Character Cache: Tokisaki Kurumi

 

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Analyzing entire shows is fun and all but sometimes I just want to talk about one character and why they are so great or interesting.  To that end I present you with the first Character Cache, where I do exactly that.  There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

I explained this to an extent in my last post on Date A Live but Tokisaki Kurumi is possibly the single most interesting character  to ever explode out of a harem show.  So much so in fact that she puts many characters from beloved, popular, and acclaimed shows to shame despite being from a genre long considered the bottom of the anime barrel.  For some basic background, Tokisaki Kurumi is a Spirit, which are beings of immense power – thus far all of them are female though there are signs that there could be a male one – who exist outside our dimension and enter our world.  Doing so causes a “spackequake” which is basically a void which destroys everything it touches.  The humans of this story’s Earth see spacequakes quite often and have developed protocols to avoid them.  The exceptions to that rule are a few secretive groups, one of them being the government’s covert defense force sent to eradicate any Spirits they find.  This puts them in conflict with Spirits and it’s hard to blame the response because Spirits do God-only-knows how many dollars worth of damage just by showing up.  Because of this conflict most Spirits show a fear of, distrust for or outright hostility towards humans and you can hardly blame them either.

Kurumi is the most evil known Spirit in existence.  She has no qualms  killing people by her own volition rather than just via spacequake and she is one of the few Spirits who seems capable of triggering her own spacequakes at will – it’s unknown how much control most Spirits have over their spacequakes.  However according to government forces even discounting the spacequakes she’s killed thousands of people.  In most stories she would be the villain, and thank God Date A Live doesn’t make her one outright.  Shido, the protagonist, sees her as someone to save like any other Spirit and refuses to back down on that point.  He even attempts suicide at one point in retaliation for her threatening the lives of everyone at his school – and this works because she really, really wants him.

Getting back to Kurumi, her Spirit power is over time – as signified by her left eye which is a golden clock.  This power is exceedingly dangerous as she she appears to have 12 different special attacks/abilities, one for each hour.  Thus far the special attacks she’s shown have been a bullet that stops time, a bullet that turns back time on the person or object it strikes, a bullet that basically lets her teleport, a bullet which can let her look into people’s pasts and a bullet that allows her to make clones of herself.  She can also create a Time-Eating Fortress but that doesn’t seem to require a bullet.  She also has some association with shadow as she and her clones can melt into or spring out of shadows.  In comparison to the other Spirits Kurumi lacks raw destructive power – Tohka can cleave apart buildings and cliffsides for example – but her powers work exceptionally well in single combat and the only opponent she ever seemed in danger of losing to is Efreet, a berserk Spirit of destruction that resides in Shido’s adoptive sister Kotori.

Another interesting difference between Kurumi and the other Spirits is her lack of durability.  Of the six known Spirits four of them have some form of defense to avoid damage and Efreet rises phoenix-like from any wound no matter how mortal.  Kurumi on the other hand is killed by Shido’s blood-related sister Mana at least three times but never truly dies because of her seemingly infinite number of clones.

Kurumi’s power is also her greatest weakness though.  It’s almost unstoppably powerful and is by far the most versatile power among the known Spirits but it comes at a cost.  Unlike the other Spirits who can just use their power without issues Kurumi’s power eats away at her own time – which means her life.  However she can replenish her time via the Time Eating Fortress mentioned above, it’s basically a big shadow which devours the time of any humans in it’s zone of control.  This creates a negative feedback loop.  Kurumi has to use her powers to fight the government forces hunting her down, using her powers carves away at her life, her only way to reclaim her lost time is to devour the time of masses of humans which in turn makes her a bigger target where the government if concerned, which means she’ll need to use more power to fight the heightened response, and so on.  The only way to break this cycle without Kurumi dying is for Shido to save her by robbing her of this power.

But she won’t let him.  Or rather most versions of her won’t let him.  Remember how I mentioned the seemingly infinite clones, they are quite useful but Kurumi’s reliance on them, like the rest of her powers, has severe drawbacks.  There doesn’t seem to be a dominant clone or original, for example there was a clone which operated separately from the rest and dated Shido for a day before being drawn back into the collective mass of clones.  Likewise Shido convinces Kurumi (this is before the clones are revealed) that she can trust him after showing her that he’d be willing to die if it meant protecting everyone but before they can kiss and seal her powers one of the clones kills the Kurumi that Shido was currently interacting with.  This is the other huge failing of Kurumi’s power and lifestyle, her reliance on her own power has fractured her existence so badly different versions of her will kill each other if one seems in danger of threatening the group in any way.

