Saturday, July 4, 2009

Animation Runner Kuromi (anime OVA)

Because this one is so short, only 45 minutes or so long, I hesitate to recommend it unless you can get it cheaply. I think I got my copy used for $5, including shipping. It's very funny, and worth every penny I spent. I've bought crappy movies in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart and this definitely beats those out.


Mikiko Ohguro (aka Kuromi) has just landed her dream job at a famous animation studio, Studio Petit. When she arrives for her first day, no one is there except the head of production, who holds out just long enough to give her a tour and hand her his work before collapsing and being taken to the hospital. It turns out he'd been working for days with a bleeding ulcer and had only been waiting for his replacement to arrive. Kuromi is horrified to realize that she is his replacement. She doesn't even know what she's supposed to be doing!

Production on the second episode of Time Journeys is way behind - there's only a week left for all the animation to be finished. Kuromi stumbles along on her own for a couple days, begging the animators to give her their finished work - with the exception of one prolific person (whose work is, unfortunately, shoddy), everyone has excuses. Exhausted, stressed out, and depressed, Kuromi is ready to quit, until she hears how the show's line director got her start - on the very show that inspired Kuromi to get into this business in the first place. With a renewed sense of energy, Kuromi decides to stick it out, and the director gives her some helpful advice for dealing with the animators. It's not long before everyone is working around the clock to get everything finished. Unfortunately, even this amount of effort isn't quite enough, but the director, not wanting to see Kuromi's hard work go to waste, finishes one scene herself. With a sense of awe and pride, Kuromi gets to watch the studio's finished work. For one shining moment, everything is wonderful - until she's handed the schedule for episode 6.


I seem to love "first job gone horribly wrong" stuff. This is hilarious. I wonder if there are animators out there who cry when they see this - even though I, personally, think this is funny, there are extras I've seen on some DVDs that make me think this is actually pretty close to the truth (the director of this anime says it's 99% truth, with artistic license to make things more interesting). The "making of" video on the Fullmetal Alchemist movie DVD sure looked like they only barely got the movie done in time, and I think certain people probably hid in storage closets and cried during the making of Tekkonkinkreet.

You've just gotta feel bad for Kuromi. It's like she's got a horrible group project, times a thousand. Dealing with the animators is like herding cats, there's who knows how many people waiting for the anime to come out who will be seriously upset if it's delayed, and poor Kuromi has to blunder about with a minimum of guidance. On my first day of work, I was told to just get started cataloging, someone would train me later when there was more time for that sort of thing. It was stressful, but at least no one added, "and your deadline for this insurmountable mountain of books is next week." It's no wonder that Oppama, the person who was supposed to be Kuromi's supervisor and the person she replaces, ended up with a bleeding ulcer.

The English dub wasn't too bad (please don't pelt me with rotten vegetables). Lisa Ortiz, who voiced Kuromi, got her stress and panic across nicely, although I think she was weaker during the more serious scenes. Some viewers may not like the way a few of the characters were done, and I don't know enough about Japanese to say whether the way the voices were done was justified. For instance, one of the characters, Hassaku Hozumi, has a bit of surfer dude voice, while another character (whose name I can't remember, but she was the perfectionist in the bunch) had an accent I can't quite identify, maybe Russian? Ok, so the English dub has issues, but I still liked watching it that way because I had an easier time enjoying most of the jokes.

I first saw this anime on TV while I was in grad school - I never got to see the end of it, which would have been even more painful if I had realized how close I came to seeing it all. I think I missed maybe the last 5 minutes. It was shown with the English dub, which is maybe another reason why I'm so tolerant of the dub - I've had some time to get used to it.


Despite its shortness, or maybe because of its shortness, this OVA comes with lots of extras. Well, at least the list of extras is long.

The interview with Lisa Ortiz, who is the voice actor for Kuromi in the English dub, is approximately 3 and a half minutes long - it includes a tiny bit of behind-the-scenes info and some clips of Ortiz at work. If I remember correctly, this is the extra that explains why Kuromi is called Kuromi (through years of absorbing tidbits of information from anime and past experience in linguistics classes, I was able to make a decent guess about the origin of her nickname, but this extra spells it out nicely - also, her nickname makes more sense if you see her name in its proper order, Ohguro Mikiko).

