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Saturday, 1 October 2016



I watched the first episode of Kuromukuro when it was aired, and honestly, I was not impressed. With a meandering story, an oddly blah aesthetic, and an animation style which, while certainly among the better ones that season, wasn't really being used to its fullest potential, the episode failed to make any kind of good impression, so I did what anyone would do and dropped it immediately.

I only actually came back to the show when it was a few episodes into its second cour. I needed quick episodes of something to break up bursts of writing, so I decided to give it another go, starting with the second episode -- and my god, does this series get better from the second episode onwards. It is both startling and baffling the kind of qualitative difference between the first episode and second episode.

Set in present day Kurobe, Kuromukuro follows Yukina, an absent-minded young woman who dreams of traveling to Mars, and whose mother is director of a UN research facility that studies strange, alien artifacts. When a group of aliens called the Efy Dolgh invade in their giant robots, one of the artifacts open to reveal Kennosuke, a samurai from the Sengoku era, and pilot of the eponymous Black Relic -- although he can only activate it with Yukina's help. As the Efy Dolgh attempt to gather pieces of a so-called 'hinge stone,' Kennosuke and Yukina must fend off their attacks, while also exploring the mysteries behind Yukina's resemblance to Yukihime, the princess of Kennosuke's clan, and the mysterious Oni.

Most of the main cast.

While I did enjoy this series, its attempts to juggle an impressive amount of different balls (the Efy Dolgh, the Oni, Yukina and Yukihime (and later Muetta), the subplot surrounding the students' film-making goals, the looming figure of international politics, Ken's missing memories) means that some of its plots end up veering off into strange places -- and weirdly, it's the oddest one. While the subplot about the students making a film gets an entire episode in the final arc devoted to its conclusion (with a pretty emotional ending, as well), the whole matter of Yukina and Yukihime's resemblance gets handwaved with 'lolz, genetics, amirite?' and then promptly never mentioned again, despite it being one of the major mysteries of the show.

Some of the plotlines, meanwhile, end in ways that are, while perhaps not strange, nevertheless a little underwhelming. Ken's missing/distorted memories and his true nature is a subplot that hangs over a lot of the series, with one arc in particular raising the possibility that he might be an Efy Dolgh agent who merely believes himself to be a samurai -- but then a later episode clarifies in a three minute expository spiel that Ken is exactly who he thinks he is, and his life has gone basically exactly how he thinks it has, bar some confusion over the Oni.

Apart from that, I did enjoy this series a lot -- while it might not have the most unique premise, it has a particular character and tone (even if that character and tone only starts to come through after the first episode) that endeared it to me a lot. The characters are engaging, warm, quite frequently funny, and the series manages to flesh them all out fairly well, with a good focus on their interactions, while still having time for a decent amount of standard mecha-on-mecha fight scenes that anybody tuning in would probably be expecting.

Iiii think this was from one of the earlier episodes? The first big battle with the
big yellow mech, yeah.

The fight scenes probably aren't the best in the genre -- although this is P.A.Works first foray into the giant mecha genre, so there's that -- but they are nevertheless pretty good, having a speed and fluidity that makes them both interesting to watch and helps make them not nearly as slow and clunky as a lot of mecha fight scenes tend to be. P.A.Works take some pretty overt inspiration from chanbara films, especially in the earlier fight scenes, so the focus tends to be more on swordplay than anything else, with later episodes mixing things up slightly by interesting Efy Dolgh mechs with slightly more complicated and interesting abilities.

The other major part of the plot is the romance between Yukina and Ken, and it's -- fine? Again, it's a far cry from being the best romance in anime, but neither is it irritating, offensive, or boring. Yukina and Ken both take active roles in their romance subplot, and when their friends do get involved, it's mostly to provide humourous asides on the romance (such as telling Yukina not to accept Ken's proposal prior to the final battle, as it would be a death flag), rather than to act as the sole driving force for their romantic interactions. Could it have stood to have been fleshed out better? Yes, probably, especially since the final episode hinges on them having a romance for the ages. Did it bother me while watching that it wasn't? Eh, not really. I was more than able to accept that the development I'd seen, coupled with moments that I maybe hadn't seen, would have led to them being in love.

(Orange has very much lowered my standards in this regard.)

Mecha battles for fun and profit.

It certainly helps that the series is very good at tugging on one's heartstrings, usually with clever use of music and animation, and I'm willing to forgive a lot if a series manages to prise an emotional reaction out of me, even if it does so with underhanded methods.

All in all, Kuromukuro is a pretty fun, enjoyable series. It's not the best at anything it tries its hands at, but it has its own distinct character, and it's a genuinely pleasant thing to watch. The series ended with space for a sequel but without really any need for one, and given that P.A.Works tends to not do sequels, I imagine there won't be a Kuromukuro 2 any time soon. We might get, like, an OVA or something.

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