First Impressions – Kuzu no Honkai

I hardly know where to begin with this one.

Kuzu no Honkai is a tough series to wrap my head around if ever there was one.  I’m not sure how I feel about if after one episode, but I can say a couple of things – one, this is a splendidly produced series, at least so far.  And two, it’s probably too much for me to blog it and Masamune-kun no Revenge on the same day.  Two shows which are disturbing and unsettling and more compelling than they have any right to be really need a buffer zone in-between them of at least a day.

There’s not much that’s easy about this post, so let’s get to the easy stuff first.  Lerche?  Seriously – Lerche? I would never have thought they had this in them – this episode blows anything else they’ve done out of the water in terms of production values.  It was the most beautiful premiere of the season for me, and in fact reminded me very much of Hourou Musuko with it’s soft watercolor palette and 5 cm per second Sakura and judicious use of captioning.  So much so, in fact, that I searched for common staff members but found none.  Director Andou Masaomi has done one very good series (White Album 2) and writer Uezu Makoto a few, but I honestly didn’t see anything like this coming.

A much more difficult question is just what to make of Kuzu no Honkai in the narrative sense.  Like Masamune-kun it’s a nasty and somewhat cynical take on adolescence, but stylistically the two series could hardly be more different.  The story here, simply put, is about two teenagers who are in love with adult teachers in their school, both of whom they knew as children.  Those two teachers are now dating each other, so the kids end up taking solace in each other as “replacements” for their true loves.  And it’s pretty graphic in the sex department, too.  Don’t expect to see Kuzu no Honkai in the Saturday morning block – this is as late night as late night anime gets.

As with Masamune-kun, one doesn’t exactly like the protagonists right out of the box.  Yasuraoka Hanabi (Anzai Chika) is self-absorbed and petulant about crush Kanai Narumi (Nojima Kenji) making time with Mingawa Akane (Toyosaki Aki). Awaya Mugi (Shimzaki Nobunaga) is brooding and morose over Akane’s involvement with Narumi.  Both these kids are annoyingly, well, adolescent – they think the world revolves around them and they resent the world intruding on their fantasy.  It’s not entirely surprising that once each knows the big picture they would take some comfort in each other’s arms – these are hormone-addled high schoolers, after all – but it’s not too often in mainstream anime that we see teen sexuality acknowledged so openly and portrayed in such a starkly realistic manner.

The scene where the two kids make first contact is an interesting one.  It takes place in Mugi’s bedroom, but it’s Hanabi that initiates it.  Once that’s done, however, Mugi becomes quite assertive – though never quite crossing the line into coercion.  The fact is that Hanabi wants this just as much as he does – another uncommon anime take on teen sexuality – and in the end it’s Mugi who calls a halt before things go too far.  It would be wrong to call the encounter erotic, but it is erotically charged – the issue is that each of them is about to make love with their adult crush in their mind’s eye.  It’s disturbing and kind of skeevy, but undeniably very well-executed.

The most cliche course all this could take is for the two kids to overcome their “I’ll give you everything except my feelings” pledge and eventually fall in love, though I’m not sure Kuzu no Honkai is that sort of story.  In a way the series it reminds me of is Yosuga no Sora, another disturbing and somewhat perverted take on adolescent sexual behavior that was very well-made – though thank goodness Hanabi doesn’t mean it literally when she calls Narumi “Onii-san”.  I think it would be foolish to express any confidence about whether Kuzu no Honkai will have staying power as a story – hell, even whether the production values will have staying power.  But it’s undeniably interesting and this premiere was pretty fabulously executed.  Also a plus is that the manga is complete, though it ran about five years so eleven episodes doesn’t seem enough for a faithful adaptation.  We’ll see – at the very least there’s potential here, and in this season that makes Kuzu no Honkai an early front-runner.

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18 comments

  1. I tried reading the source manga, and for me the story just did not click at all. But I will give props on the front of production values of the first episode … err … what little I saw. It quickly reminded me of that seeping down and oozey uncomfortable feeling that jumped out from the pages of the manga.

