When Kuro, a young lord who is on the run from assassins with his faithful servant Benkei, seeks shelter in a remote mansion in the Japanese mountains, he finds that the only person living there is a young lady. The lady Kuromitsu cares for Kuro’s wounds, and while he heals, they fall in love. But shortly after he recovers, the house is attacked by a group of assassins. These assassins aren’t looking to kill Kuro, though. It’s Kuromitsu they want, because she is a vampire who they believe holds the secret to eternal life. Kuro slaughters the assassins, but is gravely wounded in doing so. Kuromitsu offers him the chance to share a bond with her. “Will you follow me?” she asks.
“To the end of eternity."
If you heard my tongue-tied discussion of Kurozuka on ANNCast a couple weeks ago, you might remember that I struggled for a short while trying to describe Kuromitsu, one of the characters in this series. She’s hard to describe succinctly, not only because for most of the series her motives for turning Kuro into her eternal lover don’t seem entirely pure, but also because she’s a unique monster. Take this scene: in the first episode, Kuro discovers Kuromitsu’s vampirism by spying on her in her room late one night. He sees her sucking the blood out of a corpse hanging head down from the ceiling, and when he startles her from feeding, she doesn’t attack him. She doesn’t scream, and she doesn’t run away. Instead she apologizes. She apologizes that he caught her in a shameful act, and says she knew this day would come, when her lover would discover who she truly was, and begs him to not run away. Anime is filled with cultural moments that go over our Western minds, but sometimes we catch something that seems quintessentially Asian, and become fascinated by it even when - or because- we don‘t understand. Kuromitsu’s attitude is a good example- her demeanor seems as Japanese as geisha and bamboo umbrellas. Not only is her youth and beauty from the Warring States era frozen in time, but so are her mannerisms.
But don’t mistake her for a doormat or a slut- she may seem soft as velvet but that only hides an interior of icy steel. She seems absolutely devoted to Kuro, but it becomes clear later in the series that she also isn’t above manipulating him. Beneath her sighs of desire and murmured words of devotion is an immortal, alien mind with an agenda. It’s one thing to have a poker face, but it’s even better to have a face that says one thing while you plot another. It does a lot to make the series suspenseful, not so much because the audience can’t trust her, but because we don’t even know if we should or shouldn’t.
The series is produced by Madhouse and directed by Tetsuro Araki, who gave the manga adaptation of Death Note a sense of style and humor. And in Kurozuka, he takes an already stylishly violent manga and ramps up the ridiculousness to heights we haven‘t seen since the days of Ninja Scroll and Wicked City. The villains are crazed, bloodthirsty maniacs with gallons and gallons of blood to spill, and Kuro will make them lose it all while looking as cool as possible. It’s a welcome throwback to the glory days of the OVA, now that television anime is dominated by cheap, rushed productions of toothless “cute” cartoons.
The series is also a sprawling, almost psychedelic trip through time and space, as it jumps around through the Edo, Meiji, and Showa eras before settling in the post-apocalyptic future. How Kuro lost Kuromitsu and why he has to slash his way through a dangerous cult to find her again adds more suspense because of an effective use of flashbacks, where you get the feeling they aren’t telling you the whole story.
Even in its final minutes, it’s difficult to get a grasp on the series, and that’s a two sided coin. While it makes the story seem mystical and epic, to put it mildly, it’d be nice to have a better idea about what’s going on. Frankly, I’m sure a lot of the confusion is because of the script, which undercuts its ambition by not making things very clear. Tetsuro Araki also has some directorial flubs; one scene that sticks out like a sore thumb recycled the overblown humor from Death Note to try and lighten the mood, but instead ruins the atmosphere and the episode in one foul stroke.
I know some fans are glad that the days of ultra-violent movies and series is behind us, and probably wouldn’t welcome something this dedicated to appealing to our basest instincts. I also know a smaller number of fans wish anime was frozen in the Eighties, and only thawed out for the occasional Gundam sequel. But I suspect many fans are like me: we like variety. And if you are, then I recommend this series for a nice change of pace. Besides, it’s compelling enough, and has enough mystique, that I suspect that ten or twenty years ago it still would have stood out.
A welcome throwback to a bloodier time. — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Blood, blood, lots and lots of blood! Hahahahahahahehehe… hehehe… But yeah. There’s some nudity too.
Version(s) Viewed: Prelicensed digital fansub
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Kurozuka © 2008 MADHOUSE, Sony Pictures Entertainment
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