STEEL ANGEL KURUMI (2000)

 

Format: 24 13-minute episodes on 4 DVDs minute episodes

 

Rating: R (N, AC, AL, V)

 

Type: “Pretty Girl” Action-Comedy-Drama

 

American Production: ADV Films

 

Japanese Production: Pony Canyon

 

Grading

 

Premise:

A-

Story:

B

Writing:

B+

Character Design:

A

Mecha Design:

C

Animation:

B+

Artistic Merits:

A-

English Dub:

A

Musical Score:

B

Opener:

A-

Closer:

C+

 

 

Humor Content:

A

Action Content:

A-

Drama Content:

B

 

 

DVD Presentation:

A-

DVD Extras:

A-

 

 

OVERALL:

B+

 

Synopsis

      Nakahito, a boy training to be an elemental-based mystic in 1920s Japan, enters a supposedly abandoned and haunted house on a dare from some local boys. There he discovers what he at first believes to be a life-sized, lifelike doll of a young woman with pink hair that is dressed in a stylized maid’s uniform. When an accidental kiss awakens the “doll,” however, he quickly discovers several important things:

1.       Her name is Kurumi.

2.       She is a special type of advanced android called a Steel Angel.

3.       She is extremely powerful, as well as buxom and soft in all the right places.

4.       She is programmed to exclusively obey the person who awakens her - i.e. Nakahito - and will only obey anyone else if her master tells her to.

5.       Because she was awakened “by the power of love” (as she put it), she is also madly in love with Nakahito.

 

      Kurumi’s presence and abilities do not go unnoticed. Her creator, Dr. Ayanokoji, seeks to counsel Nakahito on the responsibility he now has as Kurumi’s master. Local military authorities at first seek to bring Kurumi under their control, but when their attempt to counter Kurumi with another Steel Angel – one called Saki – goes awry, they are thereafter content to work with Nakihito, Kurumi, and Saki (who joins and travels with her former targets) while secretly keeping tabs on them. After a few episodes a mysterious group called The Academy, who may be from the future and who seek to gain control of Kurumi for reasons that may or may not be dastardly, also becomes involved. When their first attempts to send multiple lesser Steel Angels after Kurumi fail, they produce a more powerful one called Karinka and send her after Kurumi and Saki. That attempt also ultimately fails when Karinka eventually gets drawn into the circle around Nakihito, so The Academy must resort to more desperate measures. Can their actions stop a calamity from happening, or will they just provoke one instead?

 

Quotes

      “Nakihito, your lips are mine!” (Karinka)

 

The Long View

      Steel Angel Kurumi was originally broadcast as part of an anthology series, hence the half-length episodes. This time frame feels right for the series, however. For its first 17 episodes the series is wonderful light-hearted fun, a great balance of humor and action with a bit of drama. At times during this run it’s one of the funniest anime I’ve ever seen, especially episodes 13-16. Starting with the 18th episode Kurumi turns completely serious as the drama heats up for the series’ end run. Although I have seen several other series of this ilk which can pull this transition off, Kurumi falls flat once the humor is sapped out. Oh, it still has good action scenes, and the drama isn’t bad, but most of the charm of the series – which is its strongest selling point – is derived from its humor, and once that’s taken out of the equation the result is less appealing. Thus, while I would probably give an A- rating overall to the first 3 DVDs, the fourth DVD drags the overall grade down. The series is definitely worth repeat viewings for the first three DVDs, however, and the final episodes do finish explaining everything and bring the series to a proper conclusion (but it isn’t the conclusion, of course, since there are follow-up OVAs and a second series).

      The concept of human-looking androids with humanlike behavior is a common one in anime, and realistic-seeming female combat androids are nothing new, but Kurumi puts a new twist on that standard by explaining both the behavior and power level of the Steel Angels as a byproduct of their mystical hearts - and the special nature of those hearts and what exactly they contain provides an additional twist when the secret is finally revealed late in the series. The hearts don’t also grant the Steel Angels a complete understanding of all things human, though, which leads to numerous interesting situations as they try to sort out complex human reactions like attraction and jealousy. It also seems that the nature of their awakening has at least some direct impact on their behavior, which is another unusual twist. Exactly why the Steel Angels were created, and why they exist in early 20th century Japan when they are clearly the product of far-future technology, are questions that only Kurumi’s creator, Dr. Ayanokogi, and his former associates in The Academy (a cloud-shrouded floating city) can answer. The search for these answers drives the plot, though there are many side distractions along the way.