    Like the wish to the young, fat boy from Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, the dialogue “made my flesh creep”. So I guess in that sense it was a pretty … effective adaptation in the first episode? :\

  2. R

    I know nothing about the manga, but I feel this could have a ‘Your Lie in April’ type major annoyance for you that is impossible to look past and you’ll end up dropping it. I hope you stick to this (especially given this season), since you didn’t drop Yosuga no Sora i’ll give 2 to 1 odds you blog through all 11 episodes.

    Personally, it’s so rare to see teenage sex portrayed in such a mature manner in anime (similar to Paradise Kiss) I couldn’t pass this up.

  3. You have a good memory – I think YnS was one of the very first series I blogged on this site.

  4. Just one heads up – I haven’t watched this episode yet, nor I know if I will, but Lerche did more than a decent job on Assassination Classroom. Though admittedly they never showed high levels of skill animation-wise, I imagine now they must have started bringing in the money; I think that show did reasonably good (don’t know about how did the two Danganronpa 3 shows perform).

  5. Hey, I watched AssClass – it was fine, but nowhere near this level. As for the commercial success level, I think it was a classic WSJ adaptation – minimal disc sales but basically out there to promote the manga.

  6. Y

    Weird… I don’t see what you see there at all. It looks decent I guess, but comparing this to Shinkai Makoto is kinda blasphemous for me 😛 And the vibe was just kimochi warui all the way through for me. Dropping yet another series… It’s going to be a good season to be extra productive I guess!

  7. Did I miss a comment when someone compared it to Shinkai? It was really good, but I wouldn’t make that comparison myself.

  8. You yourself mentioned 5cm/s.

  9. Seriously? The comparison was to Hourou Muskuko. The 5 cm was just a jokey reference to the cherry blossoms (which HM was full of).

  10. Y

    Maybe because English is not my first language, but… A few more comas, to better delimitate all those “and” sections, would have clarified it for me. The joke went totally over my head… Sorry!

  11. Well. I’ve been following the manga since CR picked it up and I love it. Lerche really did a good job with it and their choices fit the narrative so well that is like they understood the source material completely. About 11 episodes being enough to adapt it fully, well the manga is not that dialogue heavy and this episode adapted almost everything in Vol 01 (with the exception of two characters introductions).

    About the story itself, well this is not for everyone. It’s heavy in drama and the characters are scum (the English title fits so well). It’s a really great ride if you can bear how emotionally disturbing can get at times.

    I really hope you stick with it, Enzo!

  12. M

    Caught this episode but doubt I’ll bother with the rest, mainly because I don’t enjoy the source material. It’s like angsty shounen trying to pretend its seinen. There’s a lot of better “mature/edgy/scummy” seinen romance manga out there.

  13. Hmm… All things considered, this might end as a tragedy…

  14. D

    I thought this was one of the better opening episodes of the new series. I liked the look of it with the washed out edges and the frame in frame moments which I felt worked quite well.

    Also. UNREQUITED LOVE! DOOMED ROMANCE! BAD RELATIONSHIPS! YAY!

    Ahem. I love a good melodrama and can only see this bad relationship going horribly and deliciously wrong.

  15. For those who felt that this felt scummy and disgusted by what these 2 teens are doing, this episode has done a good job in setting the scene based on the very title of the show. I’m definitely watching to see the dark roads and alleyways I expect this series to take us through.

    Of all the non-sequels starting this season, I like this the best so far. It’s dark and cynical but done tastefully in showing the underbelly of this unusual relationship. There’s more to it than it meets the eye. Seeing Mugi make the moves on Hanabi in his room tells me that he definitely has a good deal of experience with sex.

  16. L

    the manga is still ongoing, on 7 volumes? [deleted]

  17. Let’s avoid even implied manga spoilers, please.

  18. Z

    Yeah, I never judged a media faster than I judged this story. Granted, there are some nice moments in the original source but the nice ones was overshadowed by this raw, grunge uncomfortableness of the other parts.

    Credit where credit is due, it looks pretty and I like the voices. But, yeah. Not for me. Either way, another nice write up, Enzo.

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