Face Off: Ray and Mike Heap Praise on Kurozuka

Ray: I can’t seem to remember a Madhouse production that I didn’t like. And Kurozuka is the surprise hit of the season for me. It’s simply…too…awesome!

Mike: I have to say, we really need more “mature” stories like this one. There is a wonderful soundtrack, fluid battle animation, and one of those epic concepts that easily could have become cheesy–love that crosses the distance of time–but it actually works.

Ray: The great thing about the time travel and memory sequences is that they didn’t confuse me at all. Maybe in the beginning I wondered which era they were in, but by episode 4, nothing was confusing anymore.

Mike: I think it helps that each time period has a very particular look and feel. You’re never confused about their time period, though they do seem to jump around from time to time in a non-linear way. Plus, it does seem that a plotline is coalescing in the future/post-apocalypse timeline though in all times, the basic conflict is the same.

Ray: I think it’s the way they used ultra simple transitions. We see Kuro go through his memories in the sea of flowers with Kuromitsu: the screen wipes down, and we realize that he was dreaming. And later, in the same episode, he sees her again in a sea of flowers, but this time in an illusion.

Mike: I thought episode 5 did a great job handling the misdirection and indirection. Did you get the feeling that Kuro was going through a series of symbolic trials, sort of like the way Indiana Jones does in the Last Crusade (except this is much more artistic)?

Ray: Oh, oh. Yeah, the clock room. Well, I really didn’t think about symbolism…so why don’t you indulge us with your thesis??? XD

Mike: Well, let me think.,.actually, I might be clutching at straws a bit there. I think in both cases, he was simply seeing hallucinations, though I think the illusory Kuromitsu sort of qualifies.

Ray: There really isn’t a specific “trial”, but he was placed in both rooms and left alone for special reasons. We’re just not clear what they are.

Mike: Yeah.

I guess, though, if I do have any complaints about the show–it’s that we still don’t know too much about Kuro and Kuromitsu as people. Right now, they’re fulfilling roles–one is the restless wandering swordsman, the other is his supernatural love. It’s not a huge deal (yet) because the backdrops, the animation, and the atmosphere are so compelling.

I did sort of feel, though, that the testing moments in Episode 5 could have been more of a test of character for Kuro. It hinted toward that when he saw her in the flower field. You know what I mean?

Ray: …like if he’s strong enough to wait through time??? I think in the traditional Noh drama, there’s never explicit portrayal of characters, but a lot of images and icons using masks, and the masks are supposed to speak for characterization.

Mike: Ah. That makes some sense.

Ray: People in the East are often portrayed as drifting and hanging by the thread of fate. Hence individuality (in this sense, explicit characterization) isn’t celebrated and mentioned as much.

Mike: I think you’re probably right. Psychological realism and character development in the modern sense is really a product of the modern novel. It’s not just western; it’s recent western. (Medieval allegorical dramas were just as “flat” in their characterization.)

Anyways…where do you think the story is headed next? I find it interesting that their opponents, the Red Emperor and his forces, have grown more and more powerful as time goes on.

Ray: well, the supreme leader is the Onmiuji, basically like a magician/warlock/fortune teller/shinto priest guy. For some reason, this group has been controlling Japan from behind the scenes – at least that’s what I’m guessing. Somewhat like La Soldat; but after the nuclear apocalypse, they simply decided to take over.

Mike: And kill lots and lots and lots of people. And experiment on them.

Ray: That seems to be the ambition of one man. In any case, it doesn’t seem like the Onmiuji’s ultimate objective has changed much since Heian Era – to get true immortality from Kuromitsu. Or am I wrong?

Mike: No, their motive is pretty consistent throughout all times. They are looking for immortality. And for that, they’re willing to do whatever it takes. There were somewhat similar themes in Fullmetal Alchemist about how that search always led to tragedy.

Ray: In ancient times, it’s immortality; in post-apocalypse, it’s forced evolution. However, the irony for me is that the Onmiuji has been living for God knows however long, so he may be immortal already, but yet he still seeks to take Kuromitsu’s power. Is he so obsessed that he can’t realize he’s immortal already?

Mike: Maybe it’s not as satisfying as he thought it would be 🙂 Or I guess he does also want to create the race of super-demons who will replace humanity. I guess it’s not enough for just him.

Ray: But that’s just it, where does it say that what the sick scientist is doing is following the orders/will of the Onmiuji? It seems like the scientist guy is just doing what he himself wants.

Mike: Hmm. You know, when was the last time we saw the Onmiuji? I know episode 5 took a bit of time in the scientist’s lab.

Ray: Well, in Episode 5 when the minion guy visited him. But he never showed his face.

Mike: Interestingly enough, both Kuro and Kuromitsu are called “vampires” in the translation I watched. I wonder if the group sees itself as simultaneously a vampire hunting agency as well as trying to create synthetic vampires (a la Hellsing)? They are all certainly obsessed with blood.

Ray: They’re not out to hunt many vampires, just Kuromitsu. And they want her power, that much is clear. The scientist wants to create a new race with powers (ala Nazis) and the Onmiuji wants…eternal life and I guess youth. He was pretty old and disgusting looking back in the Heian Era. As for blood, here’s another interesting thing – some white guy made Kuromitsu a vampire, so what happened to the western Vampires???

