A brief study of the highly effective first half of Kuromukuro‘s premiere episode.
This post is the fifth of my entries into 2016’s rendition of the 12 Days of Anime aniblogger project. For more about the project, read appropriant’s introductory post. For a spreadsheet containing the work of all the bloggers participating, go here. For my previous 12 Days posts, go here.
Kuromukuro is a show about dealing with roles and events and demands strange and uncomfortable for its characters, but one of the most compelling things about it is how the show begins by establishing a distinct sense of the familiar. With Kennosuke struggling with a living in a completely new era, Yukina wrestling with her newfound status as semi-heroine, and everyone doing their best to deal with alien invaders, it would have been easy for the show to simply dive into all these elements straight away. But it doesn’t. Instead, it spends the first half of its first episode building Yukina’s familiar world—her life, her relationships, her city. All that follows is a quest for a return to the feeling of normalcy.
Note, though, that this pursuit is not one of reversion, but of adaptation. While pieces of Yukina’s prior life follow her through her adventures with Kennosuke (like her life at home with her aunt and younger sister), what Yukina must ultimately come to terms with is the way her life has changed and the new responsibilities that have arisen. Likewise, while Kennosuke is accompanied by the familiarity of the battlefield, he must seek to change himself to find at least some measure of peace with his new life.
This not to imply that Yukina’s life before the appearance of Kennosuke and the Effie Dorgs was entirely ideal. The familiarity that characterizes this half episode is both a pleasant one and one of angst—the pleasantness of place and friendship, the angst of family. Being in a place that one has been through before (Yukina dislikes visiting the UN research facility because she knows what to expect there) or having a conversation that’s clearly been had before (as Yukina does with her mother in the cafe) is symbolic of a kind of life that has been lived repeatedly.
This is also effected by Kuromukuro‘s presentation of Yukina’s present life. Events that, for many, would be strange—like Yukina’s mother departing the school via helicopter—are treated with the same kind of mundanity as rushing to catch a train, underscored by a consistent, relaxed musical track. Yukina’s fascination with the Kurobe dam, which is a tourist attraction for most others, is undercut by Mika’s dry observation of her repetitive exclamations over it. The two girls stroll (animated in a way that emphasizes their comfort with the surroundings) through the UN facility chatting casually about normal teenage concerns. In fact, it’s the juxtaposition between the relatively exceptional setting with the unexceptional way it is treated that allows the atmosphere of the familiar to bloom.
Familiarity is something, by nature, we often don’t recognize, but the first half of Kuromukuro‘s premiere is so carefully crafted to exude this feeling that it’s impossible to miss. A thing of small import given the primarily fantastic goings on of the rest of the show? Yes, but it’s also this point of familiarity that serves as a reference point both for the viewer and Yukina herself (and it’s something the show returns to throughout the first half with Yukina’s home and school life, both as a relief and something that is intruded upon by the show’s story). So, it is important, even if it is a mere nine minutes that sets it all up. And, personally speaking, I find such a small thing as a recognition as the comfort of familiarity rather nice to watch.