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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nakoruru ~Ano Hito Kara no Okurimono~: SamSho by a Hentai Director & Yasuomi Umestu

When it comes to SNK's many, many franchises the largest and most well-known is easily the King of Fighters series, but right behind that is the Samurai Shodown series, known as Samurai Spirits in Japan. Even when the first game debuted back in 1993 it's focus on slow-paced, weapon-focused combat made it different and memorable to fans of fighting games. SamSho, as it's called by its fans, has many memorable characters but it's two most identifiable characters are easily the crazy-haired ronin Haohmaru and the cute miko Nakoruru. While Haohmaru is a loved character, Nakoruru has been given some titles all to herself, one of which was the 2002 PC & Dreamcast visual novel Nakoruru ~Ano Hito Kara no Okurimono~/~The Gift From That Person~. Along with the visual novel came an OVA production that I actually talked a little about back during my non-review of the Xevious movie, specifically how distributor Groove Corporation's supposed runaway CEO/producer/etc. screwed over the company's titles, including Nakoruru. Effectively, this is an unfinished OVA production that obviously ends on a cliffhanger, but aside from that was this OVA even worth it in the first place?

Nakoruru is returning home from a hard-fought battle in a foreign land. Since she's walking in a snowstorm I'm going to guess that she's returning from the battle with Zankuro Minazuki and Shiro Tokisada Amakusa from Samurai Shodown IV, which took place during the winter. She's badly injured and falls down before being rescued by her childhood friends Manari and Yantamuu, who bring her back to her home village of Kamui Kotan. While recovering from her injuries Nakoruru sees that there are changes happening in her village: Yantamuu wants Nakoruru to stop being a miko and to leave fighting up to him, which she's heavily considering, Manari reveals that she might have feelings for Yantamuu that go beyond friendship, and Nakoruru herself is seeing visions of a mysterious girl who wants Nakoruru to stop being so fragile and realize that violence is a necessary method to protect people. While Nakoruru is dealing with these situations, the neighboring village has been decimated by a plague and the only survivor is a mysteriously calm woman named Mizuki...

This visual novel, and accompanying OVA, actually has it's importance in the SamSho production timeline for two main reasons: It introduced Rera, Nakoruru's dark alter-ego, who would later be introduced into the series proper in Samurai Shodown V, as well as Manari, who would appear in Nakoruru's entrance sequences in the Capcom vs. SNK games. This story also leads into Samurai Shodown II, which is the last of the 2D fighting games storywise, since it introduces SSII boss Mizuki as a mysterious woman. Being based on a visual novel the Nakoruru OVA has a much slower and relaxed pace to it than one would think a Samurai Shodown anime would have. Even though the fights in the games are much more methodical and slower than most fighting games, it's still action and the Nakoruru OVA has effectively no action in it. It's great to see a side of Nakoruru that the games don't really show, which is her more sensitive and fragile side. Being a miko means that Nakoruru has to forsake love and marriage and focus solely on protecting people and nature. This OVA shows that, after all of the fighting that has gone on (she's been through four major battles already in the span of one year), Nakoruru is considering a normal life now, but Rera is now forming her own identity while trying to make sure Nakoruru won't leave her life's mission. While it could come off a being "emo", I never got that feeling from this OVA, mainly because it made sense to see Nakoruru in this kind of position; it was a realistic situation to put her into and it made the character a bit more relatable. For being only 28 minutes long it's surprisingly deep and has a nice bit of content to it, especially if you're a fan of the series.

That being said, the biggest drawback is that it is an unfinished production. Apparently, this OVA was originally planned to be 13 episodes long, but budget constraints forced the OVA down to two episodes. Simply going off of that it makes one wonder how much content was put into this first episode, since it starts off in the winter, but after only about 10 minutes all of the snow disappears and it seems to just start taking place in the spring out of nowhere. The bigger problem comes from Groove Corporation's troubles, which left the company with nothing and forcing it to go out of business. Because of this, the Nakoruru OVA never received its second episode, and the cliffhanger the first episode leaves off at (Nakoruru is unconscious on a cliff side and Mizuki is laughing maniacally) is never resolved. Pretty much you have to play the game to see the whole story, and since it never received an English translation, official or otherwise, that's pretty hard for non-Japanese fans to do. While I do feel that a second episode would have been rushed due to the fact that 13 episodes-worth of content had to be condensed into only two it still sucks to see it never made, leaving the OVA unfinished.

Thankfully, the animation is pretty good, so I must give credit to ARMS, who also made the Elfen Lied, Queen's Blade, Kite, and post-season 1 Ikki Tousen anime seasons. Everything is smooth and there's very few moments where the animation looks low-budget. But, it must be pointed out that ARMS is also known for making hentai, such as Body Transfer, Night Shift Nurses, and, well, Kite. Not that it's a bad thing, but it does lead to the Nakoruru OVA being directed by Katsuma Kanazawa, who is mostly known for directing hentai like Slave Nurses, Shusaku the Letch, and Sex Warrior Pudding, thouh, to Kanazawa's credit, he has also worked on titles like Urusei Yatsura, Dirty Pair: Project Eden, and Hellsing Ultimate IV in non-directorial positions. It just results in Nakoruru having moments where you could make "I could see this turn into a hentai" jokes, but Kanazawa does a good job nonetheless. What's even more interesting is that Yasuomi Umetsu, the man behind Kite and Mezzo, designed the characters, leading to a look for Nakoruru and Rimururu that you probably haven't seen before. Umetsu does know how to design women, but it's still a little bit weird seeing such a recognizeable SNK character done by the man. Yasuo Yamate, in his only anime production, did the music, which is nothing memorable but gets the job done, though his violin rendition of Nakoruru's memorable theme song is very well done.

Being a production that's all about Nakoruru, it would be sacrilege to not have Harumi Ikoma voice Nakoruru, as she has done since the beginning as well as voicing Charlotte from SamSho and Blue Mary & King from KOF, and thankfully Ikoma is in this OVA, bringing us the usual Nakoruru voice that fans have come to remember. Likewise, Keiko Kamitani voices Rimururu and Kyoko Hikami voices Rera like they do in the games. Ayako Kawasumi (Saber from Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero and Kaori Misaka from both Kanon animes) voices Manari well, complete with a short singing number in the middle of the OVA, and Takehito Koyasu voices Yantamuu in his more traditional-sounding voice rather than his more highly-used deeper voice. Overall, it's a well-done group of performances that focused on keeping the original game voices intact.

Nakoruru ~Ano Hito Kara no Okurimono~ is an interesting production, mainly due to it's truncated-then-unfinished production. The one episode that was made does come off as well-done, and at the very least it shows off a side to a memorable SNK character that fans don't get to see too often. Having Umetsu design these characters and having it be directed by a hentai director just gives this OVA more of an actual identity than that of the more well-known Samurai Shodown: The Motion Picture, which ADV released in North America back in the late-90s & early-2000s and is generally considered crap. If you don't really care for the Nakoruru character then there's no reason to check this OVA out, even if you're a fan of SamSho or simply Umetsu, but for people who love Nakoruru this OVA does its job, even if it is unfinished.

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