Dansai Bunri is a funny sort of show, above and beyond simply being a very weird one. The experience of viewing it is as visceral as any anime I’ve seen for a long-time – rather than watching what’s happening it seems as if you feel it on a gut level (or at least you do if the show is working for you). It assaults the senses non-stop with gorgeous visuals (I take a ridiculous number of screencaps every damn week) and music, and is able to portray extremes of emotion and mood effortlessly. The atmosphere is so alluring and powerful that I feel completely drawn in from start to finish, and the net result is that each episode is an intense and somewhat exhausting experience.
“Atmosphere” was the first word I really centered on when I talked about why the premiere of Crime Edge clicked for me, and it still seems to be central to much of what makes the series special. A big part of that is that this show knows how to do suspense better than almost any other recent anime – suspense is really all about atmosphere after all, and many series and movies fall back on trickery to try and be scary because suspense is harder. You really do get the feeling that anything could happen in this series, and the world it portrays is increasingly depraved and twisted.
What we saw once again this week is just how effective Dansai Bunri is at contrast. The first half was the closest the series has come to being a conventional school comedy, and it handled that almost flawlessly. The osananajimi relationship between Koutarou and Ubusato Nigi (Noto Arisa) has been a side-plot at best so far, but I loved how natural their interactions were, and the moment when Kashiko looked at them and uttered “They look good together. Dammit.” in frustration over their lack of romantic interest was quietly brilliant. Kashiko is another of those seemingly minor characters who’s carved out a place in the show’s persona – she’s an interesting person and you can tell she has an interesting story we haven’t heard the most interesting parts of yet. That ability to make even the side characters seem like untold stories in their own right is a product of the quietly very astute writing when it comes to the series’ character dynamics.
One thing does become clear about Kashiko – she’s interested in Kiri for sure. There are interesting implications for that, as we see when the middle-schoolers and high-schoolers take an orienteering trip to the mountains (the seniors ride the bus, the juniors get to hike for three hours, as part of what seems to be an institutionalized hazing ritual). Being on a school trip presents an obvious problem for Iwai, and she and Kiri solve it by agreeing to meet in the woods at Midnight for a clandestine haircut (which got me wondering – just what do they do with all the hair he chops off every day?). It’s clear that Kiri sees this as a romantic moment, and who can blame him? His cabin-mates are happily looking at porn, and first of all – bananas? Second, looking at porn right before going to sleep in a room with three other guys seems like a very bad idea for a middle-schooler, in so many ways. In any event Kiri seizes the moment to sneak away to his moonlit rendezvous, Crime Edge in hand.
Again, we have a great display of contrast here. The scene in the woods, ablaze with fireflies, is ethereally beautiful. They share a deeply tender moment surrounding her unhappy memories of watching the stars alone. It seems as though the bond between Kiri and Iwai could hardly be any closer (indeed, I’ve commented on how powerful that bond seems) and he’s about to seize the moment to make his feelings known overtly when she casually tosses off the remark that she wouldn’t have the first clue about who she’d want by her side for something like stargazing, if asked. It’s very funny – just like the scene with the guys and the porn is funny – but it’s obviously genuinely heartbreaking for Kiri. How could he – indeed, how could we – have read Iwai so badly? She seems quite sincere, too – not at all playing coy – expressing that it’s her inexperience with other people that makes her unable to think about such things yet. Kiri is quite gutted by the experience – who could blame him – and disappears into the night, returning to his cabin to sulk in his sleeping bag for the rest of the night and much of the next day.
Adding another – and very twisted element – to this mix are the President of the Student Council, Saiga Romeo (Nakamura Yuuichi – Grizzly-kun this ain’t) and Shihoudou Ruka (Hikasa Youko). It’s another Author-Instead pair – he (as we find out in some rather clumsy exposition of the stop-the-story and explain variety, a rare off-note moment) the descendent of the Lord of Pigs, who kept people chained in his basement and starved them to death with some whipping thrown in for good measure. We seem to have a classic S & M duo here, possibly the most revolting we’ve seen so far – we’re introduced to them in highly memorable fashion with one of the more disturbing scenes of the season in terms of pure ick factor. Gossip has tipped them off that Iwai is the Hair Queen, and Romeo plans to off her on the second night of the trip while the students are on their stargazing outing – the first step in his plan to dominate the world, apparently – and Ruka is the trigger for the operation. After being hit on by a group of boys (one of whom is played by Fukushima Jun, Manabe from Kotoura-san) before Iwai intervenes. Ruka pulls Iwai along behind her and onto a rowboat to the middle of the lake. There she calmly tells Iwai how she loathes men and all of them should die – and proceeds to push Iwai off the boat and into the cold water below.
The underlying truth of what happens next isn’t exactly clear yet. Iwai wakes up in a bed inside the high-schoolers’ cabin, which is locked from the outside (the interiors are yet more gorgeous design work for the staff and art director Takahashi Mako, by the way). After finding a terrifying note from Romeo she stumbles on Kiri. But he’s clearly not himself, not speaking and grabbing her hair roughly in a way he never has, and she flees with his Crime Edge in hand, soon enough to be set upon by a group of boys who seem to be either drugged or hypnotized. Their intent is quite clear, and there’s no denying the scene that follows is pretty rough to watch – one of them tries to force her legs apart, another pulls her sweatpants off as she tries to flee, she kicks another in the crotch and slashes one with Crime Edge. It’s a disturbing scene and it’s meant to be, even if we can’t say exactly why it’s happening. It’s just possible that Nakajima Seigi – the Conditional Murder Author from last week – set the whole thing up by tipping off Romeo and Ruka, in order to push Romeo (or possibly Kiri himself) to kill, and thus to be judged. In any event he’s certainly well aware of what’s happening, and watching with undisguised glee.
All in all, this is some pretty heavy stuff, and some of the creepiest and most suspenseful anime of the year so far. It’s a wonder that the overall impact isn’t heavy and depressing, but it really isn’t – Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge is certainly unsettling, but it manages to pack every episode with moments of real beauty, genuine human warmth and very sharp comedy. Again, it’s all about contrast – each element is so vivid that it makes the others that much more impactful. And it’s also nice to see Iwai stepping up and asserting some real will and courage this week. I was almost as surprised and dejected as Kiri when she blithely ripped his heart out – though given her truly bizarre upbringing I can sort of understand it – but apart from that moment she really stepped up her game. The girl who wet herself in terror a couple episodes back kicked and slashed her way to freedom, and vowed to free Kiri from whatever chicanery has taken hold of his senses. Hopefully in the process she’ll realize how much more he means to her than her conscious mind is willing to admit just yet.