A review of Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department

Who from the what now? I wouldn’t be surprised if this title produces a total blank for you — I saw absolutely no talk about this anime while it was airing last season. The only reason I discovered it was VRV’s recommendation system back when I was still using that site in its last days, and when I was rolling for first episodes of anime to watch in those roulette posts. If you remember all the way back to that part 2 post, Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department (aka Kaijin Kaihatsubu no Kuroitsu-san) was one of the few choices VRV’s algorithm presented that hit for me, so when I had an actual break from work for once I decided to sit in front of my beat up used tablet and watch the rest of it, the remaining 11 of 12 episodes.

So Kuroitsu really came out of nowhere, but I’m happy it did, because big spoilers: I liked it. This review will be on the shorter side just because there’s not as much to say as usual, this being a pretty straightforward comedy despite appearances. But more below this screenshot anyway.

Touka Kuroitsu, above, is a scientist working at the evil organization Agastia, which aspires to world domination despite the efforts of various super sentai warriors and magical girls to stop them. Kuroitsu’s specialty is monster development, which she works on alongside her supervisor Dr. Sadamaki. Together, the two use bizarre and possibly unethical DNA fuckery to custom design and grow living beings in a water tank for the purposes of combat among other miscellaneous duties the company might need done.

So far a fairly normal sort of job. However, in the first episode matters get even more complicated when Sadamaki and Kuroitsu’s new promising monster Wolf Bete, a muscular wolf man in development, ends up getting converted into a lithe wolf girl after the fearsome leader of Agastia decides that would be cuter.

Wolf girl fresh from the oven. See also fearsome leader Akashic, who is of course a massively powerful small girl, what’s new.

Very unfortunately for Bete, there wasn’t time and/or the budget to convert his brain to a female’s, so he’s left with some gender mismatch issues that he ends up dealing with for the rest of the series, the poor guy. Wolf-kun, as Kuroitsu refers to him, is still revved up to do his job, however, which is to defeat one of Agastia’s greatest enemies, the warrior of justice Divine Swordsman Blader.

But also unfortunately, Blader is a hard guy to defeat.

After Wolf-kun is defeated in one-on-one combat, Kuroitsu and Sadamaki return to the drawing board and enlist his help in the lab and around the office. And there’s a lot for him to help with, because though Agastia is an evil organization full of superpowered monsters and executives who can shoot lasers out of their eyes, it’s run more or less like a typical corporation. Project approval requires the assent of Akashic and her board of executives, many of them fearsome monsters themselves, and Kuroitsu and Sadamaki have to fight over their budget with the many other departments in the company, some of which are also involved more peripherally in monster development but enough to be an annoyance.

The world of fighting magical girls and warriors of justice with lab-created monsters is surprisingly mundane most of the time — an executive audit is legitimately more of a worry than a giant robot attack.

Almost immediately, then, it’s apparent that Kuroitsu isn’t what you might expect from the cover. I wonder whether viewers were passing on this one because it might have looked like a generic sci-fi anime. If that was the case, it’s too bad, because while it has plenty of super sentai, magical girl, and mad scientist/monster stuff going on, Kuroitsu is mostly a workplace comedy, and a pretty fine one too. The list of jokes that can be made about professional life at a large corporation and all the red tape and procedural nightmares that go with it is endless, and all the better when some fun characters, creative designs, and bizarrely comic situations are thrown into the mix.

Don’t worry, it’s not what you think.

In that roulette post, I mentioned that the first episode of Kuroitsu reminded me of Jahy-sama, another series featuring a mix of human and superhuman characters thrown together into more of a slice-of-life sort of comedy. Kuroitsu isn’t a copy of Jahy-sama at all — the two series take different approaches with their plots and character relationships, but they do have some overlap in the sense that I think the sort of person who might enjoy Jahy-sama might also enjoy this.

I think that partly because I’m that sort of person myself. You might have guessed already this comparison was coming since I’ve made it once before, but both remind me of the Disgaea series, which I love for some of the same reasons.* Kuroitsu also has just that sort of energy, but with more of an emphasis on both the perks and responsibilities of the corporate life.

Wolf-kun on assignment with the boss, checking up on the amusement park her evil corporation maintains as a front. They’re not just having fun going on rides and eating carnival food, no. This is serious business.

I especially like that despite its self-description as an evil entity bent on taking over the world, Agastia really isn’t that evil. It’s not exactly the most well-run organization, firstly — see the screwup with Wolf-kun in episode 1, perhaps a good lesson for top executives not to go messing around with projects last-minute and without proper planning beforehand, but also an indication that world domination isn’t quite in the cards for the company. However, it also has a sort of social conscience strangely enough: its amusement park front seems like a genuinely nice place for families and kids to visit, and when a brawl gets started by a monster from a rival organization and a pair of magical girls get mixed up in the fight, Wolf-kun and his monster colleagues are concerned firstly with protecting the park patrons and getting them out of harm’s way.

