My background is in creative writing, and as a critic it’s my job to entertain and inform my readers. Over the span of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to review a variety of products, from books to video games to movies. Each time I sit down with a new piece of material, I try my best to come into the review with an open mind. Unlike some of my peers, I find writing reviews for quality products to be the easiest and the most enjoyable.
Unfortunately, this review may be one of the hardest that I’ve ever had to pen on paper. Kurau: Phantom Memory had all the trappings of a serious anime that would engross me from beginning to end, but failed to spark the smallest resonation within my emotional core.
The show takes place in a future very much like what our own might eventually become. The people of Earth have colonized the moon and have set up new research stations to analyze a mysterious new energy source. It’s on one of these science institutes that viewers first meet a scientist named Dr. Amami and his daughter, the namesake of the series, Kurau.
When Amami brings Kurau to work with him one day, one of his research experiments goes horribly wrong and Kurau is struck by a new form of energy known as Rynax. Rather than killing her, however, Kurau goes through a strange transformation and her personality is melded with the energy, which turns out to be a sentient creature. The being protects Kurau and gives her super-human speed, stamina, and strength, along with flight and a whole contingent of other abilities. Unfortunately, Kurau’s father is distraught over the fact that his daughter is inhabited by the beings he brought into the world, and he works tirelessly to find a cure for his daughter’s condition.
Fast forward twenty years, and Kurau has opted to use her abilities in a mercenary fashion, working as a cross between a vigilante and a bounty hunter known as an Agent. She feels incredibly lonely, and we learn that the Rynax exist in pairs and Kurau’s “pair” is located within her body. Finally, on a random night, Kurau’s pair emerges and the two are reunited once more.
Whew. If that sounds convoluted, boring, and forced to you, that’s because the show is chock full of episodes that simply leave you with little more than a dull expression and a bad taste in your mouth. Although I’m used to anime series taking some time to get into the meat of the story (see Ergo Proxy), Kurau‘s pacing is absolutely dreadful. After finishing the fourth and fifth episodes, I still wasn’t convinced that I’d seen hints of the conflict. Besides Kurau and her pair, which she names Christmas, none of the characters had really been fleshed out, and even at the end of the series the major players were little more than paper dolls pushing the story forward.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I can thoroughly respect a story with one or two major characters, but it was apparent that the writers for Kurau wanted to do more with the supporting cast in their anime than what they achieved. The police woman Ayaka and the father-like figure of Doug somehow fails to become endearing or heroic, two of the elements that his archetypal role often fills. Kurau’s superhuman abilities make it difficult for anyone in the show to really shine, and even when they do have their moments, it’s little more than an achievement in futility as Kurau uses her own badassery to make her supporting cast look like schlups.
To give more credence to this observation, the character that really stood out the most in the entire series, aside from Kurau and Christmas, was a young boy that had also been merged (albeit forcefully) with a Rynax and was desperately looking for his missing pair. His anguish struck a chord in me, unlike Kurau’s own desperation whenever she is parted with Christmas, and his struggle to find another Rynax to share his life with is heartbreaking.
But that bright spot was little more than the twinkling of a quickly disappearing star. Whether it was through faulty voice acting, shoddy translating, or a poor original script, Kurau does little to really evoke true emotion in its viewers, and this is where the series is obviously meant to shine the brightest. Not unlike more recently released anime, Kurau is basically a platonic love story with action sequences mixed in, but the human elements of this story simply fall flat.
These story and character flaws, which are numerous and thoroughly aggravating, destroy what is otherwise a beautifully produced show. The art in Kurau is best described as “soft;” the pallete is mostly made up of lighter shades than what many anime fans are used to and the colors meld very well with the flowing animation style the studio employed. These effects work extremely well when Kurau is using her various powers, and these moments were really what kept me watching the show. The dubbing was well done, but the overall story simply detracted too much from any voice work to make particular note of the dialogue.
With these objections in mind, I can’t honestly recommend Kurau: Phantom Memory to many individuals. If you love the slower pacing of some anime, Kurau may be right for you, but the action sequences may turn you off. Combat buffs will be similarliy bored by the slow exchanges in the early – and later – episodes. Unless you have money to toss to the breeze and you want to merely watch a well-drawn anime, I’d advise you to look elsewhere for your fix.