|DVDs - Steel Angel Kurumi Vol. 1: Angel on My Shoulder|
She was the most powerful creation ever invented. Designed by a brilliant mind, using otherworldly technology, bred for military use, the Steel Angel's intent was as revolutionary as it was mysterious. But when a young boy accidentally awakens the Steel Angel Kurumi, science and strategy are thrown a curve. Now this multi-million dollar soldier is taking orders from a boy-and other forces are not happy about it. So Kurumi and her young master must seek out a secret lab and discover dangerous answers. Namely, why was Kurumi created in the first place? What is her true purpose? And why is a mysterious organization activating other beautiful, seductive, and powerful Steel Angels to destroy her?
Steel Angel Kurumi features breathtaking animation from acclaimed studio O.L.M. - famous for their work on the Pokemon franchise - along with an English dub starring some of the hottest actresses in anime: Kelli Cousins (Princess Nine), Monica Rial (Gasaraki), Hilary Haag (Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040), and Kira Vincent-Davis (Martian Successor Nadesico), with a special appearance by one of the most popular actresses in live action sci-fi, Claudia Black (Farscape, Pitch Black).
by Dani Moure
Steel Angel Kurumi is part of a relatively new wave of anime that's been hitting Japan over the past few years. Rather than the regular 22-24 minutes for each episode (including opening and ending songs), Kurumi was shown in Japan as part of the weekly anthology series Anime Complex II, and as such each episode runs at just about 15 minutes a piece (including openings and endings). This shorter time frame gives the series a different feel pacing-wise than most other anime series, as it feels like things need to be done more quickly and decisively with due to the running time. ADV are releasing the series on 4 discs total (well, the first season of the show), so given there are 24 episodes in the first season we get six per disc. With a running time of about 90 minutes, things really do fly right by. To somewhat compensate for the relatively shorter run-time than most other ADV discs (although not an uncommon run-time in the anime market), they have added a number of extras. But before we get to them, let's take a look at the show.
We start out with a group of young boys trying to get into the mansion of a man called Dr. Ayonokoji. He left the army a while back, and is working on his Steel Angel project, and he has something of a reputation in the town as a pretty evil person who murders women and keeps their heads (and various other tales). The kids have brought along Nakahito, who is a mystic in the Onmyou Way. While he's still in training and hasn't mastered any of the skills of the tradition, the other boys think he may be of help protecting them.
Nakahito is forced to enter the mansion first to retrieve the woman's head, while the others wait outside, but all does not go well. The army have come to retrieve Dr. Ayonokoji and everything to do with the Steel Angel project at all costs, and while all the other kids bail, Nakahito gets left behind inside the mansion. He stumbles across a pink-haired girl in a maid's outfit, just lying up against the wall. He's curious, so gets a closer look. As gets closer, the mansion shakes from the army's advance, and the girl falls right on to his lips. Following the kiss, she wakes up and calls him "Master", jumping all over him. The Dr. walks in and calls the girl Kurumi, wondering how she was activated. The army then arrive to take back the Dr. and Kurumi. With Kurumi's super-strength, Nakahito, the Dr. and Kurumi escape.
That's all in the first episode and beginning of the second, and the story continues to follow Kurumi and Nakahito's exploits. Since Nakahito awoke her, Kurumi treats him and only him as her master, and does everything he says. Over the course of the disc we're also introduced to Saki, the second Steel Angel, and the army continues to advance to get the Dr. and the Angels back.
The show is an interesting mix. It's set during Japan in the 1920s, which puts it into an interesting setting. The show contains plenty of humour, with some hilarious exaggerated super-deformed moments that you'll either love or hate. The characters are fleshed out quite well in the time given, with the romantic possibilities between Kurumi and Nakahito played on throughout the story. The story moves relatively slowly, in that it's only at the end of the six episodes that things really start to push forward plot-wise (bearing in mind this is a quarter of the way through the series), but bar some bizarre pacing at times because of the length (with a couple of episodes just seeming to end as they get started) it's a really enjoyable show.
There is also plenty of what is known in anime fandom as "fan service". Basically, this is when female characters are put in positions where the camera shows off some of their sexual assets (the obligatory, and numerous, panty shots being a prime example). While not overly sexual, the show does contain a few shots of nudity, but it's not sexually explicit, so if you're worried about that, you can probably rest easy.
