Review for Kurau: Phantom Memory - Volume 5: Twin Destinies
How can something interesting be dull at the same time? Kurau Phantom Memory has managed it, as it is an interesting, well-paced, gripping and entertaining sci-fi action thriller. Yet it is dull to think about, and certainly dull when it comes to writing about it, as it is a little predictable, quite average, and hasn't yet managed to strike me with any jolt of individuality or originality. It could be any generic sci-fi action thriller. It's average, and while average can entertain and fulfil, it's hardly memorable. Kurau really only has two quirks, the central characters are very appealing, but the writing is on too many an occasion sub par. Both these talking points tend to cancel each other out. Kurau Phantom Memory now has two volumes in which to rise above the mundane, and deliver something worth writing about.
In the year 2100, Kurau Amami is a young girl living alone with her father on the moon, where he is an energy researcher. The day of her 12th birthday elicits plenty of sulks and airs as her father has a test scheduled when he should be spending time with her. That's a problem solved when he invites her along on the test, but it's a terrible mistake. For the test goes strangely awry, a bolt of energy is emitted from the apparatus, and it hits Kurau, who is promptly disintegrated… And then she reintegrates in a flash of golden light, only she doesn't come back exactly the same. She's fused with a binary alien life form known as a Rynax, and the joining has gifted her with amazing abilities. But the Rynax is a binary life form, and while half of it lies dormant, Kurau is left to wait. Ten years later, Kurau has put her powers to work as an Agent, working as a mercenary to accomplish the most difficult, challenging and dangerous jobs her clients can offer. But those in power have learned her secret, and soon the ultimate agent becomes the ultimate target, especially when her pair, Christmas finally arrives.
The next four episodes of Kurau Phantom Memory are presented on this ADV disc. Previously, it seemed Kurau and Christmas had finally managed to escape to a simple and free life in Switzerland with Kurau's aunt and uncle. The GPO thought they were dead, and with that, Inspector Wong and Ayaka Steiger considered that their mission cleaning up the Rynax spillover was complete. Then the GPO announced that another Ryna-sapien was on the loose. But Yvon's powers weren't the result of any accident…
17. In the Mist
Kurau manages to rescue Yvon, and with Christmas hide him away at the cabin. But having lost his pair, Yvon's health takes a turn for the worse, as he's unable to come to terms with Jessica's loss. Meanwhile, the GPO is still hunting for Yvon, and has managed to track him to the cabin. By the time they get there, he's gone, but Ayaka Steiger come face to face with the last person she expected to see, Kurau Amami.
18. The Visitor
It's finally over. After Wong's revelations, and Kurau's actions, Ayaka Steiger has had her worldview shattered. Wong has promised to leave Kurau and Christmas alone, and find some other way to uncover the conspiracy in the higher echelons of the GPO. Ayaka wants to help, feels compelled to act, but Wong leaves her out of the loop. That's until he vanishes in mysterious circumstances, ostensibly transferred, but no one knows to where. When Ayaka gets a package from him in the mail with some incriminating evidence, there is only one person that she can turn to, her former prey Kurau.
19. Each Path
An experimentally created Rynax pair, twin brothers working for the GPO are coming to Earth. Ayaka warns Kurau that they are on a mission from the GPO to capture her and Christmas. Kurau on the other hand believes that like her and like Yvon, they are looking for freedom and a peaceful life. She and Christmas travel to Marseilles to find them, but what they find is worrying. For the twins, Windt and Regel have an objective of their own that they wish to fulfil, an ominous goal that they need Kurau for. They don't necessarily need her intact. Other than a trail of nonsensical destruction, Kurau and Christmas can't find any trace of the brothers. But on the way back to Switzerland, the brothers find them, and attack the train.
20. Open the Window
Ayaka confronts Commissioner Saito over what she has learned about the GPO's machinations, and is torn between her duty and her feelings. She tries to warn Kurau about what she has learned, but it's too late, as Kurau is learning firsthand as the twins terrorise the train. They want to release more Rynax into the world, have been drawn here by Kurau's 'voice', and the quickest way is to release it through Kurau, whether she is willing or not. Kurau and Christmas manage to make their escape with the timely intervention of Doug, but the twins have a sickening object lesson in store for Kurau.
Kurau Phantom Memory gets a 4:3 transfer, which given that it's a region 1 disc, is an NTSC transfer at that. While the limited aspect ratio is disappointing given that grand scale of the story, you can't fault Studio Bones' animation, which is stupendous. The world design is gorgeous, a futuristic vision of humanity that is well-considered and effectively realised, with just the right amount of flying cars, holographic displays, and moving newspapers to make it feel like a lived in future reality. The character designs are very appealing, with a more realistic design ethic than anything too stylised. The animation too is vibrant, fluid and very lively.
You have a choice between DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese. I was perfectly happy as always with the original language track, and the action and excitement was conveyed adequately enough with the stereo. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the subtitles are free of errors and timed accurately. The theme tunes have grown on me more, but still aren't that remarkable. However, the incidental music is a cut above the average, driving the action and emotion well, while having a rather distinctive signature of its own. The surround track is preferable when it comes to audio placement and the action sequences, and what I sampled of the English dub was pleasant enough. As usual you get the translated English subtitles, and a signs only track.
