The best series of Spring 2013 comes to an end, and it really shouldn’t be any surprise that it did so in brilliant fashion. We see so many misfires in short adaptations of long source material, but Dansai Bunri struck a perfect balance, with an ending that gave closure to the events of the season but didn’t artificially graft an “ending” on where one didn’t belong. This should serve as a template for how to perform a seemingly impossibly task, but I have no doubt it’ll be the rare exception rather than the rule.
Like so much of what came before it, this final episode was ethereally beautiful without shying away from ugliness. And like so many episodes in the series, the second half was much better than the first. The art of internal pacing is a sadly elusive one in anime; it’s very rare that we see a show that understand the concept of narrative momentum as well as this one does. Part of the issue though, in this case, was simply a question of what the episode chose to cover.
The true relationship of Kiri and Grayland is something there simply wasn’t time to answer, though it’s certainly clear that Grayland is everything the folklore cracks him up to me. We’re used to seeing scenes that tread squarely on the dark side of the emotional spectrum, but it was still pretty harsh seeing the effect Kiri’s transformation into a terrifying beast had on her. This was the hardest thing for Iwai, because Kiri was the only person apart from her father with whom she’d ever felt safe and loved. Her choice of the word “ravaged” to describe what Grayland did to her is no coincidence – yes, he grabbed her backside and sniffed her and licked her, but the worst thing for her was the fear itself. To be made to fear Kiri was worse than anything Kiri as Grayland physically did – though the way he cut a strand of her hair was the worst of that, because it made a mockery of something that made Iwai feel especially connected to Kiri.
I’ll admit I wasn’t especially thrilled to see almost the entire A-Part dedicated to Emily, who if I’m honest I felt no pity for whatsoever despite her obvious trauma at the hands of Kiri/Grayland. In the final analysis, though, she too was a victim, and that was a point this episode took great pains to illustrate. So many of the characters in Crime Edge are victims – of their past, and of Gossip. The most obvious of them is Iwai, which is perhaps why she felt especially sorry for Emily despite everything the little monster had done to Kiri and herself. And the scene between Iwai and Emily in the bath was beautifully done: dancing squarely on the line between cuteness and outright creepiness, never taking the foot off the accelerator at the point the audience starts to feel uncomfortable. Among the many things Dansai Bunri is, it’s merciless with the audience.
The shared scene with Kiri and Violet Witchie at the hospital, though, took things to another level of brilliance. Witchie is a character whose mysteries are never going to be revealed in the anime, but that didn’t matter here – it was all about the atmosphere created and the way the scene was written and staged. As a gorgeously arranged piano version of the OP played softly in the background, Witchie ravaged Kiri in her own way. It was very clear that this was a cat toying with a mouse – there was no fear of what Kiri holds inside him for Violet, only a greedy hunger. Kiri seemed as innocent in his own way as Iwai and Emily in Witchie’s presence, a naive and confused child in the grip of forces (some “normal” and some fantastical) greater than he could understand or control.
Witchie also, in effect, gave a little primer for the second season that will never happen – or a commercial for the manga. In doing so she spared no detail in sharing just how brutally Emily had been victimized to make her into the killer she became – the use of drugs to turn her into a cold-blooded killer. And she’s one of the lucky ones (and two more like her out there somewhere) – there are hundreds more who ended up on Gossip’s scrap heap, killed and discarded as failed experiments. For good measure, Witchie stole Kiri’s first kiss – which makes his chickening-out in not kissing Iwai that much more of a shame. It seemed as if Violet wanted to give Kiri one last reminder not to get too big on himself, because he owned him – anytime she wants, she can make him dance like a puppet on a string. Others who thought that about Kiri have paid a dear price for underestimating him – whether Violet will too is left to the pages of the manga to reveal.
I’m glad the series chose to end by showing Kiri and Iwai together, smiling, because it was the innocence and purity of their relationship in the face of all the horror and depravity surrounding them that made the series truly powerful. Yet even here, there’s a hint of lingering hesitation in Iwai, an obvious sense that she hasn’t completely put the horror of Grayland out of her mind. And there’s a quality to the relationship that exists alongside the innocence, a raw sensuality that’s inexorably linked with the erotic stimulation both of them clearly get from the experience of Kiri cutting Iwai’s hair. It’s uncomfortable and raw yet strangely beautiful, much like Crime Edge as a whole.
Now that’s over, I’m left to wonder just who this series was made for. That it doesn’t have a chance to be a major hit is no surprise – if anything, the fact that it doesn’t look like it’s going to completely flop on Blu-ray and DVD (the Vol. 1 numbers should be out tomorrow) is the surprise. I just don’t see much of today’s anime audience willing to be challenged the way Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge challenges them. There’s no question that the series can be enjoyed on a prurient level for it’s sensuality and flat-out kinkiness, but emotionally it’s on a different playing field than popular anime go these days. It doesn’t shock simply to shock – it’s all about the contrast between the light and the dark, the presence of each making the other shockingly apparent.
Director Yamaguchi Yuuji has been around for a long time, and there’s something to Dansai Bunri that does hearken back to a time when anime was more willing to be unapologetically weird and challenge its audience. This show amounts to a triumph for Studio Gokumi, who really become a name to watch as a result – I obviously don’t know what the budget for this series was in comparison with other one-cour shows of recent vintage, but it’s a true work of art. From the cinematography to the music to the animation, Crime Edge doesn’t settle for the routine in any way – it really is anime as art. It’s art because it has something to say, because it has an idiosyncratic and unique sense of style, and because it’s completely fearless. The finale, like the premiere, very much showed the bloodlines of the many Gurren-Lagann staffers working on it, but Crime Edge has no real template for what it does – in the coming years people will periodically say about other series that they’re done in a Dansai Bunri style. Very few anime actually create their own aesthetic, but this series has done it.
If you stayed for the beautiful closing credits sequence, you saw the montage Yamaguchi-sensei offered of events that occur later in the manga – a bit of showing off, and also a bit of torturing the audience. Like most of the choices he made this one totally worked, because it very much painted the picture of a story that was still in motion, of which we saw only a brief snapshot. If you’re going to start a story you know you’re not going to be able to finish, this is the way to do it – paint a compelling picture of what the story is, create something that feels self-contained and complete, yet leave the impression that it’s very much alive. It was a lovely and elegant way for Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge to finish its run, and it will be missed all the more because it’s a given that shows of this caliber will be few and far between. Few series will even try to do what this one made look so easy, and that’s the difference between art and craft.
ED3 Sequence: “Glass no Mikazuki” (Remix) by Kotori Koiwai