Kuromukuro – Review
Kuromukuro (Seasons 1 and 2) were awarded as Best Anime of Summer 2016 in our Anime Awards.
Note: This review is for Episodes 1-13 (Season 1). Please check out our Season 2 Review for 14-26.
Original Release Date: July 4,2016
Synopsis: During the initial construction of the Kurobe dam, an ancient artifact of unknown origin was discovered. This artifact’s discovery led to the establishment of the United Nations Kurobe Research Institute, a complex created around the artifact so that researchers could study it and learn of its origin and purpose. Intellectuals from all over the world gathered to study it, as their children attend the Mt. Tate International Senior High School. Yukina Shirahane is the daughter of the institute’s head and she has big dreams about one day traveling to Mars. It’s too bad her grades aren’t supporting that ambition. However, things take a sudden and unexpected change for Yukina when meteorites rein down from the sky and bizarre alien robots attack the institute.
While visiting during the attack, Yukina accidentally interacts with a component of the ancient artifact, a large red and black cube. The cube opens up to reveal one Kennosuke, a Samurai from hundreds of years past. As the robots attack, Kennosuke fights to defend Yukina, believing her to be the princess he swore to protect.
1st Season (13 episodes) Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Kuromukuro attempts a balancing act between staying true to the Super Robot genre and adding in elements of Real Robots that modernize a genre mostly forgotten, and largely unappreciated, in today’s modern anime landscape. Kuromukuro’s robots, particularly the alien mechs, are undeniably Super Robots, from their gravitational fields, their manner of fighting hand to hand, and how the Mechs can heal themselves through absorbing surrounding material. They’re all ideas that sit outside the normal real robot frame of mind and harken back to the classic age where Mechs were bad ass power houses rather than frail machines of war. Earth robots seem more in line with Real Robots and by utilizing these two different philosophies, Kuromukuro gives a sense of power scaling, allowing the alien mechs to feel even more deadly and dangerous by knowing that Earth’s abilities are far inferior to the enemy. It’s the same sort of divide Aldnoah.Zero used but to a more pronounced effect. It’s as if Kuromukuro is celebrating the long forgotten Super Robot genre and attempting to modernize it enough to make it an acceptable fit with the anime fans of today. I think it works.
Linny: Speaking as your friendly, neighborhood, non-mech fan, I too found myself getting into this show despite my initial hesitation on seeing its mech tag. What works for me is how this show integrates a lot of mystery in its plot and has a myriad of characters for the viewers to connect with, offering something for all kinds of viewers. While it does use a well known plot line, the fish out of water situation, it also avoids hammering the awkwardness relentlessly for sheer comedic purposes like some shows tend to do. There are a few jokes here and there, more so in the beginning about Kennosuke struggling to understand and fit into modern society but they’re never played to absurd levels. Kennosuke’s adjustment and assimilation into modern society is shown at a pace that feels natural without making the audience feel like it’s overdone.
Tom: Kuromukuro bounces between its two main driving forces: The mystery and action of its overarching story and the more personal drama/comedic plot lines. Kuromukuro actually services both of these aspects superbly, constantly pushing its overarching plot forward with frequent reveals, revelations and new questions to drive itself forward. You’re always learning more about the world, the mysteries and gradually piecing together the truth behind Kennosuke’s origins and what Kuromukuro is exactly. When it comes to the more personal and grounded drama, the series uses it to break up its overarching plot and provide more insight into our cast as well as to provide a break away from the heavier elements. The balance is wonderful and these two plots are woven together in such a way that neither outstays their welcome and we’re always switching to something new well before we’ve gotten tired of the current topic.
Linny: We’ve noticed people complaining that the show doesn’t explain how a samurai from the past has access to a mech and technology that even modern humans do not. Without spoiling anything, let me assure you that the show does address and explain it as things go on. It is in fact a huge part of the central mystery, one that is at a cliff hanger for the moment since Netflix is only streaming half the series for now. My one major complaint would be that the show follows the predictable trope of off screen assumed deaths often becoming mere fake outs. It’s frustrating, disappointing and removes any real sense of danger or suspense.
Tom: Yukina, the poor unfortunate girl who gets dragged into this mess when Kennosuke mistakes her for a long dead princess from the age of the Samurai, feels real. Yukina acts much like you’d expect any young teenage girl to do if she found herself in such an absurd situation, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean she feels unique, or even original, it’s that honesty that makes her so likable. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, and in fact causes a few problems as she struggles to come to terms with her situation. She’s also got a feisty side to her and in situations where female characters normally are left as nothing more than damsels for heroes like Kennosuke to save, Yukina actually manages to aid the situation by saving herself and allowing Kennosuke not to worry about her. It’s not perfect, and sometimes Yukina does dip into damsel territory, but there is a conscious effort to add more to her abilities. Kennosuke himself is a bit one note comparatively. He’s a serious Samurai from hundreds of years ago, and much of his character relates to that stereotype. But that fish of water element is used to great effect as the more comedic portrayal is used to humanize him. And the more dramatic sequences, where Kennosuke has to learn to work and interact with Yukina, add the most depth and nuance to his character, helping him to go from that one note stereotype to someone you can actually appreciate and come to like.