The DVD autoplays with skippable trailers for the Anime Network and Newtype Magazine, and loads up some menus with understated but effective animation.
On the disc you'll find the clean credits, there is a 4 minute Production Artwork slideshow, and a preview for volume 6.
There is a Key Words glossary that provides a little insight into the world of 2110, and the jargon used in the show.
There are trailers on the disc for Jing, King of Bandits, Seventh Heaven, Air: The Motion Picture, Venus Versus Virus, Tokyo Majin, Kanon, and Blade of the Phantom Master - Shin Angyo Onshi
It's the six-page folded insert that comes in the Amaray case that once more holds the interesting material about the show. The Investigation Report - Brief 5 contains interviews with producer Masahiko Minami, voice actors Miyu Irino (Yvon), Yoji Matsuda (Windt), and Mitsunori Isaki (Regel), some more of the original cover art, more of the regular column from Aya Yoshinaga, and little doodles and thoughts from the director Yasuhiro Irie.
It's the penultimate volume of Kurau Phantom Memory, and things begin to get exciting here. It also seems that they have addressed all of my concerns with the previous few volumes, as it seems that the rinse and repeat nature of the storyline is ditched in favour of a headlong tumble towards a series conclusion. The only new characters that are introduced in this volume are the Rynax twins from hell, Windt and Regel, and they look as they will be instrumental in engineering a suitably tense series climax. Doug makes a return to the story, after being temporarily ditched for the previous volume, and more importantly, Ayaka Steiger's storyline comes more to the forefront, and the show begins to resolve some of her character's issues. It all seems to be coming together quite neatly, and delivering on the story as I had hoped initially. But for some reason Kurau Phantom Memory isn't quite living up to my expectations, and once again I came away from this volume feeling a little deflated.
Once again it's the writing that seems to let the show down. Kurau wants to be a grown up, adult sci-fi thriller, with a focus on characters and relationships beyond the usual anime sci-fi glitz and eye-candy. However, time and again the writing slips up in that endeavour, revealing a rather childish tendency to contrivance that sits oddly given the show's aims. With each volume, there is always a moment or two that throws me out of my suspension of disbelief, leaving me rolling my eyes and exclaiming that it just wouldn't happen. Surprisingly it isn't the girl glowing with golden energy, flying around like Supergirl, and phasing through solid matter that does it. In this volume it is the confrontation between Ayaka Steiger and her villainous boss Commissioner Saito. She has reason to suspect him of all manner of crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against her personally, and she decides to face him when he invites her to dinner. Unprompted, he proceeds to wheel out his perfidious activities while she sits there, rage growing and tension building, until she can't take it any more and pulls a gun on him. Then we get a tableau as she considers whether to pull the trigger or not, before she backs down and walks out of the restaurant.
At this point I'm throwing metaphorical popcorn at the screen. She just pulled a gun on her boss! He's the chief of police! The bodyguards don't do anything, except appear after she has left! The chief doesn't do anything! She isn't arrested! There's no APB! She isn't hunted down as a potentially lethal criminal! Despite the fact that she knows all about the conspiracy! No plot point should make me use so many exclamation marks in a review! No DVD should actually make me use the word 'Puhlease' in polite conversation! It wouldn't matter if the show was aimed at a younger demographic, as people under the age of ten are usually more forgiving of plot contrivances like this. But Kurau Phantom Memory is aimed at the mid-teen bracket, people who are a lot pickier when it comes to storylines, and are more likely to exclaim "That would never happen!" before switching off.
That is a shame, as Kurau Phantom Memory gets a lot right in this volume. We get to see both sides of Rynax, with Yvon pursued and persecuted, yet only looking to find his 'pair' and live a peaceful and happy life. He's an echo of Kurau and Christmas, and a timely reminder of what Kurau could have been if she hadn't had the solace of Christmas in her life. Then we meet the ominous side of Rynax with the twins Windt and Regel, already an established pair, but not at all peaceful and integrated into society. They too were created in a GPO experiment, but they have only escaped to wreak havoc, playing carelessly with their powers, unmindful of the humans whose lives they disrupt. What makes it ominous is that they claim that they are behaving in such a manner because of Kurau, that her call, her empathic projections of her idyllic and free life on Earth are drawing the Rynax to this world, and all of them want to live in the same way that the brothers are living. If as they wish, they use Kurau to unleash the Rynax, it will be a full-blown invasion, and quite possibly the end of the world.
That's why Kurau leaves me feeling a little hollow. It's edge of the seat, gripping stuff for the most part, an intriguing sci-fi story, which while it isn't particularly ground-breaking or original, is entertaining enough to keep me glued to the screen, eager to find out more. But then it will throw in a primary school level clanger in its writing or its characterisations that has me rolling my eyes, and my interest in the show wanes and has to be built up once more. If you can forgive that, then there is a lot to enjoy in this series. With only one volume left to go though, this really needs to be the last such clanger. The last thing that it needs to do is to futz up the ending.