the series. Luckily, they are not a big deal here. The backgrounds used usually don't involve plenty of dynamic things, so the stillness of trees and other small details isn't much of an issue. The skips in time are intelligently done, and add plenty. Following the timeline is not too challenging, but adds plenty of depth.
My one major qualm is the ending fight sequence. I am not a fan of the overly artistic pretentiousness with having just a musical theme and overly stylized cinematography - it just loses the coherency and drama it should have. Fortunately, it is short enough to not make too much of an impact on the rest of it.
Writing (Story and Characters):
The plot is a good mix of supernatural and mystery, and the characters are actually quite interesting. The plot is quite solid, some twists are obvious, others are not. In general, it is a nice mix between character driven and mystery driven writing. It manages to both feel comfortable yet keeps you on edge. Ultimately, this is up there with the best writing-wise.
Don't expect anything truly groundbreaking, but what you can expect is a compelling story told through the perspectives of characters who are fleshed out just enough. There are moments of brilliance (apathetic cute girl is actually a super-efficient killing machine, has her own arc), and what is really excellent is the balancing act between the protagonists' perspectives. A one-sided love, a magical battle, a search for the right kill, and just trying to make everyone better - while on the other hand we have a competent antagonist who is good at what he does and actively does it. What can I say, it just works.
Kara no Kyoukai Movie 5: Mujun Rasen has by far the best writing in the series compared to everything that came earlier. There is no competition here. You don't have to view any of the prior movies to enjoy it, because it is powerful enough to stand on its own, and is pleasantly self contained (while still developing the characters). The characters are interesting (well, four out of six are, and the other two are just standard/solid), the plot is well thought out, and most of all, the execution is spot on.
You might call the time skipping and shifts in perspective gimmicky. And they are. But you know what? It's just done so well that it doesn't matter at all. It does exactly what it is intended to do: added character depth in a condensed amount of time. While there are problems with the story (it is not free of cliches, it does things that are ultimately not mind-blowing, et cetera), and not all of the characters are interesting (the insane villain is so standard and quite incompetent, the "standard good guy" is rather dull), the writing overcomes those flaws and excels.
Art (Animation and Sound):
The animation is gorgeous. There is clever use of backgrounds that doesn't allow the standard faults of animation (static trees, city lights that never change, a majority of unmoving people in crowds, et cetera) to become too big a deal. The beautiful use of thematic juxtapositions (steam/smoke -> metamorphosis and transience, mechanical clock -> artificial movement and lack of freedom, and so on) and metaphors on the visual side is a magnificent fit for the story. The voice acting (as opposed to the earlier movies) really comes together with the actions of the characters. The use of audio positioning is clever and a rare thing to behold in anime and a cinematic delight.
There is clever use of both Japanese and Western ideas in the art, specifically in the artistic execution of the animation. The soundtrack does tend a bit too much towards the orchestral, and you can hear that it is a very Eastern style of composition though it tries to go for universality - but overall is a good fit for this film. And yes, I will say that Kara no Kyoukai Movie 5: Mujun Rasen is a proper movie in the artistic department, something that I have not yet said about any of the other parts of this series.
One of the things that make art truly exceptional is the ability to awe the audience. Well, finally, for the first time in the series, we get that. While in many ways not unique, and some of the "tricks" have been used before, there is a lot of artistic merit as opposed to just stamping out a product. The soundtrack cleverly matches up with the animation in parts where it would seem too out of the box otherwise.
The only part that actually fails in that regard is the big fight scene near the end. It tries so hard to scream "climax" that it shoots its load prematurely and then goes on for a few more futile moments where it is basically a mess. Some people might like that, but I prefer my peak at the end of the fun, after gradual intensification into a pleasurable conclusion. But really, the foreplay to it is well over an hour long and really does make up for it. And the epilogue that comes after that actually has someone smoking a cigarette, which I found apt.
That one problem is the thing that dropped about 0.3 points from both animation and sound; because otherwise this is what an anime movie that has exceptional artwork that enhances the plot and characters in all the right ways.
Screw movies 1-4. This is the real deal. If there is any reason to get into Kara no Kyoukai as a series, this is it. This is about as solid as non-Miyazaki anime films get. If only that one scene was done better, I would go on to say that it is the absolute best non-Miyazaki anime film. Too bad that scene was supposed to be the point of the movie.
Still, I cannot help but recommend this. You should watch it. You really, really, REALLY should.