After twelve curious episodes filled with time jumps, flashbacks, and eye-boggling aerobatics, I regretfully find myself tossing Kurozuka into my Almost But Not Quite bin. After all, Kurozuka is almost disturbing, almost intelligent, almost outstandingly beautiful, but not quite. While composed of some highly entertaining ingredients, these are put together in a slipshod manner, resulting in a product of much wasted potential.
Kurozuka is at all times a brooding, slow-burning sort of story with an idiosyncratic jumpy narrative style that initially makes the events quite interesting to follow. In fact, it is easy to like on first impressions for several reasons – superb animation, mysterious characters, and a creative milieu. Moreover, unlike similar shows which fail outright to be interesting (e.g. Devil May Cry), Kurozuka actually has a central theme of obsessive love spanning centuries which is fairly unique.
Ultimately, though, no matter how good the building blocks, it’s how well they get cemented together which makes all the difference. Sadly, Kurozuka feels like the condensed version of a much more complex story; the leaps in time are jarring, there’s no background explanation for the conflict or, indeed, for the characters’ behaviour, and some of the important ones get killed off towards the end without so much as a death speech to remember them by.
Furthermore, the action-oriented set pieces form a perfect example of missed opportunity. Technically, they look good; meaningfully, they add nothing to the enjoyment of the conflict. This is because the only thing that decides the outcome of the battles is whether or not Kuro goes berserk. At times, he will go berserk at the slightest provocation, whilst other times, it takes several knocks to work him up to the right state, but at no point is a reason given for why his strength grows exponentially whenever he’s super-angry. Either way, once he does, whatever unfortunate antagonist happens to stand in his way is doomed to lose. This happens without fail and without variation, which renders the fights after the first few instances rather predictable.
Indeed, amongst the various cobbled-together strands of the plot, only Kuromitsu’s mysterious elusiveness provides any real reason to keep watching. What’s her background? Why does she seem to be the only immortal around? Does she really love Kuro or is it something else? However, any hopes that these questions might be resolved satisfactorily are dashed as Kurozuka dead-ends into a frivolous final episode in which a lot happens that means very little. In stead of offering much-needed answers, everything gets bogged down in more flashbacks and retellings, as if the creators didn’t quite know what to do with what was left of the messy concept.
Unlike the story, Kurozuka’s animation is pleasing through and through. With a dark and glossy style, it’s strongly in keeping with other contemporary Madhouse productions such as Claymore. In an edgier twist, it also boasts lots of Matrix-style bullet-dodging and pointless but eye-catching freeze frame shots. Only the combat choreography, which proceeds in a basic sequence of cuts and still shots, could be more impressive. However, with an emphasis on presentation rather than technical superiority, this is not a major drawback.
Moody, hard, and with a strong feudal flavour, most of the soundtrack serves its purpose well. Kurozuka generally has an aptly eerie atmosphere due to the score, although there are still one or two disappointments, for example the boring ending theme. On the whole, though, Kurozuka prefers the use of natural sounds, which means it retains a great sense of realism.
No matter how many romantic conversations Kuro and Kuromitsu have, there is never a clear-cut reason why the two actually love each other, or, indeed, whether their feelings are of love or just obsession. They’re not portrayed as compatible people with certain tastes, beliefs, and ambitions, but as ciphers to which things just happen. While Kuro mostly ambles into fights not of his own making, Kuromitsu is portrayed in romantic flashbacks or as an apparition conveniently materialising just when Kuro needs her the most.
Perhaps one scene sums up the senselessness of the protagonists perfectly. In a rare moment of self-reflection, Kuro asks another character who knows Kuromitsu what she is like because he doesn’t truly know her. It’s a very good question. Alas, the response, which is not so good, is that whatever Kuro already knows about Kuromitsu (keep in mind, he knows NOTHING) should be more than enough to keep him searching. This is precisely the kind of evasive characterisation that cripples their believability throughout. Generally, the message seems to be ‘don’t ask and we won’t pretend we’ve thought this through’.
The supporting cast is even worse. Flat and dull, their role isn’t to appeal to the heart, but to make it beat that little bit faster. Hence, if they’re not dying gruesomely at the hands of the Red Imperial Army, they’re laying waste to their enemies with no more than a heavy brow and deadened eyes. Needless to say, they’re forgettable as soon as they exit the story.
I genuinely want to like Kurozuka since, like the more successful Claymore and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, it promises the best that Madhouse can buy. Sadly, Kurozuka is just more proof that being pretty to look at can’t compensate for having something worthwhile to say. I recommend this only to those looking for a mild distraction.
In feudal Japan, Kurou and his servant Benkei are fleeing from Kurou's elder brother, who has recently ascended to the throne. In a forest, they come across a house and a strange woman by the name of Kuromitsu, who agrees to harbor them under one condition: that they do not peer into the inner chambers. Soon, they are attacked by the Red Army; they are searching for Kuromitsu, whose blood holds immortality. Fatally wounded, Kurou drinks some of Kuromitsu's blood and gains immortality along with strange abilities; but shortly after, Kurou is seemingly decapitated and wakes up centuries later in a ruined city. In this twisted future the Red Army is omnipresent and still searching for Kuromitsu’s blood, while a rebel army seeks to keep them from acquiring it. With threats at every turn and fueled by his obsession, Kurou sets forth to find Kuromitsu and seek his revenge on the Red Army.
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