Asura Cryin' is a thirteen-episode anime whose genre and direction I have issues puzzling out. I was initially drawn (no word of a lie) because the introduction to the second season appeared to have giant robots. I am a man who loves his giant robots, and like the fly to the honey, I was drawn to it. I was given quite the interesting ride for my curiosity; a constantly-moving, fast-paced story within a world all its own that constantly pulls at the edges of wonder, urging a watcher to see just what's up. While the fast pace may not be for everyone-- being that it might be too episodic-- I've watched thirteen-episode shows before (cough cough) and I've found them to drag on far too long all things considered. With its short duration, Asura Cryin' attempts as best it can to deliver a storyline that both keeps interest, keeps pace with its short duration, and keeps cohesion all at once. The question is, how does it do?
Natsume Tomoharu is one of the survivors of a tragic plane crash that claimed many lives; by some twist of fate, his childhood friend Minakami Misao now follows him as a ghost. Invisible to the sight of all but himself, she and Tomoharu are soon to be caught up in events that give insight to the past and clear the way to a cloudy future...
Asura Machina, the show's namesake (essentially), are bizarre machines. Each appears to have a sort of 'element' of its own; for instance, one controls magic, another controls ice.. there are many with different powers. At their core is a human sacrifice, whose soul powers the machine. Tomoharu, whose recently re-wed mother has pushed him into the essential care of his brother, sending him to live in a home his brother pays for. Left in his care by the mysterious Kurosaki Shuri is a large metal trunk; only a night later, when his home becomes a veritable battleground, does he find out its contents. Within is a mysterious entity called the 'Darkness of Swarzhild,' and within that lay the mysterious Asura Machina Kurogane. Thus does Tomoharu become the target of many choice peoples' interests. Misao is revealed to be at the core of Kurogane, which steels Tomoharu in his one overlying goal: to find a way to save Misao from her spectral fate.
The story carries itself out over thirteen episodes and, thusly, proceeds pretty much episode-to-episode; it would not be a terrible misjudgement, perhaps, to say that there are roughly 9 or 10 story arcs. That being said, it manages to keep a few points quite consistent:
A demon and a 'handler,' one who controls an Asura Machina, must never contract; the act is considered forbidden by many parties for varied reasons.
Tomoharu's goal, ultimately, is to save Misao and find a way to bring her to life once more.
The world is fated to be destroyed in some time; this has happened before, and is frequently referenced, though it's never quite revealed why or how on either end-- though there is strong hinting that Asura Machina are at the core of it.
I liked the story well enough, though. It felt like something between a high-fantasy mecha, and something with a weird future-fantasy. There are demons who wield various fantastic powers, and the Asura Machina seem to wield otherworldly powers that certainly defy practical science; alchemy is a conclusion I danced around, but I'm not certain I'd lay that label so openly on it. There are even a few references to Gods and religion with that typical medieval devotion, and even a sword-user or two. On the other hand, you have mafias, gun-slinging tech-heads and 'remodeled beauties' who are probably easiest to relate to cyborgs. It's really a fantastic world and as mindless as it is, it's sort of easy to be sucked into it.
Nonetheless, my boyish attraction to the many pieces of mindless eye candy within Asura Cryin' does not blind me to the fact that, at face value, a lot of it is just that. Don't let that discourage, however; while there is a lot left to suspended disbelief or the imagination, the show does a good job explaining a good many key points at various points throughout the anime, and there is plenty of allusion to a good many things.
The biggest problem, I suppose, is that the show seems to crutch on the fact that there'll be a second season. There's no definitive end whatsoever; like Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, the first and second season-- rather than being capably standalone-- are grossly intertwined. Many conflicts go unresolved. I can only hope this doesn't end out like a certain other mecha-genre anime I enjoyed-- only to be miserably disappointed by empty promises in its second (continuous, anyway) season.
All in all, I give the story a humble 7. Attempting to rate it at face value is a bit facetious; it's pretty much one continuous storyline with Asura Cryin' 2, for all purposes. Nonetheless, it can hold its own at least moderately well, and considering explosions n' guns are the big cornerstone of the draw, there's a lot of storytelling hidden under there. They do abuse a few too many clichés-- for instance, the main character's harem feels almost stock-bred-- but there's no telling what the second season will bring.
The meat of the show isn't the characters; it's those delicious, delicious Asura Machina battles. They seem to be some bizarre form of CG that I can't say I've seen before; nonetheless, they are smooth, coherent and quite a treat for the eyes. Most of them are fairly short, unfortunately.
