Review/discussion about: Kuzu no Honkai
Many years ago, I found myself chatting it up with an attractive woman at a mixer. In talking about our interests and hobbies, it seemed as if a tiny romantic spark existed between us. That is until our conversation went where I didn’t want it to go.
“Oh, yea, my boyfriend and I…”
Boom. She dropped the dreaded B-word. That courage I worked up? The flirting I did? Gone in an instant. I didn’t press my luck any further, and, as life would have it, that meet-up was the last time I ever saw her.
It reaffirmed a simple life lesson: sometimes things just don’t work out. Love (apparently) included. For Kuzu no Honkai, it focuses on this unfortunate detail too. And, luckily, the anime itself doesn’t succumb to this same lesson.
Kuzu no Honkai quickly sets up the stage. Hanabi loves her “brother” (really her childhood-older-neighbor friend) Narumi. Mugi loves his former tutor Akane. Unfortunately, these students cannot obtain the gazes of their respective loves for various, understandable reasons. So, in desperation, the two share their taboo feelings with one another – and it only gets more twisted from there.
In fact, the anime bends its relationship links into an odd shape. Noriko loves Mugi who loves Akane who faux loves Narumi. Ecchan loves Hanabi who loves Narumi who not-faux loves Akane. Then Hanabi “loves” Mugi and vice versa. Less a love triangle and more a love ladder with flimsy rungs, these connections form the basis of the plot and the subsequent disarray that their plentiful feelings generate.
Although “generate” is too mechanical a term, for, in Kuzu no Honkai, the anime gives the community what the romance genre lacks all too often in this medium: actual physical intimacy. And not just hand holding. Make-out sessions. Caressing. Hand jobs. Implied sex. Legit sex. With messy love comes messier spit-swapping and fornication, allowing the audience to see a set of physically active, risqué events that translate into purposeful narrative moments.
When the characters aren’t on the cusp of knocking boots, they instead take part in a very singular act: mind masturbation. More formally known as the internal monologue, Hanabi and the others deliver their thoughts and their feelings directly to the audience with long-winded, detailed, and personal speeches. The characters do hold dialogues from time to time (especially Hanabi and Mugi), but that almost always comes with the expectation that sexual deviancy will shortly follow.
Now, this structure goes both ways. On the one side, sandwiching the sex between these monologues follows the themes of Kuzu no Honkai itself. These characters experience a loneliness and longing where they don’t share their feelings outright but rather think about them to themselves. As a result, they get across their points with each other through immediate physicality instead. “Actions speak louder than words” as the cliché goes, so the balance between their exposition and their actions makes for a worthwhile presentation.
On the other side, the structure remains quite rigid, leading to an uneventful plot. Monologue. Make-out session. Monologue. Almost sex. Monologue. More making out. Monologue. Sex. Monologue. While the audience gets to hear the minds and see the bodies of these characters over and over – watching them lay bare in every sense of the phrasing – the lack of experimentation creates this pattern where the anime loses itself to overt sameness.
Looking at Kuzu no Honkai with a wider lens, the anime once again has net negatives and net positives.
Negatively, the story has a tough time nailing down its tone. For instance, almost every comedy bit comes off as unnecessary. The show isn’t meant to be happy or silly if the characters’ struggles and their thoughts are anything to go off of. Yet, in contrast, it can also get way too dramatic. At the end of the day, it’s (mainly) just a bunch of high-school kids going through failed romances. Their love does come from a meaningful place, but it’s not this all-or-nothing catastrophe that everyone involved seems to blow out of proportion.
Positively, the thematic exploration of love’s dirtier edge cannot be denied. For, despite the repetitive structure and the unfocused tone, the characters’ feelings go to dark places, and the words they relay from the recesses of their hearts hit hard. What it means to love. To be loved. Why we love. How we love.
Perhaps most importantly, they expound on how love in and of itself isn’t always the answer. Not just because it’s impossible for everyone to always win. But that being alone can give new opportunities or provide different perspectives. That the absence of love is as powerful as its constant presence.
As for Kuzu no Honkai’s plot, it also misses and delivers on certain key moments.
For example, Hanabi’s reveal of her romantic love for Narumi was too anticlimactic despite the direction of her character and the narrative at large revolving around her unreciprocated feelings. Although, to be fair, that’s somewhat intended as it proves how fruitless this love was from the very beginning and makes way for Mugi’s successful tryst with Akane.
