November 17, 2007

KURAU: PHANTOM MEMORY (2004) an energising anime

(Japan, 2004)

You'll believe a woman can fly

24 episodes on region 1 DVD (from ADV)

This colourful anime grabbed my attention from the first fast-moving opening episode. In the near-future, an experiment on the moon, trying to harness a new alien energy source, goes terribly wrong. The accident tears a young girl from her father.

Ten years later, this 'rynax' energy has given Kurau unique powers, perfect for her work as a freelance special agent. On a typical mission, she can pass through walls, combat security robots without even getting bruised and, most usefully, fly unaided from the scene.

This first episode gets the series to a flying start. But Kurau's ideal is a normal life, to work occasionally and keep a low profile. But, the government are already using detectives to track down the isolated reports of a flying girl...

The action in the series is realistically depicted. Recently, I've seen too many anime series with magical superheroes who fly so fast that you can barely follow their actions. With Kurau, she can only fly for so long before she gets tired. She has limits. Her fighting is also defensive rather than destructive.

It's not all action though, and the drippy opening theme tune also signifies that this sci-fi action drama is aimed towards female viewers. I guess the remit for the series was for something like Ghost in the Shell, but with less intricate technology, more humane characters, and no women with huge breasts. Subsequently there are more female characters than male in Kurau, and the central character has super powers that are more organic than cybertronic.

It’s a very emotional series at times and refreshingly different for it. But it's not giggly, bright colours and cute animal sidekicks like most 'girl's anime'. I think this is a sci-fi story for everyone, that aims for a better balance of viewers than many anime series.

The future looks far friendlier in Kurau than in Ghost in the Shell, almost utopian. There are fields, trees, countryside, and not trapped in a dark, broody, technologically over-run metropolis. There are still cool flying cars, police ‘mecha’ robots, and an extensive city on the moon. The architecture and technolgy are carefully and elegantly designed to look like they might actually exist in a few years time.

Kurau's relationship with her family, both human and alien, provide the heart of the stories, and held my interest throughout the 24 episodes. I've not seen many anime series that avoid formulaic repetition, or keep up the momentum of their storylines.

The series is available on DVD in the UK and US. I'm guessing it was produced full-frame 4:3 as it's only been available this way.

The enjoyable and melodic soundtrack composed by Yukari Katsuki, is also available on 2 CDs from CD Japan.

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