Review/discussion about: Kuromukuro
In Kuromukuro, Yukina’s mother forgets about her phone which ends up being the catalyst for the entire anime.
I did something similar once. I used to own one of those dinky push-up cell phones that exposed a keyboard. I barely ever used it since I rarely reached out to anybody of my own volition, and it had no capacity for apps let alone the Internet.
One day, I plugged it into the charger I kept in my bathroom (for whatever reason), and, in my infinite wisdom, I left it there – for three whole days. When I finally remembered to get it, I had more messages in my inbox than I had ever seen. Texts of the “Where are you?” variety from my cousins, siblings, and grandmother, and multiple missed calls from my parents wondering why I wasn’t picking up.
I later learned that my mother was ready to phone both my apartment complex and even the police to make sure I was safe since I was responding to literally nobody who contacted me. I apologized for my stupidity, and I promised never to do something so careless with my phone ever again.
Kuromukuro doesn’t get to make any more promises since it has officially finished, but its mistakes were more and grander than mine ever was.
Kuromukuro begins with Yukina, a high-school girl utterly unsure of what she wants to do or who she wants to be. Her teacher berates her, and her mother doesn’t provide much guidance, so she only wonders what the future has in store for her. However, when aliens invade Earth, a samurai named Kennosuke (Ken for short) reawakens, and she finds herself fighting them alongside him, Yukina must stop wondering and start pushing forward.
On a narrative level, Kuromukuro contains a plethora of problems that bog down almost anything it tries to do.
To be fair, it’s not all bad. In the first half or so, Ken is a newborn baby, shocked at the strange era he has been thrust into. He criticizes the girls for wearing “unbecoming” bathing suits (while occasionally, and understandably, sneaking a peek), and he almost believes that Yukina’s mother is a woman trapped inside a small “box.” Kuromukuro uses his ignorance mostly for comedic effect, but the bewilderment he brings rounds out the experience.
The anime also showcases a lot of robot fights. Thanks to Ken’s kuromukuro’s penchant for swords, many of the mech battles involve close-quarters combat that give the fights more immediacy than guns or projectiles ever could. Later, when multi-robot skirmishes, flying enemies, and giant behemoths enter the stage, the fights gain variety to prevent too much stagnation.
Kuromukuro even tackles a theme on freedom during its story. How the Efidolgs brainwash their enemies to use their bodies as puppets. Ken’s kuromukuro requiring two pilots. The space motif and the idea of being bound by one’s past.
Sadly, these three traits are not nearly enough to stop its numerous other problems from swamping itself.
One of the more apparent issues is where everything happens. Despite the entire Earth falling prey to the aliens and their invasion, the show rarely (if ever) depicts events happening elsewhere. Worse still, almost the whole story takes place in or around the research facility, preventing variance in its setting and amplifying the feeling of isolation even more.
Retrieving Ken’s kuromukuro, the existence of the important pivot stone beneath the building, and the fact that no other country has the technology to face the aliens are the show’s reasons as to why everything keeps happening within the same general area. Meaning, this isolation is excused somewhat.
Still, this story isn’t about a group of friends in school or a person trying to make it big in a city. Static settings in those scenarios make sense. Here, where the plot’s conflict is global (arguably galactic) in scale, the anime only serves to prevent its own conflict from growing to a level that befits the plight.
The conflict itself also has issues in that it never seems to really build towards anything. Ken doesn’t seem to know what he wants to do after he defeats all the ogres, and Yukina floats along as the second wheel that is barely turning.
In fact, the anime’s biggest conflict – ending the Efidolg once and for all – happens far and away, after the anime is done, and without ever being shown. It’s nice that Ken found a higher calling and that Yukina gained a more definitive path in life, even going full-circle with her “Mars” answer to her career prospects. But the whole situation reeks of too-little-too-late syndrome.
From here, Kuromukuro finds itself in even rougher territory – no matter where it turns.
Much of the science magic does not get explained. While perhaps unnecessary, the Artifacts, the weapons, and the alien technology are not given backing beyond the small snippets provided at the end of each episode which describe the machinery therein.
