Kuromukuro – 04

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A handful of demons are still at large all over the globe, but there’s no imminent existential threat to humanity. But Kennosuke still has a challenging battle to fight: adjusting to the modern world, where even the eating utensils are different, to say nothing of the kind of food people eat.

Much of this episode’s first half is Ken settling into Yukina’s uncle’s house, much to Yukina’s consternation. Samurai otaku Koharu, on the other hand, is delighted to have a real life samurai around to criticize the little men in the box (TV) whose stances are all wrong.

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I must say I fall more on Team Koharu in terms of Ken’s fish-out-of-water antics being immensely entertaining and amusing. The show really flexes its slice-of-life and comedy muscles, after previously showing it can do hand-to-hand combat, mecha battles, and general peril.

I especially enjoyed how Ken turns everything—from the strange food to the pet ferret on the roomba—into little mini-battles that test his mettle. As the uncle says, he really is a warrior, and warriors don’t always make the best houseguests, but they are fairly predictable in their behavior and values…especially a distinguished samurai such as Kennosuke.

Of course, there will always be hiccups, like repurposing Yukina’s favorite towel as a loincloth. But that’s just part of the fun, as Yukina’s often mortified reactions are as funny as the words or incidents by Ken that cause them.

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So this isn’t the most heavyweight episode, plot-wise, but it does continue to gradually build up a bond between the two leads, Yukina and Kennosuke. She’s tasked with taking him to the mall (which he mistakes for a castle), and she takes the task seriously, even though she’s reluctant. Something about Ken rubs her the wrong way (especially now that she learns they’re about the same age) because he’s new (or rather old) and different; shaking up her old mundane life.

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But as I said last week, there’s an upside to Kennosuke, beyond laughing at his archaic way of speaking and the unique ways he sees certain aspects of modern life, and its that very shaking up of Yukina’s life; giving it sudden and profound purpose.

When Ken looks around at all the happy kids at the mall, he remarks that the world has become a very peaceful place, and so his princess did not sacrifice herself in vain. It’s a very poignant, melancholy moment, which is expanded upon when Ken essentially assures Yukina that her father—who was dismissed as a whack-a-doo for his theories on alien demons—was right.

Of course, her father being right doesn’t change the fact that he left, something Yukina, who seemed close-ish to her father in the flashbacks, probably laments/resents about him. But when Ken sees and verifies his bigfoot-like photo of a demon, it’s as if a missing piece of a puzzle has fallen into place. I’m all for badass mecha action, but quiet episodes like this that develop the players are welcome too.

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Kuromukuro – 03

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After the yellow “Demon” retreats, Ouma spots another part of the world (other than the mountains) that hasn’t changed since his time: a castle. When he calls out to be given an audience and gets no reply, he is confused. When he gets a look at Yukina’s outrageous-for-his-time outfit, he scolds her.

When Yukina starts talking to a “box”, a lady appears inside of it, and the castle’s floodlights come one, he believes it all a matter of demon trickery. This is a man stubbornly clinging to his time, but this week he finally relents, even if it means becoming, as he sees it, ‘useless’.

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What Ouma does not and will not set aside is his honor, which means even though he considers Yukina his hostage, he shan’t lay a hand on her, nor any woman or child. That policy is tested when he’s quickly re-captured by the UN, escapes again, and comes afoul of Sophie. She surprises him by taking him down and putting him in a hold, but she releases him when he gropes her. While not every female soldier in this day and age would have reacted as Sophie had, in this case he was lucky.

What’s nice about Japan is that many man-made things haven’t changed much in four centuries; not just the castle: Yukina’s uncle Yakushi Osho is a monk, and wears the same basic threads as his forbears of yore. He manages to finally calm Ouma in a great little scene in which the two men sit together and speak plainly.

Even so, when Ouma is in transit flanked by UN guards, he runs into Yukina’s precocious little sister Koharu, who came to the lab to see her sister and wandered off on her own. Koharu gets in trouble with the guards holding Ouma, who knocks them out for threatening to raise a hand to a child, something he cannot abide in any century.

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Now, it’s a bit implausible and convenient for Koharu to have such free rein in a high-security facility, and that of all the halls of the vast complex, she crosses paths with Ouma. Then again, Ouma seems to be a bit of a man of destiny, while Koharu is a known “adventurer”, as some little kids tend to be. She’s also a bit of a samurai otaku, and cheerfully greets him with the traditional –de gozaru vernacular.

She also follows him out into the woods, but it isn’t long before a demon “Cactus” gives them the jump. Koharu is captured, and Ouma must run back to HQ for help—and his “steed.” He enlists Yukina’s aid, promises seppukku if it turns out he’s wrong, and the steed flies to his location to scoop the two of them up.

A thrilling ride ensues, with the steed flying over the massive dam and through the river’s canyon, with Yukina using her phone’s GPS to locate Koharu. They find her just moments before the Cactus makes off with her (covered in some kind of cocoon) and with some UN assistance, Ouma is able to slay the demon.

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For his heroics, he is pardoned for his latest escape, but more than that, this whole ordeal ends up leading to Ouma’s final realization that much time has indeed passed since he went to sleep in that cube. He knows this because the landscape tells him: a great rock cleaved in two by his own (relic’s) hand so long ago, now covered in plants.

Meeting again with Yukina’s uncle, with no lord to serve Ouma knows not his purpose nor why he is alive anymore. But I will rest assured that purpose will be revealed to him in due time, if it hasn’t already. I presume he was awakened so he could join Yukina (distant relation to his former lady?) in fighting the new scourge of demons poised to wreak havoc across the globe.

