Thursday, March 31, 2016

:anime: Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month:: KUROZUKA


Additional Links: ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video [Free {Streaming}]: Crackle

DEATH NOTE, Highschool of the Dead, and Attack on Titan director Tetsuro Araki aims to make another big splash in next month's Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. Before even hitting forty this November, he has been responsible for some the biggest hits of the last decade: titles with appeal and panache spanning across borders, with a trademark bombast all his own, and a penchant for high production quality. His resume—surprisingly and not—is a short one, but it is not difficult to see how quickly he rose through the ranks at MADHOUSE and, later, becoming one of the leading forces at Production I.G spinoff, WIT STUDIO. Simply put, if someone like Yoshiyuki Tomino allows you to do an episode of a show of his, you probably have something good going on…

However, for as much as his vision and style permeates into nearly every facet of a production, there has been only one that he has ever had any credited input on the script or narrative layout of a show—and it's probably his least-known show. KUROZUKA is a 12-eps., 2008 anime produced at MADHOUSE a little over a year after turning many a head with his directorial debut of DN there. It is an adaptation of a 2003 manga, which itself is a spin on the feudal-era legend of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, following a young man named Kuro, who is on the run for his life after being defeated by his brother, the shogun ruler of Japan. While seeking refuge in the mountains, he encounters and falls in love with a beautiful, yet peculiar, woman named Kuromitsu. During an attack, he is mortally wounded but is saved by her. She reveals herself to be an immortal vampiric being and offers him the same life. His transition into one, however, goes awry, and when he comes to, it is in a ruined Japan, far-off into the future…

Though an adaptation, KUROZUKA might be the fullest look at Araki's craft to-date, as he not only completed his usual tasks of direction and storyboarding, but he also handled said series composition and contributed to its design, as well. One particular aspect (or Achilles' heel…) about his works is that in spite of all of his distinctive flourishes, they live (DN, HOTD) or die (GUILTY CROWN, AoT) by the quality of the script work and composition. That KUROZUKA was overseen to such a degree by Araki himself makes the series an even more compelling opportunity to observe his abilities in their most distilled form.

However, there a few caveats to note. The series ranks among his most mature and darkest to-date, and does not shy from blood or adult content (though that should not surprise well-acquainted viewers of his…). Its cerebral nature, visual ambition, and somewhat older-looking animation may detract, as well. KUROZUKA is also one of a batch of titles produced by Sony Pictures Entertainment and licensed by their American arm years ago. Naturally, for a Hollywood (and thus, more casual)-minded outfit, a greater emphasis was paid towards providing an English dub (supplied by InuYasha and Mobile Suit Gundam / Wing/SEED/00's Ocean Productions /Group/Studios…) and not the original foreign language audio and those pesky subtitles, a practice not only reflected on their Crackle service, but even on the series' North American disc release (which was, apparently, pressed onto DVD-Rs…heh…). And unfortunately, as it is a Sony-produced product (likely pushed to either help promote the service's anime offerings and/or after SPE retreated on plans to enter the N.A. anime market in earnest…), there are no other legal avenues—at least in North America—that the series is available at (chiefly an issue for earlier Sony titles, such as Viper's Creed and Ultraviolet: Code 044). Lastly, Crackle has lengthier ad breaks than other sites…

Tetsuro Araki is one of the hottest and most bankable names on the scene, but KUROZUKA is a curious beast in being the most Araki-led of works, but also his most obscure. Is there a reason why or is it a little-noticed feather in the hitmaker's cap? You can decide for yourself before diving into his newest and latest, for free, at Sony's Crackle site.

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