I guess we can call this part 2 of the Forbidden Love Trifecta. The last anime I talked about was about student-teacher love, Kotonoha no Niwa, and so is this one. (Next up is Yosuga no Sora.) I suppose there are more than a few in this genre but I’m looking at examples of forbidden love that both take the topic seriously and have good production qualities. Something like Kodomo no Jikan is an entirely different creature and not on my current review menu.
Thinking about it, the Monogatari franchise also contained more than a bit about forbidden lust. In that case, it was a senior in school with some major lolicon and siscon in his makeup. However, it never stops him from realizing that the true love of his life is a strong young woman of his own age. As he matures, those errant passions are controlled. In the final arc, they have been subdued and he is even able to joke about his sister complex. But it certainly wasn’t the core of the story.
I have a slight problem here. Kuzu no Honkai is one of the very fortunate anime that got a live-action television series created for it. That is a sign that it is both good and popular. I’m going to focus on the anime and not let the television series interfere. I’d face the same problem if I were reviewing Samurai X or Ghost in the Shell. I want to discuss anime as a stand-alone creation and keep any live-action TV series or movies, visual novels, games, and manga isolated. Doing a good compare and contrast is just too much effort in my decapitated state.
Let the spoilers begin!
Kuzu no Honkai roughly translates into “Scum’s Wish”, the show’s English title. This bothers me more than a little. None of the self-declared scummy main characters are in any way “scum”. They are all relatable and understandable and I developed an affinity for them all. Quirks and selfishness and forbidden desires and empty sex and the pursuit of pleasure do not make one scum. One needs irredeemable malice for that.
The title comes from how the main characters think of themselves, so it is a contradiction. Real scum does not revile itself for being scummy nor does scum ever see a need to reform.
There are six major characters and a few lesser ones.
Hanabi Yasuraoka is our heroine. Or at least leading character. She is a third year in high school and desperately in love with…
Narumi Kanai, who is not related to her but grew up as a kind of big brother to her. He is so nice and squeaky clean that he gets less sympathy from me than any other character. She has been seriously crushing on him for over a decade. Suddenly he is her homeroom teacher and she wants to get closer to him. Much closer.
Mugi Awaya is the lover that Hanabi takes on as a substitute for the older man she cannot have. They do not love each other but rather use each other as a substitute for what they cannot have. He is in love with…
Akane Minagawa is the new music teacher. She is also Mugi’s old home tutor and former lover. (He was a first year – that is really robbing the cradle.) Akane is a bit “looser” than most adult women. She puts on a clutzy, helpless female act that wows every guy she meets but is really devious and clever. She has just about given up on finding love as she’s been looking for it in all the wrong places for most of her life.
Sanae Ebato doesn’t like guys but is madly in love and lust with her friend Hanabi. Eventually, Hanabi reciprocates physically but without any romance. Sanae is jealous of Mugi as he is Hanabi’s main squeeze.
And lastly, there is the little himedere loli, Noriko Kamomebata. She is actually as old as the others but long ago her mother said that she and Mugi look like a prince and a princess. She took this to heart and has spent the entirety of her life since then trying to be a little princess to be desirable to him. She looks and dresses like a child. She can’t have Mugi so she becomes extremely hostile towards Hanabi, who just thinks she’s a brat.
Have you noticed a pattern here? All the main student characters want someone they can’t have. Nobody can let go and move on.
Much of this information is thrown at you even before the opening credits for episode one. We step into the action with the relationships going at full tilt. The rest is clear by the opening of episode 3.
The quality of this animation is pretty good. Not quite god-like, as in Garden of Words, but still very nice. If I were to describe the color of the show it is pink. The pink of cherry blossoms. The pink of a lover’s skin.
This anime has a couple peculiarities in style. The artist likes doing panels. This often happens when we have multiple characters facing different directions but we want to see all their expressions simultaneously. Or when one person is thinking about the other and picturing them. And sometimes just for artistic effect. I rather like it as it was done very well.
