Monday Anime: Kurozuka

This 2008 anime by Madhouse, a studio so large and successful, I’m constantly shocked it has not yet battled Godzilla for the right to wed the city of Tokyo, is probably one of the lesser known vampire themed animes out there. Why, I have no idea, as it’s also one of the most interesting, complex, and involved ideas involving vampires to ever be put forward.

Consider for a moment, Vampire Knight, the anime equivalent of Twilight, and Rosario to Vampire, which is basically just soft core vampire porn, are both much more well known and respected than Kurozuko ever will be. Others, such as Hellsing, Trinity Blood, and Shiki, fully deserve the fame they have gained, but fall short of the sheer audaciousness, originality, and mind blowing consequences inherent in Kurozuka.

I’ve often said I prefer to talk about shows that don’t always get a lot of attention. So you know, Ranker.com, a site I pray I never have to mention ever again, did not include Kurozuka in it’s own top 16 best vampire animes, but did put Vampire Knight above Hellsing, and Hellsing Ultimate. Make of that what you will, but hopefully you will come to the conclusion as I have, that Ranker.com has no idea what they are doing.

Briefly, Kurozuka is the story of a 12th century monk named Kuro, who is wanted dead by his brother for reasons that aren’t important. He is on the run with his loyal disciple, Benkei, and after thwarting an ambush in the wooded mountains, the two spot a light in the distance. They soon find it is coming from a house, and the sole occupant is a stunningly beautiful woman named Kuromitsu. She agrees to allow them to rest in her home, provided they never intrude on her bedroom, which isn’t much to ask, really.

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However, Kuro is ill, and soon after they arrive, Benkei heads down the mountain to seek medicine. Kuromitsu and the slowly recovering Kuro grow close while he is away, until Kuro learns the truth. Kuromitsu is a vampire. She is personally disgusted by her vampiric condition, and seeks only to hide it, something made impossible when Kuro’s brothers men find them and lay siege to the house.

Kuro is mortally wounded, but still manages to escape with Kuromitsu, who turns him into a vampire in order to save him. Shortly after, before her blood has managed to fully change him, they are found by Benkei, who is revealed to be a traitor, now working with Kuro’s brother, and a mysterious group called the Overlords. Benkei, at their orders, decapitates Kuro.

Over 1000 years later, though it is perhaps far longer, Kuro awakens under the tree where Kuromitsu turned him into a vampire, his memories foggy. He wanders the woods, until he discovers the ruins of a modern day city, all that remains after a series of meteors striking Earth lead to a nuclear war. Barely able to remember his own name, Kuro begins searching for Kuromitsu in this strange cyberpunk dystopia, constantly hounded by agents of the Red Army, that also seek Kuromitsu for their own agenda. His only allies are a group of rebels against the Red Army, but they seem to have goals of their own for Kuromitsu, where ever she is.

What sets Kurozuka apart from other vampire anime is not just that it broaches the subject of what immortals would deal with as time passes, but what their eventual discovery by humans would cause. The shows alludes often to Kuromitsu and Kuro being the only two vampires that exist, with the man who turned Kuromitsu somewhere in the distant past long gone, and her own memories of him so faint she can not fully recall his face. Which means in the ruins of a post apocalyptic world, Kuromitsu is the source of immortality, and her blood would be highly sought after by those who wanted to rebuild the world in their image.

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Kuro’s decapitation is also a major plot point. The show doesn’t try to really make it a mystery how he has a body again, no more than what having and maintaining that body entails. However, because Kuro can’t really remember a lot of it, he is unaware of what the viewer figures out pretty quickly. Kuromitsu has been decapitating people and attaching his head to their corpses. Eventually, the new body wears out and he has to get a new one, but every time that happens, he forgets everything that has happened to him up to that point.

This is the real plot twist, simply because if he could remember, he wouldn’t want to search out Kuromitsu. The amnesia is what compels him to do so, as he thinks he will gain answers from her. This leads to a finale plot twist so huge and mind blowing, it changes the reality of the entire series, and begs the question of whether or not Kuromitsu changed Kuro under that tree after the attack, or if he was the one who made her a vampire originally, and simply doesn’t remember. Or possibly, that he was already a vampire when he met her in the first episode.

That is an audacious plot twist to throw into the last two minutes of a final episode. What it implies is something that will leave you thinking about it for a long time to come, as the ramifications of the final scene are genuinely monstrous.

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Kuro, as a character, is driven mostly by his desire to find Kuromitsu, but slowly develops into a more fully fleshed out person as the story goes along, and he builds a relationship with the people who help him on his quest. By contrast, Kuromitsu is an enigmatic figure from start to finish, with her true intentions only revealed at the very end, and even then, the full implications of it left to the viewers imagination, making her one of the more mysterious figures in vampire fiction in a very long time.

