Masako KatsukiYui HorieEtsuko KozakuraKurogane Communication
Kurogane Communication
Medium: TV, series
Year: 1998
Director: Kenji Kikuchi, Yasuhito Kikuchi
Original creator: Hideo Kato, Tomomasa Takuma
Studio: APPP
Actor: Yui Horie, Akio Ohtsuka, Etsuko Kozakura, Hiromi Ishikawa, Houchu Ohtsuka, Junko Shimakata, Kenyuu Horiuchi, Kouji Ishii, Kunihiko Yasui, Masako Katsuki, Masashi Hironaka, Naomi Nagasawa, Norio Horiuchi, Rei Sakuma, Rica Fukami, Yuka Imai, Yuriko Yamaguchi
Keywords: anime, SF, post-apocalypse
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 24 fifteen-minute episodes
Website category: Anime 1990s
Review date: 13 May 2006
Haruka is the last living human. Mankind is dead. Perhaps aliens sent hunter-killer machines and exterminated every last human on Earth, or perhaps there was a robot revolution and our own creations rose up to destroy us. Perhaps there was a war. Haruka doesn't know. She only knows that civilisation is lying crushed in the dust. Cities are lethal ruins populated only by birds and occasional rogue robots that have somehow remained functional. Natural disasters are an everyday occurrence, with the environment shot to hell. And of course we're dead. Billions of people, all wiped out. As far as sentient life goes, Earth is a dead rock in space. That's a lot for an ordinary teenage girl to cope with, but Haruka gets by with her surrogate robot family: Spike, Trigger, Reeves, Cleric and Angela.
This series has one big character and a bunch of minor ones. The big character is the world. It doesn't get any dialogue, but everything else exists in its shadow and is entirely defined by it. Haruka for instance is a cheerful girl who would normally be unremarkable, but in this world she's quite something. Amidst post-holocaust horror, she's not a gritty angst-ridden depressive. Instead she's straightforward, frank and likeable. When we first see her, she's simply hanging out the washing and getting on with her life. She does have backstory issues about what happened to her parents, but we only learn about those later. To be honest she's not a particularly original character, but in the context of this world she becomes special.
Similarly the robots are bantering goofballs. Angela has some depth, but the others are only interesting because of what's around them. In a way, for them to be silly and incompetent is almost the point. Trapped in an unforgiving world where to screw up is probably to die, suddenly the recklessness of Trigger or the uselessness of Spike becomes something worth exploring. They're nice people in a nasty world. Meaner characters show up later in the series, though to reveal their precise nature (organic, robot or whatever) would be a spoiler.
This show isn't really about its plot. In the end it grows something vaguely plot-like, but it's basically about its characters. That's why I didn't mind the fact that Kurogane Communication only has fifteen-minute episodes, which a format I normally have no time for. It's about vignettes, not plot. Thus of Haruka's adopted family, Reeves is a skull-faced hulk with the voice and manner of a drag queen. Trigger is a football with attitude. Cleric is the intellectual, discussing the philosophical implications of power loss and memory wipes. Then there's Spike the loser, the robotic equivalent of your younger brother in his back-to-front baseball cap. Bluntly he serves no function. He has no skills, no self-control and a tendency to get over-emotional. Eventually I decided that his uselessness was the whole point of the character.
Finally there's Angela. She's a duelling robot with a sword and lots of hostility. Nevertheless she's still one of the family and Haruka worries about her, for instance when Angela won't eat her batteries. She's the most immediately interesting robot, with her issues with humans and her intimidating appearance like a refugee from Ghost in the Shell. Incidentally, we eventually learn that under her combat visor she has pretty eyes.
This show starts quietly, but builds. At the beginning we get domestic comedy and no real sense of danger. That doesn't last. Soon we're getting tragic backstory, environmental disasters and Haruka on the brink of suicide. New characters turn up and we're caught off-balance, unsure whether they're evil, stupid or mentally unstable. Kanato in particular is deeply unsympathetic for quite a while, although I eventually warmed to him. Our heroes' problem is that in this world, even a bad guy who wants to kill them is a invaluable resource. A single life is an unimaginably rare commodity.
Eventually we get deranged bad guys to worry about, but even they're not evil. It's not that kind of show. Characters are merely liable to be mad, stupid, annoying or suffering from homicidally misplaced logic. Believe it or not, this is an optimistic series with a message of faith and hope. It's gentle and delicate, which makes it all the more important not to do anything stupid like watching it in English. Viewers enduring the usual American dub acting might easily lose all patience. Our heroes are characters whose response to a life-or-death ordeal is to go to the seaside. They can also be dumb or silly, for instance with Haruka reacting badly to being seen in the shower by Spike. Huh? However even in those gentler early episodes, Spike can be afraid that Haruka's about to commit suicide simply because she's near the edge of the roof.
As an aside, it seems that anime doesn't mind showing robots' nipples. Angela in the bath, mmmmm.
Kurogane Communication is a post-apocalypse story, but it's more like a John Wyndham novel than the usual gritty Mad Max machismo. It's not a heavyweight example of the genre, but that's part of its charm. In addition it has a beautifully paced story arc with no real filler, although admittedly its shorter episode format means it's barely working with half the story time of a normal 26-part series. It's not plot-heavy, being more interested in developing its themes and characters. Besides, how often do you see a modest, meandering little tale about the end of the world?