Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Kurau: Phantom Memory
DVD 4 - Mirror Image
Having rescued Christmas from the GPO and made some semblance of peace with her father, Kurau seeks passage back to Earth. Naturally GPO bloodhounds Ayaka and Wong aren't making things easy for her, but she somehow manages to board an Earth-bound freighter...only to be hijacked mid-flight by a seriously unbalanced pirate. Eventually she and Christmas arrive on-planet, seeking refuge with her aunt and uncle in Switzerland. The leisurely pace of rural life agrees with both as they settle in, only to have the unexpected arrival of another Ryna sapien turn everything on its head. Yvon occupies the body of a young boy and is in desperate need of a Pair. He wants Christmas. Kurau refuses and complications of a rather violent nature ensue. Meanwhile the GPO is tracking Yvon, getting ever closer to discovering Kurau and Christmas' new hideout in the process.
It's easy to underestimate Kurau. Its plot doesn't have a single-minded linear purpose and thus sometimes seems unfocused and a little random. But what unifies the story isn't an overarching plot (and certainly not some easily-categorized narrative like a tale of revenge or a quest to save the world from whatever), but rather emotions and relationships.
For all its action trappings and rather cold atmosphere, Kurau is a very personal series, a show more about the bonds of affection that tie everyone—friends and family and even extraterrestrials—together than about telling a tightly structured story or even exploring its interesting vision of the future. It has an unusually strong orientation towards familial bonds, in this volume touching again on Doug and Teddy's slightly awkward father/son relationship and Kurau's comfortable relationship with her aunt and uncle. Even one-shot characters benefit from the series' personal, heartfelt quality. The psychotic pirate from episode 13 could easily have been left a mere plot device; instead he gets an entire life-philosophy and one brilliant, crushing moment where he admits his own hypocrisy with nothing more than single look. The rest of the volume deals mostly with Yvon and his search for a Pair. The Pair-bond (insert biology in-joke here) is Kurau's greatest, and most easily overlooked, achievement. To create an entirely new kind of relationship, one that is simultaneously heartbreakingly familiar and eerily alien, is no mean feat. Yvon's desperate loneliness is palpable, his need for companionship very human, and yet the intensity of his need and the indefinable nature of the bond are quite alien. Kurau and Christmas continue to demonstrate the positive side, the fulfillment, of the Pair bond, and their relationship is as cuddly-cute as ever. Their complete understanding, trust and devotion are beautifully warming and more than a little inhuman.
The series' warming effect becomes all the more obvious with the move to Switzerland, where absolutely gorgeous backdrops of shining white peaks and evergreen forests replace the alienating cold of the futuristic cityscapes. Kurau, with her believably athletic build, unconventional good looks, and startling blue eyes, in addition to being one of the most visually appealing characters in recent memory, also fits surprisingly well into her new surroundings. Her stern features along with the generally mature and reserved supporting cast add just enough emotional distance to allow the series' warm undertones to stand out in starker relief. Thanks to that emotional reserve, the series never grows maudlin or drifts into melodrama, making its audience work a little for their emotional payoff.
That its atmosphere is chilly and its intent deeply emotional does not mean that Kurau is boring. The tension as the GPO unknowingly creeps closer is even more intense for the time spent elaborating Kurau's newfound peace, and the introduction of Yvon provides the series' first head-on Rynax versus Rynax fight. Though the number of fluid cinematic effects and amount of animation showboating has grown less as the series progresses (and the budget presumably grows thinner), Kurau and Yvon's fight bounds with real energy through the forest as they leap and dodge, plowing through trees and racing under water.
Even when interweaving many styles to create action themes or working with electric guitars, Yukari Katsuki's score for Kurau has a certain delicate fragility to it. Her compositions are crucial to the series' success; nearly every piece is memorable in its own right, despite the variety of styles and instruments. The very best works are those used in introspective and tragic scenes, particularly the achingly sad piano arrangement of the superb closing theme. Director Yasuhiro Irie has a habit of cuing swelling emotions with swelling music that is far from subtle yet is also extremely effective.
ADV's English dub's greatest strength is probably its writing. The translation of any particular exchange can be quite loose, but it never loses sight of what the characters are saying or what the purpose of the exchange is. The looseness allows the dialogue a much more natural cadence than is the norm for dubs and also adds a level or two of cleverness to the dialogue. The only translation misstep is a later exchange involving Yvon that is played for laughs when it really shouldn't have been. The acting is somewhat more uneven. The main cast does solid work, and even the bit players—including an increasing number of thankless single-episode characters with bad ends—dig into their roles with relish. However, both Yvon and Monica Rial's Kurau have problems getting the more intense scenes exactly right. That, and the fact that Rial is reinterpreting some of popular seiyuu Ayako Kawasumi's best work, insures that preferences for this dub will split down the usual dub/sub battle lines.
There aren't any on-disc extras (CD CMs, art gallery, an extremely brief glossary of terms) that will send fans into frothing ecstasy, but the fold-out paper insert includes some informative interviews and enough of a glimpse at the original cover art to make one wish heartily that ADV had provided reversible covers with the original Japanese art on them.
If in search of a propulsive narrative with an easily encapsulated plot and purpose, give Kurau a pass. This series is pitched right at the action fan with a need for something with heart and an appreciation (or tolerance) for its rather loose-jointed, abrupt structure. For that fan, Kurau is the perfect scratch for a very particular itch, and this volume—like each of its predecessors—will keep that itch at bay with practiced ease.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Action/drama with a decidedly personal focus and a depth belying its premise and seemingly unfocused structure.
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