Then, on the opposite end, the ending confidently walks away in bittersweet fashion. Extra emphasis on the “bitter” portion. Hanabi and Mugi bump into each other during the school festival after separating for some time, and, rather than getting back together. They simply talk to each other. No more mind masturbation, no more make-out sessions. Just sincere words between people important to one another. They part ways, possibly forever, leading to a rather morose conclusion. One that fits the story’s intentions and aligns with its overall atmosphere.
In short, Kuzu no Honkai embodies a timeless proverb: “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” People live to love. That’s true in this story, that has been true in real life, and that will remain true for as long as love has a place in this world.
ART & ANIMATION
Kuzu no Honkai puts a lot of effort into showcasing its characters and its key scenes. So much so, in fact, that strict animation often gets lost along the way. A byproduct of the fact that monologues occur left, right, and center throughout the entire season.
However, to combat this loss of movement and to elevate its artistry, the anime makes heavy use out of a simple technique: paneling. Many of the show’s shots involve rectangular panels that highlight a character’s current reaction, provide two perspectives simultaneously, or otherwise draw the attention of the viewer to exactly what needs to be seen. While these panels may be relied on a bit too much throughout the season, they not only serve their purpose well but also metaphorically tie back to the characters’ disjointed relationships.
The anime also presents pretty backdrops and a clear affinity for fancier artistic choices. Shots of nature coincide with “natural” love. Soft, purposeful lighting accentuates most of its scenes. Faded, white edges exist for certain flashback moments. Hyper-detailed profiles of the characters pop up from time to time.
Furthermore, Kuzu no Honkai also incorporates many creative scenes that both express the characters’ thoughts and allow for even more artistry. For instance, past encounters in picture-frame form populate Akane’s mind. A black mirror reflects a deceptive Noriko. Color returns to Hanabi’s memory during a dreary-then-dear moment with Narumi. Again, not a lot of actual animation but a whole lot of impressive artistry.
In similar fashion, the characters’ designs are each attractive. Be it their simplicity or striking eyes, the anime makes it tough to deny their beauty or handsomeness. (Also, a small shout-out goes to Ecchan’s meta-reference hat that reads “Scum’s Wish.”)
And one would be remiss in ignoring Kuzu no Honkai’s deliberate attention paid to its plethora of sex-related moments. It loves its up-close mouth shots whenever characters start to wrestle tongues, and, as for the sex, static images of Ecchan and Hanabi naked and caressing one another or Akane making several flushed facial expressions – in full- and panel-mode no less – as Mugi lays with her get the point across easy enough.
Kuzu no Honkai’s medium-sized cast each have their own take on and approach to love that ultimately defines their characters while simultaneously supporting the anime’s goals.
As the main protagonist, Hanabi receives the most room in which to provide insight for the audience. Her friends-with-benefits-without-intercourse pact allows her (and Mugi) to relish in her fantasies and fuel her thoughts. Specifically speaking, she contemplates the love she holds and its importance to her through different ideas like unrequited feelings and pureness of heart.
Moreover, Hanabi is influenced greatly by many of the people around her. She spends a lot of time with Mugi, learning more about what she desires from this sincere love of hers. She doesn’t deny Ecchan’s advances out of a hypocritical sense of duty. She lets Akane’s words and actions get to her, pushing her to try and use love as a weapon rather than as an emotion, only for her to succumb to the same attack. She even has the occasional out-of-body experiences where her consciousness berates her for her sometimes scummy behavior.
In the end, she remains “family” with Narumi despite her feelings failing to connect and parts ways with Mugi per their original agreement. Most importantly, she comes to respect and appreciate love. She has seen how it hurts and seen how it helps, so she now views it as something worthwhile – no matter the outcome.
Mugi is different. As Kuzu no Honkai shows, he has conflicting thoughts due to a sense of adolescence and base instincts. As he describes it, “Even I have things I want to keep closed off from the world.” His childhood friend Noriko and his previous sexual relationship with an older classmate named Mei pull him in different directions. So, in contrast to Hanabi, he doesn’t really know what he wants. He obviously loves Akane, but, as for what this love itself entails, he hasn’t the faintest idea.
Over the course of the season, though, he as well comes to realize what love means to him. He cares about Hanabi because she remains the same passionate person despite the similar situation she faces. He does not move forward with Noriko because he refuses to tarnish their relationship. He falls for Akane because he thought he could alter her into someone better.
