「鬼の降る空」 (Oni no Furu Sora)
“A Demon Falls from the Sky”
There’s been a lot going against Kuromukuro, even before its premiere. The last original sci-fi venture with mechas that we got didn’t turn out so well, and many might speculate the same fate to befall this one. Plus, P.A. Works has produced a few duds in recent years. At least from its initial showing, however, Kuromukuro shows promise with its intriguing premise and dazzling visuals.
The story goes that over half a century ago, an ancient artifact was discovered during the construction of the Kurobe Dam—the tallest in Japan. The United Nations subsequently established the Kurobe Research Institute to study the object in hopes of discovering its origins. To accommodate the families of various intellectuals who came from all around the world to examine the artifact, the UN founded Mt. Tate International Senior High School just a couple of miles away.
However, none of this information is provided in this week’s episode.
Aside from briefly mentioning the approximate time the artifact was discovered, Kuromukuro’s debut installment makes little to no effort in providing detailed or informative exposition. In fact, I wasn’t even fully aware of the premise’s finer details until writing this post. Whether this works for or against the show will be determined in subsequent weeks. What I can say is that Kuromukuro’s first episode is a pleasant romp through an interesting and slightly futuristic Japan starring quirky and expressive characters.
This first episode follows Shirahane Yukina (Ichimichi Mao), a student of Mt. Tate unsure of what lies in her future. She’s not the brightest of her class, and is reminded constantly by those around her that she’s too unmotivated or incompetent to even come close to the success of her mother, U.N. Chief Shirahane Hiromi (Tojo Kanako). After being told by her school teacher that her career prospects weren’t looking so good, she the Kurobe Research Institute to return her mother’s phone to her. Things go awry, however, when mechs rain down from the sky and attack the base, forcing the U.N. to deploy its state-of-the-art defensive troops. Amidst the gunfire, Shirahane accidentally manages to trigger the dormant artifact, releasing its contents: a samurai from a time gone by.
Expressive, Unique Characters
First and foremost, Yukina manages to be a surprisingly captivating character, despite her subdued personality. She’s remarkably expressive—little distinct idiosyncrasies such as the way she steadily walks down the stairs or her tendency to pout convey subtly yet compellingly her unenthused, unconfident, and child-like personality. We can tell that she harbors a general fascination for her mother’s work, as she awes at the sight of the dam and the artifact. The only thing that she could’ve benefited from was more time to further explore her inner conflicts and motivations.
Her relationship with her mother is particularly interesting—you can tell being compared to her is a consistent source of annoyance, especially since she’s perceived as far inferior. I’m specifically intrigued by their torn relationship and history, as the episode makes clear that Yukina’s uncle was around for her childhood far more than her mother was.
While the introduction of that mysterious ronin might come off as a little bizarre to some, I think it’s got the potential to really distinguish the show and its cast. Until he burst out nude in a hot heap of green ooze from his hibernation pod, the show wasn’t more than just generally entertaining—both with its characters and its setting. As soon as he came on screen, though, I was infinitely more engaged, as his gung-ho personality and cryptic remarks kept me alert and asking question after question. This guy’s man-out-of-time angle could make for a humorous and compelling character. It will also open the door for further explanation of the show’s history, the origin of the invaders, and maybe something about Kirahane’s family history? His appearance and role in the show could really bring it to the next level.
Too Little or Just Enough?
As mentioned before, the history of this world is scarcely explain, but I think for now that’s not too severe of an issue. The episode did a good job of relaying the relevant information—subtly it into small conversations of acknowledgments. Maybe it’d be helpful if more was said in general on the origin of the base, its relevance to the dam, and the school it helped incite—but that’s information that can be saved for another episode. As of now, Kuromukuro did a fine enough job in introducing its characters and setting. The slow pacing of the premiere serves as a digestible way to familiarize us with the show’s world and its inhabitants. The question subsequent episodes must answer, though, is whether they’re interesting or distinct enough to stick around for.
Presentation – Good & Bad
The actions scenes, unfortunately, were mired by the same kind of CG garble that afflicts much of sci-fi anime nowadays. I’ve stated before that I abhor the practice, but have become desensitized to it over the years. However, I’m not sure if Kuromukuro is helping. The way the mechs move is jagged and awkward as always, but their uninspired designs pose as a big an offense. They look like they could belong in any other series—there’s nothing that makes them particularly unique. The invading ‘bots sport an interesting transformable ostrich-like design, but that’s as unique as it gets for their visual impression. However, it’s actually pretty rad that the enemy mechs are at least semi-organic, and will perhaps allow for an interesting explanation for our main antagonists.
Otherwise, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve already stated how expressive its characters can be, as individuals move and emote distinctly and convincingly. You can tell that the animators really made an effort to distinguish each character from one another, for each expresses their own unique visual and emotional quirks. The sweeping vistas and soft, cheery color palette also lend to the show’s impressive aesthetic value.
Kuromukuro is taking it’s time, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Not much is explicitly told about the lore, but enough is cleverly weaved into the dialogue to establish a mostly interesting world and cast of characters. This is clearly just the first half (or third) of a more ambitious introductory arc. The introduction of a clothless, out-of-time swordsman was just the kick in the gut this first episode needed to spark a greater level of intrigue. Despite some messy and uninspired CG mechs, the animation is immensely beautiful, impressing with its uniquely expressive characters. If you want to let your pessimism get the better of you, there are definitely some missteps here that could amount to utter catastrophe later down the line. At the same time though, Kuromukuro definitely has all the right tools for a potentially worthwhile and competent show.
OP: 「Desutopia (デストピア)」 by (Glay)