July 15, 2018 by bck1402
I first watched this series online a few years back via a fan-sub service, and they didn’t complete it, stalling around episode 14. It’s only recently I managed to find the DVD set (locally) to absorb the entire series of 26 episodes. Was it worth the couple of years waiting to complete it?
My initial interest for this show wasn’t because of the giant-robot genre, but rather it was a production from Progressive Animation Works, or more commonly recognised as P.A. Works, the animation studio behind the likes of coming-of-age slice-of-life drama Hanasaku Iroha (2011), high school horror Another (2012), high-school musical Tari Tari (2012), the magnificent behind-the-scenes workplace-comedy-drama Shirobako (2014-2015) and more recently the racehorses-as-girls Uma Musume Pretty Derby and the upcoming vampires vs werewolves in 1930s Sirius the Jaeger under the direction of Sword of The Stranger’s Masahiro Ando. (and that’s a ridiculously long sentence)
Anyway, the basic plot for Kuromukuro revolves around a present-day alien incursion around the world with the focus on the Japan town of Kurobe (I think), where a similar incursion occurred 450 years ago. During the construction of the Kurobe Dam sixty years ago, several objects from the first incursion were discovered, which led to a United Nations research facility built alongside the dam in order to research the artefacts… and start drawing your similarities to the Hoover Dam being built around the All-Spark Cube thingy in the first Transformers movie. The research allows the members of the UN to build their own giant robots called GAUS (Gravity Attenuated Upright Shell) based on the research of what was called The Black Relic (or Kuromukuro). Most of all that is revealed via info dumps throughout the series as it progresses. In the present day, the alien force has returned looking for traces of some of these artefacts around the world, and that’s basically where the series starts.
We mainly follow Yukina Shirahane (Mao Ichimichi), the daughter of the UN Facility’s director who happens to activate a cube-like relic which opens up to release Kennosuke (Yōhei Azakami). “Ken” turns out to be a time-lost samurai who had been in cryostasis within the cube for 450 years. In fighting against the aliens in the present day, he inadvertently involves Yukina in the activation of The Black Relic via biometric synchronisation.
More often than not in these scenarios, it’s a boy who activates some found giant robot and is drawn into some kind of battle, but that’s a switch here. It’s rare when you have the girl as the one being reluctantly bonded to the giant robot and having to take part in the battles, even though Yukina is more of a navigator in this case. Her mother reluctantly agrees to have Yukina train with the other pilots and navigators when it’s proven that the Black Relic is the most effective weapon they have agains the aliens… and it requires both Ken and Yukina to operate.
The family drama doesn’t stop there as there is the mystery over the disappearance of Yukina’s father several years earlier, and how his search for demons ties into all this. The cast of characters is huge as well with Yukina interacting with the other pilots and navigators of the two GAUS at the facility, the involvement of the crew of the facility from the researches to the mechanics and the military staff monitoring the alien incursions, not to mention Yukina’s classmates as well.
As the series presses on, the events of 450 years prior is looked into, the mysteries of the relics come to light, and the motivations of the aliens is revealed (and why I used “incursion” instead of “invasion”). In between, there are the battles, the drama and the light touches initially with Ken (typically aged roughly the same as Yukina) adjusting to life in modern day while attending school with Yukina. As a whole, it might be considered a sprawling epic even though we rarely leave the confines of Kurobe, much like how most alien invasion movies will be focussed around someplace in the US and seldom look into other parts of the world except via some news reports or global communication just to say, yes… it’s happening elsewhere. We just happen to be following these characters.
With the use of CG animation for most of the mecha and other machinery, there is a slight dichotomy with the traditional animation, but it isn’t an outright distracting contrast. The use of CG in this fashion had been going on for some time, and while still not entirely seamless in most parts, it isn’t quite that much of a bother, thanks to the strength of the story itself. It may seem like there is a complexity to the plot, but the reveals are doled out appropriately and everything has its connective tissue to the overall scope of the story. Little is left hanging, and time is given to resolve matters in a satisfactory fashion. Otherwise, we do have good character designs and P.A. Works excels with the environments as usual.
P.A. Works usually has good characters for their stories, and it’s no different here, despite the motley band of diverse characters. Every character is clearly defined with their passions and ruling actions driving their choices be it the good guys or the bad. It helps to keep the pace flowing giving the series a nice clip to keep the plot moving forward, even with the occasional detour involving the characters in Yukina’s class. They even managed to squeeze in a typical ‘swimsuit’ episode.
As a whole, I like the sci-fi aspect of the story. The strong characters and their relationships or connections are well constructed, giving the overall story a great cast. I’m sure others may have seen better and may argue for those shows (anything from the Macross series to Gundam or even Evangelion), but this feels solid and entertaining. Trying to bring something new to these older concepts can always be a challenge, and for sure, this is better than Linebarrels of Iron (2008). At least from my point of view.
Rating: 💥💥💥💥 /5
Primary animation studio: P.A. Works
Directed by Tensai Okamura
Written by Ryō Higaki
Stars (vocally) Mao (M.A.O) Ichimichi, Reina Ueda, Yōhei Azakami, Aki Toyosaki, Hidenobu Kiuchi, Hikaru Ueda, Ryohei Kimura,Taiten Kusunoki, Kanako Toujô, Katsuyuki Konishi, Asami Seto, Manami Sugihara, Tetsuo Gotō
Find it on Netflix.