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"Kuromi 2" Is Better Than the Original

A few years ago there was a special OAV, created by Akitaroh Daichi (director of Fruits Basket, Kodocha, and Jubei-chan), that was released on DVD called Animation Runner Kuromi. I loved the first release, but when a sequel was announced, I was both excited and worried. Would Kuromi 2 be as good as the original? Usually sequels take all the obvious good stuff and amplifies it without being as subtle as the original, but this is the man that made another sequel, Jubei-chan 2, better than the original, so it should be OK, right?

Mikiko Oguro has always wanted to be involved in an anime production her whole life. Three months ago, she got her chance when she was assigned to oversee the production of Time Journey. After whipping her team into shape, they met the deadline and did it in style. Unfortunately, their next job is even harder: the crew has to work on Catman (An American comic-book-like anime), Soreike Charmy (a cutesy chibi series) and Zombie Hunter Yamitaro (a horror anime) at the same time! Feeling that their small crew of 7 is overworked, the President (having recovered from his heart attack last time) has decided to bring in the infamous Takashimadaira and his two cronies Tokuhara and Kumegawa. Unfortunately, Takashimadaira just starts to make things even worse, as he overtaxes the crew even more, starts cutting corners, and gradually sucks all the charm out of the studio! To make things worse, Takashimadaira starts taking more and more work away from Shihonmatsu, who’s quit smoking, causing her to question her beliefs. Can Kuromi pull in the reigns and save everyone from utter disaster?

With all the major character introductions out of the way, the production group is now allowed to play around with the characters a bit more, resulting in a feature that delights from beginning to end. All the quick wit is still present, as well as all the normal gags and even the animation stereotypes, mainly in the smooth-as-silk-but-really-does-suck-at-his-job Takashimadaira. This feature even improves upon the original, as it cuts out some of the overused gags from the last feature, includes more drama, and tightens everything up in a nice little package. The extreme drawings may still be a bit too much for some, but here, it works better than it ever has. Kuromi herself is still as enjoyable as ever, especially since she now has a grasp on how things work, and although she doesn’t do much for most of the special (thanks to Takashimadaira being the new boss), it’s all made up during the climax when she tries to get Shihonmatsu back.

Usually, this is where I start talking about the bad stuff. But, aside from a slight nitpick about the English dub, there isn’t much here that isn’t awesome. I guess if I had to pick something, it’s that Tokuhara and Kumegawa don’t really affect the story much and get far too little interaction and screen time (what with everybody focused on Takashimadaira and all). However, this little nitpick doesn’t detract from the awesomeness of the feature, and it gives even more insight into the anime industry (such as the sleazy producer and the old-school types who hate hair highlights). The feature also introduces more drama, specifically in regards to Shihonmatsu and Kuromi, and it works extremely well. New layers are added to the characters giving them some much-needed development, as well as giving us some quiet moments with no music as a break from all the insanity. The scene with Shihonmatsu at the beach house in particular is very well done. I mean, there is a whole lotta good in this feature and very little bad. It is that good.

What would a feature about the process of creating animation be without some awesome animation? The characters this time around are even more fluid than ever, have a lot more poses to them, more wardrobe choices, and Takashimadaira’s movements are all expertly animated, as are the final versions of the three shows Studio Petite was working on. Much like the main feature, there’s only one little nitpick, and that has to do with the transfer. I dunno what happened, but the recap at the beginning of the special has all sorts of jagged lines and interlacing, making the old footage seem worse than it really was. All of these transfer problems immediately go away once the new footage starts coming in, so there’s no problem there. In fact, the transfer is pristine and has very little, if any, encoding problems, which is always great to see in an anime release.

For the voice cast, almost everybody comes back for the sequel. The only major change is that Suzy Prue, who was Shihonmatsu in the first Kuromi, is replaced by Carol Jacobanis (Aya in Comic Party and Saki in Genshiken). While Ms. Jacobanis does a pretty good job as Shihonmatsu, her voice is just a little too high-pitched compared to Ms. Prue, who was perfect for the role. Yet again, this is a minor nitpick, as overall both voice casts are excellent and are used to their full potential. Lisa Ortiz returns the titular character, and is still just as energetic and frantic as before, and Dan Green absolutely perfect as Takashimadaira. As for the music, there are a couple of new tunes, but much of the soundtrack is re-used and remixed from the first Kuromi. That’s not a bad thing, as the music in the original rocked, and this release does give props for making the “Kuromi theme” not nearly as annoying as the previous release. The vocal songs are, in the end, forgettable, but they do enhance the feature where it counts, and they aren’t at all bad songs.

This being a Central Park Media release means we get actual extras! First up is the entire feature in storyboards, in either language. While the feature is cool, I’m not a storyboard guy, but if you love them, it’s here for you. Next is an interview with the man himself, Akitaroh Daichi, as he discusses what he wanted to do with Kuromi 2. He doesn’t get into scene-specifics, but even with only general info, it’s still a fun interview that Kuromi fans should love. Then, it’s time for A Day in the Life of Kuromi, as Kaori Asou, the Japanese VA for Kuromi, performs her character’s job in real life. Being a TV special starring the VAs, it’s corny as hell, but it does get a bit informative during the second half of the special and is a fun watch, especially when they go to see Reiko Yasuhara (Shihonmatsu’s VA) and Daichi. After that, we have an art gallery, a sketch gallery, the original Japanese trailer in both English and Japanese, CPM’s trailers for both Kuromi and Kuromi 2, and to end the extras, trailers of pretty much every major CPM release, in both anime and manga. While I am disappointed that there’s no commentary by Daichi or anything at all having to do with the English voice cast, the extras here are much more than normal anime DVDs and are great fun to watch.

There are very few animation releases that I would say everyone should have in their collection. Animation Runner Kuromi 2 truly is one of those releases. If you consider yourself a fan of animation, this needs to be in your collection.

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