Kuromukuro Season 2 – Review
Kuromukuro – Season 2 (Episodes 14-26):
Original Release Date: October 10th, 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.
However, after countless battles against the Efi Dolg, the aliens after the Pivot Stone, a vital component to their plans, Yukina and Kennosuke are attacked by two spies, one who happens to also look exactly like the Princess Kennosuke swore himself to protect all those years ago.
2nd Season (13 episodes) Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Kuromukuro’s back half contains the same solid 2D and 3D animation, minus a couple hiccups like lack of detail in some of its longer shots. The 3D continues to remain impressive and interacts well with the 2D landscape and characters. The designs themselves, which were already admittedly weird, get far stranger as the series introduces more and more of the Efi Dolg mechs. It’s perhaps the one truly divisive aspect of the series’ visuals. Character design however, is easily Kuromukuro’s strongest visual quality, offering memorable designs, especially as our more mysterious characters are unmasked towards the conclusion of the series. It helps keep Kuromukuro fresh in one’s mind well after viewing.
Linny: The focus of the show starts to shift more and more onto the Efi Dolgs and their plans regarding Earth. The audience finally gets to learn more about their origins, their methods and organization structure along with answers to burning questions from last season. Considering the very awkward season one ending, and how everyone is aware that Netflix cut up one season into two, this new season only further emphasizes how the show was meant to be viewed as one whole piece and that viewers were never meant to wait this long to get answers and follow ups. Last season was rather obtuse and vague and might have made some viewers frustrated with the complete lack of answers and exposition, but thankfully, this season follows up on all the questions, ensuring that though the wait was long, it was not in vain.
Tom: With that refocus on unmasking the Efi Dolg’s plans comes more attention on a ‘new’ addition to the cast, Princess Yuki or as she’s known via the Efi Dolg’s forces, Muetta. She gets quite a bit of character development over this thirteen episode run, really exploring who she is and the mysteries surrounding her allegiance to the Efi Dolg. In fact, Muetta kind of acts like a blatant discussion of some of Kuro’s core themes, like one’s place in life, purpose, etc. I don’t know that the show ever really offers a concrete answer to any of this, nor does Muetta really manage to attain likability with the audiences, but merely settles for understandable. The trouble might have to do with how wish-washy she is towards the back end of the series.
Linny: That has to be the biggest issue with Muetta, the fact that she becomes the embodiment of some very serious and heavy themes but spends a LOT of time conflicted over it, only to never get a proper follow up or resolution to it all. Instead she is reduced to fluctuating between all her different moods, becoming a pawn in different hands before finally deciding to do something based solely around a false memory. Seeing how much time was spent exploring her rather unique circumstances, it would’ve been rewarding and satisfying to see her embrace those who’d showered her with love and acceptance and maybe start a new life amongst them, rather than jumping around like a yo-yo with her emotions and decisions.
Tom: Yukina, who we’d praised last season, takes a backseat during the first half of these thirteen episodes, with the focus shifting heavily in favor of Kennosuke. However, the show ultimately shifts its attention back on Yukina, particularly during her efforts aboard the Efi Dolg’s main ship, and later onto the emotional turmoil she experiences as things take disastrous turn after turn. Unlike other female heroines, Yukina’s main journey isn’t so much about finding love, although that’s a component, but instead challenging Yukina’s ideology and helping her to better herself toward her own personal goals from the very beginning of the series. Kennosuke’s character journey is much more basic, a question of continuing his life long battle or not. But while Kennosuke isn’t asked nearly as complex questions, his struggle against the Efi Dolg is compelling, and his heroism makes him a very likable character.
Linny: Yukina remains an integral part of the story even though she does seem to receive less focus in parts of the season, reduced to a more passive role than usual. And while Kenosuke does rise in prominence, the spotlight is stolen by the introduction of a ‘new’ character, Zell who holds the key to the past and answers to all of your questions. It’s thanks to Zell that even Sofi ends up becoming an integral part of the show, getting to show more of her emotions and personality than she did last season as she is recruited by Zell to help him in his mission.
Tom: Indeed up until this point it felt a little silly that Sophie was billed visually as a lead character for the series. Her screen time, while frequent, never gave the impression she was a prominent component to the story. However Sophie earns her top billing here with serious impacts on the narrative itself. Her character even undergoes some development too, although the pay off itself feels negligible. Other supporting cast members tend to get a decent amount of attention, with arcs that culminate in each participating in the show’s final moments. It’s satisfying to see the cast come together so well and only adds to how strong the show’s conclusion feels. Each of these characters goes through their own journey, and while maybe not quite as powerful as Yukina’s self discovery, really hammers home how satisfying the character work within Kuromukuro can be.
Linny: Actually, one of my issues with Kuromukuro is how it handles some of its side characters. For example, my least favourite character in the cast is Jundai Kayahara, the streaming obsessed vlogger classmate who had an extremely close call with death last season when trying to film two mechs engaged in a serious battle. If you thought he was flippant about his own near death experience last season, it’s all the more aggravating this season because he is, ONCE again, saved from death by a nearby soldier who ends up getting injured doing so. Yet Jundai never even once reacts with empathy, sympathy or guilt that someone almost died and was injured over his obsession to get the best video to stream to his viewers. Jundai is most likely a dig at people in real life who engage in dangerous and illegal activities all for the sake of view counts, but watching him be so selfish and self absorbed is a frustrating experience especially as he learns absolutely nothing and refuses to improve.
