Kennosuke is a samurai who lived 450 years ago when ogres attacked his home and killed/kidnapped his Princess. Trapped in some sort of suspended animation, he is woken when the ‘ogres’ return and finds the world is a very different place.
Review (there’s a few spoilers):
I haven’t watched a lot of anime on Netflix, mostly because there isn’t very much available in Australia, and most of what is there is already available on other services. Still, I’ve tried a few now of the Netflix originals and for the most part found them watchable, bingeable even, but not overly remarkable. Kuromukuro doesn’t do much to buck the trend there.
In all seriousness, I actually finished a watch of this series in very quick order and then had to go back and rewatch bits for the purpose of review. Mostly because what this story does right is keeps you wanting more at the end of each episode. Things are happening. The plot continues to drive forward. It doesn’t matter that it is predictable and gimmicky, it just keeps driving onward and you get to the end credits and you are jumping straight into the next episode because anything else just seems silly.
I was going to review season 1 and season 2 separately (given Netflix so nicely insists they are 2 different seasons and labels them as such) but given episode 13 (final episode of season 1) ended with one of the main characters getting run through with a sword and being critically injured and that’s where it ended I kind of just kept watching. Even though I knew that’s why they did and even though it annoys me when stories pull those cheap emotional stunts to make you wait for the next episode or season. This show got away with it not annoying me because all of season 2 was already sitting there but if I’d had to wait 6 or 12 months there’s a good chance I’d have never gone back to it.
So other than my petty dislike of being overtly manipulated as a viewer, what works in this show and what doesn’t? Let’s go for a plus/minus approach.
The cast works really well. Okay, every character is actually a walking archetype at various times but they also get small moments where they get to be real humans even if only momentarily, and there are enough cast members that none of them really hang around long enough to get too painful. I liked the dynamics of Yukina’s family, I liked her group of school friends, I liked the UN office workers and researchers, and I liked the soldiers. They all just kind of did what they needed to do. Are any of these characters going to make my favourite ever list? Not a chance, they are pretty forgettable. But, within the context of the story they are in they work remarkably well.
Plus, I really enjoyed the romance element that came into it later on. It was kind of clear from the start they were going to go there, but it was actually kind of sweet when that part of the story got moving.
The villains are all but cape wearing, cackling clichés. And no, they aren’t quite that bad but they get close at times. Initially one of the ‘ogres’ gets killed by Ken and then they said another, single warrior against him. Then they have this weird honour thing where they can’t return if they don’t win and they like one on one battles (though using puppets to pin your enemy down apparently doesn’t count as cheating). It’s all kind of depressing because it reminds me of Beryl’s minions in the 1990’s Sailor Moon and the main villain is about as useful as Beryl really. Turns out he isn’t the actual big bad because he’s also just a cog in the works of a much grander plan. Whichever way, there wasn’t really much satisfaction to be found from overcoming these villains because they were pretty much basic plot points derived from other stories and they weren’t particularly interesting. The only ‘villain’ who gets some points is the clone of Princess Yuki and that’s only because it ties in nicely with Ken’s story and Yukina.
While the fights are not using the smoothest animation ever, they actually give you a feeling of speed and you feel some real concern for the pilots at times (even though it becomes obvious fairly early on that this show isn’t interested in permanently knocking off any of its main cast even when they deserve it). As a result, the fights are pretty fun to watch even once the outcome becomes inevitable.
How many clichés can you pack into a single show? While this show probably isn’t the worst offender ever for this, some of these just felt so unnecessarily tacked on. We had the pool scene, because high school right, and yes the transfer student who is actually a 450 year old samurai, and the school festival of course, the overlooked love interest, the cosplaying best friend, the useless female teacher (hate that one), the teenage mecha pilots, the hot springs trip, the doppelgänger, the 450 year old machine that still somehow works perfectly, the internet obsessed guy, and so on. While some of these were used well within the context of this narrative, others, as I said, felt really unnecessary and like they existed just because the writers were told to make an anime so they did. Clichés aren’t always bad, but some of these just weren’t needed.
I kind of like how this ends. Yeah, there’s still plenty of story out there but it really feels like they brought things to a close. Particularly given the five year time jump (which doesn’t seem like enough given the changes but we had a dialogue line of explanation on that one) which gave us insight into what everyone had done and was doing and really gave the series a sense of closure. Such a rare feeling with anime.
Okay, this one is a minus I don’t normally point out or worry about and most people won’t care, but I found the sub-titles to not be great on this one. I’m aware subs don’t always direct translate and the people who sub things think about the intended meaning and flow and all sorts of other things (or at least if they are good they do, some terrible subs just direct translate everything whether it makes sense in English or not). However, there were a few instances in this where I had to wonder if the sub-title was making it less clear what the intended meaning had been. My Japanese isn’t great so I usually assume that the subs are closer than what I’ve translated and the problem is on my end, but there were a few times where I actually went back and re-listened because what I was reading was definitely not conveying the idea the same way I’d heard it. Again, the problem could definitely be on my end but it was a distraction from my viewing.
Mostly, this is a lot of fun, but there’s not a lot of depth and nothing much to take away from it. If you want to watch some giant robots smash each other with samurai swords, and a vaguely moralistic message about the general nature of human beings and organisations (and if you want aliens, ogres, and nanomachines thrown into the mix) then you’ll probably have a great time watching this. If you’re wanting something that requires a bit more thinking than maybe look elsewhere. Definitely a popcorn viewing anime but not memorable.
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