I often run across anime that prompt me to wonder just what the money people were thinking when they agreed to produce it. Dansai Bunri certainly fits the bill there – this is a series that does nothing whatsoever to try and generate broad appeal. It’s strange, difficult and offers next to nothing in the way of anime convention. To say this series is likely to have mediocre sales is probably the understatement of the year – it might just make Shin Sekai Yori look like a Nisio Isin series by comparison.
This is such as odd series, though, that it even makes me wonder why anyone agreed to publish the manga when Hikagi Tatsuhiko pitched it. That’s the wonderful thing about manga and anime, though – for all the repetitiveness and reliance on convention that can plague the latter, in the end both mediums – even anime – cover a remarkably broad spectrum of styles and content. And Dansai Bunri is anime’s version of an eclectic indie film except somehow, miraculously, it has stupendous production values – by all evidence this show is seemingly working with a considerable budget. Creativity and talent can go a long way and they’re certainly in evidence here, but this is not a low-rent production by any means.
As we progress, the nature of the story in Crime Edge is becoming much clearer. Effectively it seems we’re looking at – even more literally than it appeared after the premiere – a chronicle of fetishes. In fact it appears that all of the authors may in fact be fetishists, and the odd and more than a little disturbing relationship with the Insteads has a strong sadomasochistic element to it. The main couple are certainly not immune from this – Kiri’s obsession with hair-cutting isn’t what you’d call normal for a 14 year-boy even if he’s not carrying the cursed blood linked to the Killing Goods with him, and we saw a hint of the dark side of his bond with Iwai in their highly sexualized embrace and hair-stroking as they hid from the sledgehammer killer.
In this vein we meet several more characters this week with deep connections to the twisted myth at the heart of the story. There’s Nakajima Seigi (Ishida Akira), the “Conditional Murder” author whose Killing Goods is a book that carries out his sentence of death by hanging against those he considers guilty of a capital offense – unless they’re underserving, in which case the spirit rope breaks. His Instead is police officer Zenigata Kozakura (Nagatsume Juri), who says she’s chasing after him to stop his vigilante justice but in fact seems to get off on being play-hanged by his power – the rope always breaks before she dies, but she still passes out. Yes, that’s right, we have a character who’s addicted to auto-erotic asphyxiation, and even willingly admits it to a middle-school boy – and she’s a cop at that. If that’s not a third rail for Crime Edge, it’s hard to imagine many places it won’t be willing to go.
Also in the mix are the couple that runs Bar Velvet, a place which has connections to Iwai’s father – a father who, by the way, Yamane has revealed (though she is demonstrably a liar) wasn’t in fact killed by she and her sister, but another (unknown) Author. More on her in a minute, but Velvet proves an exceptionally interesting place – yet another opportunity for the series’ design team behind the series to show off. They’ve created a lovely, atmospheric old bar with a white grand piano, a piano at which Eureka look-alike Karuko Hitomi (the reliably great Inoue Kikuo) plays jazz numbers she never finishes. She’s blind, ever-smiling and very friendly towards the middle-schoolers who visit the place, especially Iwai herself, with whom she seems to form quite a bond. Her husband is Koizumi Houichi (Koyasu Takahito), who tunes the piano – and also happens to be deaf, a fact that isn’t revealed until later in the story but certainly explains why he makes a perfect Instead for Hitomi.
So we have a blind jazz pianist married to a deaf piano tuner (how does that work, exactly?), just the latest Crime Edge odd couple. You knew at once that there was more to their story than their smiles and lovely music, and of course Hitomi is an Author too – her power is “Pianissimo of Ecstatic Symphony”, which frames her earlier comment to Iwai that she doesn’t finish songs “because she wants people to come back and hear her play again” in an entirely more creepy light. Though Houichi says they’re not interested in killing the Hair Queen (Hitomi has positively identified Iwai as such) they clearly have no qualms about killing, as we see that Hitomi has finished a song for an unfortunately man who “came snooping around”. Meanwhile Kozakura tells of a group called “Gossip” that the higher-ups with the police are chummy with, that’s encouraging Authors to try and kill the Hair Queen. As for Seigi, he also claims to have no interest in taking on Kiri or killing Iwai – his interest is in hanging around her to find opportunities to perform his trick on the Authors who come after her with murderous intent. The web grows ever-more tangled.
Then there’s Byouinzaka Yamane, who remains a puzzle. Why did she tell Kiri that the sledgehammer man wouldn’t be coming after Iwai? Was she telling the truth when she told Iwai and Kiri that the sisters weren’t responsible for Iwai’s father’s death after all? In this episode, in fact, we see Kiri show sympathy for the unsurprisingly socially outcast Yamane, urging her to stop thinking of herself as abnormal (good luck with that). She seemed genuinely moved that he showed any interest in her, and that Iwai seemed willing to believe her about her father – yet she refused an invitation to join them at Velvet (which Iwai turned into a group outing when Kiri clearly thought it was a date) and she’s certainly unstable and unreliable at the very least. It seems as if we’re going to be looking at a cast made up of shifting sands, where good and evil are flexibly defined and characters move freely from one camp to the other (possibly up to and including Kiri himself).
I can certainly understand that this series isn’t for everyone, but for me it’s the most interesting show of the season – a perfect counterpoint to the equally superb Suisei no Gargantia, which is finding brilliance by taking an utterly conventional road but doing so with subtlety and impressive intelligence. Crime Edge does nothing whatsoever conventionally, but I love that about it. I love it that it trusts the audience to figure out the details, like the sledgehammer man using the thunder to mask the sound of his blows or the implied meaning of Hitomi finishing her song, without needing to explain them. The visuals continue to impress and the music is stellar – probably the best OP of the season, and consistently lovely and interesting BGM (this week a mix of previously heard Celtic-styled pieces with the jazz and even a French Musette piece on accordion). The fact that this show is able to wallow in depravity and darkness as unapologetically as it does and still create an atmosphere of warmth and trust between the leads is testament to the quality of the writing. I’m honestly not sure who the target audience for Crime Edge is, but I’m very glad Studio Gokumi thought one existed, because we don’t see shows like this come around very often.