Asura Cryin’ Collection (Cert 15)
3 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 640 minutes approx.
Picture the scene – sci-fi light novelist Gakuto Mikumo has had a few bottles of sake with a fellow writer who opines out loud “I wonder how many genres can be packed into a single story?”, to which Mikumo replies “I dunno. Maybe I’ll give it a go.”
The result? Asura Cryin’.
Schoolboy Tomoharu Natsume moves into an old mansion paid for by his elder brother Naotaka, after his recently remarried mother kicks him out so he doesn’t ruin her new life. Tomoharu lives alone except for the ghost of childhood friend Misao Minakami, killed in airplane crash three years earlier. That afternoon, a woman appears with a trunk claiming to be from Noataka, telling Tomoharu not to let anyone else have it.
Later that night, a young girl in a shrine maiden outfit breaks into the house after for the trunk but is scared away from seeing Misao. At school the next day, Tomoharu sees both mystery visitors are also there, though they avoid him. Arriving home after school, Tomoharu is ambushed by an armed group also wanting the case, which brings the two women back leading to a mass shoot out.
On Misao’s urging, Tomoharu opens the trunk and a large mecha pops out, which will respond to Tomoharu’s voice order and it sends the feuding sides packing. One of the women, Shuri Kurosaki, explains the mecha is an Asura Mechina called Kurogane, and it is being pursued by a group called the Royal Dark Society because it holds incriminating secrets to the world they live in.
For those of you keeping track, that is sci-fi, mystery, fantasy, mecha, and slice-of-life covered but there is much more to come. Shuri is older than Tomoharu and Misao, and is head of the science club at school, blackmailing them into joining the club in exchange for protection. Shuri is part walking weapons store, her left arm is a machine gun, rocket launchers are built into her legs, and wings in her shoulders allow her to fly.
The shrine maiden is Kanade Takatsuki, a fire-wielding demon, who ends up staying with Tomoharu for protection when demon hunters arrive in town, shortly joined by a much younger demon named Aine, who can suck the luck out of people. With Shuri eventually adding to the housemate tally, this is the harem comedy spoken for, though despite the lack of the usual predatory sexual frisson I won’t spoil if Tomoharu gets his girl or not.
Many more characters of both genders come and go, some siding with Tomoharu, some opposing him, others appear to be simply making up the numbers. The ones who have an agenda either represent the Dark Society or work of their own accord, but do share magical abilities and an Asura Machina of their own to provide plenty of firepower in trying to blight Tomoharu and give the battles an extra dynamic.
One interesting factor is how the mecha operate. As we know from similar shows, they are usually piloted by angsty teens but in this instance, there is a unique twist on this idea for added emotional depth for many of the cast. It is something that deserves to be explored in greater detail to give those characters extra fleshing out but this is one of the problems with the execution of this series as a whole.
Asura Cryin’ is a 14-volume light novel series and this adaptation is a very haphazard affair, implying to those of us unfamiliar with the source material that the storylines were picked at random to be adapted. This TV series was split into two 13-episode seasons, but MVM presents them here in one collection containing all 26 episodes, which exposes the flaws in the storytelling.
Episodes one and two hit the ground running, packing so much into them we wonder how they will maintain such a furious pace with so much to build upon. The impression is that we are in for a sprawling epic of many twists and turns, which admittedly we do get, but it isn’t long before the usual lazy diversions appear, meaning of course, the trips to the beach and other mindless frivolity, temporarily putting the main story on hold.
Whilst an antagonist appears at the end of the first season, he is dealt with and never seen again leaving the way open for a second, and by far more dangerous foe for Team Tomoharu to fend off. The early going in season two is burdened by wasteful nonsense but cleverly drops in a few clues as to what is to come later on, when the story kicks into high gear, getting very serious, very confusing, but very compelling.
The reality though is that we are left with a series that would have served better as single cour to allow for a tighter focus on the story, with a linear narrative and complete extrication of the comedy distractions, which includes harem related fan service because of it course it does. Conversely, the 26 episodes could have also been used to delve deeper into the history of the characters to give them some sorely needed context for their motives and actions.
In 2009 Seven Arcs were only five years old when they made this series, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the delicate artwork and stirring battle sequences helped boost their stock in the anime business, though the character designs, based on the original illustrations by Nao Watanuki are a little uninspired and, in the case of Tomoharu’s weird haircut, a bit naff.
Unpacking everything Asura Cryin’ has to offer is likely to cause a headache depending on how seriously you take your anime. There is a superb story told here but trying to enjoy the highs when the lows just get in the way will prove a test of patience for some. This may sound like damning it with faint praise but this is a masterclass in illustrating why the “less is more” mantra exists.
English Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Disc 3 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animations
Rating – ***
Man In Black