The anime is based on a manga, written by Baku Yumemakura, with art by Takashi Noguchi, that ran for three years. In turn, that was based on a 1939 dance-drama, also titled Kurozuka, about a man eating Ogress named Kuromitsu, and the life of Minamoto no Yoshitune, a legendary Japanese swordsman. The anime pays tribute to this by having each episode begin with a recap done in a style similar to the dance-drama upon which the story itself is based. This is eventually incorporated into the anime, as Kuro ends up facing the narrator of the recaps in the final episode, who turns out to be the leader of the Red Army, and a figure from Kuro’s own past.

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Kurozuka is directed by Tetsuro Araki, who was also the series director on Guilty Crown, Death Note, and Attack on Titan. Much of the direction will be familiar to fans of those shows, as he makes use of intense camera angles, lighting, and heavily symbolic imagery to help tell the story over relying strictly on dialogue.

And what imagery he uses, too. At least half of Kurozuka’s strengths as a series rest on the vibrant animation and powerful imagery it employs. Just watching Kurozuka is an experience, as it uses the background and lighting to display emotion, thoughts, and desires. One of my favorite moments is the simple use of the sunrise to cast a dying characters face in full light, as Kuro’s face falls into darkness, with the sun at his back. So much is said with the simple change of lighting, and it’s amazing. In the final episode, as Kuro faces the narrator, everything that happens is brilliant, as blood overflows everything, the Red Castle collapses and rebuilds, exploring complex emotional themes with vibrant imagery.

The fight scenes, of which there are many, are treated just as powerfully. Usually brief, but brutal, they are well choreographed, and intense. Probably the best thing about them, however, is when Kuro fully embraces his vampiric abilities, temporarily gaining enhanced strength and speed. The entire scene is washed in violent color, highlighting how unnatural he has become. Strong use of primary colors are also used at times, making certain fight scenes even more jarring and disconcerting, as the line between hero and villain constantly grows ever more blurred.

The voice acting is strong, as well, with Mamoru Miyano providing the voice of Kuro. If you don’t know him, he was the voice of Light in Death Note, Death The Kid in Soul Eater, Sweet Mask in One Punch Man, and frankly, so many more notable characters, I could do an entire article just on this guys career as a voice actor, and musician. He’s joined by Romi Park as Kuromitsu, and really, you should know who she is by now. Teresa in Claymore, Ragyo Kiryuin in Kill la Kill, Hange in Attack on Titan, and of course, Edward Elric in both versions of Full Metal Alchemist, which is pretty much all I had to say. Still, she has such an impressive list of credits, it would be hard to give them all.

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Also of note is Jouji Nakata, the voice of Alucard, as Benkei, as well as Keiji Fujiwara, the voice of Maes Hughes in Full Metal Alchemist and Brotherhood, and Kazuhiko Inoue, who voiced Hatari in Fruits Basket. Honestly, I could go and on with the notable voice actors present in this anime, but I’m sure you get the picture. There’s a hell of a lot of talent at work here, making the series noteworthy on that front alone.

From what I could find about the series, it did receive an English dub, though I can’t say I’ve ever seen it, and wasn’t even aware it existed until I was doing research to write this. It was done by Ocean Productions in Vancouver, Canada, with their own studio actors. I’ve no clue as to the quality, so if you’ve seen it, feel free to let me know how it was.

Finally, there’s the music. It’s really good. Not run out and buy the soundtrack good, but well done. The thing about the music in this show is that there are often long stretches where there isn’t any, so when it does come up, it’s all the more powerful. It’s a clever use of music that you don’t often see, and while the music itself is good, it’s made better by the choice to only use it at the exact right moment, giving it a lot more weight.

The opening music, on the other hand, is freaking awesome. Enough so, I’m actually going to save talking about that until Friday, when I can devote more time to properly discussing the amazing job done not just in the song choice, but the opening credit animation. It’s one of those rare ones that’s so good, it deserves a separate article.

Kurozuka is, in the end, an excellent vampire thriller that explores aspects of the myth that frequently get overlooked, while also being a cyberpunk action story, and a deeply philosophical exploration on immortality and mortality, with some mind blowing plot twists that make you watch it again right away. Why it never became more popular is one of those things I’ll never really get, but there’s so many factors that go into something being popular, I admit, I’ve never fully understood why anything does.

Do yourself a favor, and find this one. It’s well worth the twelve episodes it takes to watch it.

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3 thoughts on “Monday Anime: Kurozuka

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