Monday, November 30, 2009

:anime: Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month:: Kurokami The Animation

Kurokami The Animation

Official Sites: Japanese, English
Additional Links: Seasonal Anime Preview Link, ANN Entry
Video [Free]: Bandai Entertainment Japanese Anime Channel, Crunchyroll

When I first started this feature, I was debating whether to kick it off with TRIP TREK or with Kurokami The Animation--both being shows that debuted under the rare instance of having an English language track as its primary version, not the usual Japanese. In the end, TRIP TREK won out last month due to it being the Halloween season, so naturally, Kurokami was awarded as the following month's choice (not that it has anything to do with Thanksgiving or anything).

Kurokami (or "Black God") is an adaptation of a popular Korean-Japanese manga, first airing just this past January. It revolves around a lonely high-school boy who unwittingly becomes involved in the affairs of a mysterious girl who is tasked with preserving the balance of the world. In Kurokami's particular case, its English track was developed at the same time as the Japanese and Korean tracks were and was subsequently aired nearly simultaneously each week in not only Japan, but in South Korea and the United States as well (in their respective speaking languages). This massive and painstaking feat of coordination was the first of its kind: an English dub being produced and broadcast at the same time an anime was being shown in Japan (not including the fact that it also involved three countries and languages). Technically, the English version is not a "dub", since nothing is being dubbed over, which make it and the Korean version as "official" or "equal" as the Japanese version.

Done off of pencil tests rather than actual finished footage or with the aid of the Japanese audio, the English performances have a distinct flavor to them. There is a small, but detectable, sense of freedom and looseness in terms of the acting, as there is no real need to conform to how a particular role was portrayed in the original Japanese outside of whatever guidelines were given by the show's producers. In return, the English version doesn't fall into familiar caricatures or fall prey to one-noting certain characters, resulting in a unique flow that both satisfies being faithful to the show and its denizens and feeling refreshing at the same time. It should be noted, in that respect, that its vocal stylings will not agree with everyone's tastes (as I have already noticed from some viewers) and aren't always met with success. There is also something of a uniform sound to the voice actors that could be construed as blandness to some.

Kurokami the Animation, seven episodes through, is a pretty good show, though its shounen-ish trappings and lingo dumps can cause it to drag in spots. There's also the case of the female lead, Kuro, who catches a beatdown literally every episode (quite often by super-powered guys) before turning the table and delivering one of her own. Sure, she's super-powerful and skilled in her own right and always comes out on top, but it can still give you pause when watching it and will certainly turn off some viewers. In spite of all of this, it is still a worthwhile show to check out, given its intriguing sci-fi/fantasy story, interesting characters, and quality production values. It's also well-acted on the English side and can be watched in full, for free, at distributor Bandai Ent.'s YouTube channel (age-restricted) and at Crunchyroll (unrestricted), as supplied by its animation studio, Sunrise (curiously, they first offered the Japanese version before replacing it with the English version). Neither site or elsewhere, however, offers the other two languages.

The first half of Kurokami is currently available on DVD (English and Japanese w/English subtitles) in North America and will be available on Blu-Ray (English only) at the beginning of next year. There is no Korean track available on either of the disc options, but the arrangement concerning the BD release was especially controversial. It reeked of reverse importation fears by Bandai Visual, its Japanese distributor, who apparently didn't give the stateside subsidiary permission to use it for the discs. This is made all the more odd given that their domestic release contains all three language options. Such a shame that we will be deprived of a full one.

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