Going into the first episode of Asura Cryin’ with its tragedy, ghosts and pseudo-religious intrigue, while you might find yourself a bit stuck for what is actually going on, it proves a hook nonetheless. Our rather serious protagonist Tomoharu Natsume is balanced by his friends, his constant spectral companion Misao and the oddly charismatic Takuma, and it’s a comfortable enough central point to forgive a bit of wobbly plotting. For once, at least, a show isn’t over-explaining in a desperate bid to get its audience clued up and locked in.
Unfortunately, that tenuous balance all comes spilling over by the time we arrive three episodes in. There’s a shadow-mech in a suitcase which is bound to Tomoharu and is part of a breed which imprisons souls to function, like a slightly less morally inclined Eva unit. Meanwhile, Tomo’s childhood friend is not-really-but-still-sort-of dead, and beyond that there are demon hunters badgering the poor lad to get on and bond with his mech so he can smash some serious monster skulls.
Never mind the main character, it’s exhausting just having to watch him field all these different vague puberty metaphors. Each one has its potential, say the mourning of innocence lost and coming to terms with one’s mortality. Or there’s the regret of unalterable past events hanging closer over your shoulder just when you could do without them. But these gems of universality get muddied over as soon as they peek above the surface by inappropriate humour, tropes as subtle as a ten-tonne weight or the introduction of yet another character we don’t care to know. And that’s just as well, since we don’t get to know them anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a fair few moments in Asura to tug the heartstrings or hand out some good giggles. The one huge setback is that these moments are exactly that, without room to breathe or weave into a cohesive storyline. The viewer is never given more than a minute to care about the struggle of any one character. Without the drama to pull it together, the whole series is left floundering as a few too many supernatural themes and story strands. A shame for the three or so great shows it could have been.
Extras: Opening & closing animation; disk credits; also available from Maiden Japan