Kurau: Phantom Memory Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Bryan Morton
Review Date: Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Release Date: Monday, November 05, 2007

What They Say
As the twin forces of betrayal and the GPO's expanding dragnet shatter Kurau and Christmas's temporary sanctuary, the Rynax pair is caught in the jaws of Wong and Ayaka's trap. Placing her trust in an unproven ally, a desperate Kurau finds herself facing another team of battle pods. This time, however, she's on the inside of her own combat unit and Kurau gives as good as she gets!

Episodes Comprise
5 – Lost Child
6 – Glowing Rain
7 – A New Life
8 – Another Christmas

The Review!
Kurau and Christmas settle into the reality of life on the run, and reluctantly have to accept help to keep one step ahead of the GPO – Kurau may have superhuman abilities, but they seem to come at the expense of her common sense. The GPO also have some new Rynax-targetted toys that they seem keen to try out on her…

Audio is provided in Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1, which seem to be ADV’s standard formats these days. I listened to the Japanese track for this review. It’s another competent stereo mix, with decent directionality adding a feeling of depth to the on-screen action. There were no apparent encoding problems or dropouts.

Video is presented in its original full-frame aspect, and it’s a good-looking release. There’s a wide range of locations used in these episodes, and there’s been a good amount of effort put into to making them look unique and detailed – all good, and it helps make it that bit easier to get into the setting. Fortunately, the transfer doesn’t spoil the experience, either – colours and detail all come across clearly, and apart from some minor colour banding on gradients there were no obvious issues.

Using a different piece of artwork to the US release, the front cover of this volume features the GPO’s Inspector Wong, looking suitably threatening, with his sidekick Ayeka in the foreground, set against a plain white background. It’s a simple but eye-catching image. The rear has the usual screenshots, technical information and promotional blurb, while the reverse side of the cover has and interview with Kurau's set designer Shingo Takeba; and another pair of columns by scriptwriter Aya Yoshinaga, looking at the character of Kurau.

One word to describe the menus: bland. A simple grey background carries the various options – direct access to each episode, and submenus for language setup and extras. At least it’s quick and easy to use.

In addition to the interviews and character details on the packaging, the on-disc extras provide the usual creditless versions of the opening and closing sequence and a promotional video for the show. There’s also a text extra explaining some of the terms used in the show & a little about the future society that’s featured, and a gallery of production artwork.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Having taken a beaten from an armour pod and seen two balls of light – possibly Rynax – come out of her body, Kurau hauls herself away from the battle scene before the police arrive & tries to figure out what just happened to her. Back at the flat, she begins dreaming - initially the same dream she used to have before Christmas appeared, but it soon turns different, more threatening, and Kurau begins to worry that she may be on the verge of losing Christmas again. She's also feeling seriously weakened, to the point of near collapse. Christmas does her best to look after her counterpart, but her naivety soon leads her into trouble, and Kurau's forced into action to save her. Meanwhile, one of the Rynax that escaped through Kurau is trying to find its Pair, while Kurau's father seems to have thrown his lot in with the GPO.

Later, the GPO’s efforts to capture them force Kurau and Christmas to go on the run – they’re helped by fellow Agent Doug, whose curiosity about the pair has been piqued by what he’s glimpsed of Kurau’s powers, but the girls seem unable to keep their location hidden for long.

After watching these episodes, I’m torn about Kurau, as it really doesn’t seem to know what it’s about. Early episodes pointed towards a long search for Kurau’s Pair, and maybe a focus on her exploits as an Agent, but both those ideas are now out of consideration, with Christmas on the scene and the GPO’s pursuit knocking Kurau’s Agent career on the head. We’re now left with a stated desire to track down her father again – but that idea has been pretty much ignored in these episodes – and the girl’s efforts to stay one step ahead of Ayeka and Wong. That’s all very well, and you’d think that with her experience as an Agent and the abilities her Rynax part give her, Kurau would have no problem keeping herself safe – but for some reason, she makes elementary mistakes that keep bringing her to the attention of the authorities. Travelling under her own name, for example, or being a little too quick to unleash her Rynax abilities when it would have perhaps been wiser to keep a low profile, and those failings of judgment make the whole idea a little bit harder to swallow.

I’m also not much of a fan of Christmas, who seems to have “plot device” and “cute fanservice” written all over her – her sole contribution to the story so far has been to be the cue for Kurau to have to go into action, when her naivety lands her in trouble, and to act and speak in ways that make her as cute & appealing to the audience as possible. I like to think I’m above such manipulation – I like the idea of the Rynax pairs, but I’m not seeing anything from Christmas that shows me why the Pair is so necessary, and that leaves me feeling cheated.

This volume also introduces Ayeka and Wong as the villains of the piece, as Wong leads the efforts to catch Kurau, with Ayeka acting as his able assistant. Ayeka in particular is given some decent development, with a look at her past going some way to explain why she’s so driven in her work (although not necessarily why she’s so interested in the Rynax), but their capture efforts aren’t particularly creative and don’t do them any favours.

On the plus side, the visual presentation of the series is good, with lots of detail in the animation that helps keep the attention when the lead characters fail to do so. Doug’s transformation from possible bad guy to someone who wants to help the girls is interesting, especially with one or two facial expressions hinting towards him maybe having an ulterior motive for doing so, while as mentioned Ayeka benefits from having a decent introduction and comes across as someone who’s worth paying attention to, even if her efforts to catch the girls so far haven’t met with much success.

In summary:
I want to like , I really do – the initial setup was of a show that was right up my alley, but the way it’s being done is wasting most of the potential that the idea and setting has and ends up being less than the sum of its parts – something I’ve been seeing in a lot of shows lately. It’s still early days for the series, though, and there’s time for it to come around and become something far more interesting. This volume isn’t there yet, and for now Kurau is a try-before-you-buy series.

Japanese Language 2.0,English Language 5.1,English Subtitles,Creditless Opening & Closing Sequences,Key Words,Japanese TV Spots,Production Artwork

Review Equipment
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.

Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: ADV Films UK
MSRP: 19.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Kurau: Phantom Memory