Kuzu no Honkai – 04

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.





  1. S

    I feel like this would only be half as grating, if they didn’t give everybody their five minutes to explain exactly what they’re thinking, planning and who they’re rooting for in the next 12 superbowls. This episode felt like a congress where everybody’s holding long winded speeches about their kinky roleplay fantasies instead of economics.

    Hanabi’s visualized inner voice is an even worse element than Akane in my eyes, but I guess the writer thought it was a necessary counterweight to the antagonist. Though I’m still not sure why this show needs an antagonist at all. The three teenagers misguidedly driving themselves down the same vicious spiral wouldn’t have been a tough sell, would it?

    Also, I know I wanted more Ebato after the second episode, but that was before they tacked an amount of self-loathing and cynical hedonism (in the modern senses of the words, not the ancient philosophical ones), that would have sufficed for an entire classroom worth of teens, on her.

    At least the visuals seem to have picked up a bit again. Though, if anime was the only ressource for information on sakura trees I had available, I’d probably think they were a light source by themselves with all the lighting that is applied to them in most shows.

  2. Yes, the sakura thing – honestly I was going to note that in the post but I couldn’t find a place where it really fit. Does this story loop back on itself over and over, or do the cherry trees blossom year-round wherever this is supposed to be?

  3. S

    That is a very good question. Maybe researchers found out that in Kuzu County (working title until whey tell us where this is) things that matter only happen during sakura prime time, so the local government went ahead and cancelled the other ~50 weeks of the year, acompanied by a huge recall of calendars. Maybe Hanabi’s middle school ghost has everybody trapped the eternal spring of unrequited love. Who knows with this show anymore?

  4. X

    I kinda liked this show but something is putting me off. I wonder..

  5. s

    hmmmm..i dont know..it could be that this show doesnt know how to “show and not tell” a good portion of the time II just caught up with this series;). Kuzu no honkai is a decent show, especially for the fact that explores these themes pertaining to human connectivity, but i often find myself wanting to rewrite certain portions of the show. It’s not so much a writing problem than it is a storytelling problem (yes, there’s a difference). I get that this is a story is meant to be a look at so many ugly sides of love and because of that, the narrative feels the need to inform and have us understand everyone’s mental state……but that takes away something very fundamental from this story, and that’s giving the viewer the chance to experience and discover the vileness of these characters and their state of mind. Everyone’s assholeness is blatantly exposited to us and that just doesnt do it for me. You can argue that the monologues is integral to the narrative devices used to bring this story to life but its not a device that i think works as effectively with this kind of subject matter. In other words, i think how the story is being told is ok but it could be better with less “tell” more “show”.

  6. S

    Am I the only one that is completely enamored by this show?

    I might be overrating it since I’ve been starved of a good romance/dramas for several seasons now, but it doesn’t follow the usual paint-by-numbers conventions that most rom/drama adopt, unlike Masamune-kun no Revenge’s tired formulaic plot structure

    I don’t agree with the criticism that Akane being a horrible person is a narrative clutch, considering how little we’ve seen of her, and have yet to understand or explore how broken she is. Regardless, awful people do exist in real life, and its precisely these kinda people that ensnare naive people like Kanai.

  7. K

    “Regardless, awful people do exist in real life”

    I agree. People get too stuck on ‘subtlety’ sometimes and equate being as low-key as possible as being down to earth. Life isn’t always subtle. People aren’t always subtle. Some people are aggressively awful. Some are cartoonishly villainous.

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