When an alien lifeform, the Rynax, takes up residence in the body of young girl Kurau, it’s a devastating blow for her father, who sees the daughter he loves become someone else, but for Kurau and Rynax it’s the beginning of a whole new life – but the unique abilities that Rynax gives means that others soon take an interest that may not be healthy for Kurau...
What they say
Her name is Kurau, and in a world of mercenary agents, she's the cream of the elite; a master martial artist and thief so skilled that no secret or objective is beyond her grasp. The greatest secret of all, however, is the one Kurau conceals inside herself. The freak result of a disastrous experiment with a new kind of energy, Kurau's body has been fused with a binary alien life form called the Rynax. Every second Kurau lives is lived twice; one alien sharing her consciousness, the other still waiting to be born... and now none of those lives may last very long! The truth about Kurau has begun to leak out, a worldwide manhunt has been launched, and now the ultimate agent is the ultimate target.
Audio is provided in Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1. 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 throughout the series, 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.
A flimsy card box contains two thinpack cases, each containing two discs. The front cover of the box pictures Kurau in an action pose, with the rear having a series of screenshots from the series and some promotional blurb, while the set's technical information is on a small panel hidden away on the bottom edge of the box. The thinpacks are both clear cases, with both the outer and inner sides of the covers carrying artwork of Kurau & Christmas; the rear of each case also carries an episode listing. Kurau, Christmas, Doug and Ayaka grace the disc covers. Overall, the packaging hardly screams 'quality', but it's decent enough to look at and won't take up too much pace on the shelf.
Menus are the same on each disc - a fairly plain blue and grey static screen, which provides direct access to each episode along with options for Languages and, where present, Extras. There's no audio, and no transition animations, making them nice & easy to use, if a bit on the austere side.
Not too much in the way of extras to be found on this release – clean opening animations on disc one, including creditless opening scenes from those episodes that don't use the opening theme, and a clean version of the closing animation on disc two. That's your lot.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Apart from living on the Moon (although that's nothing unusual in the year 2100), Kurau Amami's was your average, cheerful young girl, until the day her father agreed to allow her to visit his work as a birthday treat. He was a scientist, dealing with research into a new kind of energy, so the opportunity to visit the labs was a real reason for excitement, but the visit changed Kurau's life forever. A freak accident leaft her playing host to an alien, energy-based lifeform - the Rynax. With her physical abilities augmented far beyond human norms, but no memories of the time before the Rynax joined with her, Kurau's life became extraordinary. The show then jumps forward 10 years, where we find that Kurau's a mercenary for hire - a job her augmented abilities make her ideally suited for - but she's no closer to finding a way to separate the Rynax from her body...
The key to separating the Rynax from Kurau is her Pair, lying dormant within Kurau – the Rynax had made a deal with Kurau’s father that once its Pair had awoken, it would work with him to find a way to separate the three of them into their separate identities – but as the years passed and the Pair remained dormant, Kurau and her father went their separate ways. Now the Pair has awakened, Kurau needs to get in touch with her father again – but there are others who are aware of the Rynax and the abilities it can grant, and Kurau’s suddenly finds herself a wanted woman.
The first episode of Kurau: Phantom Memory does a good job of making you think you’re getting one kind of show – and then in episode two it goes off in a different direction. You see Kurau’s father’s reaction to what happens to Kurau, his initial conversations with the Rynax while he tries to get his head around what’s happened, his internal struggles to deal with the combined Kurau-Rynax entity behaving more and more like Kurau used to (is it his daughter, or a monster who’s subsumed her? How should he feel?), and you begin to see how a story about growing up and identity could begin to flow from that. I saw that possibility as quite an interesting one – so come episode two, where we’re suddenly dropped into a story where Kurau’s a super-powered bounty-hunter, there was a mental clashing of gears while I tried to adjust to the show’s direction.
The big issue I had with this, is that bounty-hunter shows aren’t exactly rare, and initially at least there’s nothing done to make it look like the series was going to try anything different. The awakening of the Pair – into the human form of Christmas, looking just like the young Kurau – also didn’t exactly inspire me. From there, though, things began to change, as Kurau herself becomes the one being hunted (quite easily, it has to be said – Kurau’s skills at catching other people seem to be much better than her abilities to keep herself hidden), and her efforts to keep Christmas safe and free take centre-stage.
Kurau may go to great lengths to keep her host status a secret, but it would seem she’s not the only one of her kind – among the group chasing her, there’s even a term for them: "Ryna sapiens", a new form of humanity, and Kurau appears to be one of the strongest of them – and the shadier sides of society seem to want their hands on that power. While trying to avoid their pursuers, there’s also the promise made with her father to deal with, and that's the angle that the show eventually focusses on. 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 never saw anything from Christmas that showed me why the Pair was so necessary, and that left me feeling a little cheated.
The villains of the piece are GPO, a global peace-keeping organisation set up in the aftermath of a world war who have taken on responsiblity for rounding up any Ryna sapiens who are on the loose. Ayeka and her supervisor Wong are the faces of GPO for most of the series, 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. There's also Doug, a former GPO investigator who has become a private Agent and has connections to Ayaka - he starts the series marked as a potential bad guy, but quickly transforms into someone who wants to help the girls. He has a remarkable knack for being in the right place at the right time that often comes in useful.
The early episodes of the series are something of a disappointment - while watching them, I found myself wanting to like the series but having a hard time engaging with the show and characters. It's only once Kurau is reunited with her father around the mid-season mark that the series begins to properly play its hand. The meeting of father and daughter is a mini-arc in its own right, with Dr Amami being a man whose life isn't going quite as he expected it to. He's been a tortured man since Kurau first left him, the work he's been doing on the Rynax has been corrupted by GPO and turned into something more sinister than he ever wanted it to be, while an accident on the Moon in which a number of Rynax escaped and 'infected' humans on the base has left him with a clinic full of people who live in fear of becoming part of GPO's next experiment. Kurau's return, and the help he gets from her in dealing with his 'patients', seems to give him his hope back and help him gain more of a backbone - so when GPO inevitably arrive, tipped off to Kurau's presence by one of the people she was trying to help, he's ready to stand up to them and fight for his daughter's safety, as a father should. This is a good passage of story - a long way from the science-fiction / Agent aspects of the show that were the focus of the story early on, and far easier to get into.
From there, the series gains a certain conspiracy element as the extent of GPO's involvement with the Rynax and Ryna sapiens becomes apparent, and the revelations that are eventually made over this are enough to significantly change the dynamic between some of the characters in the show's closing episodes.
Kurau has been a series that's has left me divided opinions for a lot of its run - it didn't seem to be making much effort to live up to its early potential, and the mid-season episodes with Kurau and Christmas on the run from GPO were simply an annoyance. As it moved towards the end, though, the series found its footing and started delivering stories that were engaging, entertaining, and in some ways thought-provoking, and this volume ties up that story very nicely. I would have liked to have been shown more about the Rynax, their true nature and origins, but while it's disappointing that that didn't happen it also doesn't detract from the good work that's done with this volume. Well worth watching.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animations, Clean Closing Animation.
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.