Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 2nd 2007
Kurau: Phantom Memory
DVD 1 - Between Two Worlds
In 2100 A.D., an accident at her father's experimental energy source lab on the Moon causes a binary alien life form named Rynax to bond with and physically restructure 12-year-old Kurau, giving her superhuman abilities but also making her a target for those who wish to study her new abilities. As her father searches for a way to undo what has happened and protect his daughter, the alien who has become Kurau waits for her partner, who sleeps within Kurau's body, to awaken. A decade later, a grown-up Kurau is working as an Agent (basically a troubleshooter) when her partner finally awakens and emerges as a girl, whom she soon dubs her “younger sister” Christmas. When a daring rescue attempt attracts unwanted attention, Kurau, determined to protect her beloved Christmas, goes on the run.
Within the first few minutes of the first episode it becomes apparent that a synopsis like the one above or on the back cover cannot do this series justice. The concept may sound like a blending of two common elements of sci-fi anime – the bad-ass action heroine with super-human abilities and an alien/human symbiosis – but in execution it becomes something wholly different. It does have its requisite share of action scenes, but they feel more like devices for moving the plot along than the focus of the series. This is, instead, a story much more about relationships, both between parent and child and between a matched pair of aliens who have integrated into human form.
To call Kurau a love story would not exactly be accurate, as the Kurau/Christmas dynamic does not have romantic overtones in the traditional sense. As another Agent spying on them notes at one point, though, neither do they have the “older/younger sister” familial relationship that Kurau claims to others. Theirs is a relationship rarely seen in anime: a deeply caring, achingly needy love, the kind which makes palpable Kurau's loneliness before Christmas appears and the joyful change to her attitude when Christmas finally does awaken and take human form. Given the way her adult personality is established in the latter half of the first episode, the change Kurau undergoes is dramatic and startling, but it so closely mirrors the kind of attitude adjustment some people undergo when they first become parents that it feels completely credible.
Though it fades into the background after the first episode, the father/daughter relationship involving Kurau is equally heartfelt. The depth of feeling Dr. Amami has for his daughter quickly becomes apparent in his devastation over what happens to Kurau and his trepidation over how much of the daughter he knows is actually present in the alien who has apparently blended with his daughter. Is his daughter's soul really a part of the Rynax, or is the Rynax merely a caretaker in Kurau's body? And how much does that actually matter? Difficult questions, to which the series provides no easy answers.
The only other recurring character who has been well-established by the end of the volume is Doug, a cop-turned-Agent who has his own parental issues. He has been hired to spy on Kurau and Christmas without knowing who and what they are, but who his employer is and why he has been hired to do this remains a mystery throughout this volume. Here the story takes a more ordinary turn, as all the early indicators suggest that he's a basically good guy who is going to wind up helping/working with Kurau and Christmas at some point (although that point does not come up in the first four episodes). Beyond him the characters introduced so far are your generic bunch of wild cards, thugs, unscrupulous corporate types, and severe, dedicated police-types.
Well-executed storytelling strikes a pleasing balance between character development and action scenes, which are dramatic and reasonably tense without being overly flashy. Rather than trying to be spectacular, the series places heavier emphasis on Kurau's more subtle use of her abilities and her commitment to keep her promise to her “father,” which involves keeping Kurau's body from being harmed. Because of that, none of the action scenes take on the overblown feel too often seen in such series. The best scenes are, in fact, the ones where Kurau is simply flying.
As good as the storytelling is, the excellent visuals are as much a part of the appeal. Good animation supports quality action scenes, while the pretty artistry further solidifies the position of BONES as one of Japan's top animation studios. Background, vehicle, and equipment designs favor a classic futuristic look and are invariably well-drawn. Despite a couple of tiny rough spots that always seem to creep into BONES productions, the character designs are equally outstanding. Kurau differs greatly from the typical anime heroine by maintaining her decidedly tomboyish look even in adulthood, while the darling Christmas is as much pretty as cute in her snappy purple-toned outfit. Characters in other key roles look equally good, although a slight drop-off in quality of rendering can be noticed in some lesser roles. Violence, though present in sufficient amount, usually gets intense rather than graphic, and not a bit of real fan service can be found; this is not a series that has any intention of selling itself on cuteness or visceral elements, but one who comes into the series expecting those may still be charmed by the level of quality in other elements.
Alternately complementing and detracting from the rest is a spectacularly inconsistent soundtrack. At its best it is so utterly brilliant in conveying the spirit and soul of the storytelling that it almost overwhelms the viewer with its mood, while at other times (most commonly in action scenes) it sounds like twangy, hackneyed late '80s/early '90s synthesized retreads, so the grade given below is more an average of its peaks and valleys than a consistent score. The closer “Moonlight” has a gentle, faintly ethereal sound of it vaguely reminiscent of the work of Enya, while the opener may remind some viewers of the opening vocals for Chobits.
The worthiness of the dub produced by ADV largely comes down to a matter of personal taste. The style and caliber of the performances are generally consistent with the originals, and the English script never strays too much, so likeability will depend mostly on how good a fit you find Monica Rial to be for Kurau and Jessica Boone to be for Christmas. Neither is brilliant, but both emote sufficiently well and Monica does a good job of adjusting her pitch to account for the age and persona changes of her character, so normal dub fans should find them satisfying.
ADV provides a solid (if unspectacular) package of Extras for this first volume, with on-disk Extras including staples like clean opener and closer, a promotional video, a very extensive production art gallery, and a glossary of terms listed as “Key Words.” Also back, after somewhat of a hiatus recently on ADV productions, are the “Next Volume” previews. Included in the case is a three-panel double-sided GPO Investigation Report, which contains the original DVD cover art, staff and seiyuu interviews, and “Director's Memories” sketches.
Following on the heels of Le Chevalier D'Eon, it looks like ADV has its second big winner for the year in this one. It may have languished for more than 2½ years since initially being licensed, but thankfully ADV was finally able to come through, offering a thoroughly beautiful first episode which sets the stage for an unconventional take on a super-powered sci-fi heroine. Great visuals complement a story as much about relationships as action, creating a superb opening volume for a highly promising series.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Beautiful first episode, great writing and visuals.
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