Jason checks out Hideki Ohwada's politically-charged mahjong manga, The Legend of Koizumi.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 21st 2006
Animation Runner Kuromi 2
Mikiko Oguro, aka Kuromi, is an energetic young production manager for Studio Petit, a small animation studio. Amongst her responsibilities are keeping the artists on schedule and delivering completed work back and forth amongst the various stages of production. Although her first project, the anime Time Journey, was a success [see the first OVA for details on that], things became even more hectic when her boss declared that they were going to work on three different series at the same time! Fortunately she can rely on the studio's (mostly) dedicated staff of artists and directors, but even that may not be enough to stay on schedule. Enter Rei Takashimadaira, a veteran producer brought in by the boss to run the whole project. But is his ruthlessness about sticking to schedule deadlines, even at the expense of quality, ultimately something that Studio Petit can deal with? And will Kuromi run herself ragged again trying to keep everything together, especially when Hamako has chosen this crucial time to stop smoking?
Full of energy and spunk, the original 2001 OVA Animation Runner Kuromi offered a rare animated behind-the-scenes look at anime production in its parody of the creation of an anime episode. While its successor delves less deeply into the minutiae concerning animation production, it still has plenty enough detail to enlighten fans about the process. More importantly, though, the hassles of producing three series at one time and the breakneck speed at which events advance make Kuromi 2 an even more fun and absorbing view than the original. Although 45 minutes long, it is so entertaining, and flows along so smoothly, that it feels like it's considerably shorter. It's no wonder that it was one of the two recipients of the Notable Entry award in the Original Video category (i.e. the top category award) at the 2005 Tokyo Anime Fair.
The great charm of Kuromi 2 is that it never hits a sour note. It doesn't waste time on delving into emotions, feelings, or philosophy, and only spends a few moments considering the merits of its one serious point – namely, whether or not it's worthwhile to sacrifice quality in order to maintain a production schedule. The rest is all about playing up the craziness and hard work that the animation industry can generate. Because it concentrates only on being the best comedy it can be, it's one of the funniest of recent anime releases, with nearly every attempt at humor working beautifully. It even serves up a few parodies; watch for a Lupin the Third rip-off, among others. Brief clips of the anime series the production team are working on are also quite funny, especially the Soreike Charmy (aka SoreCha) clip with the dinosaur, which in about six seconds gives one of the most savagely funny parodies of uber-cutesy magical girl series you're ever likely to see.
The colorful members of its supporting cast have remarkably well-defined personalities for as short a work as this is, but the star is, of course, still Kuromi. She's devoted, energetic, and cute without being completely over-the-top in any aspect, and apparently learned her lessons well in the first OVA about how to manipulate the people she works with to get the job done. What she still has to learn in this volume is how to keep from going so overboard in her commitment to the job that she sacrifices certain other necessary things, like personal hygiene and a life beyond work, which by all accounts is a common problem in the anime industry. Her mentor in this regard is the director Hamako, whose effort to quit smoking makes for several amusing moments as we watch the various things she sticks in her mouth to replace her cigarettes and how she sometimes forgets that she has, say, a pencil there instead of a cigarette. Her look, mannerisms, and personality may remind viewers very much of Saki from Genshiken, although the original OVA predates the Genshiken anime by three years. The one character who could be done without is the annoying little octopus who keeps making side commentary. He fills much the same role as Babbit in Kodocha, but that shouldn't be surprising given that director Akitaroh Daichi also directed Kodocha.
The artistry and animation reflect the frenetic pacing of Kuromi 2 and its emphasis on fun factor. They're less concerned with being completely clean and refined than they are with supporting the manic activities of the storytelling, but they do a very good job at this. The heavy use of caricatures gives the character designs a bit of a cartoony feel, but the artistry regularly mixes things up by applying parody styling, modifying the refinement of the artistry to make a point, and at times deliberately going very rough on a character design and animation to emphasize the shaky status of one of the characters. On regular occasions body designs shift to amorphous modes for comedic effect and/or to help give the impression of rapid-paced activity, much as is seen in Azumanga Daioh and other dedicated comedy titles. The artistry's at its best when Kuromi goes into full-bore Cute Mode to try to convince one of her artists of something, but in general she is drawn as both endearingly cute and convincingly a petite young woman, a combination that can be difficult for any anime series to pull off.
The animation also contributes to the comedy by giving Takashimadaira the kind of hyper-exaggerated swagger that one might expect from Jim Carrey. Visual gimmicks are so often used that it is hard to pin down exactly how good the animation is, but it never detracts from the viewing experience. A bit of CG effect can be seen in the moving clouds used to indicate passing days, and the coloring is certainly digital, but otherwise the title still has a hand-drawn feel to it. Most importantly, though, all of the artistry and technical merits contribute well to the overall package. With its generally bright color scheme, varied style, and solid technical merits, it would be a fun series to watch even without its excellent sound and storytelling.
The sound production also does a superb job of contributing to the overall effect. It isn't just the appropriately peppy musical score, which is mostly a repeat of the score for the first OVA; it's also its great use of supporting sound effects. The ending theme “Hidamari no Machide” by Kaori Asou (the seiyuu for the title role) is a gentle and melodic song whose lyrics don't seem to fit the title but whose sound ranks up with the best of anime themes. If Ms. Asou hasn't done any recordings beyond anime, she should, as she has a singing voice comparable to Yoko Ishida.
The English dub uses a cast of VAs whose names are not generally associated with quality dub work, but they are the same cast as used for the original OVA and this time around they put in a great effort. Their performances are as much of a positive contributor to the overall entertainment value as any other production aspect. Hamako sounds just a little stiff at times in English, but otherwise the English performances are smooth and full of life, often adding in more character than can be heard in the original Japanese. The dub script does get a little creative at times but never strays far enough to be a negative, either. The Japanese dub does a good job, too, but this is such a well-executed English dub that it may reasonably be considered an improvement on the original. It's certainly worthy of a listen even by dedicated sub fans.
Central Park Media's production of this volume prints the chapter breakdown and credits in black and white on the cover's reverse, an approach which isn't eye-catching but certainly is efficient. Their DVD Menu Design is similarly efficient, with menu choices moving the viewer around on a big bulletin board instead of flipping to submenus. It's not an original idea, but clever nonetheless. The original Japanese credits are retained during the closer, with the English version (with both English and Japanese VAs listed for each role at the same time, but some English roles not credited) included afterward. CPM has even dropped the base price to $19.99 to account for its overall short length, although including the first episode for a regular $29.99 MSRP might have been a better idea. Hopefully that approach will be considered for a “Complete Collection” rerelease down the road.
Amongst the extras are English and Japanese versions of the original Japanese trailer, U.S. trailers for both OVAs, an Art Gallery (all screenshots), a Sketch Gallery (production art), and a short interview with the director. Highlight extras are “A Day in the Life of Kuromi,” which has Ms. Asoh going around doing an animation runner's job for a day while cameras follow her, and the Alternate Angle Storyboard option, which allows a viewer to use a remote's Angle button to switch back and forth between the completed scene and the storyboard version while watching the show. Also present is an extensive set of company previews, and a .pdf file of CPM's catalog can be found on the DVD if it is played on a computer.
Animation Runner Kuromi 2 is the kind of title you'll watch with a perpetual smile on your face. It is uncommonly good at presenting all-out fun while still providing insight into the process and mentality behind the production of anime. Seeing the original is not necessary for appreciating this one, as a brief summary of the first OVA is presented at the beginning, but those who haven't seen it will likely be inspired to check it out after seeing this one. It's a title well worth the attention of any anime fan.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Consistently funny and entertaining, great English dub.
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