Kurau: Phantom Memory Volume 1

In the year 2100, an experimental project on the moon is conducting an investigation into a new source of energy. Kurau, the twelve-year-old daughter of one of the researchers, becomes a victim of a mysterious accident in the laboratory that results in her body becoming fused with that of a twinned alien life form that calls itself the Rynax. Years later, Kurau has become an elite secret agent who makes use of her hidden ability but everything changes when the authorities are on her trail and the other half of the Rynax awakens.

The idea of a superhero whose powers are bestowed upon them through some sort of scientific misadventure have graced TV screens and comic book pages for decades; so too has the tradition of a futuristic worldview with mecha, hover cars and space travel. While Kurau borrows from both the superhero genre and the cyberpunk of Shirow and Otomo, it presents a portrayal of characterisation which is as startling as it is heartfelt. When the Rynax occupies Karau’s body, her distraught father, already grieving from the death of his wife, has to come to terms with the fact that his daughter may be lost too. Kurau gains superhuman abilities but it is hard to discern how much of her apparent ‘self’ is the alien’s presence within her, and in time father and daughter drift apart.

One point which is rushed through in the space of the first episode is how half of the Rynax is within Kurau, but the other materialises a decade later; we see Kurau go from being a tomboyish young girl to an aloof and strongly independent adult pretty quickly, which is a little jarring. There isn’t much time devoted to the fact that, because her body is only occupied by half of Rynax, she experiences a constant feeling of incompleteness – that said, this is in the first twenty-five minutes so I doubt that it will be a major problem for the series as a whole.

When the other element appears, in the form of the oddly-named Christmas, things take a delightfully sharp turn for the better. What the half-human, half-alien Kurau finds is the lost part of her self: Christmas is a cute sister-figure who provides our tough gal protagonist with what can best be described as a soulmate. The relationship between Kurau and Christmas is quite hard to define actually, but when they prepare meals and go on shopping trips together it comes across as not only sisterly love but a deeper emotional bond that Kurau feels that she’s been missing. Fortunately Christmas is a genuinely cute and endearing character who provides the crucial elements of femininity and tenderness without falling into the overly cute ‘moe’ teenage archetype: the time they spend on-screen makes up more of my favourite scenes than those action-packed ones featuring Kurau at work.

There are one or two side-stories that are concerned with Kurau’s job (she seems to be a highly-respected and shadowy secret agent for hire) but the main event seems to be the interest in the Rynax energy, ‘ryna-sapiens’ and Kurau in particular. The two aspects of the story – character drama and futuristic thriller – come together when Kurau has to go on the run for not only her own safety but the sake of protecting Christmas, her ‘other’ self.

Futuristic science fiction usually goes hand-in-hand with dystopian high-rise urban sprawl, social deprivation and all manner of other downbeat and gritty themes and ideas in order to heighten its realism but as a refreshing break from the norm, the worldview of Kurau is a remarkably bright and familiar one not unlike that of industrialised countries of the present day. The high technology that could have been lifted from Ghost in the Shell or Appleseed is tempered by a pastel-toned colour palette that is unfailingly pleasant on the eye: Studio Bones have acquired an enviable reputation for quality in recent years and I’m pleased to report that Kurau is no exception. In addition to the visuals being undeniably pretty the animation is fluid without being flashy and the character designs are appealing too; Akino Irai even lends her dulcet tones to the vocals of the op theme. These solid production values are the icing on the cake for a series which gets off to a somewhat shaky start but once it gets into gear it promises to be an enjoyable one.

In Summary

Taking the sci-fi thriller themes and adding such an unusual and compelling piece of character-driven drama was a bold move but in the case of Kurau it pays off well. The heartwarming dynamic between Kurau and Christmas almost overshadows the futuristic worldview and the talk of alien energy sources – it’s an engaging show which ought to serve ADV well in the coming months.

8 / 10