Steel Angel Kurumi Vol. #1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Steel Angel Kurumi is an excellent anime. On the surface a silly maid show, it manages to combine action and comedy into a compelling experience. At times it does follow a number of standard conventions, but does so in a thoroughly enjoyable fashion. The strongest element of the show is the comedy, which is consistently entertaining. Offering excellent animation, good stories, and a couple of catchy songs Steel Angel Kurumi sets a high standard for future anime to follow.
The first disc of Steel Angel Kurumi is spent like many other anime series, which is to say that it spends the majority of the disc setting up the show's basic plot and introducing the characters.
One interesting aspect of the show is that it is presented in fifteen-minute episodes rather than the standard twenty-five minutes. For the most part this is not a significant factor, but does have the effect of limiting each episode to one central idea followed throughout the episode rather than a series of ideas running parallel to each other. For the most part this works very well, though in the beginning is problematic as the first few episodes simply introduce a single major character or a few minor characters and feel a bit awkward. This also leads to the opening and closing music getting a considerable amount of play, though these can be skipped by chapter advancing should the viewer wish.
The basic premise of Steel Angel Kurumi is that a young boy named Nakahito sneaks into a house the local boys believe is haunted. Inside he finds what he believes is a doll, and while examining it the doll falls on him and he kisses it. This activates the Steel Angel, Kurumi, and incidentally links Kurumi and Nakahito together, as Nakahito is the only person Kurumi will obey. Hilarity ensues. The rest of the story follows Nakahito and Kurumi as they try to discover more about Kurumi's origins and try to elude the Army, who attempt to get Kurumi back.
The first episode is basically devoted to introducing Kurumi and Nakahito as described above. It sets up Nakahito generally well, though anime veterans should identify him as the shy kid stuck in way over his head quickly enough.
The second episode introduces a few more characters, including the inventor of Kurumi, Dr. Ayanokoji, and an Army scientist trying to capture Ayanokoji, Dr. Amagi. This is the first chance we get to see the potential of Kurumi as she soundly defeats a giant robot. The scene is very fast, and honestly to say that it's a fight is a bit of a stretch, but the speed and ease of the fight serve to illustrate just how powerful Kurumi is. The remainder of the episode is taken up by a few explanations of what's going on, though a few scenes towards the end promise more conflict in Kurumi's future.
In the third episode we are introduced to the second Steel Angel, Saki. Dr. Amagi activates Saki in order to be able to combat Kurumi. There's one great fight where the Army runs a field test of Saki and she quickly and decisively destroys two giant robots without any trouble. There's something about watching a maid destroy giant robots that's hilarious even while being an excellent show of force.
The fourth and fifth episodes essentially form a two-part story. In the fourth episode we see Nakahito and Kurumi interacting a bit as Nakahito begins to understand just what it means for him to be responsible for as powerful a weapon as Kurumi can be. The episode finishes with Saki appearing and starting a fight with Kurumi. This fight is continued in the fifth episode, during which Saki undergoes a personality makeover and joins the group. At the end of the episode Dr. Ayanokoji is captured mysteriously, setting up the story for the rest of the series.
The sixth episode slows the pace of the show, and gets back to more of the humor. It's a good change after the relatively serious plots of the fourth and fifth episodes. At this point the characters decide that they have to travel to a lab in Izumo. Nakahito, Kurumi, and Saki prepare to make the journey. Amagi, having been released from the Army, joins them. It's a good place for the disc to end, as it's not exactly a cliffhanger and we have an overall goal for the characters to try to achieve. At this point the introductions are basically over, and there's a feeling that in the next disc we can finally get going with the show.
The music and voicing for this show are terrific. In the case of the opening and closing songs that turns out to be absolutely necessary since you listen to them every fifteen minutes. I found both songs to be catchy, and I even enjoy the instrumental background music for the show.
As far as the voice acting goes I will be commenting on the English language track because I prefer listening to it. Solid performances all around. I especially enjoyed the fact that Kurumi's girlish squeals were translated in their own way to a format that would be more acceptable for English speakers but still retain the same spirit. No doubt some purists will disagree, but I felt overall that the vocal inflections and squeals on the English track successfully brought over the emotion in a manner more appropriate than if a direct imitation had been attempted. A great performance.
Visually, Steel Angel Kurumi leaves little to be desired. The animation and production values are great. In particular the show utilizes a great deal of color for the characters themselves, especially during the opening sequences. I was particularly interested in some of the background designs. The laboratories in the show have an older feel to them, heavy with rivets and large conduits fitting the era. I very much enjoyed the time period of the show, as it allows the Steel Angels to be powerful and fantastic without giving them rockets or ray guns.
The character designs are equally great. Kurumi, Amagi, and Saki all look attractive, which is a definite plus in a show of this sort. There's also a sort of mechanical theme to the maid outfits of the two Steel Angels that I found very interesting. Their outfits appear to use some kind of rivet as a fastener, lending them a mechanical feel despite the fact that they generally retain a genuine sense of humanity.
Another visual aspect of the show I enjoyed was its punctuation of comic moments with the use of super-deformed characters. Properly utilized super-deformed characters can be absolutely hilarious, and this is definitely a show that uses them well. Using the super-deformed characters is especially effective because it allows a clear demarcation between the serious portions of the show and the humorous. The show possesses both elements, and switches back and forth between the two relatively often. This might have been a negative aspect, but instead of making the super-deformed states as a cue to laugh the show uses it more as an element of the jokes than a sign of the joke.
Turning to the packaging things continue to look good. The cover shows Kurumi, while the back gives a short synopsis and a list of the disc's contents. The disc number is clearly visible on the spine, which is helpful. The insert has an episode and chapter listing, and also includes a fortuneteller that can be cut out and assembled. The back has a picture of Kurumi for the reverse side of the fortuneteller.
The menus for this disc are a minor source of complaint. The layouts of the menus are fine. The main menu allows episode selection on the right side while offering the usual options on the left. The looped music for the main menu, however, is relatively short. However, as viewers generally won't spent much time at this menu it's a small problem. More annoying is the fact that a relatively long Onmyou prayer is read before the menu loads. While listen to it is interested the first couple times its length makes listening to it annoying after a while.
In some sense it's also strange that there should be a chapter selection for the disc. The episodes themselves are not broken into separated chapters, so the scene selection only really allows you to target the prologue, opening credits, the episode itself, the end credits, or the preview. Those are good selections, but generally a chapter selection is helpful for finding something inside the episode itself, and insofar as that is true the chapter selection feature isn't very helpful.
Extras on this disc are plentiful, which is good considering that because the disc contains six episodes half-length it would be a relatively short disc once the intro and closing sequences were removed. There's a clean open, which is appreciated considering that the intro sequence is so visually busy that it's hard to keep track of everything going on with the credits on the screen. The background for the Taisho era and Onmyou Tradition are great for some back-story. The Taisho era information is particularly helpful as the period the show takes place in is not explicitly mentioned, and may be confusing to those who think things are taking place in a more modern time.
The real draw of the extras is the behind the scenes segment. This is basically a short documentary on the English version of the show. There are interviews with the main actors, who comment on what they think of the characters and the show in general. The segment is relatively long, and for fans of dubbing this is an absolute treasure. It offers a look at the voice actors behind the show that anime rarely offers, and also provides some insight into the show.
Also included on the disc are a few miscellaneous extras such as the production sketches and translator notes. These were interesting as always. A copy of the fortuneteller for printout is also included, which is good because it's unlikely many would be eager to cut up their insert. The extended previews were interesting, but no more so than you might expect.
Sharp 13" television, Sony Playstation 2
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Steel Angel Kurumi