I know I’ve used the â€˜diamond fashioned from broken glassâ€™ analogy before (it was for ef-a Tale of Memories I believe) but it applies equally to Kurozuka. The word in the blogosphere is that the original manga is a bit trashy so if this is indeed the case the creative team behind the anime adaptation must have had their work cut out in taking the story from paper to screen without it sucking in the process. I haven’t read the manga yet but by the looks of things they’ve succeeded: plenty of potential has already been squeezed out of a simple premise so it turns out that a straightforward tale of vampires, corporate conspiracies and a romance that spans the centuries is proving to be quite something.
That is not to say that Kurozuka doesn’t go overboard with the violence on occasion – I’m in agreement with Coburn that it’s gratuitous to the point of being sadistic at times and doesn’t need to be as graphic to get its point across – but I suspect that this is what made up the meat of the source material. Style over substance is another favourite term that gets pinned to shows like this but when it’s one of the more high-budget Madhouse pieces the style alone is enough to make it worth your time. And it has vampires in it.
I do love vampire stories but there are so many of them around that they often wind up either derivative or as experimental tweaks to the formula that fall flat. Kurozuka doesn’t bother making some socio-political statement or give a wildly different point of view on the morality of blood-suckers and those who hunt them: it takes two immortal lovers, separates them, gives one of them a sword and lets the nature of vengeance take its course. It doesn’t offer anything new but that is beside the point: it’s undemanding but utterly thrilling, and that is enough.
A quick look through its ANN entry doesn’t indicate that any of the key staff involved ever worked alongside Yoshiaki Kawajiri in Ninja Scroll or Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, which is strange considering how this bears so much similarity to both. The character designs, the dystopian worldview, the smoothness to the action scenes that play out like true poetry in motion, all remind me of Kawajiri’s work with the same studio; like watching one of his offerings, Kurozuka left me thinking “it’s all mindless action but it looks so damned cool!”
Make no mistake, this is a pretty shallow series with the emphasis on the action. There is a plot of course: Kuro is looking for his sweetheart Kuromitsu, an underground faction of warriors appear to be on his side but may have their own agenda, and the organisation that he was up against at the beginning of his adventures is still going strong. Taking old conflicts and dragging them into a future setting was confusing at first but after a couple of episodes the narrative stopped trying to be clever and concentrated on doing what it’s good at, and was much better for that.
â€˜That isâ€™ the exhilarating swordplay when Kuro goes into bloodlust RAEG mode. His field of vision takes a wonderfully over-saturated colourful shimmer, he grips his sword with a look of determined angst and flies into battle with gallons of crimson gushing across the screen seconds later. Episode #6 had what is possibly the best fight scene in the series so far though: Kuro versus some strange monster guy with cables ripping the surroundings to rubble, as he continues his search for his lost love and find answers. After fifteen or so minutes of meaningless bloodletting, curious experimentation that may connect the rival groups together and unrelenting brutality that gives the first half of End of Evangelion a run for its money, Kurozuka delivers in fine style with edge-of-your seat tension.
There isn’t much else I can say about the series at this point since it is, more so than many I’m currently following, very action-orientated. The screencaps give a rough idea as to how well Madhouse can render a moody gothic aesthetic but the OAV- or movie-standard combat has to be seen in full flow to be truly appreciated; the story has its surprises and revelations but Kuro’s journey is a fairly linear one and I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if he has to face the token boss figure in the last episode or two.
Before I sign off for now I will say this: for a straight-up show Kurozuka pulls out the stops in making a gore-fest as grown-up and sophisticated as this sort of fare can be expected to be. The noh-inspired episode recap sections make it feel more…mysterious somehow; given how the story is set on a well-trodden path of lost love and violent retribution, it’s a nice touch. It’s all been done before but this series is doing it better than I’ve seen in a fair while.