Kurau makes an honest attempt at being a heartfelt action/drama hybrid, but shoddy character development and slow pacing prevent the show from actually succeeding. Although steps are taken to give each character a back-story, the results more often than not feel forced and unnatural. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that the characters are somewhat unoriginal, and have little attributes to differentiate them from other anime characters.
A lot more can be attributed to the absolutely hideous dialogue. At its best, the characters' exchanges do nothing but develop the plot. At their worst, they do absolutely nothing at all. For those that think I’m exaggerating, here’s a sample exchange; names have been changed to protect the innocent (ok, not really, I just can’t remember them).
Frank: Jessica! Jessica!
Jessica: Frank! Frank!
The voice actors try their hardest to squeeze meaning out of this atrocious writing, but in spite of their efforts, the resulting characters lose a significant amount of personality.
Cardboard cutouts and a slow-moving plot could have been serviceable in something more action-oriented, but Kurau seems utterly determined to be tear-jerker. Numerous scenes abound in which the characters bawl their eyes out at the utter sadness of their situation.
Weeping in anime is always a double-edged sword. If the audience genuinely cares for the characters, then a scene where a character cries can be extremely effective (One Piece, Aishiteruze Baby). If, however, this is not the case, then the results are often more laughable than anything else (Alien 9, Saikano). Unsurprisingly, Kurau falls on the shitty end of the fence.
This is a shame, really, because the series really does have a lot going for it. Animation is almost always more than competent; action scenes are well handled, the character designs are good, and the series uses color exceptionally well. Moreover, the soundtrack is very good as well; I'm pretty sure that Kurau has the best ending theme that I've ever heard.
The story has an excellent initial premise and as a whole is much more creative than most series'. However, despite these strengths, the project just doesn’t come together well enough to actually recommend. I think it says a lot that I trudged through the entire thing, despite never really enjoying a single moment. The plot has the kind of ambition that really could have sparkled if the execution had been better, but in the end the glacial pace and pedestrian writing sink the show.