Despite all this Kurumi has a very consistent set of personality traits and values, and barring the two incidents with Shido described above, all of the clones seem to adhere to the will of whichever Kurumi is the one out walking around day to day.  Kurumi’s personality is largely playful in warped sense of the word.  We only ever really see her interact with Shido but during that time she likes to play a lot of games with him.  She’s very forward – to a degree that Shido is uncomfortable with and which would be abnormal for most girls her age – and honest, to the point that she introduces herself as a Spirit when she transfers to Shido’s school even though only like three people in the room will understand what that means.  For a character that lurks in the shadows and appears openly sinister she’s oddly forthright with people, like when she tells a human girl who loves Shido that she wants to devour him.

She’s also a sociopath but not a lunatic, if anything her intentions are quite clear and pure, it’s the means which are a problem.  For example she once encounters a group of teenage or college boys shooting a kitten with airsoft guns, and after asking to join in their game she kills all of them with her guns, paired flintlock rifle and pistol – which she never has to reload because magic weapons.  When the last one is screaming to be spared she calmly remarks that it’s childish to think it’s ok to hurt things without having the resolve to risk being hurt in return, which in principle is not only understandable but a sentiment I agree with – and then she blows five gaping holes in him.

Even when she threatens to all of Shido’s school, first with the Time Eating Fortress and then with a spacequake, she’s doing it as way to assert her own free will, showing that she won’t just bow down to Shido’s plan and do what he says – even if that’s ultimately the best solution to her problems.  And what’s more she’s willing to use her power for good too.  Near the close of the second season when Tohka has been captured and Shido’s allies have been brainwashed by a Spirit who hates him, Kurumi not only helps him confront the Spirit in an attempt make a truce but serves at the main distraction as he attacks a private military organization’s building complex – which she does by becoming a one woman army (of clones) and attacking the robots and private army by herself, at least until further aid arrives.  As stated above Kurumi is not the villain.  She has the potential to be one but for now she’s a chaos factor, the only known Spirit not aligned with Shido, and she seems equally ready to fight Shido and his allies as she does Shido’s enemies.

Tokisaki Kurumi is a fickle and paradoxical character, she’s nigh invincible but also fragile and fragmented.  She’s rational and insane.  She’s a mass murderer who will save a kitten.  She’s clearly the sinister schemer but she’s also honest and forthright.  And it’s because of all these contradictions that she is interesting.  Rather than fitting nicely into an archetype or taking a clear role or side she’d just sort of there, waiting in the shadows for the opportunity to mess with Shido and accomplish her own hidden agenda.  Likewise the duality of her powers as her ultimate weapon and her greatest shackle is fascinating in concept.  Kurumi’s intrinsic connection with time and way she’s forced to expend and accumulate time are key factors in shaping her character, and if I may be so bold, they are by far the coolest set of time-related powers and consequences I’ve ever seen, and a great way to give her a complex place in the story to boot.  Also she’s super hot, it would be a grave dishonor not to mention that, I honestly have trouble deciding between her and Tohka  both for hottest girl and Best Girl.  Anyway that wraps this up, hope you enjoyed it.

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Understanding Presence and Weight with Kingdom

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No other anime I’ve seen has even come close to mastering the idea of character presence as Kingdom has.  The best comparison point I can think of off-hand is Rider from Fate Zero – but even he pales in comparison to the top tier characters of Kingdom.  I don’t expect most people to care, most people haven’t even heard of Kingdom while Fate Zero is widely known and held in high regard, and for good reason.  But if on the off chance you’re a total weirdo like me and have a deep fascination with the idea and portrayal of a living legend, Kingdom is best there is.  Period.

Jumping back a little for the sake of context, Kingdom is a historical shounen (though some sites call it a seinen and there arguments for why it should be) battle series set in the Chinese Warring States Period in the 300s BC (not to be confused with the Japanese period of the same name in the 1500s AD).  It follows Xin, who in typical shounen fashion wants to be the best there ever was – in this case the greatest general in history – and Yin Zheng the young king of Qin, the westernmost and second most powerful of the seven kingdoms in China, who wishes to conquer all of China.  As the minor battles in this show contain hundreds of fighters (at minimum) and the important wars involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting over several days important people have to be able to wipe the floor with tons of random soldiers before dueling other people of the same power level.  Kingdom’s way of handling the obvious break from realism is to uphold the idea that the weight of one’s command – among important characters – is a source of strength which enables them to run roughshod over weaker foes.  Kingdom takes this very literally as the weight of one’s command directly affects the power of one’s blows and how strong a blow they can receive without issues.

