Mania Grade: B
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- Audio Rating: A-
- Video Rating: A
- Packaging Rating: B+
- Menus Rating: B-
- Extras Rating: A-
- Age Rating: 13 & 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. #4
By Way Jeng
June 20, 2003
Release Date: October 08, 2002
After some good and bad times we finally come to the end of Steel Angel Kurumi. Ending a series is tricky business, and there's a lot that needs to be done. A series needs as much excitement as the rest of the series, but without closure the end can never be completely satisfactory. The end of Steel Angel Kurumi provides both of these elements, as the action is in some ways stronger than it ever has been and when everything is said and done all the burning questions of the series are answered, but along the way the show loses the light-hearted quality that made the series so special. Ultimately this might be a good end for another series, but as the end of Steel Angel Kurumi it's disappointing.
The fourth disc of Steel Angel Kurumi breaks away from what we've seen from the show so far. Largely gone are the stand-alone episodes, instead opting for a story arc that's arguably started either at the end of the third volume or at the start of the fourth. The Steel Angels assault the Academy's flying citadel base to rescue Nakahito, and things just go from there. On the one hand this is good because each episodes pulls the audience directly into the next, but on the other hand it also means that watching just one or two episodes isn't very fulfilling.
More than anything else the change is jarring because it's a change in spirit for the show. This is reflected in more than just cliffhangers, as the show basically abandons the humorous aspect of the series in favor of a lot more action. Again, this isn't all bad because the fighting is more intense than it's been yet. The battles between Mikhail and Kurumi simply dwarf anything we've seen yet. Added to this the plot continues to be expanded, and we learn quite a bit of backstory about the Academy and the origins of the Steel Angels. It's relatively interesting material, especially once a slight plot twist comes when we learn exactly why it is that the Mk II angel heart is so powerful.
In the interest of not spoiling the various twists and turns of the disc I'll refrain from discussing the plot in any great detail, though readers can rest assured that at the end of the day there's a happy ending.
Overall this is an excellent disc of anime, but not a compelling disc of Steel Angel Kurumi. These episodes are very strong on plot exposition and fighting, but those were never the qualities that made the show so enjoyable. What made this show special was the mix of action along with comedy and characters you loved to watch get into and out of trouble. Saving the world and watching gigantic explosions makes for some good anime, but in incorporating these story elements the show loses a lot of its unique style. For that reason it's hard to really enjoy this disc, though no doubt any viewers who wished the show would be more serious and action-packed will be well pleased.
For the audio I will be commenting on the English language track because I more strongly prefer it. The voice acting in this disc is a little hard to judge only because there's a much larger proportion of fighting scenes without dialog than in previous discs. Kurumi in particular has few lines in the second half of the disc, though given the storyline it's understandable. I found it somewhat difficult to judge the voicing for Mikhail. On one hand Mikhail sounds somewhat monotone, but this matches the persona for the character and as such isn't exactly a problem. Overall I would say the voice acting is quite satisfactory.
Musically Steel Angel Kurumi is much more sedate and somber than in previous discs, but it fits the pathos of the episodes very well. If there's any problem it's that the theme song continues to be catchy and happy while the show takes a much more serious tone, leading to a certain dissonance. It should also be noted that the last episode of the series also includes either an extended or uncut version of the theme song. I found the song to be very enjoyable to listen to, just as in other times when longer versions of songs I enjoy appear.
Visually this disc is fantastic. In terms of awe and spectacle this is probably the most impressive disc so far, in no small part because of the wealth of fighting scenes. The animation looks great, and the production values continue to be high. The fight scenes contain a great deal of movement, though stills are occasionally used. Sadly, the character spend no time in super deformed states, but as much fun as those sequences are they'd be completely out of place in the episodes.
There are a few more characters either introduced or only given significant screen time in this volume. Of note is Mikhail, who's unique in appearance because she seems like a more stately and mature Steel Angel. Overall her design is as compelling as any of the other Steel Angels', though it's difficult to say if she conforms to any real motif. She appears to be the most robotic of the Steel Angels with long lines up and down her costume vaguely resembling stylized circuits, and this works well.
The power and impact of a number of scenes, such as the floating citadel of the Academy or various energy beam attacks used by different characters, is much greater in Steel Angel Kurumi than in other animes. Credit can be given to the time period. So far in the series these weapons haven't been used extensively, and when they are it's much more impressive even though by usual anime standards these aren't extraordinarily powerful attacks or wondrous events.
The packaging for the fourth volume of Steel Angel Kurumi follows the same trends set by previous discs. The front cover shows an alternate version of the cover for the first disc befitting the darker nature of this disc. Once again the volume number is clearly labeled on the spine, and the back of the disc has an episode count and a list of extras. The insert is another fortuneteller, this time featuring Nakahito.
Menus for this disc start with a reading of the Onmyou prayer just like all the previous volumes of the show. As always it's vaguely interesting, but the urge to skip the remainder after the first twenty or thirty seconds is understandable. Otherwise the menus are done pretty well. Access load times are relatively quick, and all the options you'd expect are available.
Finally we come to the extras of the disc. Overall Steel Angel Kurumi has offered excellent bonuses, especially for fans of the English dubs. This is true of the fourth volume as well, as we're presented with a large number of extras to peruse.
First up is the second part of the behind the scenes documentary. This time most of the time is spent focused on Claudia Black, the voice actress for Mikhail. I am not familiar with Claudia Black's other works, and as such I wasn't terribly impressed with her involvement with the show. However, fans of Black will probably find this a fascinating and interesting offer. Personally I would have been more interested in hearing more from the other actresses.
Next are a few text-based features, a character bio list and a travelogue. The list of bios includes a chart graphically depicting how the various characters feel about each other. It's interesting to see completely laid out how many relationships are going on in the show. The bios themselves are about what you'd expect, offering a little background and a few notes. The travelogue lists all the major cities visited during the course of the show, and gives a fair amount of historical and cultural background for each. It's interesting reading material for anybody interested in Japanese history and culture.
The production sketches, translator notes, and extended preview are all about what you'd expect. The number of sketches is relatively large, and offers a look at the newer characters as well as the differences in Kurumi towards the end of the series. The translator notes are a little light this time, and primarily describe the reasoning behind some of the translation choices. The extended episode previews will probably appeal to purists who would like to see the original previews, and are good material for any serious fan. Lastly is the inclusion of the Nakahito fortuneteller in printable format from a computer so that the insert need not be destroyed.
Sharp 13" television, Microsoft XBox