Another artistic effect that isn’t quite as satisfying is kaleidoscope effect in the closing credits. Something about this one just reminds me of a big orgy:
And this one is simply bizarre. Is Hanabi being dismembered and sucked back into a pink hole? And suddenly a pair of breasts with huge nipples emerge?
The representation of people’s bodies was good. This isn’t Highschool DxD. The females were shapely, not Barbie doll caricatures and not carbon copies differentiable only by their hair. The males were all muscular and lean without being steroidal.
Huge amounts of the story are told through flashbacks. The overall story itself is several parallel stories with each character being explored separately. I gave up trying to figure out the exact chronology.
Mugi and Akane have some history from a couple years ago. Does that make her an ephebophile? (Yes, that is a real word for people who desire partners who are too old to be considered children yet not quite adult. Adolescents.) Personally, I think it just makes her an opportunist who doesn’t care since she also takes much older lovers. Younger ones are much easier though. Young love is so much tastier to destroy.
Every main character is in a love triangle of some sort, most in several interlocking triangles. Hanabi wants Narumi but can’t have him. Narumi is enraptured with Akane (Her hair reminds him of his mother’s!) and Narumi thinks of Hanabi as a little sister and not an attractive young woman. Besides he is so disgustingly nice, he wouldn’t violate the rules against student-teacher and adult-minor fraternization if he did.
Hanabi has such a big hole in her life that she turns to Mugi to fill it, literally pretending he is Narumi when in bed. Mugi is okay with this because he is doing exactly the same thing regarding Akane.
Hanabi met Sanae a couple years earlier. Sanae is being molested on a crowded subway by a man. She is too mortified and fearful to do anything about it. Hanabi sees her plight and comes to her rescue. She takes a picture of the offender such that he can see it. Realizing that a third party is a witness and that he can be identified, he escapes quickly.
Hanabi really is a good person – and resourceful. She obviously didn’t have the physical power to overcome the molester and didn’t want to upset the victim any further so she devised a quiet way to discourage him. Then she escorts Sanae to the school where they are both taking the same test, holding her hand all the way. They become close friends.
What Hanabi doesn’t know is that Sanae (who she comes to refer to as Ecchan) is a lesbian. Over time Sanae becomes infatuated with her, comes to desire her as a lover. This comes to a head as Hanabi invites Sanae to a sleepover while she is having her affair with Mugi. Hanabi first cooperates because she doesn’t want to lose Sanae as a friend, later because of the simple pleasure of making love. Hanabi isn’t gay, just still trying to fill that hole in her heart. (Doesn’t matter. I still love the yuri.)
Mugi met Akane as a music tutor as a first year in high school and has never been able to shake his need for her. He was going with a girl (Mei Hayakawa) a year his junior at
the time. Even when she opens his eyes to Akane’s sexual activities with other men he’s still stuck on her. Mei was really attracted to Mugi but gives up on him (That may be the healthiest move in the entire series.) and Akane carves another notch on her pistol.
Did I mention there is a lot of sex in this anime? Nothing too explicit. There are no genitalia or nipples hanging out but there is also no question as to what is going on. Very well done and I found it rather erotic. It is imagination that makes something erotic. Display sex too graphically and it becomes just a sweaty yoga class for two. Suggesting the action creates mystery and pleasures the imagination.
Narumi feels one dimensional. He is never anything but nice, honest, and ethical. Hanabi falls for him when she is very young. Her father abandoned the family and Narumi is a neighbor boy considerably her senior who steps in to fill the hole in her life. He brings color into her lonely B&W world. (Another substitution.) She calls him “oni-chan” but as she gets older the feelings start to become more romantic. Narumi is, of course, blissfully unaware of this. As Hanabi grows into adulthood her physical desire for him grows as well.
