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"Koi Kaze" Vol.2: Dark, Bitter, and Better Than Ever

Sales of the first volume of Geneon’s Koi Kaze did not live up to expectations, and, truth be told, I’m not surprised. Koi Kaze is a brilliant story, and the first volume sets it up well. But the setup sounds really messed up: Twenty-seven-year-old Koshiro, a sad young man fresh off a breakup and stuck in a dead end job, is revived by the fifteen-year-old Nanoka, a perky high-school girl who is both too young for him and is also his estranged sister. There’s no way you can make an advert or box-text that isn’t just going to turn most people off.

To properly gauge it, you’ve got to see this show—or, at least, read a well-written review of it. I hope I supplied such a review for the first volume. Let’s see what I can do with the second, which keeps and then builds on the outstanding dramatic and emotional intensity and complexity of the first.

The last volume left off with a bit of cliff-hanger. Has Nanoka discovered that Koshiro has an inappropriate interest in her? No, it just turns out she was worried that he was angry with her for catching him in his undies. However, Koshiro’s attempt to make amends don’t really make him feel fully at ease around Nanoka—he still can’t her get out of his mind, and he still feels guilty about the whole situation. Things are made worse by the incessant ribbing from his co-workers—Chidori, a hipper-than-thou young woman who Koshiro really should be going after, and Otagiri, the local lolita/schoolgirl fetishist. Koishiro decides to visit his mother for the first time in years, and though that doesn’t clarify much, it does set him straight, at least indirectly, on what would happen should he ever do something truly cruel to Nanoka. (Of note: this episode was banned from broadcast in Japan because it dealt with the subject of divorce; apparently brother/sister relationships are okay, but mentioning that marriages can fail is a bit more out there. Ah well, to each culture its own hang ups.) Meanwhile, Nanoka mulls over her own feelings towards Koshiro, resulting in an intense cliffhanger for this volume. Will Koshiro be able to break free of his lust, or will his sister’s newfound interest prove to be the breaking point? Well, that’s for the next volume.

On the intellectual and emotional level, the show is as rewarding as ever. With this season’s flood of “moe” anime meant to give viewers mindless warm fuzzies, Koi Kaze provides a nice jolt of reality that isn’t hyper-stylized or glamorized. It’s an emotionally intense story with human, realistic characters grounded in an almost stingingly authentic setting. The design and color are very realistic and natural as well, only accenting and intensifying the emotion of every scene, even at points delving into a bit of color metaphor. This show can be something of a downer, but on the whole it’s a therapeutic experience that presents some interesting intellectual challenges along the way. It’s got that lovely existentialist ennui: Does Koshiro live as a freak and become his sister’s lover or does he die as a lonely, loveless salaryman living with his father? It is certainly a catch-22, and a surprisingly complex one at that. It’s honest, and it’s hard to stomach.

One could even go so far to say it’s healthy madness, if such a thing can exist, and it’s a testament to just how outstanding the writing on the series is. Koi Kaze is what a lot of HBO/Showtime original dramas try to be—controversial, legitimately rewarding, and intelligently entertaining—except that Koi Kaze actually gets it right. Though undoubtedly controversial and counter-intuitive in its morality, the story is engaging and you can empathize with its characters in spite of everything.

The direction keeps the story from dragging, and given that Koi Kaze‘s director cut his teeth on the seminal anime drama Haibane Renmei, this isn’t really a surprise. The animation is pretty good, save for a few of the usual cheats, especially considering its original late-night time slot. The music is simple but highly effective, and the voice acting by both casts is quite good, though I prefer the Japanese out of habit.

The DVD is the Geneon usual: not enough extras, but great video and audio quality. Also of note is that Geneon did do Koi Kaze as a three-disc release, so the episode count is good for a thirteen-episode series, and volume 2 is the five-episode volume. The cover art is pretty nice as well. Basically, if you want an anime that’s actually got some brains and emotion to back up the controversial content, get Koi Kaze. It’s screwed-up and the better for it, and it’s a good deal, too.

All right, I know a lot of you still aren’t buying this review. Just buy the DVD when it inevitably turns up at BigLots!, at RightStuf’s Black Thursday specials, or at BestBuy’s unofficial poor-selling anime sale. Geneon may have bitten off more than they could sell when it comes to Koi Kaze, which is a shame for such a wonderful series.

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