Guest review by Lothos
As one might expect from the title (kuro = black), Kurozuka is a dark tale. Betrayal, violence, and many twisted experiments run rampant throughout the series. Much of the overall tone of Kurozuka reminds me of the live action film Izo by director Takashi Miike. Izo had brilliant cinematography, some great special effects, and was surrealistically alluring. However, without knowing about the historical figure the movie is based on, you’d be thoroughly at a loss to understand what the hell is going on and why this angry, screaming, masked man is killing everyone he meets. Similar elements found in Kurozuka include: time jumping, a protagonist who doesn’t quite understand what is going on around him, a guy who brings a katana to a uzi fight and wins, and strange musical interludes (the Noh openings though are not quite as weird as the musical styling of Kazuki Tomokawa). However, Izo while being quite confusing and off kilter, is still a very interesting piece of work by the end. Kurozuka eventually gets to the point where you don’t really care how it ends.
Our story begins with Kuro and Benkei, his disciple, running through a forest and fighting some strange zombie samurai. We learn that Kuro is ill, so Benkei suggests that they find a place to stay the night. They see a fire in the distance and make their way to a lone cabin in the woods. Once there they meet the house’s owner, a beautiful and mysterious woman named Kuromitsu. She notices that Kuro is obviously ill (he faints from a fever) and tells them that they may stay as long as they require, but her one condition is that they do not enter her room. As the days go by Kuromitsu takes care of Kuro while Benkei tends to the daily chores. During this time Kuro develops a bond with Kuromitsu, partially due to his fevered state and also due to the times he his cognizant and realizes she is taking care of him. Kuro then wakes up one night, recovered from his illness. It is storming outside, and he feels a strange compelling force drawing him towards the forbidden room. Despite his apprehension, he peers between the cracked doors, seeing Kuromitsu’s secret, and thus their story begins.
We next see Kuro waking up wearing modern-looking clothing. He’s on the outskirts of a large, futuristic city. He doesn’t remember how he got there, all he really remembers is Kuromitsu and that they were separated. He enters the city and begins asking people if they’ve seen a woman matching Kuromitsu’s description. He’s met by a man who tells him he might have some information regarding the woman, but he’ll need to talk to his boss. They go to a bar, and then for some unknown reason some armed storm troopers arrive and begin killing everyone. Kuro, armed with his sword, proceeds to take out all of the attackers. Finally their leader, who looks like M. Bison with dreadlocks, comes in and proceeds to beat the snot out of Kuro. But, he’s in a good mood or something and lets him live. Finally, Kuro is taken to meet the boss and we learn that Kuromitsu is alive, and was in fact working with them at one point, but has since gone missing. We also learn that in this future her blood is sought after by some sort of militaristic omni-corp (who the storm troopers belonged to). So begins Kuro’s search for Kuromitsu and his journey to make sense out of his fragmented memories.
The characters in Kurozuka can all be summed up in one of two categories. Enigmatic or inconsequential. All the main characters are for the most part shrouded in mystery, and anyone who’s not a main character is usually only around for an episode or two and doesn’t really contribute much to the plot. For example, Kuro and Kuromitsu, you don’t really learn anything about either one of them until long into the series. Kuro is trying to find out where Kuromitsu went, and Kuromitsu is pretty much absent from most of the story except in Kuro’s hallucinations/fractured memories. Benkei also disappears for almost 90% of the series after the first episode. You then have some other characters introduced (not really introduced, more interjected into the story) but there is not much, if any, exposition about who they are or why they’re really joining up with Kuro. The vast majority of the characters in the series are also extremely one dimensional, which I can forgive when I’m watching a series just for some good action sequences, but unfortunately that expectation couldn’t be met either.
Things get a little complicated as the storytelling jumps between various time lines. One scene will show Kuro back in ancient Japan, with swords against other samurai. The next might show them being pursued by armored soldiers with guns. The viewer knows that what we’re seeing is in the past, but we don’t know how far back it goes. Whether the previous events were just a few years ago; shortly before Kuro’s most recent bout of amnesia; hundreds of years ago after he first met Kuromitsu; or any point in between the two is mostly unclear. This didn’t particularly bother me, and you begin to figure out the major parts of the time line as the series progresses.
Everything was progressing fine, albeit a bit muddled at times, then came episode nine. One would have thought the director/writers suddenly changed because the tone of the series does a complete 180. Out of nowhere terrible sight gags and horrendously corny action sequences (which seemed as though they were directed by Michael Bay) being to infest the series. The misplaced comedy only stuck around for that one episode, but unfortunately the damage was far from done. Ridiculous plot twists and villains that didn’t really even seem to serve a purpose began to run rampant. The show went from being a super slick and dark action/drama to being . . .well . . .stupid.
Kurozuka did at least perform well in one area, animation. The animation was fluid and the art was most of the time above average. The fight sequences were all pretty well done with quick action and lots of detail. Anytime Kuro went into his “hyper-mode” was always the highlight of the episode and was presented very nicely. The main thing that kept sticking out in my head was the overuse of a Star Wars-esque “blaster” sound during one of the final fights. Mind you, there were no blasters in this fight. There was a gun, but it wasn’t making the sound. The music, while nothing really memorable, was also not bad enough to draw any attention. The Noh pieces at the beginning of each episode were the same animated sequence with different lyrics, and the sound was pretty authentic. Not that I’m any expert on Noh theater, but from the live action performances I’ve seen this matched up pretty well with them.
Kurozuka started out so well. It was quite promising. I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in a show about zombies, samurai, vampires, and a story spanning a thousand years all wonderfully animated by Madhouse? It had style out the ass, a kickin’ opening theme, and enough hack and slash action in the first ten minutes to keep you glued. But then . . . God . . . oh God . . . The calamity ensued starting around episode nine, from then on I kept watching because of the grim fascination one gets when watching a documentary about a train wreck and seeing the impending disaster recreated in cheesy CG on the History Channel. I just had to see how terrible this could get, no matter how horrifying I knew it was going to be.
Top 5 Trainwrecks of a Series:
(Trainwreck meaning you don’t want to keep watching but can’t help it, not necessarily that it’s bad)