The huge reveals are too anticlimactic. The nature of Yukina’s father’s death fails to work because he never had any prominent scenes. The conclusion to the big bad guy that led the attack on Earth doesn’t matter because he sat on his throne for twenty episodes straight. And the outcome of Princess Yuki’s demise lacks weight because her head being used for cloning purposes gets oddly forgotten.
The show also tries to push a romance angle. Romance is the logical progression between Ken and Yukina given how the two ride the kuromukuro together and given how much time they spend around one another (at school, at home).
Unfortunately, it’s only a half-bloom since these two don’t have enough special, private moments together. They bicker, he drags her away from some pestering paparazzi, and he saves her life a couple of times, but their relationship never definitively takes that next step forward, making their final dramatic scene together in the sky less emotional than wanted. His offhand “confession,” that he will make her his wife, should be evidence enough.
The overt sexual scenes also have no place. Mika’s cosplays and Marina’s chest are technically not extreme in their lewdness. But, when the world is in danger of complete decimation, Shenmei massaging Yukina as she yelps in pain and pleasure fails to fit within the context of the story (no matter how titillating their girl-on-girl action may be).
Even how most of the facility turn on Ken, Zell, and Muetta when they literally saved the entire world was lame. After everything that had happened up to this point, it comes off as unnecessary drama in the lead up to the finale. A murky problem, like all the others, that the anime cannot escape from.
Kuromukuro does not do anything too fancy with its visuals. P.A. Works’ typical style for its character designs persists. The forced static setting prevents variation in the background art. Lighting and cinematography do nothing noteworthy. Actual animation remains consistent with the occasional extra spark.
However, where the anime deserves praise is in its CG visuals. The robots never feel out of place within the environment, movements are not janky, and the CG elements appear much more frequently than what the average anime would include.
In fact, the CG art and animation were so strong at times that it felt as though this anime was the guinea pig to test, practice, or otherwise flex P.A. Works’ graphical skills and capabilities. If nothing else, the CG work is arguably the best trait of the entire show and stands as a good example of how to do it successfully.
Kuromukuro is, in some sense, a story about Ken and Yukina. The former finds himself in a weird world that wasn’t meant for him, the latter does not like this world she is in, and both struggle to discover their place within it.
Unfortunately, the anime includes too many extra characters for its own good. The male students and the teachers from the school. The doctor, engineers, and radar people from the facility. The other GAUS pilots. The handful of aliens invading the planet. Yukina’s family members.
Having a lot of cast members is not automatically a negative. What makes it a problem in Kuromukuro’s case is that the large number of extra characters simultaneously get in the way of Ken and Yukina’s own individual development and have very little given about them.
For example, Muetta, the Princess Yuki lookalike, is an enemy of Earth until she gets captured by the humans and has revealed to her the true nature of her origins as a clone of the princess. She acts as a mental block for Ken, and she has a personable moment where she feels that she “shouldn’t be here” (i.e., Earth) when speaking with Yukina in a wooden shed. But her involvement steals time away from Yukina and, come the end of the season, Muetta’s role and purpose was little more than helping to pilot the kuromukuro units.
Many of the side characters either fulfill a singular role or do so little that it’s a wonder why they were there in the first place. Paula and Giro are the main technicians for Ken’s kuromukuro. Jundai live streams everything on the Internet to let the rest of the world know what’s going on. Marina acts as an “adviser” for the students when necessary.
Some of the side characters are even worse off, holding relative importance but never quite fulfilling their duty. Hiormi, Yukina’s mother, maintains this insincere-but-actually-sincere relationship with her daughter that doesn’t receive a clean resolution. The Efidolgs have weak personalities and even weaker backgrounds, turning them into narratively worthless enemies. And Princess Yuki, despite how much she has (directly and indirectly) influenced Ken, does not get the proper flashback treatment she deserves.
Yet the worst offender is a side character whose “role” and “importance” are poorly planned: Zell. In essence, Zell is just a giant plot convenience, often used to provide swathing segments of exposition to explain the secrets of the enemy and the past whenever and wherever the anime feels like it. The anime attempts to write off why he never approached anybody for the previous 450 years by saying people, on sight, were either afraid of him or wanted to kill him. But that’s quite the flimsy excuse – especially when total world destruction is on the line.
