Kurau Phantom Memory

Kurau Phantom Memory


Watched via DVD



PLOT: Kurau’s life changes forever when she accompanies her father to work one day, and she is hit with rogue Rynax energy. This alternative energy source, which her father was studying, has extraordinary powers. While many who encounter Rynax energy end up fatally injured, Kurau’s body is able to absorb the energy and therefore is given extraordinary powers. Sounds a lot like a comic book hero, doesn’t it?

Upon Kurau’s accident, it is discovered that Rynax energy is actually a life force from another….world?….dimension? These energy bodies come in pairs and seek each other out. You can kind of think of them as twins, lovers, or split souls. I think this interconnection is what drives the show to be such a success. It is easy to empathize with the loneliness Kurau endures while waiting for her pair, and her drive to protect her once she is found.

Kurau Phantom Memory explores identity, humanity, family connections, and governmental control and responsibility.

Really? That’s where you’re gonna leave it? *sigh* Please, dear reader, continue over to my side of the page for more on the plot.

PLOT: Let me expand on Whitney’s plot summary. Once Kurau becomes a Ryna sapien, two things happen. One, she becomes an experiment for her father and other scientists, who want to determine how much of Kurau is Rynax and how much is her old human self. Two, Kurau has to wait for her pair to arrive, which, as Whitney mentioned, is a pretty awful, lonely experience, especially after Kurau runs away from her father’s lab.

Once Kurau’s pair, Christmas (yes, that’s unironically her name), appears, the two end up on the run from government agents who want to recapture Kurau and continue studying her. Doug, a bounty-hunter-type guy, helps Kurau and Christmas on their journeys, and they’re tracked by Doug’s old partner in the GPO, Ayaka. Eventually, of course, Kurau looks for her father, and events come to a head.

Unlike Whitney, I never found the plot particularly slow or boring. From the first episode I saw that things would be building into an interesting show with characters who differ from the norm for sci-fi shows like this. Kurau’s pair bond with Christmas was enough to hook me on the series, and it definitely paid off. This show might be a little more laid-back in terms of pacing than you’d expect based on its advertising, but it’s still an excellent sci-fi series.

The show drags until Doug makes his official appearance. Before that it just feels like a slice of life drama. It’s hard to watch when the show only focuses on Kurau and Christmas in those first couple of episodes because their bond is so intimate, yet we hardly know them.

SETTING: The story takes place post 2100, in a variant futuristic Japan, where hovering cars are the norm. Rynax are used as an ideal energy source. Those fortunate enough to live after coming into contact with a Rynax become known as Ryna sapiens and are hunted and controlled by a special unit known as the GPO.

The world-building in this series starts off strong. I came into the series wanting to know more about the GPO, energy research, and personal history of Kurau as well as the other main characters. Unfortunately the series remains vague throughout. Kurau and her pair travel to many different parts of the world, as well as outer space, research facilities, etc., and yet I felt as if I never quite knew how everything connected together. What’s worse is we never even find out the complete history and future of Rynax, except that Kurau can act like a black hole? Still confused on this one.

I think the vague information about the Rynax is supposed to reflect how the scientists themselves don’t know everything about them. It’s all beyond our understanding, so why bother explaining it?

SETTING: As Whitney mentioned, Kurau Phantom Memory is set in the future of our world, meaning we get to see how technology has advanced and how everything is about the same. In this future, we’ve hit the point of having a Global Police Organization, meaning the same group is in charge of running the entire planet, and the same group of GPO can track Kurau and Christmas throughout the series. The technology they all use is fascinating, especially when we get to see how other Ryna sapiens are living and using their powers.

Fortunately, not all of the world has been taken over by crazy technology, as we see in a brief stint in Switzerland. I really enjoyed the variety of places Kurau and Christmas visit, as it lets the viewer explore their world while allowing them to run from their captors and learn more about themselves. Plus, most of the world-building in this show is readily accessible, unlike the confusing mess of politics we see in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

CHARACTERS: Kurau and her pair Christmas are the main focus of the series. A little after they find each other they are forced out of their solitude to go on the run. Together they learn about other Ryna sapiens and the hidden research experiments that have been performed on various Rynax. Their incredible bond to each other drives the plot and opens the eyes of those who appose their actions. I completely adored these too, even though their unconditional devotion got rather cheesy at times. Granted I can empathize to a point, having a wonderful twin and all, but their yelling and constant fighting to be close to each other is a bit hard for even me to relate to. I imagine this is what single old men fantasize it’s like to be a woman with a younger sister. Yeah, not so much.