And then there are the big, juicy demons. They're a freaky lot; somewhere between absolutely hideous and terribly haunting. They've got eyes inside their eyes and all that, and don't typically have very coherent shapes... they're a bit of their own sort, really. That, or they're totally jacked from something I haven't seen. Whatever. If I saw this first, they did it first. (No, that's a joke. Put away the pitchforks.)
The characters have some absolutely priceless facial expressions, and the smooth style makes for a very consistently enjoyable experience on the eyes. There didn't seem to be a whole lot of that stock footage junk, though I'm pretty sure that only happened back in the day. A good many moments are memorable because of the animation's bizarre approach to hilarity, and in my books that's a good thing.
Lots of fanservice in this one, though.
Solid 7/10. It wasn't the best I've seen, but it got the job done well enough. Neither a seriously absorbing experience, nor one completely off-putting. Some of the fanservice is funny and timely; a lot of it is just tasteless voyeurism for the sake of voyeurism.
I can draw more than a few lines to Linebarrels of Iron from the soundtrack; it has a very regal medieval feel in the tense scenes and fights, and otherwise has a very light-hearted, modern feel in the more casual scenes. While I really haven't got a plethora of things to say about the music and sound-effects in Asura Cryin', they by no means lack definition. It's a very thematic feel and sets that high-fantasy-future feel quite well. The fighting songs, especially, make for an awesome backdrop to their respective scenes. 9/10 for a job well and thoroughly done.
Again I can draw lines to Linebarrels of Iron from this show. Where it takes itself seriously in its plot, Asura Cryin' employs a lineup of ridiculous characters with extreme personalities. Excepting some finer points of Tomoharu's harem mechanics (containing all of, but not limited to, a rich tsundere, a well-endowed shy girl and a genius lolita) the cast makes for an enjoyable show at every turn with off-the-wall characters who seem to clash, in a nice way, with the plot's serious and dark nature. My problems with the characters aren't really with them themselves, but in the way that Tomoharu's harem seems to work. Many of the characters' interactions are comedic conflicts of interest or just generally personality; the student council presidents (in this first season, there are three student councils who each answer to their own authorities) are definitely a peanut gallery worth mentioning. All in all, the cast of Asura Cryin' does not do it much harm... on their own. I'd like to personally give a shout out to Susugihara Yoh, for she is quite the character, and her voice actor adds a whole level of personality to her.
However, the mechanics behind Tomoharu's harem just bother me. I mean, almost every single significant female lead is fascinated with him; of the two I can think that aren't obviously fascinated with him (I'm not denying that it's there and I don't see it, or that it might not be a possibility in the second season), only one of those I'm certain about; I have my questions about the other. Some of the characters just seem to be around to add to his harem; that is, the plot could exclude them completely and probably carry on just fine (with a few touch-ups in one or two places). While his two main ladies are quite acceptable (if a bit stock), it's the expanded harem that just feels like forced-in-filler to give him a harem for fanservice's sake. It's really annoying, because any watcher can just tell the direction is the usual "aimeless going-nowheresville harem" a'la Linebarrels of Iron and Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. It's irritating-- not because I ship characters and want to see romance pan out between them like a jittery fangirl, but because this braindead faux romance begins to take a center stage when it's not really relevant or even tasteful.
The bizarre thing is, directionless as it seems, the harem could almost be justified in the case of this anime. But, writing this as separate from the second season, I'm going to hold my tongue. It's directionless wanderlust in more than one sense of the lust, and it takes a lot of the center stage when it really doesn't need to. It's funny from time to time, but by the time the rich tsundere gets in on that, it's annoying, tacky and unnecessary additive for the sake of... I don't know. Fanservice.
7/10 despite my harem complaints; the comic cast makes all thirteen episodes feel like they go right by and ultimately contribute a lot to the enjoyability. Just don't pay too much attention to the typical anime logic of harems, and you should be able to get around it.
All in all, I can see-- quite easily-- where Asura Cryin' would get a bad review. It's nothing spectacular to be certain, and it's definitely not unique. It feels somewhere between Fullmetal Alchemist and The Vision of Escaflowne. Nonetheless, it's not outright unenjoyable if you don't try to take it all dowdy and seriously all the way through, because it really isn't meant to be. It's lighthearted, good explodey fun. It delivers on a lot of its claims, despite that, and even manages to keep some intrigue packed away for a second season. Unlike Juusoukikou Dancougar Nova, Asura Cryin' has intrigue built upon a genuine premise and delivers mostly on the questions raised where Dancougar Nova created a plethora of questions all throughout that it ultimately failed to answer. Both are 13 episodes, but if Asura Cryin' is to be believed, then 13 is plenty enough to at least make a fun experience that's certain to pander out to some good old entertainment.