Sophie is arguably the only side character that receives extra attention that ends up meaningful. In the first half of the season, Sophie is the ace pilot whose calm demeanor highlights her maturity. In the second half, though, the surrounding threats cause her (never-shown) parents to ask for her removal from the GAUS program, fearing for her safety. She feels conflicted over whether she should obey the orders of her parents and high command, but, eventually, she steels herself thanks to Ken’s words and reaffirming her samurai code.
Even in this dissection, Ken and Yukina have been sidelined thanks to the side characters. Nevertheless, these two have their challenges that they must overcome as the main protagonists.
Ken, once a samurai of a time long gone, arrives in the modern era through coincidental fashion. Upon his reawakening, he believes Yukina to be his long-lost princess and vows to eliminate any and all ogres before him. While he soon realizes that Yukina is not the woman he originally swore loyalty to, he upholds his second promise, destroying the “ogres” with strength and ease.
Much of his character revolves around his endgame. That is, when he accomplishes his goal, what does he plan to do? Initially, he simply wanted to meet his princess in the afterlife. However, after Yukina’s refusal to play along with Ken’s suicidal wish, he shifts his mindset, promising now instead to fight and live rather than fight until nothing remained.
All the while, he becomes accustomed to the oddities of this period, like new foods and cars (or “horses” to him). He appears to be acclimating, but he still ponders what occurred to make his current situation happen. Fusunani, the captured Efidolg that Ken cuts down, reminds him of someone from his past, but Muetta’s arrival shakes his core. Her stark resemblance to Princess Yuki messes with Ken, conflicting his sense of loyalty as he tries to protect both Yukina and Muetta.
Thankfully, Ken never fully wavers. He saves Yukina from abduction, defeats the Efidolg menace on Earth, and chases after their main fleet to stop them once and for all.
As for Yukina, she followed a somewhat similar path to Ken. In the beginning, she does not know what she wants to do later in life. She’s not the best at school, she doesn’t pursue any interesting hobbies (besides aqueducts), and those around her aren’t giving her the clearest of guidance.
When Ken arrives and puts her on his kuromukuro, though, she finds herself contributing towards something she knows she definitely wants no part of. Riding his kuromukuro not only scares her but also forces her to see death and destruction on a level that she cannot handle.
But what gets to her the most is how nobody, not even her mother (who slaps her), seems to understand where she is coming from. All she wants is less ordering and more gratefulness. Ken complies, asking rather than demanding for her help, so she musters her courage to fight alongside him.
Thus, she starts to gain more confidence. She trains hard during their summer vacation (both mentally and physically). She does what she can to save herself while abducted. And she even goes so far as to latch onto Ken’s kuromukuro to go with him across the galaxy. While this last action fails, it proves that she has finally discovered what she wants to do: be by Ken’s side. (And, in a kind move, the epilogue depicts Yukina getting just that chance.)
Looking at Ken and Yukina more closely, they aren’t the strongest of characters. Ken remains mostly the same for the entire twenty-six-episode run, and Yukina doesn’t play as big of a part in the second half as Muetta, the other side characters, and the action-filled plot in general take over.
Nonetheless, they and the rest of the cast do manage to explore the same theme as its narrative: freedom.
Freedom plays a big role in the arcs of Ken, Yukina, and Muetta. Ken has devout loyalty to the princess, so his freedom is somewhat limited. Yukina had the freedom to do whatever she wanted, but was unsure of what to choose. Muetta had no freedom whatsoever, making her a (unknown to her) slave to the group she followed.
As the anime progresses, their freedom gets explored. Ken realizes that it’s not about doing it for the princess but whether he himself wants to. Yukina doesn’t seem to have the freedom to choose if she wants to take part in the fights or not, and, by the end of the series, she freely chooses to chase after Ken. Muetta gains her freedom, doesn’t see a spot for her on Earth, and goes instead to fight the Efidolgs with Ken of her own accord.
