Kurau: Phantom Memory
I can't help thinking one of the reasons I don't get much mail is because someone suggests an anime they like, and then gets disappointed when I write a negative review. Oh well, I'm too simple minded to be anything other than honest :)
Note however that this review, while quite negative, does end up with a watchable rating. This means the anime is not bad, and certainly worth taking time to form your own opinion... but if possible I'd try and form that opinion without buying the whole thing in advance.
In a research lab of the future, which is within a lunar city, an experiment is underway with a wondrous new source of energy. Everyone in the lab is excited by the prospect of infinite energy to power the machinery of mankind. Well, not quite everyone, the young girl Kurau is there just because it is the only way she can get some time with her father, and she doesn't want to be alone on her birthday. However, unexpectedly, she meets someone who responds to her feelings. It seems the reactor is actually drawing power from another world, and along the way it picked up a sentient being from that realm, dumping them into a strange and hostile environment. As a being of pure energy there is only one way it can live, by merging with Kurau and creating a hybrid being of both worlds.
Needless to say this comes as rather a shock to everyone involved. Not least to Kurau's father who has to deal with the fact that his precious daughter is now a perfect blend of the two beings from which she is composed. Emotionally she is still a young girl, with all her memories intact, but at the same time she has alien memories of another world. She also has abilities, stemming from her dual nature, that allow her to perform feats that are superhuman and will be a lure for those eager to gain access to new power. As for Kurau, what life will she make for herself now that she is not truly a native of this world.
That took quite a while to write. The reason being that a synopsis is, by definition, a spoiler. But the introduction to Kurau is sufficiently cool that I don't really want to spoil it, but I also don't want to be uselessly vague. It's quite a tricky line to walk. The important thing is that Kurau is substantially changed by the experience. I also described it as a "perfect" blend. What I meant by that is that she is not two minds in one body, nor is she dominated by either human or alien. She is instead a new creation who is not entirely either of what went before, and is thus free to see the world with both knowledge and a fresh perception. It's quite an invigorating concept.
One other major element of the story is that Rynax, which is what the energy beings are called, are binary creatures in their native world. They always exist with another, a pair, who complements them. Kurau's pair was seriously weakened in the event, being rescued and absorbed by Kurau just before her energy form dissipated. It takes her pair many years to recover and emerge once again. However the story largely skips the intervening time, so we don't have to wait too long to meet her... although it does mean we only see Kurau's life in flashback, and even that is sparingly used. She certainly has grown into an interesting person; cool, collected and a professional private agent. And now that her pair has emerged her world is complete.
This, sadly, seems to have come as a terrible shock to the creators. A life of cool older girl and cute younger girl being the best of friends and having fun isn't going to keep most of the audience watching (I probably would have, but that is neither here nor there). So as a result the story introduces the GPO, the global police, who just happen to have orders to capture stray Rynax and the equipment to make it happen. All of a sudden Kurau, and the rather horrendously named Christmas (her pair) are on the run from an implacable and inexhaustible enemy. This ultimately becomes sort of boring because constantly running away doesn't actually form a story, or a progression, to be that attached to. Thus while there are little episodes that shine there is no direction. It also forces Kurau to suddenly become incredibly klutzy. This experienced agent, even with the help of her superhuman powers, doesn't seem too clever about eluding the police... partly because the story absolutely depends on their intervention for any sort of momentum.
Eventually even the creators seem to get tired of it and move onto another phase. It turns out that there are more Rynax in the world, or those affected by Rynax energy. Some of them are also hunted, some of them are confused, and some of them revel in the power they possess in this world. It allows for another type of story and the introduction of Kurau's ability to act as a channel home for other Rynax. This is a promising thread, finally giving Kurau some positive goal to head towards. However once again the progression is extremely odd. There are some very nice sub-stories, but all of a sudden Kurau is spending a lot of time getting beaten up by other Rynax. She talks big, and keeps telling Christmas to "hide", and then proceeds to head out and achieve absolutely nothing of use. Indeed, once again, she spends an awful lot of time running. The conclusion, while touching, continues in this vein.
I'll give one concrete example. All through the show we are given hints of corruption in high places, of rynax powers being harnessed to unsavory ends. And then, very late in the series, the secret is revealed in full and we meet the product of this plot-line. Kurau gets beaten up, which by this time is getting tediously repetitive, and then the whole plot-line is just arbitrarily snuffed out in a particularly stupid way. It's some seriously lazy writing. Likewise the Rynax, who for half of the series have been innocent victims of the pursuing GOP, suddenly turn into living bombs. This means the GOP was completely in the right, the Rynax are so insanely dangerous that their heavy handed actions are eminently justifiable. And this change is introduced primarily to give Kurau something marginally productive to do.
Another odd element is the relationship between Kurau and Christmas. In theory they are a binary life-form, thus having a connection deeper than even the most intimate of human couples. This doesn't seem to actually come out in the series though, because while there is a lot of soulful gazing the relationship is pure older and younger sister. Even after it becomes clear that Christmas has the full complement of Rynax powers Kurau is still telling her to hide, to wait... I'm not sure where they intended to go with this element, but not much comes of it. It also makes Christmas's character quite weak, very cute, but definitely subordinate and quite passive. She does get one chance to shine, when the focus is menial, but that's only a single episode.
The end result is a sort of disappointed feeling. The initial premise is so cool and the characters have a lot of promise. The show has excellent character design and a strong ability for a poignant and reflective scene. However, as mentioned, the progression is muddled. I remember still hoping the "real" story would start when I was already sixty percent of the way through. And my recollection of the series is a collection of disconnected fragments and no sense of energy in the telling of the story. This is partly because Kurau is so passive, constantly being pushed around by external forces with no clear goal of her own... other than to not be pushed around by external forces. And that just isn't enough.
The production is interesting, it looks good with strong character design and attractive presentation. There was one episode, with Kurau and Christmas working a menial job as part of their cover, which showed this element off so very well. And I daresay the promotional screen shots for this series focus on the character art, as does mine. This is partly because the art is a veneer, a lot of the action animation actually has very low detail and movement. Something that became very clear while trying to capture a good screenshot (I wish there were more fights like the one in Ep.1 though). It's also fairly unimaginative in terms of choreography, the energy battles being as much about saving animation effort as entertaining. Voice work is good, it does have a touch for character, but at times it can seem like every second line is kurau or christmas calling out to each other. Music and ambient sound was nothing special.
A young girl from our world, and an alien energy dragged from another, form a new and unique creation. Kurau looks at the world with both human and alien eyes, and has powers and emotions that mean she will always be somewhat separate from what is normal. It's a cool premise, but it does seem the creators weren't exactly sure what to do after that point, leading to a rather muddled story progression. Lovely character art, and decent action animation as long as you don't look too closely. The most painful thing is how cool this could have been.
There don't seem to be any reviews from my regular sources. Which is a shame, I'd love to see if I'm the only one who got this feeling.