Agastia is even conscientious towards its own employees. Aside from a couple of red tape and inefficiency-related slip-ups, it seems like a pretty good company to work for. The fact that they treat not just their human employees but also their monsters with respect is admirable, especially since that’s not a given among similar evil organizations as we see near the end of the series. A lot of this goodwill flows down from the terrifying-looking but fair-minded second-in-command Megistus, who uses positive reinforcement and encourages his subordinates to take time off when they need it and to ask for extensions when their schedules are too crowded.

He looks scary but is actually an effective manager who cares about his employees. What a great boss. Shit, I’ve worked at way worse places than Agastia.

There aren’t too many ways to keep writing “Kuroitsu was consistently funny and I liked it”, so it’s probably enough just to write that and leave it there, since I don’t think there’s much else to explore here. There’s just one serious criticism I can think of to make about this series: it looks pretty damn cheap, and quite a bit cheaper than Jahy-sama did which I’ve been comparing it to, and which didn’t look amazing itself.

But as with Jahy-sama, I really don’t mind the cheap look most of the time, because Kuroitsu is also entertaining enough without having to rely on visual spectacle. It might have even been a purposeful decision — the low-budget look fits well with the evil scientists vs. super sentai theme somehow, especially when I think back to some of that cheesy-looking live action Power Rangers stuff airing when I was a kid. In any case, it’s probably pretty easy to make that stylistic decision when you don’t have much of a budget anyway, but since I don’t know what the studio Quad was working with (and I’ve never seen anything they’ve produced before Kuroitsu, so that’s no help) I can’t speculate.

Cool-looking massive robots cost a whole lot both to build, and Agastia definitely doesn’t have the budget to build any of those, so don’t expect to see any.

So Kuroitsu was a fun comedy. Might work even better for you if you’re especially into that classic super sentai and/or magical girl stuff, which I’m not really, and it still worked well enough for me, so hopefully that speaks to its quality. It’s a shame Kuroitsu, Wolf-kun, and their friends and enemies alike didn’t get more notice (or much of any at all from what I could tell) but at least hopefully fans of the source manga enjoyed it. I might have to check that out myself. And as for you dub-only fans out there, despite flying under the radar here, Kuroitsu got an English dub — a great choice to watch if you’re allergic to subtitles! No idea how the dub sounds myself since I don’t watch them, but it’s nice that Crunchyroll is providing that option anyway. More work for VAs is always good.

I still think Crunchyroll is a giant pile of shit, though. Thanks for restricting screenshotting on mobile, you fucks. Are you afraid that I’m going to screenshot every frame and rip the episode to a piracy site (you know, the kind you were when you started out?) I guess I’m throwing away my 0.00000001% chance at ever getting sponsored by you and your bosses at Sony, but it’s worth it to keep complaining.

 

* And a note that I’ll probably be getting Disgaea 6 Complete when it comes out on the PS4 in a few days. So much for no more lengthy JRPGs aside from Atelier… but I have to make an exception here too, right? I’m also amazed that we’re still getting games for the PS4 after so long; that system has had an impressive lifespan.

Update, part 3 (11/1/2021: First impressions: takt op.Destiny)

I promise this is the end of this weird posting marathon I’ve been on lately, and also the end of the stupid unwieldy titles these posts are getting. The usual end-of-month post is still on its way, likely up this weekend.

For now, however, I have one more fall season anime series I want to write about. And the show has a bizarrely written title too! What a coincidence. Yes, it’s takt op.Destiny. Or Takt Op. Destiny, or however you want to write it. Afterwards to be known as Takt because I’m already tired of thinking about how the title should be written.

Our title characters, Takt and Destiny

Our story opens with an overview of the global situation, which is pretty shit: Earth has been invaded by monstrously strong otherworldly beings called D2s that have caused great destruction and disrupted human civilization in general. For some reason, these guys really hate the sound of music — it greatly aggravates them and sends them into attack mode, and conditions have become so intolerable that people have been scared off of playing any music at all.

This world without music is pretty fucking miserable, but there’s a man who wants to bring that music back: one Takt Asahina, who shows up in a town square one day and starts playing a piano that’s been roped off. The people around are happy to hear music after so long, but the sound of Takt’s playing aggros a nearby D2 who falls out of the sky and begins wreaking destruction around town. But Takt has brought a weapon with him: Destiny, a girl in a frilly red dress with a giant sword-gun and magical powers who he commands with a conductor’s baton.

