Steel Angel Kurumi Vol. #5 (Mania.com)

By:Way Jeng
Review Date: Sunday, May 18, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2003



The Review!
Steel Angel Kurumi is one of the best anime series I have had the pleasure of viewing, and this continues to be the case in the encore disc. The disc contains four new episodes, each of which follows the fifteen-minute format of the rest of the series.

The plot of the series proper (the first through fourth discs) is acknowledged by way of referencing the events of the fourth disc, but having seen the entire series is not necessary to watch and understand any of the episodes on the encore disc. In fact, each episode can be taken on its own as long as the viewer knows who all the characters are and has a rough idea of the events in the show. The one possible exception is the fourth episode, which might not make as much sense without having seen the first disc of Kurumi, but even in this case there is an effort made to explain prior events.

Inside the disc itself each episode is also distinct from each of the others, though minor references connect the episodes together. That being said, if you really want to you can watch the episodes of the encore in about any order you would like with and not be lost.

The independence of each episode is what makes the disc so enjoyable as an encore. Each episode serves to highlight the themes and personality of each of the main characters. Saki's sweet shyness and love for Kurumi is explored in the first episode. The second features Karinka as a troublemaker hiding her true desires and vulnerability. Third is Kurumi, epitomized by her enthusiastic quest for Nakahito's approval. Finally, the fourth episode serves as a showcase for Nakahito's almost constant surprise and embarrassment as he is once again made the focus of attention and drawn into a spectacle that he would escape if only somebody would let him.

My biggest complaint about this disc is that it ends. I thought these episodes were great. They are funny, give some good insight into the characters, and every time I get to the end of the disc I am a little sad they are over.

On the audio level it is hard to praise this disc enough. Each of the episodes uses the instrumental background music of the show very heavily, though this is less true with the fourth episode. This has the effect of continuing to keep the show's mood light and is very much in character with the slice-of-life nature of the episodes.

I particularly enjoyed the closing music for the episodes. Each song primarily features one singer and has different lyrics to reflect the character highlighted in that episode. The fourth episode is an exception, as all the singers seem to be featured approximately equally.

English-only speakers may have difficulty telling the difference between the versions of the song because the music itself is unchanged through all versions, though naturally this will depend on how much attention they pay to the song. The one frustrating aspect of this is that there are translated lyrics only for the first and third episodes, the second and fourth having romanji lyrics. Knowing the second and fourth versions of the song are different but not knowing what they mean is annoying, but on the whole I found the music very catchy and the fact that there were slight differences between the different versions only increased my enjoyment in listening.

Though I listened to both the Japanese language track as well as the English, I will comment on the English version because it is the one I more strongly prefer. However, I would like to make note that I found the Japanese to be enjoyable. Performances by all the lead characters continue to be strong. In particular I found Kira Vincent-Davis's performance as Nakahito improved compared to earlier discs. There were no times I can recall when I found myself thinking that Nakahito's voice was too feminine to be believable.

Looking at audio technical issues I found nothing significant to complain about. At some points the English language track sounded somewhat muffled, but this is a minor complaint. I did not detect any distortions or dropouts.

Visually the show continues to be strong. The animation is just as good as in previous episodes. The fourth episode shows a large group of steel angels, and I found it very interesting to see them. In particular I found it interesting that some of the steel angels outside of Kurumi and Saki have maid elements to their costumes, though this was not universally true. As usual the show in general is very colorful, though avoids becoming garish or obnoxious.

>From a technical point of view I found little if anything to complain about. I could bring up some minor points, but that would be the result of looking for problems rather than finding them during a casual viewing. Overwhelmingly the show looks great.

The packaging of the disc is fairly straightforward. The cover shows the three leading steel angels, and while perhaps it is odd that Nakahito is not shown on the cover a strong argument can be made for his exclusion. The back cover provides all the information you would expect such as the episode count, extras listing, total runtime, and a short synopsis. The insert is a double-sided poster, as noted on the rear cover, featuring the three steel angels again. Once again, Nakahito is absent and not shown on either side.

The menus for the disc itself were exactly what I expected. Navigation was easy and straightforward. The only complaint that I have is that the looped song for the main menu is short. However, as the average viewer will spend so little time in the menus this is a minor complaint.

Extras on this disc are excellent, though considering that the disc only has an hour of material on it if the extras were not robust the disc would probably turn out to be a disappointment. The trailers and selected works pages are nice to have, as are the extended previews. The clean opening is appreciated, though is also on the first disc of the series.

The clean close, on the other hand, is a real treat as it goes through all four endings. Not only does this allow each of the ending songs to be compared against each other easily, but because the closing animations themselves show an abbreviated version of the episodes watching the clean close is almost as good as watching a miniature version of the entire disc. However, the best extra is the voice actress commentary. There are three commentaries, with the third episode on the disc not commented. The commentaries are all funny and informative, but it is unfortunate that the third episode was not commented. On the whole these are great extras that make the disc considerably more enjoyable.

Please note at this time that I will discuss the plot of the disc in greater detail for those wishing spoilers.

The first episode takes place some time shortly after the events in disc four, though it is unclear how much time has passed. While working in a restaurant Saki is scouted by a silent film company. While at first reluctant, she quickly warms to the idea once she discovers how much the others are excited for her. Saki quickly becomes famous and the studio decides to send her to Hollywood. She expects to be away for a year, setting up a wonderful scene where she admits she loves Kurumi even though Kurumi does not return those feelings. Perhaps the funniest part of this episode is the irony created by the commentary for it. Voice actresses talking about an episode about becoming a silent film star is simply bizarre.

The second episode follows Karinka after she receives a love letter from a secret admirer. Kurumi, Nakahito, and Saki follow her on the date to find out who it is, and Kamihito shows up and is mistaken for the man who sent the letter. Unknown to the rest, Karinka gets Kamihito to play along with the idea in order to trick the others. The rest of the episode shows the group following the fake date. This is possibly the most lighthearted episode of the four. Many of the characters spend a good deal of time in their super-deformed states and dress up in funny costumes.

In the third episode Kurumi begins to believe that Nakahito wants her to be a mature woman and starts trying to act the part. However, she quickly finds that going against her nature is exhausting. I found a scene in this episode, when Kurumi finally gives into her fatigue, to be the funniest on the disc. There is also something ironic about the fact that Kurumi is seen cooking and cleaning only when she is not wearing her maid outfit.

In the fourth episode all the steel angels decide they want Nakahito to kiss them so they can become the most powerful steel angel. In the end they hold a tournament to decide who is most worthy of the honor. Even the spy, Koganei, pretends to be a steel angel to get a chance to compete, though it is pretty clear that Nakahito would rather flee from the situation as fast as his legs could take him if he could. Having Kamihito offer to kiss all of the angels in Nakahito's place is an absolutely hilarious moment, but just one of many in the episode.

Overall this disc was a great way to return to Steel Angel Kurumi. If the disc had been marketed as the end of the series it might be a little strange that the series would end on such a lighthearted note, but as an encore it works wonderfully. We revisit their world for a batch of fresh stories with the mix of humor and poignant moments that made the series so strong the first time around. It is exactly what you want out of an encore.




Review Equipment
Sharp 13" television, Sony Playstation 2




Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 19.98
Running time: 60
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Steel Angel Kurumi