Tom: Despite lingering issues with characters like Jundai, Kuro’s perhaps weakest element is in facts its villains. Many of our adversaries lack personality, instead focused solely on their mission, or fester with generic rage for traitors amongst their ranks. There are narrative reasons for this though, which helps to negate how two-dimensional they all are, save for Muetta. The show hints at trying to perhaps do something with some of these other characters, but those efforts don’t really lead anywhere. In fact, Kuro’s villains eventually become more of an existential plight at the end of the season, acting more as a catalyst for Yukina’s ultimate development as a character, and Kennosuke’s bolstering resolve to remain true to himself. It’s definitely something that’ll bother viewers allured by the promise of an epic and magnificent battle to conclude the series, something I doubt we’ll ever get to see. It’s not so much of an issue if you were enjoying Kuromukuro more for the character work however.
Linny: Speaking of villains, sometimes it felt like the show was trying a bit too hard to make sure we knww who the bad guys were in the current scene and how ‘bad’ they were being. It ended up feeling corny and unnecessary and a perfect example of the show overdoing its ‘symbolism’ is this one scene where not only do some soldiers use excessive force to take possession of a clearly compliant prisoner but the show makes sure that the audience sees the soldier stepping on and crushing the cake that Yukina had bought as a gift for said prisoner.
Tom: Kuromukuro also bounces back and forth between pushing the story forward and stopping for character development. One episode it’s full throttle into introducing new mysteries, solving old ones, getting our character into more scrap ups with the Efi Dolg and the next we’re watching as Yukina, Kennosuke and the gang film a stupid little amateur movie to relax from the stress of reality. It generally works, only at rare times damaging the rising tension, but otherwise offers plenty of room for our characters to grow and expand based off preceding events.
Linny: That one episode that Tom just mentioned, which is spent mainly on the students and later mech pilots goofing off and shooting a movie feels like it might have gone on a little too long. It’s obviously done to break up the tension and inject some comic relief but the suddenness of it all kind of interrupts and ruins the momentum of the show’s tension.
Tom: Kuromukuro’s conclusion is near spot on, answering question’s Yukina’s character had posed to her at the very start of the series, giving a sense of closure to the entire ordeal. While the battle against the Efi Dolg isn’t entirely concluded, everything generally feels resolved, save for a few cracks in the foundation created as the series marched into its final moments.
Linny: Kurumakuro had managed to pack in some very emotionally charged events and developments as its story progressed which made it all the more engaging and impressive. However, it failed to follow through on those moments and sometimes even negated its more serious developments and implications, choosing instead to go with super robot genre cliches only a niche crowd will appreciate. Even the very conclusion itself is kind of open ended, making the show feel incomplete or obnoxiously pushing for a second season. In order to assure us that the story is still worth following, and that the closing moments are indeed meaningful even though our main hero, Kennosuke has long been unheard from, the show shoves in a hamfisted explanation about how they ‘know’ he is still alive.
Tom: There’s a couple logistical issues too, like when Muetta needs to strip down while handcuffed. We never see it, but exactly how does one get their shirt off while handcuffed. It’s technically possible (I guess?) but seems more like a two person job. It’s little logistical errors like that that pull at Kuromukuro’s otherwise finely woven tapestry, like strands of fabric poking out of seem. Overall it’s a minor quibble, almost exceedingly so, and the fact I’ve even brought it up may speak to how few truly substantial and widespread issues the series suffers from.
Linny: Overall, season 2 does a good job of answering all the mysteries that arose last season while keep things engaging and action packed, rather than becoming pure exposition. However, while character exploration is one of its strongest points, when it comes to some of the side characters, they end up either trapped in cliches or with unresolved open endings that feel a little unsatisfying. These are definitely issues that will stop Kuromukuro from being praised as one of the greats but at the same time, do not prevent it from remaining an entertaining watch. The focus on character development and interaction helps to give Kuromukuro a wider appeal and audience than just limiting itself to the mech genre and helps it feel like a more well rounded story. Kuromukuro could be the best choice for watching with friends who are wary of the mech genre or want to try it out casually. So long as you can forgive its flaws, it should leave most viewers engaged and entertained.
Tom: Kuromukuro is probably the best new Mecha property in the last five years, maybe even decade. Sure there’s a few flaws and cracks scattered about, a few things that could’ve been improved upon here, or changed up there, but overall it’s a extremely satisfying anime that stands out against the backdrop of the rest of Spring’s, Summer’s and even Fall’s offerings. I don’t know that Kuromukuro is anything that’ll be remembered alongside Gundam, or Eva, or Macross in the decades to follow, but as of now it’s definitely one for everyone even slightly interested in Mecha to watch.
Kuromukuro Season 2 (14-26) is available for streaming via Netflix.com