Shows You Might Have Missed: Kuromukuro

A team of UN researchers have built a facility over Kurobe Dam to study a mysterious black relic and mecha unearthed 60 years ago. Shirahane Yukina, the daughter of the facility's director accidentally activates the relic during an apparent alien invasion and releases Ouma Kennousuke Tokisada, a sengoku-era samurai from cryostasis. More than a little confused, he drags Yukina into the mecha known as the Kuromukuro and promptly repels the invaders. What follows is Kennousuke finding a way to catch up on 450 years of lost time while seeking vengeance on the aliens that wiped out his old home.

Well, we have certainly seen a fair share of mecha/sci-fi series involving people time-travelling from the present to the future and vice versa, but I can't seem to remember one having a person from the past travelling to the present. This relatively fresh spin on the mecha genre comes courtesy of studio PA Works celebrating their 15th anniversary. Not a studio known for their action series, let alone straight-up mecha, whatever concerns I may have had are needless, as Kuromukuro has some of the most crisply animated mecha (and non-mecha!) action scenes, featuring lots of fluid and complicated movements in the myriad of blade strikes, parries, flips, grapples and throws. Owing to solid animation and good direction, the fights themselves remain interesting and thrilling despite not being all that flashy or freash. Also prominent is the emphasis of cooperative tactics between allied mechas, particularly involving the UN developed GAUS units. Piloted by the UN's finest, its a great treat seeing them use a combination of good coordination and individual skill to take done their superior foes. Wonder why we don't see competent regular pilots more often in mecha, considering how ludicrously expensive these things are to build... but i digress.

Technical merits aside, the story of Kuromukuro is largely quite simple and predictable. Kennousuke has to learn to fit into modern times and get over the ghosts of his past, Yukina has to overcome her relunctance to become an active participant in the pilot seat, while the invaders come in waves constantly underestimating their foe, with gradual escalations from both sides of the conflict. Many of the plot points are fairly predictable, but it does show a fair share of unexpected twists to keep things interesting. When I say "plot twists", I do not mean the completely-gamechanging deus-ex machinas that shoves the plot so far left-field so often as to give viewers whiplash as had plagued many a mecha series in the past decade (I'm looking at you Code Geass S2). What twist and reveals that do happen in Kuromukuro are instead relatively low-key, focusing instead on providing a new take on past events and setting actions in a new light. Kuromukuro is definitely one of the most mundane mecha offering out there compared to its contemporaries, but their take on the genre was somehow engrossing enough that I felt compelled to finish it in just a couple of sittings, and that has to count for something.

Kuromukuro also does quite well on the character front. Kennousuke, while being a real force-of-nature in fights, is a complete fish out of water in modern day Japan. While much of the humor isn't exactly very original, its still consistently funny seeing him reacting to the many changes in technology and culture over 450 years. Its not all humor too, as Kennousuke ponders over his new-direction in the modern world as die-hard member of the old samurai-caste. Yukina on the other hand is much like many of the other mecha protagonists which stumble into the pilot seat by accident or by force. Not all that keen on the dangers and killing, Yukina does take abit of convincing before she takes an active role in combat, but what I personally find annoying in these type of plots is far less grating here. Yukina for her part is more petulant at being made to do it and is uncomfortable with staining her hands, but is otherwise not trully-upset due to some ambiguous higher-moral values that teenagers in anime supposedly all have. Its ok to show kids behaving like kids sometimes. Seeing the interactions between the two leads is also a treat, as the more grounded and homey Yukina serves as a counterbalance to the rash Kennousuke, their relationship slowing building over the series and culminating in one of the funniest proposals I have seen in quite awhile. Secondary characters on the other hand are universally more one-dimensional and conform to typical genre cliches. The show is frankly aware of their roles as secondary characters as plays them as such, though many are still fairly likable and get their fair share in the spotlight from time to time. Action still carries the series by and large, but the underlying drama is competent, even if not at all that special.

Fanservice for the studio's other works abound throughout the show.

Being a PA Works production, at risk of sounding like a broken record I must say Kuromukuro has rock-solid production values as expected. As mentioned previously the mechs are all rendered and animated very well, with a mostly pleasant blend of 3D and 2D assets, and animated well enough to give a convincing sense of weight and impact despite the heavy use of anti-gravity tech. Character animation is the usual fare for PA Works, that is to say, excellent. Extra kudos to the studio for differentiating 3 very similar characters clearly via their poise and body language instead on relying solely on visual markers. Background art is also beautiful and eye-catching, as you would expect from common PA Works partner and background specialist Studio Easter.

All in all, Kuromukuro is a nice and relatively fresh take on the mecha genre. Not quite conforming to typical mecha fare nor the slice of life PA Works is typically known for, it nevertheless combines the two in a unique experience that I could dig. People looking for something to watch while kicking-back to relax but still remains engrossing enough could do much worse that pick this one up.


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