Reviewby Theron Martin,
Episodes 14-26 Streaming
The Efidolg agent Muetta has come to the school to take out the pilots of Kuromukuro, and Ken is so thrown by her physical resemblance to the girl he remembers that she run him through. Muetta soon has her own problems to deal with when the demon-masked ogre reveals itself and one of her fellows decides to take this opportunity to eliminate their competition. This whole mess eventually leads to shocking revelations about the Efidolg's true nature, motivations, and grand scheme, as well as the full truth behind what happened 450 years ago between Ken and Muetta. Meanwhile, increased dangers result in Sophie being called home, even while the Kurobe Dam facility tries to prepare against an inevitable Efidolg assault.
Despite Netflix breaking the series into two 13-episode blocks for its subtitled stream, there was no break in Kuromukuro's 26-episode airing in Japan. Hence it's only natural that its second half picks up exactly where last season left off with zero recap. Whereas the first half of Kuromukuro concentrated mostly on establishing its cast and their struggles, the second half concentrates much more heavily on moving the plot forward. As a result, it eventually brings out answers to all the assorted mysteries posed by the first half, while continuing to deliver satisfyingly heavy doses of both mecha and non-mecha action.
On the action front, events progress in a fairly standard escalation pattern. Secondary pilots upgrade their equipment as new models and additional Efidolg machines become available, the main mech gains new abilities (in this case flying), and the good guys' forces eventually get bolstered by an enemy defector. New machines with their own unique attacks pop up to be fought, including an eventual boss machine. All of this is handled skillfully and credibly by director Tensai Okamura and his P.A. Works animation team, resulting in action scenes that thrill even when there isn't anything particularly fresh about them. The animation doesn't shirk on the non-mecha action scenes either; episode 14 features some impressive swordfighting exchanges between the Muetta and the “ogre” who will eventually be known as Zell, and common animation shortcuts are rare in other hand-to-hand fights too. From a purely technical standpoint, this is one of the better action series of the year.
The series also continues to be satisfying on the character front. Character design and animation has been a major strength of the series since the beginning, but this half does a stand-out job in visually differentiating between Yukina, Muetta, and Yukihime despite their physical interchangeability; the different clothing and hairstyles (and Muetta having red pupils) help, but the many differences in expressiveness, body language, and how they carry themselves make the distinctions deeper. Muetta's personality is also distinctive, as she transitions from being an angry and aggressive young woman to lost and confused as her environment and understanding of her own identity are shaken up. She makes for a great addition to the series' diverse cast. While the pouty-ness that could sometimes make Yukina annoying in the first half never entirely goes away, it's now balanced by her firmer convictions, and most other recurring cast members show at least a little more depth than before (especially Sophie). The notable exception is Jundai, who continues to be so single-minded in his pursuit of streaming video that he demonstrates no awareness of his own safety and even barely acknowledges that a soldier was wounded saving him when he continued to film as Muetta charged at him with swords drawn. His lack of remorse or even concern suggests that he may be intended to negatively represent the obsessiveness with filming dangerous events that has become common recently.
The story continues to develop well, first raising new questions when Muetta is medically examined and then gradually doling out revelations. Some of these are predictable, but others contradict expectations or otherwise present unexpected twists, such as Efidolg's method for creating their invasion forces. The stability of the logic behind some of these twists is questionable, but they apparently worked for the Efidolg for centuries if not millennia, so why change now? This all leads to a dramatic climax in the penultimate episode 25, but the final episode 26 is not a typical denouement. There's still one big issue left concerning the status of various characters, and the last part of the series focuses on this mystery, leading up to a secondary climax. The true denouement comes as the closing credits roll, and the story jumps five years in the future. This approach is familiar if you've seen certain other mecha titles, but I'm ambivalent about how satisfying I find it in this case. At least its extrapolations of what various characters look like five years later are interesting.
The style and effectiveness of the musical score remains largely unchanged, with occasional parallels to the Lord of the Rings films remaining and an overall dramatic sound that mixes orchestration and synthesized numbers. Despite that, it has less of a propensity to go overboard in this final stretch. The opener and closer also remain unchanged from the first half.
As with the first half of the series, Kuromukuro is available subtitled-only, which still seems like a curious choice for Netflix. Regardless, the second half nicely rounds out the story and characters set up in the first half. The ending may be hit-or-miss, but the series generally does a pretty good job at getting there.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Great action scenes, distinctive character designs, juicy plot twists
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