Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 28th 2007
Kurau: Phantom Memory
DVD 5 - Twin Destinies
Like a binary planet without its binary, a Rynax without its Pair is an unstable existence. So is Yvon, who has lost his Pair a second time, twice as unstable? Perhaps not, but tragedy seems inescapable regardless. As the GPO's pursuit of Yvon comes to a close, Wong decides the time is nigh and lays all of his cards on the table, telling all he knows about Kurau, Rynax, the GPO, and Ayaka's father. The truth, and the role her family's murder played in it, robs Ayaka of her mission, leaving her rudderless, drifting until the pursuit of a pair of rogue Ryna sapiens created by the GPO leads to the formation of some unexpected alliances.
The series' penultimate volume opens with the disintegration of Jessica, a reminder of the potentially cheap way in which Kurau is occasionally plotted. Jessica's around for all of one episode, then *poof* she's dead, and viewers are expected to care. That exact ploy is one of the Gundam franchise's many sources of unintentional hilarity. The difference is that when Kurau does it, it works. The rest of the volume works on the same principle: Yvon's story arc comes to an abrupt close, some revelations (barely surprising enough to warrant the title) are thrown out, new characters are conjured from thin air to begin the next story arc, and somehow every minute of it is engrossing.
Perhaps it's just the artistic equivalent of the handicap principle in biology, but succeeding at what would usually be a transparent trick actually makes Kurau seem even more impressive. And indeed, that it can paint characters with such effective, economical brush strokes that Yvon's anguish over Jessica's demise feels real, despite her short tenure, or that the newly-introduced chief of the GPO can exude menace without delving into evil-villain histrionics or dropping his kindly old man facade is as impressive as any Byzantine achievement in plotting. During its many memorable moments, the series is equally comfortable with the crackling tension of Ayaka and Kurau's obligatory reunion or the snuggleworthy comfort of Christmas and Kurau's everyday life, and offers up additional high-contrast zingers like a soul-healing meal of stew and a weirdly sanitary riverside massacre.
Even so the series' appeal remains intensely visual. One glance at Switzerland's beautiful alpine wilderness or the floral lakeside where Kurau and Christmas relax is enough to explain, without a single word spoken, the environmental effects of "blue energy," just as a glimpse of the pleasantly transformed moonscape attests to the positive (and thankfully aesthetically pleasing) potential of new technologies. The homey warmth of their aunt's house makes thoroughly believable the faith the series has in the healing powers of familial love (and a good stew). Even Kurau and Christmas owe much of their charm to their very human good looks, and the thawing of Ayaka's Thatcheresque iron lady persona is accompanied by a subtle softening of her severe beauty. It's all animated with BONES' customary fluidity, and even the high-flying action (of which there is little this volume) serves the secondary purpose of resurrecting the childlike wonder of flying in the sky. The imagery is never less than attractive, and the world it creates is deeply involving, deceptively detailed and refreshingly optimistic.
Occasional obviousness aside, director Yasuhiro Irie makes good use of Yukari Katsuki's stylistically varied but thematically unified score in support of the varied but thematically unified content of his series. It is often beautiful, and makes good listening on its own merits.
ADV's dubs range from the workmanlike to the very good, and if Kurau's leans more to the workmanlike side of the spectrum it's with enough of their usual professionalism that it ultimately makes only a minor difference which version one opts for. As always appreciation for the dub depends heavily on one's fondness for Monica Rial's Kurau. Fans will be glad to know that she handles intensity with far greater aplomb this volume than the last and that, while Yvon is still weak and Ayaka played a bit too young, the rest of the dub is strong when it needs to be, gentle when it needs to be, and is as faithful as one could reasonably expect. But what is with that gratuitous mechanical effect whenever glowing Ryna sapiens speak?
This volume's two notable extras are a collection of production art (including panoramas of the Swiss settings that deserve to be mounted on walls), and a "key terms" extra that describes in (nearly incomprehensible) depth the workings and history of the show's "blue energy" technology.
If Kurau is gathering itself to leap into an epic conclusion, it doesn't show. Its pace is as languorous and its focus as personal as ever. That's good news for discerning action fans in search of entertainment that doesn't confuse gore with maturity.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Good Ayaka development; superb atmosphere; doesn't feel cheap even when doing things that normally would be.
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