This of course is not the only source of strength or skill, experience, size, muscle build, etc. all play a role and the weight is often an elusive thing to gauge as people with significantly smaller commands can fight on equal footing with those of greater commands.  Also this whole weight is power thing doesn’t apply to strategists whatsoever.  Nonetheless the idea is integral to Kingdom and it does a fucking fantastic job on delivering on one of the shows overall greatest strengths, dramatic payoffs.

Kingdom does a phenomenal job of building tension and then bringing a satisfying payoff.  If I had to sum the show up in one word it would be big.  Big armies, big characters, big talk, big music, big impact.  It’s hard not to get swept up in the hype when you’re watching characters you like charge headlong into a giant army with his trusted soldiers at his back with big booming oriental orchestral swells thundering in the background – seriously Kingdom’s music is fucking awesome and it would totally overwhelm scenes of suitably less gigantic action.

Of course the scenario above will fall apart at the first hurdle if you don’t like the characters, so naturally Kingdom takes a lot steps to ensure that you do.  Everyone of note has highly distinct designs, there are dozens of specialized armor variants for noteworthy armies and special armor for important generals.  In a similar vein all the characters have different hairstyles and facial features, weapons, banners and so forth to make them all stand out.  Where the weight and presence bit comes into its own is for the older generals.  In comparison to Xin most of the major enemies or important, older allied characters are significantly physically larger, and thus can pack a lot more punch to their attacks.

Another major factor to consider is the mental side of the equation.  In typical shounen fashion Xin is kind of a dumbass, though I would contend he is somewhat smarter than he appears and his stupidity has a clear source, he grew up as slave with no education.  There is however a lot of tactical play going on and the top tier characters are capable of stunning feats of strategy – no joke some of this shit is Death Note-style complex planning – which spice up the more basic, if no less satisfying frontal assaults of more brutal and martial generals.  Moving away from a character’s intellect however the mental effects of certain strategies and actions play a large role as well.  Bloodlust/killing intent and morale have significant effects on a character’s ability to perform in battle, so how certain characters go about inspiring morale plays a large role in their tactics and actions.

What this is all building up to is the logical endpoint, the generals who are big, skilled, have tons of experience, and who are famous for their exploits, the kind of people Xin wants to be.  The two giants among men who appear in the anime are Wang Qi and Lian Po, two legendary generals who were among the biggest names in all of China during their golden age several decades ago.  They are both masterfully done characters with highly distinct designs, excellent voicework, unrivaled power, top tier tacticians and more weight and presence than anyone else in anime.  It’s hard to say exactly what grants them this quality, what allows them to so perfectly encapsulate, to me obviously, the idea of a living legend.  It could be the things described above, it could be their glorious careers from years past and how the rest of world still treats their names with awe.  It might be how, on occasion they speak of their older days and how impressive they make that era seem.  The most obvious answer is that it’s all these things – and that would explain why this ability to capture the feel of living legend is exclusive to Kingdom, as their backstories are bound to Kingdom.

But at the same time I feel like it has to be more than that.  I think I could make similar arguments about some of the characters in Arslan Senki but they’ve never captured the same appeal, certainly not to the degree Kingdom has.  All I can say for sure is that when one of the generals loses and is forced to surrender, has a less successful man from his era tell him to retire, and his response is “Don’t be stupid.  I’m on active duty til I die!”  while he charges down a small mountain and one of this big orchestral swells plays in the background I watched the scene over and over like 40 times because it was just that special, it had that much impact.

The point of a lot of shounen characters, especially major enemies like Madara or old badasses like Netero, is to be these larger than life entities which draw you the viewer into a clash of epic proportions.  It’s what makes battle’s whose scale would be derided in mainstream TV not only possible but fucking glorious to watch.  And Kingdom, for all it’s faults has mastered the art of making larger than life characters to a degree which surpasses all of the competition.  I picked up Kingdom  after the second season finished airing and I’ve yet to see anything, newer or older, which gets close to capturing that larger than life, living legend feel like Kingdom did.  And it is my sincere belief that this ability to portray such gigantic characters the way Kingdom does, is why both seasons are rated upwards of 8 on sites like MAL, where the second season of Kingdom currently sits at #88.

Personally I would count Kingdom among my top five shows with ease, possibly in the top three, and by extension highly recommend it to anyone who sounds even vaguely interested.  I’ve also written about the show before here, in case you wanted more of an overview.  This is all despite the fact season 1 is burdened with a lot of low tier-CG and physics can often be very loosely applied in combat.  It doesn’t matter, because Kingdom moves past all of it’s issues and the weight and presence of it’s best characters is one of the main reasons.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.