That is, for Mugi, love is something that doesn’t change. An emotion that persists through tears and time and toying. That’s what makes it one of the most everlasting, most impactful feelings out there. And he witnesses this firsthand all over.
Narumi is the only other (important) male character in Kuzu no Honkai, and, while he isn’t involved or around to the same extent as the others, he serves his role well. He calls himself a boring guy, and he’s quite right. For, unlike everyone else, he is meant to be the “regular” one of the whole bunch. Someone who is like any normal person out there in the audience looking for love.
Initially, Akane sort of reminded him of his mother, and he chose to believe “it was fate” that brought a boring guy like him and a “too good to be true” girl like her near each other. Indeed, fate does follow through when his feelings reach the woman of his dreams. Granted, him not minding if Akane cheats while they are married and together is far from normal, but he does not want her to lose herself because of love. If nothing else, his heartfelt understanding makes him into an admirable man.
Akane herself is arguably the most interesting character in the anime. Despite her beautiful and kind outward appearance, her heart harbors much darker feelings. She uses love to manipulate men and hurt women to the point that she practically gets off on her tactics. And, if she isn’t having any fun fooling around, then she quickly loses interest and moves onto the next hapless set of people.
Comparing her to the rest of the cast, Akane is the odd one out because she isn’t looking for love. She’s never had those feelings before since her behavior prevents her from truly loving someone else. So, naturally, this issue becomes the central conflict for her character later in the season. And, once she and Narumi share a special connection, Akane demonstrates that love is something possible and available for anyone. That it can save someone from even the darkest of places.
That leaves Ecchan and Noriko. Ecchan loves Hanabi, and she knows that Hanabi does not reciprocate her feelings. Yet she does not care. So long as Ecchan can share herself with Hanabi, be there with her, then she ignores what goes on between them and around them.
Thus, Ecchan acts on her urges in a way that’s uncomfortable to watch. She forces herself on Hanabi and pursues after her despite what Hanabi says. Yes, Hanabi is also in the wrong for at times accepting Ecchan’s advances, but it’s Ecchan’s unhealthy mindset that causes their awkward situation to begin with. In fact, the anime introduces Atsuya, Ecchan’s cousin, into the mix all the way in episode eight not only to include yet another off-kilter romantic relationship but also to get reality back into her brain.
As for Noriko, she literally gets screwed the least and figuratively gets screwed the most. Near the start of the season, she receives about as much attention as one would describe her stature. Then, she disappears for a large chunk in the middle of the season, making hardly any appearances whatsoever.
The anime, realizing its mistake, has all of episode seven focusing on her character. Therein, it forms and completes her entire arc in a slipshod manner. Afterwards, she goes back to being nonexistent with only a scene or two in the final few episodes of the season featuring her newfound drive. Altogether, Noriko is the worst-handled cast member in the anime.
Both Ecchan and Noriko argue for the same stance on love: It isn’t a be-all, end-all part of life. Ecchan cuts her hair for that classic “turning a new leaf” look and rekindles her friendship with Hanabi. Similarly, Noriko has started to mature now that she’s no longer constrained by a sense of romantic duty. The two lose big time in the game of love, but they have come out the better for it.
Each of the main characters in Kuzu no Honkai clearly have a thematic connection to love. And, while their development as characters in this drama isn’t anything remarkable, they each go through their own change and experiences over the course of the season. Considering the size of the cast, the anime does pretty well for a twelve-episode series.
Any small nitpicks aside, the biggest writing problem here is one that some anime unfortunately encounter: very little interaction exists among the entire cast. Within this big romantic conglomerate, Ecchan interacts almost exclusively with Hanabi. Mugi never speaks with Narumi. Noriko doesn’t confide in Akane ever. Even important connections like Hanabi and Narumi’s don’t really have that much going on. Theirs is mostly built through flashback rather than present-day events between the two. Indeed, the anime almost never has three of these characters simultaneously conversing let alone in the same area.
It’s strange to see them exist in their small number of duo bubbles because their relationships are intermingled, yet the full dynamic doesn’t come to fruition. They also each have their own stances and thoughts on love, but, due to the lack of crossover, these differences rarely clash. Overall, it weakens the dimensionality of the characters, and it weakens the show’s thematic exploration.
MUSIC & SOUND
While the anime’s drama, romance, and visual techniques tend to take center stage, Kuzu no Honkai is not without notable musical choices throughout the season.