Mike: How so? Maybe she sucked them all dry too 🙂

Ray: Well, in the very beginning, some blond dude was on top of her. We saw it when she told her story to Kuro.

[Anyway], the basic themes aren’t really all that revolutionary – old demon seeking immortality, eternal lovers trying to get back to paradise, and so on. Stuff up Madhouse’s alley.

Mike: It’s classic epic material. Madhouse definitely seems to like their historical epics.

Ray: This is like a more dignified and sci-fi version of Ninja Scroll without the sex and milder (maybe) in violence.

Mike: Well, it’s on TV, so it can’t be as graphic. Though there has definitely been both sex and violence. Just not as detailed. 🙂

They definitely get one part of the traditional Western vampire legend down, which is that sucking blood = sexual intercourse.

Ray: Which is?

Mike: Well, remember when Kuro allows Kuromitsu to suck his blood for the first time? And that turns into their first sexual encounter, too? And, conversely, the time when she got turned into a vampire by the blond guy, it was also mixed with a rape.

Ray: Sort of like losing virginity.

Mike: Yeah. I think the experience was meant to suggest that. Plus, now that it has happened and he is one of her kind, they are together forever. It also serves as a kind of sealing of their marriage, in a way.

Ray: I guess my only question is: are they going to live happily ever after?
In eternity?

Mike: In this story? Probably. It’s a dark story, but I don’t get the sense yet that it will be a tragedy. It’s dark, but darkly romantic. People who like Goth stuff should like this show.

Ray: What is it that you like about it specifically?

Mike: That it’s unabashedly grand and epic. The way the story is told is full of big, vivid gestures and yet, it has moments where it’s also quite delicate. Plus, it doesn’t indulge in the usual adolescent hijinks of 90% of current anime. It almost doesn’t fit in the current anime scene at all.

Ray: It’s quite mature. Talk about the music. (Your favorite topic, right?)

Mike: Well, it seems that the directors really know how to use the right music during the show’s slower moments. I’m thinking of the first time we see Kuro and Kuromitsu in the field of flowers, and in some of the moments in episode 1 in the middle, too. Those actually go a really long way in making the show seem “mature.” Many shows want either to be all pounding action, all the time or are just all talk, all conversation. This has a decent balance of both.

The funny thing about soundtracks is that they can be deceptive all by themselves. I remember hearing the music from Linebarrels coming over from my neighbor and fellow writer Matt’s room and I actually thought the music sounded great. But Matt says it’s such a mediocre show. I’ve written an article about soundtracks better than the show before, incidentally.

Ray: Does the show match the music in this case?

Mike: I think so. It’s actually appropriate to the scenes. Great music can make mediocre shows watchable but it never covers over all the deficiencies. I don’t get that sense with Kurozuka.

Ray: I’d have to say as an anime veteran it’s easy to get cynical, but in this case I was simply blown away by the beauty, the passion, the reserved love, the epic invasion, and the colorful characters. That said, the introduction of many of the “bosses” at the Red Emperor’s organization seemed like a standard ninja/samurai show music. I mean, yeah, Kuro/Jubei dude is going to have to take them all out, right? That’s not to say the show is formulaic…

The delicate balance of the show is well maintained, except for the OP which doesn’t really do anything for me. Otherwise, the score is perfect.

What about its cinematic aspects? What do you like and dislike?

Mike: Well, that kind of blends in to the comment about it being grand and epic. The pacing is more deliberate than that of a TV show. It covers a much wider span of time and places. The soundtrack is orchestral. All that makes it very “movie-like.”

TV also usually has more close ups of faces, though I can’t remember exactly if the show features more of those. Do you?

Ray: Not a lot. To me, every episode feels like a scene from a movie. I could be wrong though.

Mike: Well it certainly feels “big.” Like it would very much fit on a big screen.

Ray: I’m totally recommending this to anyone looking for epic stories, even if our discussion wasn’t so epic. Don’t forget that it’s truly beautiful (so buy the DVD when it comes out)!

Mike: Heck, if it ever comes out in Blu-Ray, get that! It’s gorgeous visually. It totally deserves the HD treatment.

Ray: I just love it when Madhouse gets kick-ass serious. Greatly recommended.

Mike: Indeed. It’s one of the best of what is already a great season.

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

1 thought on “Face Off: Ray and Mike Heap Praise on Kurozuka

  1. The Epic Win-style tag team blogging style here is great – it’s a good way to do commentary that I find to be much more entertaining than the traditional episodic blogging. Anyway.

    I agree that Kurozuka is a refreshing change in that it’s telling a mature story – the violence is a bit gratuitous at points but the impression I’m getting is that the original manga was a bit trashy to begin with.

    The sophistication shown here, with the references to Noh performances at the beginning and end of each ep, make it feel like a ‘diamond made from broken glass’ case on Madhouse’s part. Of course, the maturity means that the love interests are adults too…grown-up female characters that appeal to we older viewers are a rarity so I’m really appreciating the feminine yet un-moe Kuromitsu’s presence here! :heart:

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