Now onto the antagonists! I loved agent Doug, investigator Wong Shun Yee, and emotionally conflicted captain Ayaka Steiger. Kurau Phantom Memory shows them both on the job and off. Rather than being faceless enemies, they are depicted as typical people, with their own emotional baggage and motivations. I especially enjoyed watching Ayaka Steiger as she blindly enforces the demands of the GPO only to slowly unravel the inner workings of the company she once trusted. I only wish that the series had explored history more and lovey-dovey Rynax devotion less. Though I guess you need the latter to care about the former.

CHARACTERS: The emotional core of this series, and my favorite characters, are of course Kurau and Christmas. As a twin, it’s fascinating for me to contrast their devotion to each other to my own experiences with a biological pair. The relationship between the two straddles the border between twins and lovers, as they have a deep, implicit understanding of each other but also are so committed to each other’s happiness that they seem romantically bonded. I know that mix of twins and lovers sounds either creepy or very pandering, but in execution it works out well, like the two are very, very best friends who you might mistake for lesbians. I also love how the two have different personalities that balance each other out, even though they share the same DNA from the original Kurau.

This show also has great secondary characters who all see enough development for me to care strongly about their lives and missions. Doug struck a chord for me, given his dedication to his son and how he just wants to make him proud, and I also was intrigued by Ayaka’s complex history. To me, the best shows of this type are the ones that allow all characters to realize how human their enemies are, and that certainly happens here. Though they, and the audience, might begin the show with preconceived notions and biases for the antagonists, by the show’s end, we’ve come to know a lot about everyone and to respect everyone’s own circumstances.

I think you made a great point, their relationship is dangerously close to seeming incestuous (considering they have the same DNA). For some, that might sound off putting, but really I think of them as two halves of the same soul. Like how you’d feel really bad if something happened to half of your body, even if you couldn’t feel it. Ultimately we get to see them as individuals at the end, and that’s what I appreciated the most about their character development.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I completely forgot that anime could look this good! Kurau Phantom Memory is an excellent follow-up to the aesthetic of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Just as with SAC, this series has an amazing budget. The color palette shares many of the same cool colors and sleekness that SAC is known for.

The character designs are strong and simple. You can tell everyone apart, and each character has a believable and identified personality that works well with their appearance. Not to mention, the body proportions are more “realistic”, meaning when the characters move, it looks more believable. Not trying to knock on current anime styles, I love all of the styles, but there is an elegance to watching the human form move, that isn’t nearly so gracefully captured as it is when characters look more believable.

There are a couple of cheap frames, where Kurau looks like a stocky man, but these are way few and far between, and quite forgivable when the majority of the show looks like pure bliss. And don’t ask me to quantify that.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: This show is yet another example of why Bones is my favorite anime studio. All of their early work, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Wolf’s Rain, has high budgets, excellent character designs, and intriguing, original plots, and Kurau Phantom Memory is no exception. Character movements are all fluid and realistic, while action scenes are well choreographed and exciting to watch. It’s hard for me to point to an example, but this show has just enough attention to detail to help it stand out from the norm, especially now that most anime can afford to look shiny, even if there are animation shortcuts. In a sea of mediocrity, Kurau makes me take notice for its quiet excellence.

The character designs for this show also captured my attention, with their realistic, down-to-earth look and the lifelike colors. When so many anime rely on catching your eye with huge eyes and outlandish hair colors, a show that aims for reality is more likely to stand out to me. This show helps me appreciate the variety in normal human appearances and the benefits of a character designer who knows what real people look like. I wish more anime followed this ideology, but then I guess our cartoons wouldn’t have that “anime style” that seems to important to a good deal of the fans.

OVERALL: So after singing the praises for Kurau, you might be wondering why it’s just an 8. First of all, the series had a super slow start, and it was excruciatingly difficult to get myself to continue watching it. In fact, this is probably the only series I’ve watched that I’ve allowed to go on a half-decade hiatus, well that I’ve actually intended to continue watching.

The story really starts to move after the first four episodes or so. For the most part this is a highly emotionally moving sci-fi series that never slows down or falls to having to resort to filler episodes. Probably the biggest downfall is that the story is left fairly open ended. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I personally would have appreciated more closure, and not in the form of a black hole. Really I can’t explain, as it is the ending and all, but it felt inexplicably wrapped up.

OVERALL: When the news came out that Yasuhiro Irie was going to direct Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, while everyone else worried about his dearth of directing credits, I was content that he’d do a good job because he’d directed Kurau Phantom Memory. This may not be the flashiest sci-fi series, or the most well-known, but it’s very emotionally satisfying to me. Watching this show felt like hearing the adventures of old friends that I’d come to love instead of just observing the traits of characters I think are extremely badass. In the end, I just enjoyed watching the dynamic between Kurau and Christmas, and everything else was just a bonus to me. Yes, I think the plot and world-building were well done, but they’re not what drew me to this show in the first place. I’m not especially bothered by a lack of definitive answers because the series rewarded me enough with its alternative take on what a meaningful relationship can look like.


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