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.