Wednesday, March 31 2004

Anime endings: Steel Angel Kurumi 1 & 2

Warning: there’s so little plot in Steel Angel Kurumi that I can’t possibly talk about the ending without revealing most of it. If you’re spoiler-shy, stop reading now.

Steel Angel Kurumi 1

Steel Angel Kurumi is a relatively short series that’s long on jiggle and short on plot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s also broken up into 24 15-minute episodes, four minutes of which are taken up by the credits and next-episode preview. This presentation doesn’t help the story-telling any.

To make sure the viewers know what they’re getting into, less than a minute into the first episode the creators have shown off the techno-magical Angel Hearts that are the core of each android Steel Angel, revealed that they (Hearts and Angels both) are critical to saving the world, and lovingly displayed Kurumi’s hot naked body. The opening credits remove any remaining doubts by flooding the screen with painfully cute renditions of Kurumi and the two other core Angels, Saki and Karinka, choreographed to a tune that can only be described as “bouncy.”

And that’s exactly what you get. Sexy androids in and out of maid costumes, fighting giant robots and each other, neck-deep in fan-service. The setting is an idealized version of 1920s Japan, which was enough to turn off at least one viewer. It’s not taken very seriously, though, and is used mostly as an excuse to put the girls into period costumes. The only military presence of note is an inept General with a crush on Karinka, and two very independent female spies, one of them openly gay.

The hero of the story is Nakahito, a young boy who’s a mystic-in-training, and who accidentally activates Kurumi with a kiss. He then spends the rest of the series getting told what to do by pretty much everyone, because the only reason the adults let him stay in the story at all is that Steel Angels are programmed to imprint on the person who activates them.

That’s “imprint” as in “worship and obey their master in all ways, and take every opportunity to demonstrate their love physically.” Nakahito is a little too young for most of this, so she generally settles for affectionately smothering him with her huge breasts, but you know that the moment his voice changes, it’s going to be Kurumi Sutra time.

Unfortunately, it seems that the effort required to outfit Kurumi with a special, second-generation Angel Heart left her creator without much room for the brain. Admittedly, almost everyone in the series is at least a little bit dim, but Kurumi is like a five-year-old with boobs. Note that I didn’t say “a bright, clever five-year-old.”

To be honest, halfway through the second disc I had pretty much lost interest in most of the characters, but I did enjoy the cheesecake, and Steel Angel Saki had some very amusing scenes as she tried to deal with the fact that she was activated by a kiss from Kurumi.

What briefly renewed my interest in the third disc was the introduction of the third Steel Angel, Karinka, a psychotic bitch who beats Saki nearly to death and tries to do the same to Kurumi. When Karinka loses that fight, she decides that the way to win is to get charged up the same way Kurumi did, by playing tonsil-hockey with boy-wonder Nakahito. The scheming little witch tricks everyone into thinking that she’s changed sides (hey, I said they weren’t too bright…), and barely manages to conceal her vicious side long enough to accomplish her goal.

Unfortunately for her, the kiss doesn’t increase her power at all. Unfortunately for the viewer, a taste of Nakahito just makes her want more, and she becomes the loyal ally she’s been pretending to be, with True Love her only goal. This pretty much finished off my interest in the characters, especially since Saki was now officially the fifth wheel of the group, with no chance of consummating her love for Kurumi.

When Kurumi finally goes bad and becomes a villain bent on destroying the world, it’s too little, too late, and the dozens of other lusciously-drawn Steel Angels appear too briefly to really make up for the poor pacing and indifferent characterization.

By the way, I left out a few pieces of the intricate love polygon: Kurumi loves Nakahito, Saki loves Kurumi, the General loves Karinka, Karinka loves Nakahito, the gay spy loves the female scientist who’s chaperoning Nakahito and the Angels, the straight spy loves Nakahito, and the female scientist loves the male scientist who built the three Angels. Nakahito eventually loves Kurumi, but being too young to wear long pants, it takes him a while to work it out. Nobody loves Saki, which is a real shame.

How does it end? With hearts and flowers and chirping birdies, and Kurumi and Nakahito cuddling naked under her fluffy white wings. Wings? Hey, they’re angels; deal with it.

It’s based on a manga, but after reading the three translated volumes that are currently available, it looks like the anime writers pretty much jacked up the license plates and changed the car. The original isn’t necessarily better, but it’s very different.

Steel Angel Kurumi Encore

With the world saved and the happy couple counting the days until Nakahito hits puberty, the writers decided to take the time to show how our three Angels manage to adapt to a relatively normal life. It’s actually not that bad, and if you managed to make it to the end of the main series with some interest in the characters, it might even be pretty good. Saki gets some long-overdue time in the spotlight, Karinka gets a love life, and Kurumi grows up into a mature, dignified, traditional Japanese wife. Sort of. The viewer even gets another chance to see some of the many other Steel Angels, as they vigorously compete for the chance to swap spit with Nakahito.

Steel Angel Kurumi 2

I’m going to come right out and spoil this one bigtime: Kurumi, Saki, and Karinka do not appear in this show at all. Seriously. This series is about a modern teenage girl named Nako who looks and sounds exactly like Nakahito (except for the budding feminine figure). This young cellist and latent mystic lives at a shrine that just happens to be the secret resting place of Steel Angel Kurumi 2, a completely new android who looks, talks, and acts exactly like the original Kurumi, but has none of her memories or special powers. She does have an android dog who turns into a pair of high-tech wings, but that’s about as close as you get to the character from the original series.

Inevitably, Nako awakens this new Kurumi with an accidental kiss, creating the same sexually-charged relationship the original had with Nakahito. Who cares if they’re both girls? Turns out that Nako’s best friend Uruka cares a lot, flying into a jealous rage and coaxing her extremely rich father into loaning her an assortment of high-tech weaponry to destroy Kurumi with.

When that fails, Uruka’s frustrated father accidentally smashes an expensive statue, and out falls… Saki 2. His scientists are unable to activate her, until a hallucinating Uruka briefly mistakes her for Nako and slips her some tongue. Obedient to her new mistress, Saki sets out to destroy Kurumi, but ends up falling for her long-lost sister.

So, Kurumi loves Nako, Uruka loves Nako, Saki loves Uruka and Kurumi, and once again nobody loves Saki. Where’s Karinka 2? Off getting a really ugly costume change and hairdo, and being woken up by a large group of bush-league mystics who can’t even manage to kiss her properly, providing the only good news: Karinka doesn’t love anybody, and just wants to beat up Kurumi and Saki so they can be put back into storage for future world-saving.

That’s pretty much it for the plot. The big ending revolves around whether or not Nako should be allowed to participate in a big cello competition that could lead to a foreign scholarship, separating her from her many would-be lovers. This is resolved in a battle pitting Kurumi and Saki against Karinka and a bikini-battlesuit-clad Uruka.

And did I forget to mention the special removable DVD cover inserts that allow you to view Nako and the Angels in their underwear?