Kurokami: the Animation, produced by Sunrise, is an adaptation of the manga Kurokami (also known as Black God) by Dall-Young Lim and Sung-Woo Park. The story features a high school student named Keita Ibuki who has been emotionally detached ever since his mother died in a car accident. One day Keita meets a strange girl named Kuro and treats her to a bowl of ramen. Kuro is actually one of the Tera Guardians, which are beings with supernatural powers that are tasked with keeping the balance of the world. After several more run-ins with Kuro, Keita is injured in the heart during a fight between Kuro and another Tera Guardian. In order to save Keita's life, Kuro makes a special contract with Keita by exchanging his heart for hers, and thus Keita is unwilling dragged into an adventure that could change the fate of the world.
Kurokami: the Animation had a strong introduction with its first two episodes. The show presented some interesting concepts with the three-people-in-one Doppleliner system and how the Tera Guardians are tasked with maintaining the system and thus the balance of the world. The most impressive aspect of the first two episodes was the action: the fights being fluid, well-choreographed, and were sufficiently violent without being excessive for a shounen series. Sunrise, when they are up to it, definitely has the ability to produce eye-catching action sequences. From the first two episodes, Kurokami looked like it was on the way to becoming a decent action series, but unfortunately it didn't quite turn out that way.
Although named after the manga, Kurokami the Animation only utilizes the basic concepts and characters designs from the manga. The plot, presumably conceived by Sunrise, was very different than that of the manga and it's divided the series clearly into a first and second half. Except for the strong introductory episodes, the first half of the Kurokami lacked direction as Kuro and Keita spent most of time wandering around while accomplishing little. It certainly didn't help that the fights were going downhill and that Keita was portrayed as worse than useless in several situations. The subplot involving Shinobu had potential for drama as Shinobu was responsible for the death of Keita's mother, but the only thing that came out of the situation was a mediocre fight between Kuro and Shinobu's Tera Guardian Hiyou. The first half of Kurokami had the potential to be exciting, but the show just didn't execute on either the plot or action fronts and was therefore boring.
However, everything changed in the middle of the series when the main villain Reishin is betrayed by his subordinate Kuraki, who then takes over the position of main villain for a few episodes. After that everything went nuts: people came back from the dead; random character came out of nowhere and disappeared in the same episode; and there were several big twists in the story. While the first half the series basically went nowhere, the second half of Kurokami went all over the place. There is no denying that the plot structuring for the second half was terrible, but compared to the boring first half, the second half of Kurokami was actually more entertaining. The quality of the action climbed back up, and through all the crazy twists the second half was able generate genuine moments of excitement and anticipation that the first half sorely lacked. Maybe the sense of excitement was solely because I wanted to see how ridiculous the story would become, but I honestly thought that the second half of Kurokami was kind of fun to watch.
In conclusion, Kurokami is by no means a good anime series due its botched plot, but it wasn't absolutely terrible either. The series had an interesting premise, good production quality and decent action, but unfortunately these positives weren't enough to make up for the shortcomings of the story. Kurokami certainly wasn't the worst series I watched in the spring 2009 season though (that honor of course belongs to Queen's Blade), and the second half was entertaining from a purely action standpoint. Kurokami isn't a series that I would recommend, but it's watchable especially if you are really bored and likes shows with hand-to-hand combat.
Other thoughts that didn't quite fit into the review:
- The last episode of the show was a bit unnecessary, as episode 22 already brought closure to the story. Episode 23 is basically a collection of extra scenes and a short epilogue. The episode would be a nice DVD bonus, but it doesn't really fit as a "last episode". The epilogue did generate what perhaps is the only touching moment in the series though.
- How come Excel is immortal (or ages slowly) unlike the other contracted characters? The show never bothered to explain why Excel's contract with Steiner was special.
- Kurokami, with its ridiculous second half, reminds me of Linebarrels of Iron, which similarly threw all sensibilities out the window in its second half. I bashed Linebarrels pretty badly in my review, but Kurokami didn't seem nearly as bad despite pulling off the exact same thing in its second half. After thinking about it, here are some excuses that I've come up with for my differing views on the two series:
- The first half of Linebarrels looked like it was going somewhere, while the first half of Kurokami looked like it was going nowhere. Therefore in the case of Linebarrels, flushing the plot down the drain in the second half was a step back from the first half, while for Kurokami it was actually a step up since (for me) senseless entertainment is still better than being bored.
- During the season when I was watching Linebarrels I was also watching Gundam 00 (which was superior in production quality) and ToraDora! (which was superior in plot and character development). In contrast, in the last 11-13 weeks I was watching Queen's Blade alongside Kurokami, and Queen's Blade was one of those shows that makes every other show look better lol. The point is my subjective opinion of a show is partially determined by my opinion of other shows in my lineup.
- Kurokami's final fight wasn't great, but it was still a lot better than Linebarrels' cheesy and woefully inadequate final battle.