Audio (including the English dub)
The part of the show that most people reading this review will mostly be interested in (and indeed the reason this review is on the site) is probably the English language dub, since it contains the vocal talents of Farscape's very own Aeryn Sun, Claudia Black. I'll start by mentioning that in these early volumes, she's purely a narrator, and as such, she reads the Onmyou prayer at the beginning of each disc, and narrates the 15-second next episode previews at the end of each episode. She also appears briefly in the behind-the-scenes feature (see the Extras portion of the review). So in short, until she appears in her secret role later on in the series, she's not on the disc much at all. If you're purely considering the show because it's got Claudia in, then unless you like anime anyway or are a die-hard Claudia fan, you may want to skip the series.
Having explained Claudia's involvement we can now talk about the dub. While generally I am one of those anime fans that falls into the "original language" category, in that I watch almost all of my anime in Japanese with English subtitles (and usually watch the dub at some point later), I of course took the time out to watch Kurumi first in Japanese and then dubbed in English. I generally enjoy a good dub, but there're two things that are frustrating about the Kurumi dub.
First is what I consider slightly excessive rewriting of the script. Some dubs in general become a major pain when the translator or director decide to rewrite the English dub to the point where, instead of just translating the dialogue and then changing some sentence structure and words to fit the lip movements, they end up changing the meaning and the point of the dialogue. While Kurumi doesn't suffer too badly in that regard, I was somewhat disappointed at the extent of the translation changes.
By far the most frustrating thing about the dub though is there is a ridiculous amount of profanity in it. In fact, in the behind-the-scenes feature, dub director Steven Foster mentions that when they need words to extend a sentence or something, profanity always seems to fit, so they just make the character swear. This is extremely annoying, because in this show it just feels extremely out of place when, in the first few minutes of the show, the kids going to the mansion start swearing. It's the biggest problem with the dub but one that I wish would be addressed. The days of adding profanity to anime dubs for the sake of it are over, and it's disappointing to hear it to a degree in Kurumi.
Besides those problems though, the voice acting on the English dub is excellent. Claudia Black uses her slightly less-than-convincing American accent, but still sounds good, as do all the other voice actors.
The Japanese seiyuu (voice actors) sound great, and technically there is nothing wrong with the audio at all (no dropouts or other faults).
The video is good with no artefacting that I could see, and only the occasional rainbows on certain characters' hair (notably Kurumi's). On my low-end setup it's barely noticeable though.
Packaging & Presentation
The packaging is really nice, and uses the cover art from one of the Japanese DVDs. It's a little risqué (as are all the covers), featuring a naked Kurumi with the show's logo covering the naughty bits. Although it may seem a bit misleading, suggesting the show is of an adult nature, that's not the case.
The menus are rather nice and everything is quick and easy to access, including individual episodes. They fit nicely in with the show.
Since the show is pretty short, ADV have packed the disc full of extras. The biggest and most interesting extra is the "Conversations with Angels", part one of a behind-the-scenes feature. This extra runs just over half an hour, and features interviews with all the primary voice actors for the series, including Claudia Black, and also dub director Steven Foster. It's a very interesting piece, with each actress talking a bit about their characters, how they came to work on the show and so forth. Director Steven Foster talks about his choices for voice actresses and also about translating a show like Kurumi. This sort of extra is really nice to see.
Other extras include some pages of text on the historical background of the show (it takes place in the Taisho Era of Japan, in the 1920s), the Onmyou tradition, and also some translator notes. All of these are well worth reading, as they really do help flesh out the setting of the show and some of the things that go on within it. The disc also has a gallery of production sketches, which are nice to look at once through.
Additionally, the clean (textless) opening is presented here (something that comes standard on most anime series nowadays), along with some extended episode previews, which are only presented in Japanese, plus a printable PDF format "fortune teller" (which I couldn't access as I don't have a region 1 capable DVD-ROM drive).
The first volume of the series pretty much serves as a setup for what will likely come, and as such provides a nice blend of comedy, romantic overtones and plot. Steel Angel Kurumi is a fun series to watch that I'd recommend to any anime fan looking for something light and enjoyable. While the dub has its problems, I'd still recommend the disc, and the fact that it's packed with extras makes up for the slightly short seeming run-time. If you're only interested because of Claudia Black's involvement, you may want to pass it up, although you'd be missing out on a fun ride.
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Item: Steel Angel Kurumi Volume 1: Angel on My Shoulder
Recommended Retail Price: $29.98
Distributor: ADV Films
Region: 1 (NTSC – US, Canada)
Picture Format: Pal 4:3
Sound: English and Japanese - Dolby Digital 2.0
Languages: English, Japanese with English subtitles
Number of Discs: 1
Format: 1 x DVD9
Total Running Time: 90 mins (approx. – minus extras)
Episodes: 1 to 6