Steel Angel Kurumi Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: A+
  • Age Rating: 17 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 90
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Steel Angel Kurumi

Steel Angel Kurumi Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     April 27, 2002
Release Date: May 21, 2002


Steel Angel Kurumi Vol. #1
© ADV Films


What They Say
Steel Angel Kurumi features breathtaking animation from acclaimed studio O.L.M. - famous for their work on the Pokemon franchise - along with an English dub starring some of the hottest actresses in anime: Kelli Cousins (Princess Nine), Monica Rial (Gasaraki), Hilary Haag (Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040), and Kira Vincent-Davis (Martian Successor Nadesico), with a special appearance by one of the most popular actresses in live action sci-fi, Claudia Black (Farscape, Pitch Black).

The Story: She was the most powerful creation ever invented. Designed by a brilliant mind, using otherworldly technology, bred for military use, the Steel Angel's intent was as revolutionary as it was mysterious. But when a young boy accidentally awakens the Steel Angel Kurumi, science and strategy are thrown a curve. Now this multi-million dollar soldier is taking orders from a boy-and other forces are not happy about it. So Kurumi and her young master must seek out a secret lab and discover dangerous answers. Namely, why was Kurumi created in the first place? What is her true purpose? And why is a mysterious organization activating other beautiful, seductive, and powerful Steel Angels to destroy her?

The Review!
Steel Angel Kurumi, also known as K˘tetsu Tenshi Kurumi, is another series that aired during the Anime Complex II anthology series on the WOWOW satellite network in Japan. Much like Kurogane Communication and Neoranga, it’s presented in 15 minute blocks for each episode, something that’s a challenge to some directors and writers.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. The show features a good stereo mix that makes good use of the forward soundstage with a few instances of directionality, but overall it sort of takes over the entire soundstage throughout most of it. Dialogue is nice and clear and we noted no dropouts or distortions. We did listen to a good portion of the English dub track and noticed no issues with that either.

Video:
Originally airing back in 1999 and into 2000, the show features such vibrant animation that you’d expect it more from an OVA series than a TV series. The transfer used here is gorgeous for the most part with hardly any aliasing and a very clean looking piece of video. On the downside, there’s a fair amount of cross coloration showing up in characters hair, particularly Kurumi. It’s not constant with her thankfully, but it’s there probably 75% of the time and may distract some folks. Colors look great with no visible saturation and backgrounds look nice and solid without any macroblocking.

Packaging:
Using the Japanese artwork, though a bit obscured for American retail realities, we get a shot of Kurumi in sleep mode with her wings spread out and the faint image of the gears in them. This is one of those covers that when you see it, you just have to stop and stare with an “oh my” or two. The back cover provides more of the front image and then goes into a lengthy piece on the show and the English voice talent behind it. Features are clearly listed as well as the production information. The insert is a real treat though as it’s a full color Kurumi Fortune Teller cutout, the kind you made back in grade school that you write in and play with. For those not wanting to cut up the insert, a PDF version is provided on the disc.

Menu:
Utilizing the front cover artwork for the main menu, we get a subtle but very gorgeous looking piece here. The gears in the background move along with the low music that’s playing that has a relaxing feel to it. Navigation is good in that you can jump right to any of the six episodes from here or move to the other menus for the various options and extras. Submenus are nicely done as well and access times are nice and fast.

Extras:
This may be one of the fullest disc of extras I’ve seen from ADV yet. This thing is packed perfectly. There’s two parts that should be read prior to the show, the Historical Background and the Onmyou Tradition. The background both of these things shed is almost critical at a few points, but in general will really help flesh out the time period and why the two brothers are doing what they do. There’s a good selection of production sketches and having a clean opening for such a lush looking show is perfect. The translators notes provide a small plethora of interesting tidbits that reflect certain actions in the show as well as more on the era in which it takes place. Interestingly, it mentions up front that the notes are intended more for the subtitle track than the dub track. The extended preview segments, which I believe appeared on home video only, are also presented here but only in Japanese with English subtitles. Instructions for the PDF Fortune Teller are also here.