A couple of the side characters explore freedom, too. Sophie’s freedom gets constricted by her parents and the facility as she fights to fight. And Ryouto, the teenage boy who is smitten with Yukina, doesn’t let his limitations keep him down, fighting to keep Yukina’s freedom intact as he does what he can to be a better person.
While nothing extensive, this theme on freedom at least holds ties to the story at large. Plus, it helps to make up for a lot of shortcomings in Ken and Yukina’s characters as well as the other cast members doing little else besides getting in the way.
Although the anime does not provide any notable voice-acting performances, it does include a few interesting musical selections.
For instance, the first opening track, near its beginning, sees the guitar striking clear notes and fast playing as the vocalist sings quietly in the background and loudly at the forefront. Unfortunately, the second half becomes a bit too docile due to the inclusion of a piano, hurting the more battle-hardened tone that the first half setup.
In comparison, the second opening track may sound quite similar to the first, but it changes its tune enough to be distinguishable. Especially in the middle of the piece where the short guitar riff combines with the background choir to introduce a sense of foreboding that fits the second half of the season nicely enough. Afterwards, the “battling” vocalists and the final pairing of guitar and singing end the piece strongly, giving it the distinction as the better of the two OPs offered.
On the opposite side of the episodes, the first ending track does not root itself in guitar but rather techno effects and beats to match the futuristic motif of Kuromukuro itself. Orchestral instruments, like piano and violin, also help to give it a softer feel.
The second ending track starts off soft and slow but quickly gets into its pop-rock structure. Yet the piece is so bland that it is hard to even remember what it sounded like let alone which anime it came from. In short, it’s easily the worst among the other openers and closers.
As for the original soundtrack, it switches it up where it can. A samurai-inspired tune is used when Ken shows off his new “underwear.” A mystery-laced piece with plucked strings plus otherworldly sounds follows Yukina as she leads Ken to a “castle.” And a brooding, ambient track accompanies those tense moments like when the UN members interrogate the “captured” Fusunani.
Yet it’s the battle music that stands out. Trumpets, male choirs, and flourishes make the fights more engaging, adding emotional weight through its more involved composition.
This anime didn’t do it for me.
The romance is the only aspect that I found consistently fun. For, while it may have been sloppily put together, Ken and Yukina’s bickering and their shyness was still entertaining due to how much I adore anything romantic.
The occasional cute reactions from Yukina, Marina’s heartfelt attempts at helping her students, and Ken trying to cope with technology each had me smiling. But these scenes weren’t exactly major or even that memorable.
However, I must give credit where credit is due. Ken provides one of the best replies possible to a mean dude on the Yahoo-answers-esque forum: “Tomiko, commit seppuku and die.” I laughed quite loudly at Ken’s nonchalant response and how fitting it was given his samurai self.
If I had to choose a favorite character, I would pick Kojo. He had almost zero scenes, but that white-furred ferret can ride a Roomba like no other.
Otherwise, I was never at all invested. The fights were okay yet never enthralling (but they at least weren’t just shootouts). The drama and the crying and the tension didn’t get me worked up. And, when all was said and done, I didn’t feel as though I got anything out of it. A boring outing for most of its run.
Kuromukuro survives the invasion but at too much of a cost. While the CG art stands tall, and the opening tracks provide a solid listen, the problematic story and the unimportant characters make this an anime worth forgetting about for more than just three days straight.
Story: Terrible, a strangely isolated setting, an uninteresting central conflict, unexplained science, anticlimactic moments, weak romance, overt sexuality, and unnecessary drama bog down the familiarity contrast, the action, and the theme on freedom
Animation: Fine, while much of the artistry does not do anything fancy, the strong CG work arguably stands as a definitive highlight
Characters: Bad, too many pointless side characters impede Ken and Yukina’s individual development, but the continued theme on freedom keeps them from being a total loss
Sound: Fine, okay first OP, good second OP, okay first ED, bad second ED, okay OST, and average VA performances
Enjoyment: Bad, bickering, seppuku, and ferrets made for most of the entertainment
Final Score: 3/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3