That he was able to rescue Koharu can be a purpose in and of itself, though it’s true she only ended up in danger because of him. Still, before long everyone may be in danger, at which point his new purpose—to protect those weaker than he—will be clear.

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Kuromukuro – 02

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A brief glimpse is all we need to learn why Kennosuke called Yukina ‘princess.’ Yet for his stalwart protection of the lookalike from robotic monsters, he is thrown in a cell, where he dreams of a time that has long since passed.

Meanwhile, Yukina, who pushed the red button that released him from his long slumber, is told to “stay put” by her mother, at least until they has a better picture of what’s going on.

Yukina does not stay put.

Her mom leaves her phone behind—again—allowing her to escape about the same time Ouma does. It seems that fate was meant to bring these two together.

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Kennosuke has been moving so fast, it isn’t until he and Yukina have a moment to breathe that he realizes…she isn’t the princess. He voices he’s upset in a most amusingly old-fashioned manner, but when his cockpit-cube arrives and transforms into a ‘steed’ at his command, he still puts Yukina in the copilot seat. She’s not the real deal, but could she be a descendant? A reincarnation?

Yukina blasts past Mika and other shelterers as the steed takes her and Kennosuke to his “Black Relic”, the centuries-old equivalent (and likely template) for the UN’s GAUS suits (which don’t appear this week).

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Once outside in the world, Kennosuke is, not unreasonably, very confused and disoriented. The mountains are familiar, but what’s with the lake? “A wonder of human ingenuity,” says Yukina. “Deceptive drivel!” says Kennosuke.

Similarly, the buildings of the city they approach appear to him like giant tombstones, which they will actually become if the yellow scourge, which Ken calls an Oni or “Demon”, is allowed to stomp around unchallenged.

I dig Ken’s archaic way of speaking, as well as his almost complete unpreparedness for being in the modern world (despite, you know, piloting the giant mecha) Yukina, for her part, remembers her father’s tales of demons coming to devour everyone, suspects that’s now what’s going on, and perceptively declares this situation “the pits!”

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Fortunately, Ken was right to put Yukina in the copilot’s seat, because not only does she understand the relic’s interface, she serves as an invaluable second set of senses in their battle with said demon. The JSDF and ASDF’s conventional military forces are completely worthless against the beast, so it’s Ken and Yukina or nothing.

The battle itself is heartening, not just because it brings a ferocious energy that was somewhat lacking last week, but again shows Ken still a lot to learn about modern urban combat. He’s understandably rusty, but thanks to Yukina, he stays alive and his relic is undamaged, while they score a hit on the yellow demon and force it to retreat, ascending up to an infernal mothership lurking in orbit.

In hindsight, these first two episodes work far better as a double episode than separately, with the true climax not arriving until the city battle this week, which puts Yukina and Ken on more equal footing as co-pilots. This may seem like ‘the pits’ to Yukina now, but it’s also a definite path forward.

Where before she was simply drifting about, unsure of how to become the successor to her mom she assumed everyone around her expected her to be, now she has the means to become something else entirely; something just as important, if not more so.

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Kuromukuro – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kuromukuro opens with a striking image: that of two beastly mechas with glowing katana dueling in a snowstorm, as samurai battle and lay bleeding on the ground.

Cut to a parent-teacher conference in which Shirahane Yukina’s advisor is informing her highfalutin’ mom Hiromi as tactfully as possible (though not very) that her daughter may not have the smarts or the talent to make much of herself, as indicated by listing “Mars” among her future goals.

Hiromi storms off, leaving her UN-issued phone behind, and both her mom and her friend Sophie (who also works at the UN lab in Kurobe) aren’t listening when she tries to return it.

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Yukina (voiced ably by Ichimichi Mao, who is also Space Patrol Luluco this Spring) has lofty goals but her motivation is compromised by being the daughter—the princess, in a way—stuck in the shadow of the queen, her mom, the director of the Kurobe Lab.

The episode does a good job establishing Yukina as someone a bit hemmed in and intimidated by her circumstances, who may just need a swift kick in the bum to on track to greatness. But this week she’s very much a passive observer, with one key exception (more on that later).

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Sure enough, a potential bum-kick arrives in the form of a rude invasion by a swarm of evil mecha led by one giant one, who crash landed just outside the UN lab. The security forces do there best, but are soon overwhelmed, and Hiromi (ensconced in a very Evangelionesque CIC) deploys their own experimental mecha.

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It’s at this point that Yukina, who happens to be in a lab where a large, mysterious, black, cubic artifact that was found during the construction of the dam, stops watching and does something.

Specifically, she hits the Big Red Button on the side of the cube, and out pops a naked man, awakening from suspended animation of untold duration.

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Having pushed the button, Yukina returns to Standing Around Mode, while her classmate Sophie pilots one of the UN mecha and takes out the giant enemy mech.

A smaller mech gets in the lab where Yukina is, and the naked guy whips out a katana and protects Yukina, whom he calls “princess” (which may or may not be a coincidence). He looks, talks, and fights like a samurai, and even has a samurai name: Ouma Kennosuke Tokisada.

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Once the small mecha is taken care of, UN police swarm in to deal with the naked man. Thus ends Yukina’s big, interesting day of watching stuff happen around her, to which she contributes a single button push that may just be the most important action taken.

Or it would end, but for another giant mecha headed to the UN Lab, along with another swarm of grunts. There’s a similar giant machine in deep storage at the lab, and judging from the configuration of the UN prototypes, it needs two to pilot. So I suspect Yukina and Ouma will be the ones to do so next week.

So far this is a heckuva lot better and more promising than the last P.A. Work Zane attempted, Haruchika, particularly in terms of production values. I’ll give it an 8 for design and a female heroine, and a 7 for overall story, action, pace, and originality.

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