Specifically, the opening track and the ending track are an interesting set of sounds that coincide well with the show’s main ideas. The OP channels a catchy guitar riff, piano keys, and drum fills. They coalesce into a fast-paced, tone-changing piece whose flow reflects the characters own passionate emotions. The ED begins with melancholy in mind and, shortly thereafter, gives way to a charged section. The first part represents the sadness that sometimes follows love, and the second part represents the frustration. All as the vocalist sings her heart out.
The original soundtrack also deserves praise. It fills the air with weighty piano arrangements, acoustic guitar strings, and poignant crescendos that mold the mood into love and loss and languish. Arguably, the OST is the main contributor behind the anime’s overly dramatic presentation since these orchestral compositions don’t fit a scene like Hanabi and Mugi locking pinkies as they form their relationship pact. Even so, their ability to achieve such dramatization cannot be ignored.
Chika Anzai as Hanabi is the only strong voice acting performance thanks to her range of emotions (embarrassed, morose, happy, angry) and her cute inflection. However, the anime provides just enough lascivious sounds from the whole cast (and their actions) to redden the audience’s ears (and make them wonder how awkward the recording booth sessions were) yet refrain from becoming a full-blown porno.
As many of my readers may know, I love romance. It’s my favorite genre out there. The confessions, the blushing, the words, the happiness, the connection. Romance is sweet, plain and simple.
But I also like it when it gets messy.
In this anime, the juicy, yucky romance all over the place made for an entertaining time. They cheated. They pined. They forced. Dirty and rough, it’s something that I don’t normally get to see here in the medium. I constantly exclaimed “holy moly” and “whoa” as the characters made their moves and the story rarely let up on the sexual advances.
Unfortunately, I am not too invested in most of the characters. Mugi is a pretty all right dude, but he’s very uninteresting. Narumi and Noriko barely have any time on screen to make me care about them. Ecchan not minding her mistress role and her lesbian characterization in general puts her above those previously listed, but the show does not explore her angle enough.
Even Hanabi isn’t the most appealing. She is fun and cute at times, but I still didn’t much care about her character’s arc throughout the season. She is more a victim of circumstance than an active player, so her actions were not the most riveting.
The only character I liked (who, after process of elimination, can be easily guessed) is Akane. Yes, I find her physically attractive, but, more so than anyone else, she had an edge to her setup. She is selfish in her ways. She coerces men left and right. She keeps up a dual personality. Akane goes from a horrible person to a tolerable woman, and her course made her the most fun to watch out of the bunch.
I do have to touch on the ending as well, for it made me slightly melancholic. The only people who win in the end are Akane the antagonist (who arguably didn’t “deserve” it) and Narumi the only regular character in the show (who arguably did “deserve” it).
The other four lose hard. Noriko is denied, Ecchan moves on, and both Hanabi and Mugi part ways seemingly forever. I actually thought Hanabi and Mugi would have ended up together, but such fate did not occur. Combined with knowing that this adaptation is complete – meaning the story is done and told in its entirety – I could not help but frown (in a positive sense) at the fact that an all-around happy ending was just not meant to be.
Kuzu no Honkai may feature scummy people but it is far from scum itself. The characters involved explore many sides to love, the art remains pretty throughout the season, and the majority of its musical choices fit quite well. Its story embraces a few questionable decisions, but, as a whole, it all still worked out when all is said and done.
Story: Fine, a promiscuous take on the proverb “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all” which explores love’s multifaceted strengths and weaknesses while also succumbing to a rigid format and noticeable tonal issues
Art & Animation: Good, while very little movement actually occurs, the paneling techniques, the boosted artistry, and the different creative scenes clearly demonstrate that the visuals were not left forgotten
Characters: Good, Hanabi, Mugi, and the other important characters represent different forms and ideas about love, but the lack of intermingling among the whole cast weakens their overall impact
Music & Sound: Good, a passionate OP-and-ED combo back a poignant, crescendo-filled OST, and the VA performances, while nothing special, redden one’s ears
Enjoyment: Good, juicy romance, Akane was the only interesting character overall, and the bittersweet ending got to me slightly
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3
Yay, someone else who appreciated Akane and Echan.
I will add, though, that Noriko was the biggest “winner” in everything.
She didn’t get the boy like Akane did, but she instead got the self satisfaction of being appreciated by her peers.
Not because of her looks but because of her talent.
Noriko weathers the storm and realizes that there are things more important (and healthier) to do than humiliate and sully yourself for a person who doesn’t really care for you in the same way.
Good post, really rare to find other people who appreciated this show.