The hardest part of this job is figuring out when a series that looks like a dud is just a late bloomer. I didn’t get winner’s vibes from the first couple of volumes of Kurohime; the whole thing seemed like a one-note joke. But then by some happy set of accidents I read later volumes, where there was not only a story and a theme but (gasp!) character development and (shock!) heart ‘n soul. Lo and behold, the dud blossomed into a delight — something I confirmed for myself when I cashed in some soda bottles and filled the gaps in my collection.
Now here we are at lucky volume thirteen, after our heroine has been booted back through time and send sailing head-over-D-cups through plot convolutions that would’ve reduced most any other series to laughable irrelevance. What keeps this particular book’s boat afloat is how everything that happens plugs directly back into its major themes, Love and Forgiveness. Mushy to be sure, but hey, I like this kind of mushy — the sort where big things are at stake, and everyone involved has to make hard choices, and you still go "Awww!" It’s the sort of popcorn entertainment that I don’t mind getting stuck between my teeth.
As of #13, Kurohime’s been sent back in time to pre-emptively protect her future lover-to-be, Zero, from a fate worse than death. Tinkering with time is never a smart idea — those paradoxes’ll kill ya — and so Kurohime has to tread very lightly lest she give away the game and disrupt her own existence. But in the process she’s made a few discoveries, like the fact that Zero had a younger brother, Ray, around which his own fate revolves quite ominously. The cost of this wisdom is steep: she and the boys are betrayed, captured and packed off to a giant prison loaded with wall-to-wall evil of both the living and not-quite-dead varieties.
With no witch-guns, no help from the outside, and no way to get out short of dying horribly, Kurohime and her few friends have to improvise skin-of-the-teeth (and maybe flesh-of-the-gums) survival tactics. What they’re not counting on is a most unexpected source of help from beyond the grave — no, not the ghost of Elvis, but someone a little closer to home. Like so many of the plot-climaxing twists in this series, it’s unexpectedly touching and serves to advance Kurohime that much further as a character. Not that this hasn’t already happened, mind you. She’s still got that haughty, I’m-the-queen touch to her personality (which is always fun to watch, let’s face it), but it’s tempered by her new understanding of what love really is.
The last fourth of the book dives into a different plotline: Kurohime and Company head for a village where a fortune-telling girl named Himiko might be able to provide some clues about their respective fates. Problem is, there’s signs the girl’s a fraud — or at the very least is being milked ruthlessly by her mother, who values value money over truth (and the love of her own daughter to boot). Sadly, the conclusion for this episode isn’t as credible — it invokes one of those moments where a person’s motivations turns on a dime for the convenience of the plot.
What started as a fanservice-oriented fantasy has taken steps into new territory and made good on that promise. I’m probably always going to be of the opinion that Kurohime could have been played straight from the git-go, but the contrast between its earlier and later volumes mirrors the changes in its main character, too. And I’d bet that was by design.