Many of the extras dealing with director Akitaroh Daichi are a little disappointing. The interview with him is only 5 minutes long, although the information it includes (how he works, what a director does, behind-the-scenes info about the OVA, etc.) is interesting. The "Director's Diary" is a complete let-down. It's only slightly more than 2 minutes long and is an incredibly brief look at the entire process of making this OVA. The best behind-the-scenes info can be found in the director's commentary track, which can be found under the language settings on this DVD. It turns out that, although I caught the most obvious anime reference (I suppose I could still be wrong, since Daichi never mentions the show by name), there were apparently lots of references to Daichi's past anime and other anime that I missed.

Besides the commentary track, another extra I enjoyed was the mini documentary (5 and a half minutes) about the animation process. It's an interview with some guy named Matt Sheridan, who I'm guessing works in the US animation industry. The sound quality for this interview is pretty bad, but the information is nice. This is a good extra to watch if some of the animation jargon went over your head like it did mine. Unfortunately, even this mini documentary doesn't cover all the jargon used in the anime.

There are two galleries included, a sketch gallery and an art gallery. The sketch gallery is a short video of production drawings, while the art gallery is a video of stills from the anime. There are also alternate angle storyboards, which didn't interest me, so I didn't take a look at that. There are a couple trailers for Animation Runner Kuromi - both are English-language (and one misuses an apostrophe...). There's also the obligatory previews for other titles - I already own the ones that I think look any good.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - After Tohru's mother died, she went to live with her grandfather, but she left his house to live in a tent when he began home renovations. Tohru ends up getting invited to stay with the Sohma family, an amazing occurrence considering that Yuki Sohma is so popular at Tohru's school that he's got his own fanclub. Tohru soon discovers the Sohma family's secret - whenever certain members become physically weakened or are hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into an animal in the Chinese zodiac. This is yet another anime Daichi directed. There are some stylistic similarities (weird creatures coming on screen to make comments, crazy energy), so it should appeal to some fans of Animation Runner Kuromi, even though the two stories have nothing in common.
  • Fear and Trembling (book) by Amelie Nothomb - Amelie is a young Belgian woman who was born in Japan. It has been her dream to work for a company in Japan, and one day that dream comes true. She begins at the bottom of the corporate ladder, writing letters for her boss and trying to make perfect copies for him on the copier, and amazingly manages to descend even lower. I'm not sure how true any of this book is - maybe it's all fiction, or maybe it's exaggerated truth. Whatever the case may be, it's funny and horrible at the same time. Those who'd like another "horrible new job" story might like this, although Amelie and Kuromi have very different reasons for sticking with their jobs.
  • Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Shuichi Shindo is a singer in a band that he hopes will become famous. One day, he loses a page of unfinished song lyrics. The handsome and caustic man who catches it insults the lyrics and sticks in poor Shuichi's mind. Schuichi later discovers that the man was Eiri Yuki, a famous writer, and seeks him out. The two eventually become lovers, but Yuki's emotional issues and Shuichi's rapidly developing musical career may tear them apart. Gravitation isn't for everyone, since it features romance between two men - although neither the manga nor the anime are explicit, the anime keeps the physical aspects of the romance slightly more "off screen" than the manga. Those who liked the desperation and craziness in Animation Runner Kuromi might enjoy this - the personalities of several of the characters in this remind me of characters in Animation Runner Kuromi.
  • Excel Saga (manga) by Koushi Rikudou; Excel Saga (anime TV series) - Lord IlPallazzo and his team of ACROSS agents (two of them - hyper Excel Excel and Hyatt, who is sickly and coughs up blood) plan to one day take over the world - and they're starting with just one city. Their various crazy attempts always fail. Those who'd like another high energy comedy with anime (and manga, and pop culture) references might want to try this. The references are more plentiful than Animation Runner Kuromi, and the craziness is more over-the-top, so keep that in mind.

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