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"Kizuna": Yaoi With A Good Story, But Still Too Sexual For Some Audiences

Anyone who has been on the net as an anime fan long enough or has attended an anime con knows what yaoi is. It’s gay anime and manga, and not just gay in the shonen-ai subtle foreplay way, but with serious sexual content, from TV-MA at the least to far beyond what this site covers at the most. But there’s the occasional title that manages to provide a good story and keeps the sex tasteful, and Kizuna is one such title. In fact, the second episode doesn’t have any sex at all in it, or even any shonen-ai antics—it’s pretty much a straight up comedic character piece that would almost feel at home in a series like Love Hina or Onegai Teacher. For the most part, Kizuna is a pretty good little story with some sexuality and a surprising amount of action, drama and humor.

Kizuna is about the relationship between Ranmaru Samejima and Kei Enjioji. Ranmaru was a kendo prodigy until his career was tragically cut short when he saved Kei from being run over. We catch up with them in college; both of them are diligent students (well, when Kei actually gets out of bed to go class on time), with part time jobs and are truly in love with each other. Kei works part time at a host club, making big bucks off older women who are looking for an evening of booze and conversation with a younger guy. Meanwhile, Ranmaru (even though he’d actually be a lot better suited to Kei’s job), is working as a professor’s assistant at the college.

So all was well, until the professor offered to take Ranmaru out for a drink at a gay host club, where the professor slips some kind of drug into Ranmaru’s drink. Kei’s half-brother Kai saves Ranmaru at the last minute, and Ranmaru manages to make it home. The next day, class is cancelled, and Kei runs into Kai at school. This brings back a flood of bad memories involving the dark secret behind Kei’s parentage, the brothers’ yakuza ties, and the tragic accident that took Ranmaru’s kendo career away from him. After making love to Ranmaru for what might be the last time, Kei goes out to the docks to settle the score with Kai, man to man.

After a quick sword fight and an action piece with some hired goons, Kai and Kei realize the professor’s the real enemy, and this academic is about to realize you don’t mess with a couple of Yakuza kids in love. At least not without getting your hand stabbed with a katana as you’re fumbling for the keys to your car (which, by the way, was undeniably cool). All in all, a happy ending as the prof gets his comeuppance, Kai finds a renewed interest in kendo, and Kei and Ranmaru live happily ever after.

At least until episode two, when Kai crashes summer break at Kei and Ranmaru’s place. This episode is mostly laughs as Kei and Kai stalk Ranmaru, jealous of a woman who turns out to be Ranmaru’s sister Yuki. Eventually, the yakuza track Kai down, and Kai heads back down to the Kansai area with his Yakuza posse, though not without threatening to steal Ranmaru away from Kei when he gets back.

All in all, Kizuna’s has a pretty solid balance of drama and comedy, and the sex is tasteful for the most part, if not a little overacted (for lack of a better term). The animation is fairly solid for an older title. The fights are surprisingly good, and the facial expressions surprisingly subtle. Kizuna starts very heavy, so the humor is a bit of a jolt, and the distinctly old-school, manly seinen designs take some getting used to. (Though the absence of bishounen is a welcome change from the androgynous man-things that inhabit most of this genre). The direction does manage to sell it for the most part, with good pacing and a good original score backing it all up. I wouldn’t call it “a romantic epic,” as the Village Voice did, but it’s quite accessible and engaging for an outright yaoi title, and that alone deserves kudos. If this were a TV series and not an OVA, I could easily sit through the whole thing, at least if the story and direction stayed as enjoyable and compelling as it does here.

The DVD itself makes the best out of its title’s age. The video quality is more than good enough for a 1994 anime title, the audio quality is quite good too, with a surprisingly listenable NYC dub, though it’s a little jarring if you’ve got an ear good enough to spot the VAs. (Michael Sinterniklaas, a.k.a Dean Venture and Leonardo, in a yaoi anime? It works better than you’d think). The bonuses are the really impressive part, as the disc contains not only a commentary but also an interview with original manga-ka, Kazuma Kodoka, footage from a signing she did at Kinokuniya’s New York City store and video of her attendance at a screening held by Japan Society NY. Yet again, CPM surprises me by the raw amount of extra material included with the disc.

All in all, Kizuna is definitely not a title for everyone, and certainly not for children or people under 18 as the DVD itself warns repeatedly (in contrast to the 16+ label on it). It’s definitely more graphic than shonen-ai shows like Gravitation and Loveless, so if that’s your line in the sand, Kizuna probably crosses it. However, it has a solid story nonetheless, and it hits the drama, comedy and action beats quite nicely. If you’re interested in trying out a yaoi title, Kizuna certainly has more than enough story to keep you interested even if the gay sex doesn’t do much for you.

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