Peacemaker Kurogane Vol. 1: Innocence Lost

One of the best things about having a niece and two nephews between the ages of 15 and 22 that like anime is that I'm the cool uncle. When we see each other, we're always checking up on the latest finds. A minor point of disagreement for us, though, is Rurouni Kenshin. Though I loved the first OVA series, I never really got into the TV, it's not bad, but it started off slowly and predictably enough that I wasn't drawn in enough for 96 episodes. My niece, on the other hand, loves Kenshin. This Thanksgiving, I'm going to try to bridge the gap on animated samurai epics with Peacemaker Kurogane. It's shorter than Kenshin by far, at only 24 episodes, but the first four episodes included on ADV Films' first DVD of the series give the show a firm foundation and bushels of potential. Could this be the Kenshin killer? I think so.

We are transported to the ever-popular Meiji era of Japanese civilization, circa 1864, as a continuing tide of anti-imperial violence breaks out across the country. Tetsunosuke is a shrimp of a 15-year-old, but his fiery potential comes from tapping the anger he has at the Choshu--the rebels responsible for the death of his parents. Despite his stature, which makes him appear barely a day over 12, Tetsu is determined to join the Shinsengumi, a loyalist force dedicated to protecting the empire. After a fight with the unexpectedly feminine Soji Okita, a famous swordsman of the Shinsengumi, Tetsu is allowed to become a page for the group.

Young and impetuous, Tetsu soon finds out that he is in over his head. Though the Shinsengumi appear to be righteous warriors, they themselves say that one must be willing to become a demon in order to slay the evil they encounter. Tetsu believes he is ready to jump into the bloody darkness, yet he is haunted by the gentle words of his father, who called him the "peace maker". As the four episodes on the first disc (called "Innocence Lost") conclude, we realize that Tetsu's soul may be at stake as he contemplates the paths ahead of him.

A 2003 release in Japan, Peacemaker Kurogane looks quite good by any standard. With crisp, clean animation, I doubt anyone is going to fault it for its looks. According to its storyline, it does not always look bright and shiny, but has several fight sequences in darkness (which effectively masks the rather gory violence the show includes). My only complaint is that whenever a section of subtitles ended, the screen contrast changed slightly. This happened a lot. I've watched many a film with subtitles and never experienced this problem before; however, I'm willing to assume that it's just an encoding issue for my player. Nevertheless, you may want to check a friend's copy before buying if you're a sub-only person.

Don't let that problem stop you from checking out this story, though, as I really enjoyed it. Though Tetsu is a little annoying as our main character, he is quickly (and often) put in his place, and how the other characters relate to Tetsu gives us as the audience a chance to let off some of our negativity towards him. He's still a little boy, and the show makes that quite clear. The show also makes us interested, much as Kenshin does, in what makes a killer. If anything, the reason I enjoyed the start of Peacemaker Kurogane so much is that it's more like the action and darkness of the Kenshin prequel OVA and yet has some of the comedy of the Kenshin TV series. Yes, there are a few hilarious moments, many from Soji's pet pig that keeps attacking Tetsu, but they don't feel out of place. We also aren't immediately stuck in a "new bad guy" routine. The show unfolds organically; nothing is forced. It's a strong opening.

I am now quite interested to see how the series plays out. A recent Adult Swim poll unfortunately had this series listed last, probably because Gungrave sounds a whole lot cooler and more violent than Peacemaker Kurogane. It's too bad, because I'd love to see this broadcast. I am dinging the show's grade a little bit for its main character's attitude, since I am a bit tired of the "hotheaded teenager" stereotype in anime. But otherwise, it's a solid start that I plan to continue watching, and as I do, I'll give you updates--so check it out.

Peacemaker Kurogane Vol. 1 -- strong bloody violence -- A-