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"Koi Kaze Vol. 1" Unsettling and Brillant

Anime as a medium sometimes seems as though it’s seeking out taboos to break. Onegai Teacher plays with the student-teacher relationship, Gravitation and Fake toy with gay relationships and Onegai Twins and .Hack//Legend of the Twilight Key mess with some inferred incest. Koi Kaze drops the inferred and adds pedophilia: it’s a show about a budding relationship between a brother who is 27 and a sister who is 15. Unsettled yet? No? Here’s the shocker then: it’s actually an excellent anime, perhaps one of the most emotionally real and humanistic anime produced since Haibane Renmei, and it’s visually and aurally wonderful as well, placing it head and shoulders above almost every “late night” anime I’ve seen.

Our story opens with Koshiro Saeki, the 27 year-old, whose mid-life crisis has come early. He still lives with his dad, his girlfriend just dumped him, and he works at what has to be the most depressing place possible for a newly single guy: a matchmaking and wedding planning agency. However, fate smiles on him one otherwise dreary morning when a high school girl drops her train pass and Koshiro returns it to her. It’s nothing much, but at least the experience opens his eyes to the changing of the seasons; he hadn’t even realized it was spring. When he gets home from work that day, he learns that his little sister will be coming to live him and his dad. His sister has lived with her mother since Koshiro’s folks split up, and he hasn’t seen his sis since he was young. The next day as he’s leaving work, one of the clients gives him some tickets to the nearby amusement park. Oddly enough, Koshiro meets the girl from the train station in front of the office. He awkwardly offers her the tickets, and the girl decides that since it’ll be a while before the person she’s supposed to meet turns up, she’ll go to the park with him. Koshiro soon rues this decision as he’s really getting too old to go on nauseating amusement park rides. A coffee for himself and an ice cream for the girl later, they decide to take a spin on the ferris wheel. There, the girl confesses that she’d recently been dumped, and that she now wishes she could forget about the whole thing. That pure emotion strikes Koshiro right between the eyes, and he breaks down crying about his own lost love. Eventually Koshiro and the girl return to the office, and it turns out that the reason she’s there in the first place is to meet Koshiro’s dad. You guessed it, the girl is Koshiro’s sister Nanoka.

Oh snap.

From there things really get awkward. Koshiro can’t quite cope with Nanoka’s innocent clinginess, and she has trouble understanding why he’s so gruff and mean sometimes. However, as they spend more time with each other they begin to open up a bit, and Koshiro starts to worry that his feelings for his sister may be of an inappropriately passionate nature. The disc ends with insinuations, not just that Koshiro is falling for his sister (bra-sniffing is a bad thing) but that she knows it (getting caught is worse). Will Koshiro get over it and realize his love can never be, or will Nanoka end up falling for Koshiro in return, almost guaranteeing ruin? Those questions are left for the next disc.

After all that Koshiro should be very easy to hate. I mean, it should be so simple just to call him a sick freak and write him and the show off as nothing more than an attempt at shock value. Nothing could be further from the truth. Koshiro may have some very disturbing impulses, but he knows that he does, and it’s tearing him up inside. He just can’t handle all this strange emotion piled on top of an already sad life, and that makes him incredibly human as a character. He’s not a unrealistically pure paladin, nor is he a clear-cut, hammy villain. He’s sympathetic because he didn’t ask for this; it was thrown on him. That ability to take a taboo, and then paint it as something other than unforgivable is a sign of good writing and superb characterization. You can definitely count me in the “incest is gross” camp, but somehow Koi Kaze manages to separate the action from those commiting it; I hate incest, but I feel sorry for Koshiro.

On a technical level, the show is just as impressive. Koi Kaze is lovingly animated, with lots of little details in the backgrounds and in the character animation, and it’s all stylistically faithful to the original manga. The background work doesn’t look like the usual nondescript Japan a lot of other anime depicts, but instead invokes something more authentic and realistic, to the extent that fans have actually tracked down some of the Japanese locations the show used. The character animation is full of subtle detail, especially in Nanoka’s hair, which flows very smoothly and realistically. Even shots that use a lot of layering or have 3D background movement look great. Clearly, Geneon USA’s fiscal contribution to this show allowed it to really nail the visuals. The show’s audio is excellent as well. The soundtrack takes advantage of sparse piano arrangement to enhance the mood, particularly accenting the darker, more dramatic aspects of the show, and the opening theme and ending theme are also in keeping with the quietly poignant tone of the show. The voice acting on both the US and Japanese side is also quite good and enjoyable.

In fact, the only thing I can really take any umbrage with besides the incest is the somewhat skimpy bonus features. Though the disc did come with some interesting stickers, the bonuses on the dvd were pretty minimal. Creditless opening sequences are nice, but some character sketches and behind the scenes stuff would be nice too.

On the whole, Koi Kaze is a great example of execution overcoming premise. It really drags its characters through the wringer, but it does it so well. That said, because of the subject matter I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone buy this sight unseen. Give it a rental or borrow it from a friend first (I’d say check it on TV, but given Geneon’s “Too Hot for Toon TV!” ad campaign for Koi Kaze, it’s a safe bet that this won’t be on television in the foreseeable future, if ever). What I can say is that if you were freaked out at all by this review, run. Don’t even touch Koi Kaze because it really does pull no punches; this is a show about a brother and sister falling in love and it’s a bit of a May/December relationship at that. But if you’re looking for a sensitive animated treatment of sexual taboos, Koi Kaze is it. I know I can’t wait for the next disc, because I know that even if I can’t condone the premise, it’s presented masterfully. Future thirteen-episode anime should take note.

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