Linny: Her somewhat realistic reactions and behaviour are definitely what makes Yukina noteworthy even if she isn’t groundbreaking or amazing when compared to the sea of female anime protagonists out there. She is shown to be flawed and makes mistakes that make her feel human and not to just put her into another damsel in distress situation. Even when she ends up in such situations, it plays out a little different than normal. When it comes to Kennosuke, I enjoyed how he is shown to actively make an effort to connect with Yukina and change himself rather than imposing on her or having her fall for him and becoming completely compliant. Their relationship is evolving to be one of equals or of two people who are trying to understand and support each other as good friends and coworkers, and it is nice to see such a relationship developing between a male and female character.
Tom: Outside of our two leads, the rest of the cast is quite quirky, each with their own unique shticks that add a sense of charm to the characters, but often pigeon hole them into specific archetypes (The rude military pilot; the prickly, arrogant ace pilot; the sexy and aloof friend, etc.). It’s unfortunate that these characters rarely extended beyond those frameworks, but the series develops and introduces large enough a cast that characters rarely overstay their welcome. The series also does a splendid job of introducing us to characters in waves, content to leave supporting cast members in the background, or sidelines until there’s time to properly introduce and integrate them into the story. There’s no bloating where characters would be crammed in for the sake of introductions. That said the villains of the series are currently the weakest aspect. Kuromukuro has kept its antagonists mostly in shadows, and what little we know of them is quite cliched as they put their pride over efficiency in defeating our heroes. However, Kuromukuro actually acknowledges this trope, an aspect of the Super Robot genre that has often been criticized and perhaps ties into Kuromukuro’s willing acknowledgement and homage to the genre.
Linny: When the show opens with Yukine’s mother, Hiromi berating Yukine’s teacher and trying to make him take the blame for Yukine’s poor performance, I winced a bit as I feared she was going to be portrayed as rude, overbearing and brash in the vein of the bossy women trope prevalent in media. Thankfully, she gets a decent amount of airtime, not just while she’s at work but also as a mother, especially in regards to Yukine who’s going through a lot and needs her mother. Hiromi is not a flawless character, but the show gets points from me for giving us a more well rounded image of her. Speaking of the Shirahane family, one of my favourite (and admittedly cliche) supporting characters has got to be Koharu, Yukine’s little sister. For those who adore cute, curious and brave little child characters, Koharu is sure to be a delight with her free spirited antics and adorable voice acting. Since I’m on the topic of female characters, Kuromukuro did frustrate me when it had to have fan service in the form of a cosplaying female character (GIF example included above). I didn’t think it was necessary to have her in an extremely revealing cosplay for the sake of the story or the joke that rises from it. However, in the show’s defense, despite having its mech pilots in skintight outfits, it doesn’t linger on the female forms like so many shows often do.
Tom: When it comes to visuals Kuromukuro is, without a doubt, one of the better looking anime this year. All of its traditional animation is of high quality, with character designs looking vibrant and attractive all the way through these thirteen episodes. There’s rarely, if any, dips in quality that distract from the events unfolding on screen. Like a number of recent mecha anime, Kuromukuro too utilizes CGI to depict all of its mechs and vehicles. Unlike some lesser efforts, the CGI blends beautifully with the 2D, coming in at a solid frame rate that moves with perfect fluidity. While character designs are spot on, and remain one of the most memorable aspects of Kuromukuro, the Mech designs are ‘interesting.’ While the designs for Kuro itself sits close enough to convention to have a more standard appeal, the rest of Kuromukuro’s mechs often look weird, either with extra limps, elongated necks, or suffer from bizarrely tiny feet. The designs are at least unique, but I don’t know that they inspire the same awe and long lasting devotion as say Gundam, Macross, or any of the other time tested classics. It’s not to say the mechs are outright ugly, or that their designs ruin Kuromukuro in some way, but they fail to grab me and resonate with me as a mech enthusiast. Aldnoah.Zero or Knights of Sidonia are examples of Mechs that break the standard molds, but retain an awesome look that is instantly recognizable and enticing.
Linny: There’s a lot about Kuromukuro that defies its mech genre. From rather unique and strange mechs to realistic female protagonists, the show has a high chance of winning over fans who may otherwise be less fond of mech or tired of the tropes of the genre. Even for die hard and classic mech fans, if you enjoy character drama and mystery, the strong presence of both those elements might make the unappealing mech designs easier to gloss over. Unfortunately since we are stuck midway, it might be too early to have a definitive opinion on the series. But from what we have been seeing so far, I have high hopes that the rest will be just as enjoyable as it has been, thanks to its visual quality and enjoyable characters.
Tom: Right now the only real frustrating aspect I find with Kuromukuro is Netflix’s release schedule for it. It’s released, what it terms, Season 1, which is in fact just the first thirteen episodes of Kuromukuro’s Japanese two-cour season run. While it’s nice that Netflix has opted to release the episodes sooner, rather than later, by chopping it up into two halves it’s put a lot more emphasis on episode thirteen as a cliffhanger. While the episode does, at least sort of, work as a cliffhanger, it wasn’t designed to be and thus aspects of the final episode feel like a very odd stopping point. In spite of the release shenanigans however, Kuromukuro is quickly rising as one of my new favorite Mecha series, an example of one of the stronger entries into the genre over the past couple years. I strongly recommended this series to long time Mech fans and newcomers alike as Kuromukuro offers enough personality and polish to make for a fantastic use of your time.
Kuromukuro is available for streaming via Netflix.com