And now the gloves are truly off…
It’a hard to overstate in how many ways this episode of Kuzu no Honkai was utterly depressing. It’s not so much that it was bad – though there were parts of it that were pretty bad – but that it bleak, and cynical, and fixated so firmly on the ugly side of human relationships. I see that the world has finally caught up to me in comparing this show to Yosuga no Sora, but there’s a big difference – as fucked up as that premise was, at its heart YnS was at least about a relationship between two people deeply in love with each other. They shouldn’t have been, but they were nevertheless. That’s certainly not the case here.
One of the things that was depressing about Kuzu no Honkai even before it went nuclear this week was the reaction of the audience – though that was at least comical as well. I saw a lot of really laughable stuff – like how Mugi was a pig for taking advantage of Hanabi for sexual gratification, or that his sempai broke up with him because she couldn’t win his heart away from Akane. Unfortunately this show plays into the misandrist and chauvinistic bent of a large chunk of the anime audience, who combine a general hatred of males with a patronizing and paternalistic view of girls in an especially distasteful way. It’s that combination that’s always made me argue that anime at its worst is demeaning to both genders, and that rather than being a battle of lifting up one at the expense of the other, what’s needed is a rising tide that lifts all boats.
Well, that chunk of the audience ought to be well-pleased because they can officially scratch their yuri itch, which is likely why they were watching in the first place. And the degree of dysfunction in Hanabi and Ecchan’s relationship is lost on them, so it’s all good. What really gnaws at me is the sense that Kuzu no Honkai knows this damn well and is intentionally pandering to it, and the fact that it knows better doesn’t make that less infuriating – it makes it more. There’s something especially callous and cynical in the way the series is so open about what it’s doing, supposedly in the name of serious storytelling.
We’ll get back to that pairing in a moment, but the biggest problem for me here (as I pretty much suspected it would be) is Akane. She’s not soul-destroyingly irritating in the way Noriko is, but she’s truly awful nonetheless. An awful person but more to the point, an awful character. A narrative crutch, a bit of unintentional self-parody. It seems likely Kuzu no Honkai couldn’t get where it wants to go without having Akane fill the role she does, but I already find her pretty close to unwatchable. And it’s clear she has a big role to play in the story moving forward, which presents a real problem.
As for Ecchan and Hanabi, that takes us back to more straight-up depressing. I will give Kuzu credit – as always – for excellent execution, because it does a remarkable job of making the sex scene between the two girls joyless and devoid of eroticism for anyone who’s paying enough attention to the story to care. Neither character is doing themselves proud here – Hanabi is afraid to say no to Ecchan because she’s the only friend she has (apart from Mugi), but Ecchan forces herself on Hanabi even knowing that. And Hanabi is using Ecchan too, even more so than Mugi – turning to her when her desolation over what’s happening with Akane and Narumi gets the best of her.
What’s really frustrating is that Ecchn’s sexual assault comes just as we’re on the verge of a character breakthrough with Hanabi – she’s about to take out her frustrations with Mugi but stops herself in the end, not wanting to make him feel worse to make herself feel better. That’s the real irony here, and the one tiny dangling thread of hope for Kuzu no Honkai – Hanabi and Mugi are actually at their best when they’re with each other. Despite believing they’re being mutually exploitative, they’re actually quite decent towards each other. In their relationship is real empathy (they understand the pain the other feels) and consideration (they understand how vulnerable the other is) we don’t see anywhere else in the character web. But I don’t think that’s the heart of Kuzu no Honkai, and I doubt it’s going to be enough to keep the series from descending a bleak morass of cruelty and melodrama.