      The technical merits in SAK are very high, including a liberal sprinkling of superdeformed artwork and some truly exceptional character design. [SIDE NOTE: The character designs of some of the additional Steel Angels actually represent the winning entries of a fan art contest.] The action sequences are dynamic and there’s lots of pretty girls to look at, but it’s the characters themselves that will keep you consistently amused. Kurumi, for instance, is overly exuberant, wildly affectionate, and extremely possessive and territorial when in comes to her master. Nothing delights her more than doing something for her master or being near him, and in her dreams (yes, the Steel Angels can dream, too) she’s endlessly picturing the two of them as a couple. She is in many senses quite immature, though, and more than a bit of an airhead. She is more powerful than any of the other Steel Angels because she has the prototype Mark II heart (as opposed to a more typical Mark I), but this also makes her the linchpin of whatever purpose is intended for the Steel Angels. Brown-haired Saki, the second Steel Angel to appear, is more shy and gentle in nature and more quietly love struck - but she is smitten with Kurumi, not Nakihito, since it was Kurumi’s kiss that awakened her from the zombielike state in which she first appears. The short, blond-haired Karinka, who is depicted as early as the first episode but doesn’t actually make her entrance until the 10th episode, rounds out the core trio of Steel Angels that eventually surround Nakihito. She is sharp-witted and hyper, prone to verbal temper tantrums, and self-conscious about her petite build compared to Saki and Kurumi even though she is distinctly more powerful than the former (because she has two hearts). She revels in being a villainous bitch - and talking aside to the camera - until she becomes smitten with Nakihito after an up-close encounter, from which point she vies with Kurumi for his attention. Saki, of course, encourages this, since that will leave Kurumi for her.

      Most prominent amongst the supporting characters are Nakihito, the very nice and rather overwhelmed 11-year-old mystic at the center of it all, and the bespectacled brunette Dr. Imagi, who was Dr. Ayanokogi’s assistant and is the military expert on the Steel Angels and related technology. She tries to remain calm, sensible, and authoritative, which isn’t easy since she’s the only true adult in the group. Also significant are the General, who is something of a dirty old man and rather obsessed with Karinka, and a pair of female military agents tasked with trailing and keeping tabs on the group. The agents aren’t clear of the relationship hijinks either, though, as one of these clearly adult women has a heavy crush on Nakihito herself and the other seems interested in Dr. Imagi. Several other Steel Angels - each with their own distinctive appearance - also pop up from time to time.

      Another factor that really makes Kurumi shine is the English voice work. The main cast is nothing less than exceptional; all of the women who voice the core characters are anime veterans, but each does some of their best work here. In a series where the nature of the delivery is sometimes as much the source of humor as what the character is actually saying or doing, this is a critical component. Fans of the live-action American sci-fi series Farscape should listen for Claudia Black as the voice behind the last and most powerful of the Steel Angels, who doesn’t appear until very late in the series.

      The opening theme to Kurumi is an obnoxiously sweet and insidiously catchy little ditty that will stick in your mind forever if you let it. The closing theme is about average. In an odd inclusion there’s also a brief statement at the beginning of each episode telling the viewer to watch from a proper distance in a brightly-lit room. The origin of the statements is in the Pokemon seizure fiasco of a few years ago, but in this case they’re played up as jokes by having them voiced by different characters each time.

      Finally, a few notes about content. One of the series creators said in an interview piece that the series is best regarded from an innocent perspective. This is good advice, because while Kurumi is essentially sweet at heart there are some aspects that could seem very twisted if contemplated too much. It does feature some brief nudity (in about a quarter of the episodes), a bit of foul language (all by the Karinka character, briefly in four or five episodes), and some mature content. And we can’t forget the overt lesbianism and covert pedophilia, either. It would probably earn an R rating in the U.S., and although I have assigned it that rating I feel it might be a little strong.

      Steel Angel Kurumi is the kind of series where you’ll know by the end of the second episode whether or not you’re going to like the whole thing. I challenge anyone to watch it and not find parts of it to be terribly funny, though. I very highly recommend it for those looking for a more lightweight diversion.

 

DVD Extras

      Each DVD begins with a traditional onmyou prayer spoken by Claudia Black – an interesting touch. The liner of each DVD includes a paper “fortune teller” featuring one of the main characters, which is also included in a .pdf file on the DVD. The other extras on the DVDs are substantial, and include:

·  “Behind The Scenes” documentaries, which consist of voice actor and staff interviews on vol. 1 and 4 and a two-part featurette on the making of promotional pictures of the voice actresses on vol. 2 and 3.

·  Notes on series-related topics, which vary from volume to volume. They include historical background, details on the onmyou mystical tradition, a travelogue, and story background. Some of these notes are quite extensive.

·  Translator notes

·  Production sketches

·  Early design sketches (vol. 3 only) – a rare opportunity to see some of the earliest (even preserialization) sketches of characters. Includes written commentary by Kurumi.

·  Clean opening animation

·  Extended episode previews (subtitled only)

·  Company previews

·  Original video and manga cover artwork (vol. 2 only)

·  U.S. teaser (vol. 2 only)

·  Steel Angel Interviews (vol. 3 only) – written Q&A with key Japanese production personnel

·  Character bios with relationship guide (vol. 4 only)

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Kurumi

Kelli Cousins

Nakihito

Kira Vincent-Davies

Saki

Monica Rial

Karinka

Hilary Haag

Dr. Imagi

Shelly Calene-Black

Dr. Ayanokogi

Charles Kennedy

The General

John Swasey

Kamihito

David Matranga

Agent Koganei (black hair)

Emily Carter

Agent Kichijoji (brown hair)

Christine Auten

Steel Angel Nadeshiko

Melissa Talboy

Steel Angel Kaga

Kaytha Coker

Steel Angel Kaori

Shantel van Santen

Steel Angel Tsunami

Tiffany Grant

Steel Angel Mikhail (male form), military Captain

Greg Ayers

Steel Angel Mikhail (female form)

Claudia Black

Dr. Walski

Andy McAvin

Dr. Brandow

Todd Waite

assorted minor roles

Spike Spencer

 

 

 

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