I watched the first season of Attack on Titan a couple years back and thought it was pretty entertaining, so while I was waiting for the second season to release I decided to scan Netflix’s anime section to see if there was something else that would catch my eye. I have nothing against most of what they offer, but the descriptions never really grab my interest, which is why AoT was the first and only anime I watched on Netflix since I first subscribed all the way back in the Wii era. This time when I checked, there was something that managed to intrigue me, and that is how I started watching Kuromukuro.
As of writing this I have finished the first season, and watched about half of the second season before I got busy and stopped watching regularly. Now I figure I may as well restart it from the top, so I will remember what was going on when I finally finish it up. All this brings us to this article, in which I will discuss the first episode of Kuromukuro and give some of my impressions. In the interest of drawing other people into the show who haven’t watched it, I will restrict myself from writing any spoilers relating to information obtained AFTER the first episode. In the off chance comments start showing up on this article, I would ask that everyone else abide by the same restriction.
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the show.
I like the art of this show. I remember anime shows I watched when growing up were always using the same old money saving tricks. I did not begrudge them for it, but the cheapness with which they were created was unavoidably reflected in their quality. Right off the bat, Kuromukuro looks much better than these old shows. There are many dynamics that have led to this point, where anime shows are seemingly not cutting the same corners they once did, but the important thing is that the show doesn’t look cheap.
The show begins with a giant robot fight because that is good writing. The giant robots are using glowing blades as if in a sword duel. The shot pans down and reveals they are fighting amongst the dead bodies of feudal Japanese soldiers. This already is 90% of why I wanted to watch this show. The description on Netflix says:
When mecha attack a research center, its students, pilots, and researchers must fight back with the help of mysterious artifacts and a young samurai.
Samurai and giant robots. Check and check.
I like the design on these robots too. One bit of detail is their tiny stubby feet, which seems like a sensible design for a robot, where it doesn’t need to be quite so anthropomorphic, but still maintain that humanoid giant robot esthetic we all love. The robots are tired from the fighting, laboring to pick themselves up when knocked down. In classic samurai fashion they square up against each other to compete for a fatal blow. As they advance the scene abruptly finishes without showing the outcome, and we go to the part of the show that drew the other 10% of my interest.
One quick tangent before I get to that, this intro reminded me of the original Xenoblade Chronicles intro. They are totally different, and there are probably countless other things that begin in the middle of a giant robot sword fight, but when I saw the robots clashing in Kuromukuro I couldn’t help but think back to how awesome I thought the first part of that intro was. Anyway we jump to...
Japanese high school drama! If you are going to have samurai and giant robots why not have Japanese high schoolers too? Thanks for all the icing Kuromukuro. I hope it makes for a great meal.
The next scene is a parent-teacher-student conference. We meet two of the main characters of this episode. The parent is a tough-as-nails mom, who won’t listen to excuses about why her daughter cannot be a leader in some Mars exploration program that exists in this world. The teacher’s rationale revolves around how test scores are determinative of the vocational options that will be offered to these children, and how this student is already subpar in that regard, let alone the top 1% that would see the Mars program as a possibility. The scene ends with the mother forgetting her phone, and the student, Yukina, just missing the chance to return it, as her mother lifts off to depart from the school in a helicopter.
That scene has some good, fairly natural exposition. This show is exhibiting quality from the start, and this time not just in reference to old anime, but to any show’s first episode. Characters should have a motivation to reveal information to the other characters beyond “because the audience needs to hear it,” (unless the writers are going for some meta-comedy style.)
The next scene we meet one of Yukina’s classmate friends, and they also have a pretty natural sounding conversation while communicating a lot of information to us about their relationship, as well as more on Yukina’s lack of seriousness. Yukina’s friend is named Mika, and after their fun banter they decide to return the phone to Yukina’s mother over at the United Nations facility. Mika declares in English, “Let’s Go!” and holy crap, is that a Mario Kart reference? Is that a commonly made reference in Japan?
Next, we get some quick shots of riding the train past lakes and through hillsides. It is another chance to show an art style that looks bright and colorful and good. Plus Japanese trains are always a nice time. They arrive at a large dam that also serves as the UN facility.
Over at the UN, we get to see more depth in Yukina’s relationship with her friend and mother, and also her mother’s co-workers. We find out that Yukina’s mother, Hiromi, is the boss of the giant robot project and is generally a pretty big deal. Yukina and Hiromi do not have the best relationship, but it seems like they care about each other immensely. There is no Ikari father-son dynamic going on here, which would be totally out of place with the tone this show is setting.
All of a sudden, in another location, a UN radar starts picking up incoming UFOs. Then flashback!
A man tells a younger Yukina that someday ogres will return to eat humans. Young Yukina is delighted by this story.
Back to the present in the UN labs, we get to see the first artifact mentioned in the show’s description, which is the Cube. The Cube’s existence is common knowledge among the citizenry, but some of the lab technicians mention to Yukina there is another artifact that is unknown to the public. We see it a bit of it briefly, and it appears to be a giant robot (for those people who are great at noticing visual details, you may see it is one of the robots from the beginning. At least I assume it is... I am not one of those people.)
During this conversation one of the UFOs from earlier lands nearby, and there is a large enough explosion to shake the lab. Emerging from the crash site is a giant robot, as well as an squadron of smaller ostrich-like robots. I will bring up here again how I like the art style of this show, and I think these robots all look really cool and interesting. The giant robot deflects missiles using a force field and the invaders head towards the UN. One of the lab techs pulls out his phone to record a video of the invasion because that is what people do.
NERV control room, preparations are underway to deploy two UN-built giant robots. The robots use a dual pilot system. One pilot seems to handle the movement of the robot, while the other is in charge of maintaining the system during operation. They launch in a fun display of cool tech.
Back in the lab, the Cube is flashing a red light and Yukina touches it. As she does, the Cube opens itself and out drops a naked, confused man. The stranger calls Yukina, “princess,” in a non-condescending way, then proceeds to draw a blade as the cell phone guy appears from around the corner.
Now we get quick cuts between the UN giant robots fighting the UFO giant robot, and the stranger battling with one of the ostrich robots (the presence of which, behind the cell phone guy, was the real reason that the samurai drew his blade.) The combat is quick and satisfying to watch, with the “good guys” winning both fights.
The show ends with the naked stranger being tased into unconsciousness by UN security officers, and the cell phone guy finally pressing stop on his recording.
Fun theme song and credits!
Post credits sequence!
Kuromukuro is a mashup of many identifiable tropes and themes that have been exported from Japan to the US for generations now. They are all fun and blend together well. Many of the combinations have been done before, and I am not trying to say the show is completely unique, but previous works I have seen have not brought them all together in the way Kuromukuro weaves them. I feel like the theme of the whole show is a surprisingly thoughtful, “why not!?” love letter to anime.
I will not go into what is to come, but I will say I think the show maintains a consistent level of quality throughout what I have seen into the second season. Something I touched on in this episode, but is probably represented better in future episodes, is the quality of the dialogue. The show can be funny at times in unexpected and intelligent ways. The creators seem to exhibit a keen self-awareness, and a deft hand at using expectations to seamlessly guide the viewers to the proper emotional beats.
Needless to say, I recommend the show and hope you enjoy!
Thanks for reading my first article about anime. You can read all my articles here, which up until this point have all been video game related. Thanks again, and don’t be a stranger.
Do you want to add something about the first episode? Or Kuromukuro in general? Just remember not to include any spoilers from after the first episode.