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Kurozuka - The Complete Series

Other // Unrated // December 4, 2012
List Price: $45.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 6, 2013 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Miss the 1990's when ultra-violent anime was in fashion?  No need to fret.  There's still some being made, and it's slowly making its way to R1.  Case in point:  Kurozuka, a 12-episode series that was recently released by Sony through their MOD program.  This hack-and-slash show boasts some lovely art, an intricate story, and many decapitations.  There are some problems though with a story and characters that never quite gel and the lack of an original language soundtrack.  It's one of those releases that aims pretty high, but doesn't hit the mark.
In ancient Japan a master, Kuro, and his disciple, Benkei, are fleeing for their lives.  They are trying to sneak through a forest when they're ambushed, and barely manage to escape. 
Luckily Benkei spots a house where they meet Kuromitsu, a lovely lady who agrees to let them stay for as long as they want on one condition:  they never look into her bedroom at the end of the hall.  It seems like an easy request, and since Kuro has come down with a high fever, they readily agree.
A couple of days later, while Benkei is traveling into town in search of some medicine, Kuro is looking for Kuromitsu when he peaks into her room.  There he sees here licking the blood from a dead man hanging from the ceiling.  Yes, she's a vampire.  Instead of being angry however, she is remorseful.  She apologizes for letting him see her eat, and regrets the trauma she may have caused him.  It is at that moment that the house is attacked.
They are not attacked by the people searching for Kuro, instead it's the Red Army a group that wants to capture Kuromitsu.  They realize that she is immortal and want the secret to ever-lasting life.  In the battle Kuro gets terribly wounded and Kuromitsu knows that the only way to save him is to make him immortal, so after drinking some of his blood, he feeds him her own.
This saves his life, and makes him very powerful, but before he can fully transform Benkei returns and, having been brainwashed by the Red Army, slices off Kuro's head.  This doesn't kill him, he's immortal after all, but it does mean that the transformation process is halted before is can become complete.
Kuro wakes up in a field.  He doesn't know where he is or how he got there.  He starts to explore and discovers a modern city that has been nearly destroyed. High rise buildings are leaning and there are bombed out buildings everywhere.  It's hundreds of years in the future, after a devastating war and now the Red Army, using the same symbol that was tattooed on Benkei's hand all those years ago, rules the country.  Now, as it was back when Kuro first encountered them, they want to harvest Kuromitsu's secret to immortatlity.
Encountering a member of the resistance, Karuta, Kuro reluctantly join when the offer him the one thing he yearns for:  to find his one true love, the vampire Kuromitsu.  It won't be so easy however.  The Red Army does have some of Kuromitsu's blood, and with it they've been making an army of mutant soldiers that may be as powerful as Kuro.
This show had a lot of promise.  The premise was interesting and the show was pretty mysterious.  Viewers are always at the edge of understanding what is going on and why.  Every time one secret is revealed it leads to another question.  I really enjoy shows like that... they pull you in.  The design of the show is excellent too.  The art is beautiful and the animation well done (though they do cut a few corners here and there it's not distracting). 
The problems involve the story telling style and the characters.  The tale unfolds through current events, flashbacks, dream sequences, and hallucinations, and it can be terribly confusing because there's no mechanism to clue viewers in to just where and when any particular scene is taking place.  More than a few times I was wondering what was going on, only to realize later that the confusing scene happened some undetermined time in the past.
On top of that, the creators did a poor job of establishing their characters.  Kuro falls in love with Kuromitsu after a brief conversation and is willing to search for her for the rest of eternity.  Why?  Is it just love or does he have some bond with the person who gave him eternal life?  What does Kuromitsu get out of all of this?  What are her motivations?  These are some pretty basic questions.  At the end of the show, when all is said and done, there are still many events that aren't explained very well, if at all.  Granted, a lot is wrapped up, but so much isn't that I wasn't very satisfied with the conclusion.  It's too bad that there were so many problems, because with a bit of tweaking this could have been a very good show.  
The DVD:

This 12-episode series arrives on two DVD-r discs in a single-width keepcase.  The discs themselves don't have any art; just the title and Sony logo in black on a white background but the case itself includes a colorful cover.
This is where a lot of otaku are going to be disappointed:  The only audio included is a 5.1 English dub.  Yes, I wish that the original language track had been included too, especially at this price point.  Having said that, I thought the dub was pretty good. The voice actors did a good job and the battle scenes really came alive with the 5.1 track.  The whole soundstage is used, even when there isn't a lot of action on screen.  There are a couple of places where someone's voice would be thrown to the rear of the room when they were entering from behind the camera.  The whole track was effective and immersive with no signs of audio defects.  Had they included a Japanese track, my rating would be a lot higher.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is pretty good.  The colors really pop and the lines are nice and tight.  There wasn't any aliasing or other common digital artifacts.  Overall it's a very good looking show.
None, not even a clean opening and closing.  I'm pretty surprised that they didn't include trailers for the other two Sony Choice Collection anime titles.  That seems like a no-brainer to me.
Final Thoughts:
This is one of those shows that I wish was just a bit better.  Had they done some minor things differently (had a bit more characterization, arranged the flashback in a more organized fashion so viewers wouldn't be confused) it could have been an excellent show.  As it is I was a bit disappointed when it ended.  I was hoping things would be wrapped up a little tighter and that it would redeem itself in the final reel.  Added to that is the fact that the original language isn't available on these discs and it's easy to recommend that fans rent it.
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