Kurogane Communication Vol. 1

Peanut butter and jelly. Bert and Ernie. Cake and ice cream.  Whimsy and the apocalypse. Hmm...the last two just don't go together the same way, do they? It's stereotypical, but anime about the destruction of the world are usually filled with humongous explosions, carnage on an unprecedented scale, and somebody named Shinji whining about how he's just not ready to lead humanity into a new stage of evolution. Quiet contemplation and minor goofiness aren't part of the equation. This is what makes Kurogane Communication Vol. 1 so unique. It's not about annihilation; nor is it even about the aftermath (since we've already been there in Hokuto no Ken). It's about the last girl on earth trying to make it through the day to day. And you know what it invoked for me?  Kimagure Orange Road. Sure, there aren't enough humans left to have a love triangle, but the cheerful melancholy and gentle pleasantness are all there.

Haruka is the aforementioned girl, who was awakened from deep freeze by robots who made it through the devastation of Earth. She's not seen another human since...are there any out there?  As far as she knows, no. But her companions keep her occupied, whether the cheerfully silly Spike, the gung-ho Trigger, the butch yet slightly effeminate Reeves, the brainy Cleric, or the mysteriously brooding Ms. Angela. Through trying to find a new source of water, taking a trip to the beach, and simple life together, this crew has become close friends. And Haruka needs them, for the world is full of peril from other robots who are programmed only for war. Maybe together they will find more humans...or maybe they will become the family Haruka has lost.

Kurogane Communication is an odd show in more than just its subject matter...each episode, not including the opening and closing animation, runs just over 10 minutes or so. The U.S. DVDs each include 8 episodes, so you get your money's worth, but it makes for an unusual way to tell a story. While the episodes don't feel rushed, it's so different that it takes a couple just to understand the flow. The technical aspects didn't bother me, but neither did they impress much.  They accomplish the storytelling, and that's fine with me.

I enjoyed the show enough to put the other discs on my "to watch" list, and did so primarily out of the appreciation for the program doing something a bit different. Haruka is somewhat of a classical anime girl, determined to be cheerful despite a bleak situation. Yet the character does not seem forced but genuinely optimistic. This comes through in her relationships with her companions. It's through the robots that we really see the parody aspects of the show. Reeves, the metrosexual robot, is patterned after the Terminator, Ms. Angela could be a substitute for Ghost in the Shell's Major Kusanagi, and so forth. The robots are often amusing and occasionally downright hysterical. Playing with expectations is a big part of the show, and it works...most of the time.

If anything, the reason why Kurogane Communication's first volume isn't a top-tier show is because it is formulaic at the wrong moments.  For example, there is a running gag how Spike keeps accidentally encountering Haruka in various states of undress, embarrassing both of them. This is the kind of comedy that belongs in a harem anime; it's the life blood of Love Hina and its ilk. But what sense is there for a robot to be embarrassed by human nudity?  Why would it even be programmed into their behavior? While this isn't the only anime to fall into this trap -- the neglected Dragon's Heaven had a similar scene with a robot taken aback by an unclothed human -- it defeats the purpose of having robots involved at all. If they're humans in steel skin, why bother? The central question that keeps popping up in the narrative is that of lonliness. But if robots act just like the fleshy companions that Haruka has lost, aren't they an equal replacement? Kurogane Communication does such a good job of establishing us into a scenario we've never seen before that it's disappointing that the robots don't act more like, well, robots.

With that significant caveat in mind, Kurogane Communication really allows the viewer to experience a unique situation through the eyes of its protagonist. I'm dead serious when I compare it to Orange Road...as light years away is one is from the other, both invoke a sense of longing and hope, a sense of the absurd comedy of growing up. The word I've been trying to think of the whole time I've been writing is wistful. Wistful for days before destruction...wistful for mom and dad...wistful for a life a hair's breadth closer to normal. Quite frankly, the conceptual category is rarely explored in sci-fi, except for titles like Voices of a Distant Star or The Place Promised In Our Early Days. But this show wants little to do with the technial side of all that. It's more interested in seeing how a middle school girl might react to having a gaggle of robotic friends when all she really wants is a hug with the warmth that only human touch can bring. And that makes it worth seeing despite its faults.

I'm wish I could give this first volume a better grade, but my fear is that it won't stay so unique.  I rarely quote other reviewers, but I know my friend Andrew Shelton at Anime Meta-Review suggests the show gets action-heavy in its middle and ending, and that's really off the rails set by the first volume. I enjoyed it despite my reservations at the narrative holes the writers missed...but will the writing get worse?  I don't know and I can't say. What I do believe is that the first volume is definitely worth a rental, particularly if you are burned out on the whole sameness of your typical anime shows. Its mistakes are there, but I was happy to see somebody trying something a bit different that genuinely surprised me.

Kurogane Communication Vol. 1 -- mild violence, no nudity but brief unintentional lechery -- B+