Destiny is a “Musicart”, or a manifestation of the power of music from a particular score. As we learn in the second episode, however, she wasn’t always a monster-destroying magical girl — this Destiny used to be a normal girl named Cosette, living with her older sister Anna and with Takt, the son of a famous conductor killed by a D2 attack years earlier. Takt is an excellent pianist, and despite their seemingly thorny relationship, Cosette loves his music, and it’s also pretty clear that they care a lot for each other — but of course that’s all blown up when yet another D2 attack kills Cosette and rips Takt’s right arm off. Luckily, the spirit of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (the really famous one, yeah — titled “Of Destiny”, so there’s where her name comes from) is around to fix Takt’s arm and to revive Cosette, though she’s no longer Cosette but rather this strange, robotic-acting Musicart warrior.

Destiny and Takt now have a kind of psychic link, though because of inefficiencies in how she fights, she has to drain his life force to operate in battle. Anna is still around for her friend and her little sister, however, and with the help of another far more experienced Conductor/Musicart pair, the group determine that they have to get from the US west coast to New York to have Destiny fixed at a special facility so she can continue fighting without killing both her and Takt in the process.

Anna and Takt, left, meeting with conductor Lenny and his magical music girl partner Titan. I like Lenny’s alto clef tattoo, dude must be a violist.

That’s quite a premise, isn’t it? Sounds a little ridiculous, even by sci-fi anime standards, to have pieces of music manifest as magical girl sorts of beings who fight killer aliens. And maybe it is ridiculous, but fucking hell if it isn’t completely working for me so far. Apocalypse/post-apocalyse? Yes. The power of music harnessed as a weapon? Absolutely. Cute girls in frilly outfits firing lasers? It should go without saying by now, but of course.

And small girls with massive appetites? Sure, that’s fun too, I like the contrast. Though Destiny is more of an artistic concept possessing the body of a girl who may or may not still be sort of alive, so it’s not quite the same. Those pancakes do look great though.

The presentation is excellent so far as well. To be expected from a Madhouse production, in collaboration with Mappa who are no slouches themselves. The fight scenes are pretty nice-looking, and the more everyday mundane scenes of Takt, Destiny/Cosette, Anna and co. hanging around, driving, and talking are nice and detailed as well. Whoever worked on Takt who was responsible for the scenes in the diner must have visited an American greasy spoon roadside sort of place at least once, because they got it exactly right, down to the massive plates of great-looking heart attack-inducing food — see above; that pancake stack isn’t even much of an exaggeration, though you’d probably have to ask for a special order to get one that high. And that’s not the only meal scene so far. Damn, another anime that’s going to go out of its way to make me hungry. I thought I’d had enough of that with Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family, but there’s no avoiding that good-looking anime food.

That attention to detail extends to the music in the show. Makes sense, music being an all-important aspect of the story, but Takt feels specially designed for musicians and especially for pianists to watch. Takt doesn’t seem to have to play the piano to fight D2s with Destiny’s help; she’s already shown that she can just detect them on her own, though music does bring them out of hiding. But then Takt naturally wants to play every chance he gets, and so far the show has indulged us with plenty of great old music (all or almost all helpfully in the public domain too) — the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” and the first of his “Moonlight Sonata”, Duke Ellington’s “Take the A-Train”, and pretty sure there’s something by Scott Joplin and a few other pieces I’m too rusty to put my finger on just now. It’s all good, though, and if I get some Chopin and Tchaikovsky at some point I’ll be very happy.

Cosette being possessed by Beethoven’s 5th is maybe too obvious considering how insanely well-known it is — it’s exactly the one that comes to mind when people usually think “Beethoven”. But it’s still a great piece so sure, it works. The mix of sternness and beauty fits the character well enough anyway.

All of the above would just be a lot of fun spectacle without compelling characters and an interesting story, but thankfully, it looks like we might have those as well. I like the prickly relationship between Takt, a sullen, moody artistic type who just wants to be left to play his piano in peace, and Cosette, who’s more excitable/cheery. And even when she’s possessed by Destiny and takes on more of a robotic personality, the two still have that sort of playful bickering going on. The question of whether Cosette is still somewhere in there, existing alongside or as a part of Destiny, is also unclear — while we learn that Musicarts essentially have their memories and perhaps even their old personalities erased, we’ve also met the Musicart Titan, who’s an excitable and energetic girl with a clear personality herself. Seems like finding out what’s going on with the Destiny/Cosette thing is going to be one of the main plot points, anyway.

There seems to be a bit of a Fate-style Master/Servant thing going on with these magical battle pairings, only they don’t have to fight against each other. I do wish using the power of the Magicart required playing your instrument, though; it might be more interesting than just waving a conductor’s baton around.

So while I’m not usually into the typical “aliens attacked and now we have to fight them etc” story, I’m really liking Takt so far, because it takes that form and does something different with it, and it’s something that works. It might not be for everyone with its out-there premise, but it’s certainly for me, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.