Superficially, this appears to be the first real change-of-pace for Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge – a breather episode after the violent and severe school trip arc. But I’m definitely noticing that this is a series that thrives heavily on contrast. For starters it always seems to dance a fine line between the grotesque and the beautiful, more artfully than any series in a long time. But it also manages to be pretty intense even when it’s in silent mode – there really isn’t a wasted moment anywhere, which is a good thing considering its length and just how intellectually and emotionally sense the show is.
A series that does as many things right as this one does is always making you notice something new, and I’m really struck this week by just how much is communicated without dialogue. This was something apparent immediately in the premiere, with the instand Gurren-Lagann vibe that telegraphed the involvement of so much of its staff simply through the look of the series. The most striking face at first glance was Byouinzaka Yamane – it was certainly the most dramatic with its tortured, weary eyes and beaten-down expression. But all the characters are very distinctive in their own way, and so much of what Crime Edge tells us about them is through the way they look at the others around them (this week the other Byouinzaka Sister, Houko, is probably the prime example). So much of the mood of the series comes from the unusual visual choices and the music, giving something of the same sense that Hyouka did of a second narrative playing out alongside the one in the spoken dialogue.
Houko is very much in the spotlight this week, in an episode that gives welcome focus to the top tier supporting cast but never loses its connection with the central events at the heart of the story. Houko hasn’t been especially prominent since her major role in the story, even as Yamane has emerged as probably the third-most important regular cast member. It’s been obvious from the beginning that her relationship with Yamane is layered in the same contrast that defines the series as a whole – there seems a genuine compassion and love to it, but Houko clearly has moments where she deeply resents Yamane’s ultra-high maintenance dysfunction. In many ways Houko is more in control of the relationship than any of the other Insteads we’ve seen, yet ultimately she’s still at the mercy of Yamane’s curse – when the urge to kill is strong, Houko must either offer herself or lose her sister to the darkness, probably forever.
It’s easy to understand, then, why Houko is patently jealous of the relationship between Kiri and Iwai. Kiri satisfies his urges without harming Iwai (in fact he’s doing her a significant service), they laugh, they flirt (weak denials from the boy aside), they generally act like two kids in love. And in a way I think the fact that it’s Kiri and Iwai who’ve finally begun to draw Yamane out of her miserable shell makes Houko resent them even more, because all Houko was ever really able to be for her sister was a pressure outlet at best and an enabler at worst. In a sense not just Yamane but Kiri and Iwai are treating Houko like a big sister, and she strongly feels that she doesn’t deserve that. The scene in this episode where Houko submits to Yamane’s cursed impulses is one of those Dansai Bunri classics that’s both beautiful and terrible, a moment full of both tenderness and a deep sense of wrongness. And the chilling effect of the moment reveals their breath as they lie beside each other, another one of those striking visuals we’ve seen over and over. I hadn’t noticed this effect before, but we see it later between Iwai and Kiri – has the moment when an Author indulges their Killing Goods always literally brought a chill to the air?
The other character who comes into focus this week is Kashiko, who I’ve liked from the first despite her relatively limited impact on the plot. It’s never been in doubt that she’s in love with Kiri, but here we see a flashback to where all that started, a day when her mother told her to go collect money from a customer at the shop, and she found that Kiri had been left sleeping in his chair. After she wakes him (her first words upon seeing his face being “He’s pretty cute!”), Kiri behaves in a manner that should, logically speaking, have turned her off him for good. He clearly has a moment where his curse gets the better of him – perhaps for the first time, who knows – and he’s transfixed enough by her hair to make me wonder if Iwai isn’t the only one in the cast whose follicles have mystical power.
While Kashiko is clearly frightened by what happens, it seems that this moment makes Kiri even more a compelling figure in her eyes. Kashiko makes mention of the “suspension bridge effect” – effectively, a phenomenon called “Misattribution of Arousal” and the experiment whose results showed that people who had just been in a frightening situation (crossing a scary, wobbly bridge in this case) were more aroused and more likely to ask a member of the opposite sex out than those who’d just crossed a safe, stable bridge (this seems to be a notion remarkably in synch with Crime Edge’s entire way of being). But whether this is the real attraction or whether she’s drawn to his power or senses the decency at his core, she’s never forgotten this incident. In the present she tells Kiri that she fears they’re “growing apart” – understandably, as she can see what’s happening between Kiri and Iwai – but his response is so familiar and their conversation so open that it suggests the bond between them may be deeper than the series has let on up till now.
The element tying all of these threads together is a party that Gossip has invited not just Iwai and Kiri, but the Byouinzaka Sisters to as well. It’s what prompts the others to go to a reluctant Houko for advice, and Kiri to go to Kashiko for a haircut. Just what Gossip has in mind – indeed what the organization is truly about – is mostly mystery, but with the party we may finally start to see some answers. This moment means a lot to Iwai, given her lifelong isolation. But Houko is notably blase on the affair – threatening to wear her school uniform – but when she finally relents and asks The Professor for a new formal dress (she gives Iwai one of her elementary-school ones) the Sisters make a remarkably eye-catching entrance. This is notable both for Iwai’s reaction – to Kiri’s reaction – and for the fact that if I’m not mistaken it’s the first time we’ve seen Yamane smile and mean it. Next week promises to be one that pulls together some of what we’ve seen up to now, and defines what the playing field will be for the final month of the series. Given how deft it’s been at balancing the larger plot with the interior lives of the cast, I expect it to be a vastly entertaining experience.