What They Say:
He’s only a teenager, but Kurenai Shinkurou is already both a master of an arcane martial art and an experienced professional mediator with a long track record of resolving disputes. Not bad for someone who’s just sixteen and still in school, but everyone has their limits. Kurenai may have met his when his boss and role model Benika responds to his request for a more challenging assignment by giving him the task of protecting young Murasaki Kuhoin.
Never mind that she’s only seven, the fact that the people Kurenai’s supposed to protect her from are her own very rich and extremely powerful family is guaranteed to take this job into the danger zone. Now the heat is on and Kurenai’s scrambling to put out as many fires as he can, even as the secrets surrounding his young charge bring everything else to a flashpoint.
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this release is standard fare in that it comes with just the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The series is one that is very much dialogue based with a few action scenes here and there, so it doesn’t push the envelope at all. But it does handle things decently with the forward soundstage as it’s largely center channel based but knows when to stretch things a bit. The opening and closings obviously bump things up a bit and are the warmest parts of the show, but the dialogue is well captured and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this twelve episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is split evenly across two discs with six episodes each and it generally has a decent amount of space to work with. The series in general looks okay since it’s a bit darker and earthier in nature, even if most of it takes place in the city, but it has a kind of dank feeling about it. The transfer is not without its problems though and some of them are kind of glaring. The worst offender is the opening sequence as there’s just so much breakup in a lot of the fast action scenes that it’s really surprising. Part of it could be attributed to the kind of animation used and the all white backgrounds, or it could just be terrible source material, but it looks bad. The main show itself doesn’t suffer from it but there’s some decent noise moving through a lot of the solid colors that are darker in nature which can be distracting depending on your seating distance.
This release comes in a standard single sized keepcase that has a hinge inside since there are three discs for the show. The packaging design is a little odd as it goes for a thick black frame to it that gives it a bit of an old feeling that works nicely but still feels somewhat heavy. Inside the faming we get a really good looking image of the two leads together with the snow falling and the cherry blossoms scattered around that has some really good color design to it. The soft blues in the background really helps it to all stand out. The back cover has a different flow to it as it has a more Japanese traditional design to it with the scroll work and the mural design. It brings in some good pictures from the show and a decent summary, but the white and red text on the black stripe is a bit harder to read. The production credits are clean and clear and the technical grid is very cleanly laid out and accurate. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is kept very simple as it has one of the more ornate wall panels used as the background but it’s covered up with a lot of black blocks that bring in the episode numbers for selection and other navigation items, of which there aren’t much. It’s a pretty subdued looking menu overall that does play to the more traditional nature of the shows origins and it does work, but it’s very minimal and weirdly placed with the upbeat music and vocals from the opening sequence. There’s little in the way of submenus here since it’s a monolingual release but everything moves smoothly and quickly and we have no problems getting around and utilizing the features and extras.
The series has a third disc that contains all the extras, which is welcome since it keeps it from sucking up what little space may be on the show disc itself. The big extra here is that we have six parts of the animatics shown, which is how they go from storyboards to motion planning and it’s done with the inclusion of audio and subtitles here so you can see how it all comes together. They run between 7 and 10 minutes each and are definitely good material to check out if you have an interest in animation production. In addition to that, we get ninety seconds worth of TV spots and the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Based on the light novel series of the same name by Kentaro Katayama, which also was adapted into manga form, Kurenai is a twelve episode series that is steepde in the real world but has that one edge to it that is used sparingly, thankfully. What defines this series, and becomes the make or break aspect, is that it utilizes a child as one of the main characters. When it comes to using characters like that, and especially at the age of seven, you run into the challenge of creating a believable character and shows often fall flat on that. With Kurenai, that does feel largely true because at this age, Murasaki comes across as a much older woman, both in dialogue, scripting and voice work. In its own way, yeah, it works, but it took me out of the show far too many times.
The series takes place in the present day real world as it introduces us to a Problem Fixer named Shnkuro Kurenai, a sixteen year old student who works for a woman named Benika and takes on all sorts of jobs. They’re not jobs that involve killing, or at least it doesn’t appear that way, but he does bodyguard work, protection and information gathering. The jobs are big and small and he can back it up with some additional power because he spent time training with the Hozuki family, a group that has a history of being assassins and engage in some special training. And adjustments as well as they’ve installed a special blade into one of his arms that he can use. It’s the outlandish part of the series but is used to sparingly and has meaning to it that it manages to work better than I expected.
Shinkuro’s life is pretty minimal as he does keep up with school and lives in a tiny apartment with some amusing but simple neighbors around him. His life is about his work but he also does manage his school life well too. So it’s not a surprise that something drops into all of it that make sit difficult as Benika has him take on a new protection job. This one is a bit unusual as she wants him to watch a seven year old girl named Murasaki. Shinkuro’s not exactly all for it at first, but there’s something in his own past that sees a deep sadness in her eyes that keeps him from saying no. It takes some time, but the two do bond really well here as she adapts to the situation. And therein lines the fun and the rub.
Mursaki comes from a unique semi-secret society type family and has lived her life generally free of contact from the rest of the world. She’s not exactly spoiled, but she has an air of superiority about her and a lack of connection with how things work, which makes for the whole fish out of water angle well as she tries to treat him as a servant. Murasaki’s pretty interesting as she has a kind of classic lady design about her, both in looks and attitude, and seeing her adjust is a good part of the fun as there’s a kind of slice of life feel to it. She’s forced to stay in the tiny apartment and adjust while meeting some of the neighbors and discovering the simple joys of life. When she’s simple, she’s really engaging to watch. When she goes back to her classic lady form, it works but it was just such a difference that it takes you out of it.
A lot of the show is all about the day lives that they go through and some of the situations they get in. The two have a lot to adjust to with each other and there’s a lot to like about it since they connect well. The neighbors add the odd charm and there’s even an episode where they spend a good chunk of the time with all of them singing for a little in-apartment play performance that’s a little surreal but really fun. And in the middle of all of these getting to know you stories, Benika still sends him on other jobs which just confuses the situation. With Shinkuro trying to protect her since the group she was spirited away from is after her, it’s kind of surprising that she would have Shinkuro leave her to do other things.
The show turns serious towards the end in an expected way and I rather liked the way it plays out overall as Murasaki and Shinkuro really bring everything together for what they mean to each other after all that happened. Like a lot of series, things get pretty intense in the final arc but here it’s at least a foundation that was laid down throughout with a lot of things tweaked about it along the way to make it come together well. But what sells the series overall is the majority of things that come before it. Benika pops up throughout and there’s someone watching over the whole thing that gets a bit more involved, and I rather like the neighbors as well, but it all comes down to Murasaki and Shinkuro. And while I would have liked more from Shinkuro’s past than we got here, he’s certainly explored enough to bring it all together.
Kurenai is a kind of odd series when you get down to it. The flow of it and the general nature has a lot of appealing parts but it’s also kind of oppressive with the closed spaces, the dark pasts and the generally dank coloring of it all when it spends time either in the streets or in Shinkuro’s one room apartment. I really enjoyed watching Murasaki explore the world that’s opened up to her once she ends up in Shinkuro’s and as they figure out how to live together. A good part of the story is showing them helping the other to learn more about themselves and it may be predictable in a lot of ways, but it has a hook that generally works. Kurenai has a flavor about it that lets it not feel like a lot of other series but it has its drawbacks as well. I liked it overall, but it’s one that could use a few viewings to really figure out how I feel about it.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, TV Spots, Animatics
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 5th, 2012
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.