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Kurau: Phantom Memory - Volume 1: Between Two Worlds (DVD Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000137210
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 18/11/2010 15:26
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    Review for Kurau: Phantom Memory - Volume 1: Between Two Worlds

    8 / 10


    I'm always up for a little sci-fi in my anime, and when it comes from as prestigious an animation studio as Bones, who have also given us Full Metal Alchemist, Wolf's Rain, Darker than Black, Soul Eater and Xam'd Lost Memories, you'd expect me to pounce with the alacrity of an avaricious city banker chasing a bonus. The trouble with Kurau Phantom Memory though, is that it was released by ADV Films, and released during that period that ADV was circling the drain. In the UK, ADV got as far as volume 4 before they went kaput, and UK fans of Kurau Phantom Memory have been waiting ever since. Or not, as in the US, ADV managed to complete the release of the series, and indeed since that time, the show has even been licence rescued by Funimation, released by them, and re-released again in a budget boxset. It's only some variable reviews, and my own considerable inertia that has prevented me from importing the series myself. But finally, I couldn't say no to a discounted price of $14.98 for all six ADV volumes and an artbox, which would originally have retailed at $180. Once again, I avoided the Funimation re-release, as they have an irritating habit of stripping the extras.

    In the year 2100, Kurau Amami is a young girl living alone with her father on the moon, where he is an energy researcher. The day of her 12th birthday elicits plenty of sulks and airs as her father has a test scheduled when he should be spending time with her. That's a problem solved when he invites her along on the test, but it's a terrible mistake. For the test goes strangely awry, a bolt of energy is emitted from the apparatus, and it hits Kurau, who is promptly disintegrated… And then she reintegrates in a flash of golden light, only she doesn't come back exactly the same. She's fused with a binary alien life form known as a Rynax, and the joining has gifted her with amazing abilities. But the Rynax is a binary life form, and while half of it lies dormant, Kurau is left to wait. Ten years later, Kurau has put her powers to work as an Agent, working as a mercenary to accomplish the most difficult, challenging and dangerous jobs her clients can offer. But her secret has become known to those in power, and soon the ultimate agent becomes the ultimate target.

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    The first four episodes of Kurau Phantom Memory are presented on this ADV disc.

    1. Into The Wide World
    It was a decision that Dr Hajime Amami would have cause to regret, inviting his daughter along on an energy test. He watches the results of the experiment running out of control, the apparent death of his daughter immediately followed by her resurrection. But she doesn't come back unaltered, and when she pronounces that 'I am Rynax', there's some question as to whether she is even there at all. Besides, a girl who can fly, pass through solid matter, and manipulate energy, technically isn't even human. But the initial blank slate that is Rynax claims that Kurau is there as well, and that once her 'pair' arrives, Rynax can leave Kurau, and over time, Kurau's personality reasserts itself. By 2110, Kurau is a highly capable agent working on Earth, taking the most dangerous jobs to keep things exciting, and distracting her from her desperate loneliness. Then one night, a glow of energy is emitted from her body, and it forms into the figure of a young girl. Her pair has arrived.

    2. A Good Word
    Kurau's pair looks exactly like her, or exactly like she did when she was twelve years old. It makes it easy to pass her off as her sister, and she quickly gets a name, Christmas. In between clothes shopping and teaching her about the world, Kurau learns that Christmas doesn't have any powers. For the first time though, Kurau has someone to talk to about her own childhood following the accident. Things have changed at work as well, with Kurau demanding that she only take safe and unthreatening jobs, and safeguarding a rich spoilt brat on the day of his engagement seems safe enough. Only Kurau hasn't counted on his fiancée. But despite her precautions, Kurau is being watched. And on the moon, officers of the Global Police Organisation pay Dr Hajime Amami a visit about an unlisted Ryna-sapien.

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    3. Those in Pursuit
    Minamida calls. There is a cargo ship spinning out of control in orbit, on a collision course with the Gemini Space Station, and the pilot is trapped onboard. The GPO are dragging their feet about the rescue, opting for a wait and see approach, which is why the astronaut's family are asking for an agent to deal with the situation. Kurau still refuses to take dangerous jobs, but even Christmas knows that she ought to take this one. Yet this is an opportunistic situation for many. Another agent is keeping an eye on Kurau's apartment, and now that she is gone, and Christmas is off grocery shopping, it's the ideal time for a little breaking and entering. Also, the GPO's suspicions about Kurau are practically confirmed when she manages to rescue the pilot. She is an unlisted Ryna-sapien, and the order is given to apprehend. Ayaka Steiger leads a C-Unit to make the capture, but Kurau is no C level being. She is about to blow her cover in a big way.

    4. Passing Through The Night
    The secret is out, and the first thing is for Kurau and Christmas to move to a different city where they can hopefully rebuild their lives. There's a broker named Carradine who owes Kurau a few favours and can put some work her way. In fact there are some stolen antiquities to be recovered, but another agent named Sam takes the job to give Kurau a chance to settle into her new apartment with Christmas. Their new home may not be safe for long though, as Sam gets into trouble with the gang of thieves and Kurau goes to the rescue. If she has to use her powers, she and Christmas will be on the run again.

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    Kurau Phantom Memory gets a 4:3 transfer, which given that it's a region 1 disc, is an NTSC transfer at that. While the limited aspect ratio is disappointing given that grand scale of the story, you can't fault Studio Bones' animation, which is stupendous. The world design is gorgeous, a futuristic vision of humanity that is well-considered and effectively realised, with just the right amount of flying cars, holographic displays, and moving newspapers to make it feel like a lived in future reality. The character designs are very appealing, with a more realistic design ethic than anything too stylised. The animation too is vibrant, fluid and very lively.