What really floated my boat with this release is the Behind the Scenes documentary, which is labeled as part one here. This feature runs 32 minutes in length and has sit down chats with the English talent voice actors Kelli Cousins, Monica Rial, Hilary Haag, Kira Vincent-Davis as well as Claudia Black. The director, Stephen Foster, also provides a number of bits to this documentary. With all six of them talking about the show, how they did certain bits compared to the original and more, this is a great piece that a lot of dub fans are going to love. I’m hardly a dub fan, but even I love these things as I enjoy hearing the actors talk about their parts. And dub fans definitely deserve to actors who are as much a personality as the Japanese actors are and to develop a following for them. Being able to put a face to the name and hear their regular voice and how they feel about their roles only gets fans more involved in dubs and only pushes up the quality level of dub performances. It’s a circle that’s taken awhile to get where it is, but documentaries like these are great for both the fan and for the actor (and director!). I can’t wait to see more.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Steel Angel Kurumi was one of the shows back in 1999 that was at the start of the whole maid-character scene that’s now seemingly taken over the industry. This works in its favor pretty well though, as it was done when the field was still somewhat original and it doesn’t feel like a retread of other shows. One of the biggest things helping it is its location, which is set in the Taisho period of the early 1920’s.

Things start off at Dr. Ayonokoji’s mansion where he’s got a research lab in the basement. He’s left the Army some time ago to develop his own pet project, the Steel Angel’s. The Army general and his scientific advisor, a woman who used to work with the good doctor, have decided to take matters into their own hands and reclaim the doctor and all of his research. Using a small group but one with some impressive hardware, they begin to surround his mansion.

Enter young eleven year old Nakahito and three of his “friends” who want to check out the mansion and the rumored “evil doctor” living there. They bring Nakahito along since he’s an Onmyou and he may be able to protect them with his special spiritual abilities. After they sneak past the military and get inside the property, the shove Nakahito into the basement through the small window and get him to find out what’s going on inside. Nakahito reluctantly does so. In fact, he says precious little up to now, being a rather quiet young lad. After a few self-scares though, he ends up coming across an unconscious woman.

Or is it really a woman? She looks like one, but has no pulse and isn’t moving. He figures she must be a doll of some sort and sits near it fascinated. This is when the military start pounding the place though, and the woman’s body falls forward onto Nakahito and the two end up with their lips against each other. This brief instant, likely combined with Nakahito’s spiritual abilities, is enough to spark life within the special Angel Heart cores that the doctor has built, and she comes vividly to life.

And yes, Nakahito is now her master, something Ayonokoji doesn’t take all that well to when he comes across them in the basement. They all make a break for it and let the military pound the hell out of the house while they go to Nakahito’s place to make sense of all this. It’s here that we learn that Nakahito’s older brother was in cahoots with Ayonokoji and was planning on using the spiritual abilities he had to awaken the Angel so they could keep it under their control.

The awakened angel, Kurumi, fits the common mold of being an overly protective type but with massive perky bouncy energy and complete devotion to her master. Nakahito’s shyness balances it out as he finds himself thrust onto her bosom often and blushes constantly over the smallest things. Amusingly, many of these moments go into the super deformed mode with lots of wild takes and the like, giving Kurumi a chance to be really childlike at times. This is balanced out well later on when things get serious, and often the fight scenes move between very slick action to very detailed still images.

While the show builds nicely with its cast, having the military folks finding the other Hearts that had been made and one of the other Angels and their pursuit of the original, it also plays out very well because of the time period. Moving things to the 1920’s, when Japan was becoming westernized, there’s a great mix of styles that come into play. Playing around in this time period, one we often don’t see in anime, gives us a new place to deal with as well instead of being repetitive and using the modern day period. The mix of cultural change with the introduction of these cute and massively powerful Angels provides some interesting allusions.

The shows 15 minute format also works in its favor, but it takes time for it to really work in this series. The first couple of episodes feel off in how they’re laid out with some rather abrupt cuts here and there and some overly forced “surprises” to give it a cliffhanger of sorts for the next episode. But that may just be due to watching all of them in a row and not as part of the original anthology series.

Steel Angel Kurumi is a surprisingly good maid show in a sea of bad maid shows. Great character designs, very detailed animation and some of the most vivid colors you’ll see, especially for pink, this is a really easy show to try out. With all the extras packed in, it really rounds things out and makes this one of the best produced discs ADV’s done yet.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Behind the scenes feature Conversations with Angels,Historical background
of Tashio era Japan (1912-1926),Onmyou Information,Production sketches,Textless opening,Extended Next Episode Previews,Translators Notes,Fortune Teller PDF

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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