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Kuromi May Have Run Away, But Anime Fans Won't

What do you get when you take a fresh-out-of-college aspiring animator and throw her into pure chaos? A typical day in Studio Petit, that’s what — or Animation Runner Kuromi.

For Mikiko Oguro, her dream of working on an animation masterpiece comes crashing down when, on her first day, the head of Time Journeys Episode 2 falls ill with a bleeding ulcer and has to be hospitalized. The president puts Oguro, nicknamed Kuromi by Oppama, in charge of a group of the laziest slackers not seen since Clerks and charges her with finishing Episode 2 before the airdate — which is only a week away. The only problem is that ninety-seven percent of the production has yet to be started.

ImageWith the help of the director, Hamako Shihonmatsu, and the producer, Hassaku Hozumi, Kuromi runs around town (hence the title) trying to fire up the animators to do their jobs. Each of the four animators, Aoi Fukami, Mai Horaguchi, Mizuho Tanonaka and Sheiichiro Haryu, have their own personal problems to deal with, much to Kuromi’s chagrin. Fukami is a newlywed and has to take care of the house. Horaguchi complains that the characters are too detailed. Tanonaka gets the work done, though he keeps messing up the actual keys so they become unusable, and Haryu is your typical otaku stereotype: fat, geeky, and obsessed with dolls, specifically Vampyress. Kuromi’s got her work cut out for her.

If you don’t like zany anime in the vein of FLCL or Excel Saga, stay far away. Created by Akitaroh Daichi (director of Fruits Basket, Jubei-Chan, Now and Then and Here and There), this may be the craziest anime I’ve seen since Otaku no Video. The stressed-out Kuromi transforms into deformed shapes every thirty seconds: in one scene Shihonmatsu reacts to bad news by being burned by her four-foot cigarette flame. Outrageous visual exaggerations aside, Daichi himself has said that the story is ninety-nine percent realistic: Now people will see that making an anime isn’t all fun and games (only three-fourths).

The special’s only problem is its length. It runs only forty minutes, and everything (even the quiet moments) speed by so fast that you will be surprised when the credits roll. Perhaps the creative staff could have extended the OAV without missing a beat –and given the other animators some more depth — by extending some of the extra days instead of sweeping over them in a few seconds. But according to the extras, Kuromi 2 is being made, so hopefully that will fix the problem.

Image Animation Runner Kuromi was made in 2001 and it has that “Look, I’m digital!” look to it, and while it’s not my favorite style of drawing — thankfully, animators have since learned how to make digital works less digital-looking — it works here. Everything is bright and peppy, even at night, and the DVD features some crisp colors. The transfer is excellent, and I couldn’t detect any glaring problems with the disc. The character designs are pretty standard, but Kuromi is cute. Shihonmatsu looks (and ironically, sounds) almost exactly like Android 18 from Dragonball Z, though that’s where the similarities end. Haryu is about as basic an otaku stereotype as you can get, though Horaguchi has a — well, let’s call it an interesting character design. Producer Hassaku was obviously inspired by a monkey, not just the way he looks but also how he moves. I could have sworn I saw a character design similar to Fukami somewhere before, but I forget exactly where.

The anime featured inside the OAV, Louis Monde III and Time Journeys, have varying designs. Louis is very suave and has flowing green hair and a long trench coat, while the Time Journeys crew is very basic, which can be expected, since they were made up just for the OAV. But two of the characters have outfits that remind me of Excel & Hyatt’s outfits in Excel Saga. Oh, and for all you Jubei fans out there, be on the lookout for a cameo by one of the supporting characters.

For the dubbing, Central Park Media has gone to their old standbys over at Mercury Productions, who also do the dubbing for all of 4Kids series. Lisa Ortiz (Lina Inverse in The Slayers TV series, Amy Rose in Sonic X, and Serenity Wheeler in Yu-Gi-Oh!) stars as Kuromi, and it seems like the role was made just for her. I haven’t been this pleased with a Lisa Ortiz character since Slayers. Lisa gives Kuromi all the energy, exasperation, and craziness the character demands. Plus she uses her own little accents and voice tricks to convey some fun direction in Kuromi’s voice. While I’m not a big fan of her Amy Rose or Serenity, her Kuromi is absolutely perfect. Eric Stuart (James and Brock in Pokémon, Seto Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh!), provides the voice of Tanonaka using a very suave version of his Brock voice. (Since Tanonaka looks like Brock — it’s the eyes — it makes sense that they’d give Eric this role.) He plays it in sort of a hammy way, but it fits since the character itself is a bit of a ham. Suzy Prue, a relative newcomer to the voice-acting scene, gives Shihonmatsu a pretty typical female “I don’t really care” voice, so similar to Android 18 that my roommate thought that Meredith McCoy also did Shihonmatsu. Old standbys Dan Green (Hikari Yugi and Yami Yugi in Yu-Gi-Oh!) and Rachael Lillis (Jessie and Misty in Pokémon) also make appearances as Haryu and Horaguchi, respectively. One thing I don’t like about the dub, though, is the way it pronounces Louis Monde III. The title is obviously a parody of Lupin III, yet the dub pronounces it “Louis Monde 3,” as if it is the third in a movie series or something, but that’s a minor nitpick.

The Japanese cast is pretty typical. None of the voices really stand out, though Kuromi sounds a bit too old to my ear. Maybe I’m too used to Lisa Ortiz or something. The rest of the cast is wacky enough for the roles, but I don’t have much of an ear for Japanese voices except in rare situations (Shaman King, Pokémon, and Naruto, mostly). The actual audio is very clear and you won’t have to turn the volume up, although Kuromi’s first lines sound very soft, since it’s supposed to be her thinking the lines instead of speaking them. The music is nothing special or grand, but by the time you finish watching the special and viewing all the extras, I guarantee you will be sick of the Kuromi theme. The ending song won’t knock your socks off, but it is a nice, soft way of letting you down after all the craziness ends.

ImageThe Extras
Wow. An anime DVD with a ton of extras! You don’t see that often, do you? First up, we get a scene-specific commentary with Daichi. Since Daichi doesn’t know English and the video uses the Japanese track, you can’t understand what’s being said unless you know Japanese, so I suggest watching the English version a couple times before listening. Daichi himself sounds rather monotone (as many Japanese directors do, especially in commentaries), so be prepared. After that, we get an interview with Daichi and Ortiz, each running about five minutes or so, as they go in-depth on their particular jobs in the anime. Daichi is funny because he makes fun of his own work and comments on how these particular batch of lunatics were made. Ortiz’s interview is fun because the director wanted to finish her part in one day, but Ortiz fought to spread it out, as the role was too demanding to do for eight hours straight. You’ve also got a Director’s Diary, storyboards with various angles, a featurette about the animation itself, and some trailers for other CPM anime, though only the one for Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Apocalypse Saga is worth looking at. Slip the DVD into your computer and you get an art gallery, the entire script, and cast & crew credits — just your typical DVD-ROM stuff.

Overall
If you enjoy anime, especially wacky anime, animation in general, or cult classic Otaku no Video in particular, I highly recommend this title. It might be a little hard to find depending on your area, but it should be pretty cheap and is well worth the investment.

Grade: A-

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