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    You have a choice between DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese. I was perfectly happy as always with the original language track, and the action and excitement was conveyed adequately enough with the stereo. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the subtitles are free of errors and timed accurately. The theme tunes seemed unremarkable for the show, or they haven't as yet grown on me, but the incidental music is a cut above the average, driving the action and emotion well, while having a rather distinctive signature of its own. The surround track is preferable when it comes to audio placement and the action sequences, and what I sampled of the English dub was pleasant enough. As usual you get the translated English subtitles, and a signs only track.


    The DVD autoplays with skippable trailers for the Anime Network and Newtype Magazine, and loads up some menus with understated but effective animation.

    On the disc you'll find the clean credits (including the opening sequence from the first episode as well as the usual opening theme).

    There is a Key Words glossary that provides a little insight into the world of 2110, and the jargon used in the show.

    There is a 7-minute Production Artwork slideshow, a preview for volume 2, and a 3 minute Kurau Phantom Memory Promotional Video.

    There are trailers on the disc for Le Chevalier D'Eon, Ah My Goddess Season 2, Gilgamesh, Utawarerumono, RahXephon, and Coyote Ragtime Show.

    The most rewarding extra is actually the six-page folded insert that comes in the Amaray case. The Investigation Report - Brief 1 contains interviews with Scriptwriter Aya Yoshinaga, Character Designer Tomomi Ozaki, Kurau's voice actress Ayako Kawasumi, a look at the original cover art, the start of a regular column from Aya Yoshinaga, and little doodles and thoughts from the director Yasuhiro Irie.

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    That was a very promising start to an intriguing, if rather familiar sci-fi show. After all, there are only so many ways you can spin a tale about people with super-powers, and with its structure of an unexplained event gifting certain people with abilities, with Kurau working as an 'Agent', you can see some of the seeds that would later blossom into Darker than Black, made by the same studio. Kurau Phantom Memory is a smaller, more emotionally focused and personal story than that, with Kurau's story at the heart of it, and the rest of the world being painted in around her. And while the story and the style of storytelling may not be the most original ever, it's Studio Bones' sheer class, and every ounce of production value visible on screen that makes Kurau Phantom Memory so instantly appealing. When a show looks this good, you're willing to give it more leeway, more of a chance to develop before giving up on it, not that Kurau needs it, as its storytelling excellence is evident from the first episode.

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    It has quite a fast-paced start to it, introducing the slightly bratty but adorable twelve-year-old Kurau, and her doting father, establishing character, history and relationship over the breakfast table, before taking us to the experiment where it all goes wrong and Kurau's life changes forever. Then we see her father try to come to terms with the change that has come over her, trying to accept that his daughter still lives even if her body is now fused with an alien life form. Barely ten minutes in, and already the story is tugging at the heartstrings, and then we jump forward ten years to see Kurau as an adult, working as an agent doing those jobs that no one else can do, keeping her special abilities secret. We also learn of her lonely existence, having waited ten years for the arrival of her 'pair', the other part of the binary alien life form that fused with her, and how that loneliness is driving her to chase more and more dangerous jobs. The episode ends as the pair finally arrives.

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    That's just the first episode, packing more plot into its twenty-odd minutes than some shows manage in their entire run. Things slow down a bit thereafter, but the quality of the storytelling remains high, as the show begins to develop the world and its characters. Christmas is just as much of a blank slate initially, as the restored Kurau was ten years previously following the accident, but she quickly begins to develop a personality. She's trusting, sweet and likeable, as well as a quick learner. It also becomes clear that while Kurau may pass her off to the outside world as her sister, their relationship is much closer, as they are two halves of one soul. Her arrival also restores something of Kurau's humanity, and she stops being so reckless in her work, her cool demeanour drops when she's at home, and she rediscovers something of the girlish excitement that she had when she was twelve. It's quickly set up as a Kurau and Christmas versus the world dynamic, and quite rightly so, as the world has a lot in store for them.

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    The danger of that world becomes clear when we see the sorts of jobs that Kurau has to do as an agent. Breaking and entering, recovering stolen goods, acting as a bodyguard to a spoilt brat rich kid, a rescue mission in Earth orbit, all these missions have their own level of difficulty, yet with Kurau they always seem to get more complicated. There's no explanation as yet why this world is such that private contractors exist to do this sort of work, why the police is insufficient, but then again, the Global Police Organisation seems more a political entity than a tool of authority. Certainly their pursuit of Ryna-sapiens has a tinge of the ominous about it, and given a flashback to Kurau's past, where her father was injured in an accident after her rebirth, indicates the somewhat clichéd fear and curiosity that authorities have around that which is alien.

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    We get to meet some of the authority figures and rival agents that no doubt will play a bigger part as the story progresses, as first we see Kurau's apartment under surveillance, and then as the authorities try to capture her. The show also indicates that the fusing of Rynax to human was just the start of the process, that the arrival of Christmas wasn't the end, just another step on that path, and as the final episode on the disc indicates, with Kurau's strange energy emission during her attempt to rescue Sam, that there are more revelations yet to come.

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    Kurau Phantom Memory shows in this first volume that it has all that it needs to tell an intriguing story. It's got the sharp writing, the great characterisations, top-notch animation, and a compelling vision of the future. The cargo-ship rescue episode alone shows how much thought and effort has gone into bringing this world to life. It all boils down to how it will use these ingredients as the series unfolds. I'm already itching to get my hands on volume 2.

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