Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 26th 2007
Kurau: Phantom Memory
DVD 3 - Binary Complex
Kurau and Christmas have slipped away to California to start a new life, but unbeknownst to them Doug (to help) and Ayaka's strike team (to capture) are hot on their trail. Learning of a Rynax energy plant brings an unpleasant discovery to Kurau, but of much greater concern is evading imprisonment when Ayaka and crew catch up to them. With Christmas captured, Kurau and Doug have no choice but to pursue her and her captors to the moon, where circumstances reveal ulterior motives and bring up the opportunity for both a family reunion and a daring break-out. In its aftermath Kurau and Christmas learn that others have also had close encounters with Rynax, and for many of them the experience was much more detrimental.
In its second volume Kurau: Phantom Memory (hereafter KPM) started to progress into a “fugitive action series” mode, a state which it fully adopts with this volume. Instead of Kurau doing the odd troubleshooter job, the action now all involves Kurau and Christmas's efforts to evade and/or escape the authorities, sometimes with Doug's help. Such scenes give Kurau plenty of further opportunities to show off the full extent of her Rynax powers, although equally important is Kurau's discovery in episode 12 that there may be more benign uses for her powers, too. And unlike before, Doug also gets his fair share of the action.
Taken solely as an action series, the content here does not do anything terribly remarkable. Scenes where a hero is able to escape because captors underestimate his/her power, and where a hero exploits his/her power and stealth to rescue a loved one from imprisonment, have been staples of both animated and live-action shows for decades, so even Kurau's flying vehicle-jumping derring-do, while thrilling, is unlikely to stand out much in the mind of viewers. Of greater note are suggestions that Ayaka might have personal reasons for specifically seeking Kurau and that not all of the bad guys necessarily have evil motives, as well as allusions to an accident a couple of years earlier which may have a distinct impact on the plot.
KPM has never been as much about its action component as its advertising blurbs make it out to be, however, and that proves true through these four episodes as well. Its greatest strength remains its beautifully evocative use of sentimentality and emotion, a realm in which the series has few peers. Too often in anime series the essence of the love and caring two characters are supposed to share gets lost in a morass of grandiose statements, overblown feature scenes, gimmickry, and unconvincing writing, but not here. Kurau and Christmas don't need to blush or declare their love for each other because any viewer can see from their actions, expressions, and behavior that they do deeply care for one another – and no, there's still not a hint of yuri overtones to it. This time, though, the best and most heartfelt scene instead belongs to Kurau and Dr. Amami, who consoles her in one scene in episode 12 where Kurau must make a heart-wrenching confession. The magic is not limited to the main characters, either; the passing of one character who appears for less than a full episode also proves surprisingly moving.
As good as the writing is, the emotional content could not work without great musical accompaniment. At its best the musical score wraps the viewer up in the wonder of the experience, especially when using variations on the strong closing theme “Moonlight” or its ethereal insert song. Other numbers, which offer some combination of light jazz, light rock, and electronica and often play during the action scenes, prove only marginally effective in establishing and supporting the mood.
Effective voice acting is another key. Whatever one may say about the casting, there can be little question about the ability of the English voice actors to bring out the requisite emotions of their roles. John Gremilion deserves special recognition for his efforts as Dr. Amami, while Monica Rial proves that she can handle the tearjerker scenes as good as anyone and Jessica Boone infuses Christmas with just the right amount of wonder and earnestness. (And could you imagine any English VA more suited to the role of Doug than Jason Douglas? He even already has the name!) Although ADV's English script often scrambles the order of the wording, it rarely strays too far from the subtitles.
Less important to the success of this volume are its visuals, which nevertheless mostly maintain the high quality established in previous volumes. The animation does not look as smooth in some key action sequences, but inevitably fares better when focusing on close-ups of characters. The small number of guest appearances all have appealing designs, while comments about established characters remain consistent with the reviews of previous volumes: Doug still looks like He-Man, Ayaka has the visual severity of the hard-nosed commander she is, Kurau looks decidedly unfeminine for an anime heroine, and Christmas looks charmingly girly without seeming delicate in providing an alternate take on the younger version of Kurau. Although the opener looks prettier, the simple elegance and detail of the closer leaves more of an artistic impression.
This volume may not offer any conventional fan service, but it does include another solid set of Extras. Clean opener and closer accompany Japanese TV spots, production artwork, and a glossary of Key Words on the disc, while the 6-page trifold insert comes loaded with additional content. Among these are the original cover art, director sketches, a column by the Japanese script writer, and interviews (with brief profiles) of the Japanese art director and Mitsuru Ogata, the seiyuu for Dr. Amami.
The story may have progressed, and hints may have been dropped about greater plot issues, but what makes this series great hasn't changed: it's still one of the most convincingly heartfelt and emotional of all anime action series.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Wonderfully evocative use of sentimentality and emotion.
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