Reviewby Theron Martin,
Kurau: Phantom Memory
DVD 2 - Double Jeopardy
A feverish Kurau stumbles back home after her battle at the warehouse, but the climax of that battle carries lingering consequences that must be dealt with, including the release of another Rynax. The GPO teams, led by Ayaka Steiger, are closing in on her and Christmas, however, forcing them to flee once again when an attempt to trap Kurau fails. Doug, the Agent who has been spying on them, catches up to them again and reveals his true motives, helping them to relocate to an island with a curious pastime: arena Battle Pod duels! Even there, though, the presence of the GPO is not far behind.
If you have already seen the first volume then you should have decided by now whether or not this is the kind of series that is going to work for you. It may have its share of mecha battles and super-powered action, but to regard this as some run-of-the-mill shonen action series would be a grave mistake. The adorable Christmas may be the very epitome of moe, but neither is this some cutesy fanboy fest. (In fact, this volume entirely lacks even the slightest hint of fan service.) It is, instead, a much more mature tale which places far more emphasis on developing heartfelt character relationships than on wowing its viewers with scantily-clad girls, spectacular combat scenes, or flashy use of its title character's powers. Some may find the gracefully-flowing pace to be too slow for their tastes, but those that can handle it will find an awful lot to like in these four episodes.
Episodes 5-7, which remain firmly focused on Kurau, Christmas, and Doug, produce the same kind of warm fuzzy feeling that most of the first volume did, and they do it without seeming like they're actually trying. Scenes of Kurau and Christmas enjoying each other's company, longing for (and worrying about) each other when not together, and expressing their gentle but immensely strong affection for one another have yet to feel old or overused because the writing keeps them soundly rooted in realism. Their emotions and reactions are not exaggerated or just used as a tool; one cannot watch the scenes of them together without understanding that they bear a deeply-felt love for one another and powerful need for each other. These episodes should also dispel any fanciful notions of shojo ai content; their nature as a Rynax pair lends a distinctly asexual air to the relationship, although they do not exactly feel like siblings, either.
While all of the lovey-dovey stuff is going on, the plot does progress significantly. By the time the volume is halfway done Doug has revealed his client and true purpose, and its revelation assures his continued presences as a key supporting character. Big implications are made about the nature of Kurau's powers, her ability to thwart the GPO indicates far greater abilities than are apparently possessed by normal Ryna sapiens, and a face from Kurau's past pops back up again. The most curious development, though, is the devotion of a good chunk of episode 8 to the dark backstory of Ayeka Steiger, the GPO officer introduced last volume as Doug's former underling and the current leader of a Ryna sapien-focused strike team. Such an emphasis strongly suggests that she may become more than just a basic villain as the story progresses.
Despite not being particularly flashy, the second volume nonetheless maintains the high artistic merits established in the first volume. Kurau's tomboy design may be stunningly plain as young adult female heroines in anime series go, but that also gives her a refreshingly different and distinctive look and is plenty well balanced out by the very girly and irrepressibly appealing design of Christmas. Ayeka, though drawn very well, has a bit too severe a look to be called genuinely pretty, while Doug looks like he has He-Man somewhere in his family tree. Lesser characters also get lesser detail but still look reasonably good, while mecha designs get more attention. Well-drawn background art provides plenty of detail, but the action scenes, while having enough going on in them to be visually interesting, will not impress as well as more glitzy series do. The animation also looks good, especially in displays of Rynax power and the changing expressions of its two lead characters. It is also responsible for the most amusing flaw in the series to date: if one watches the traffic patterns carefully around 3:30 in episode 6, vehicles mysteriously intersect without a collision. Although episodes 5-7 remain devoid of graphic content, only tricks of coloration and shading prevent certain scenes in episode 8 from becoming very messy.
The soundtrack through these four episodes works more evenly this time around, featuring fewer valleys than the first volume while doing a quite capable job of setting mood and tone. It achieves its peak and most beautiful effect with the insert song (repeated from the first volume) used at the end of episode 6, which allows it to duplicate the rare fully immersive effect occasionally accomplished in the first volume. The opener, which also pops up once during the episode content, remains unchanged, and lengthy segueways into the closer are the norm.
Whether you liked, tolerated or disliked the English dub after the first volume, the second volume is unlikely to change your opinion. It is not an especially strong effort by any of the English cast, but neither are any of the performances inadequate, as they do hit the right notes on the more emotional content. The English dub stays relatively close to the original, with the only difference of note involving the one truly comedic moment in these block of episodes (in episode 7 concerning the baby), where a minor adjustment in the wording not only makes what Christmas says sound far funnier than the subtitles but better justifies the reactions of the animated listeners.
ADV offers another good package of (mostly standard) DVD Extras: clean opener and closer, a brief Key Words breakdown, a much more extensive set of production art, and Japanese TV spots. The trifold, double-sided GPO Investigation Report insert provides more seiyuu and Japanese production staff interviews and memories. An art box is also available with this volume. Less appealing is the vastly overdone wording of the blurb on the back, which plays the content up as being far more volatile than it actually is. Over-glorifying a title may be a classic advertising gimmick, but ADV should just trust the quality of the content they have here and provide a blurb more accurate to the feel of the series. Representing the series as something other than what it actually is can be a sure way to turn fans off.
So far this Studio BONES production feels more like the character-oriented work they did in the early 2000s rather than the more shonen-leaning content they have shifted towards in the mid-2000s, but given that this series first aired in 2004, that cannot (unfortunately) be taken as a sign of a reversion to previous form. Well-plotted and good-looking, it may turn some off with a leisurely pacing compared to a true action series but should win even more over with its heartfelt writing and storytelling.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Quality writing, adorable character design for Christmas.
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