Narumi and Akane are both first-year teachers at Mugi and Hanabi’s high school. The combination of propinquity and unavailability of their love interests is what drives the two students to their affair, one they make a pinky swear that it would never become romantic. However, much to their chagrin, Narumi and Akane become a thing. Akane picks up on Narumi partly because he is an easy mark but mostly because she senses Hanabi loves him and taking men away from other women is what she does. Narumi desperately fights thru his shyness to ask Akane out. Akane sets it up so that Hanabi witnesses this, just so she could see the pain on Hanabi’s face.
At this point, we are all supposed to hate Akane but I’m finding her the most interesting character of the lot. Am I the only person who thought Alan Rickman was a much more interesting character than Kevin Costner in Robin Hood? If I hate an anime character, it is not because they do bad things, it is because they detract from the plot. A good villain immensely improves the plot.
Akane and Narumi eventually go out on a date. She finds him boring beyond boring, waiting for the proposition that never comes. She gets snockered and can barely walk while he stays reasonably sober. She slips and falls, he catches her. For one instant, there is a slip of his tongue.
“Are you okay? Hana…?”
Now he is interesting. She knows who he is thinking of. She senses that maybe, just maybe, he really is carrying a flame for Hanabi. One repressed so deep that Hanabi doesn’t know about and he may not even be conscious of himself. It is a turning point in the relationship. Next thing you know, they are in a motel room. And Narumi is saved from being such a flat character that I’d start to actively dislike him.
Even so, she is astonished at his gallantry (naivete‘?) once she is on the hotel bed.
Akane is a man-eater. She isn’t used to this. She gave up on loving another person at a very early age, getting her validation from men finding her insanely attractive. Not just any men but rather to be desired by men of “quality”. How does she define quality? If another attractive woman finds a man attractive, then he is an attractive man. Age doesn’t matter and physical appearance is secondary. Ethics are irrelevant. As soon as the “other woman” is driven out of the man’s mind, she loses interest. Her reward out of all that is both lots of physical pleasure and a sense of feminine superiority.
Veni vidi vici. I am the better woman.
Nothing is better for her than to take a man she doesn’t even like away from a woman who loves him.
I knew and loved a man-eater once when I was but a kid. She didn’t specialize in attached men, although being a married man wouldn’t have stopped her for an instant. She was married, herself, although in the throes of a divorce. She specialized in men who were easy to lead and control. Single or attached, once you became subordinate it was only a matter of time until you lost your value to her. Still a power trip but one of a different nature. She was a stunningly beautiful redhead and an extraordinarily skilled seductress and manipulator, 17 years my senior. Not the coldness of Mrs. Robinson but rather a Maggie May sort.
I don’t have a particular dislike for man-eaters, whether their motive is money or ego satisfaction or to compensate for insecurity. Yeah, the relationship hurt – but being hurt is part of growing up, is it not? For a guy who couldn’t read emotions if they were printed on a billboard, I did okay.
There’s a lesson for you. Even though you may feel like your heart has gone through a Cuisinart, at least try to end the relationship well. It may be part your own fault and part her’s that it ended but your pain is always 100% yours. Trying to lay blame does not make it go away. It merely converts sadness to resentment, a very bad move in my experience. I can understand that, yet I can still feel affection for someone I haven’t heard from in over 40 years. This is a good thing – and the lessons learned have served me well.
Now you know how I can sympathize with Mugi but still love Akane.
Though she may be a man-eater, she’s always a woman to me. (Ewww! That came off badly. Suffer anyhow.) Ok, time to get off memory lane and back to the review.
We do not know how Akane came to be that way. This kind of sociopathic behavior may have roots in childhood and it may well have genetic components to it. Sociopathy is characterized by a lack of empathy. It isn’t an unwillingness to feel concern for the other person, it is more an inability. If it is entirely genetic then her character is a dead end. There will be no arc for her to redemption. If it has a learning component, then there is a chance. You care far more for someone who can be saved than one who cannot. Even if they never get redeemed you feel sad for possibilities lost. Somone who cannot be redeemed is nothing more than a storm that comes by to wreck things, a plot device.
Who loves the butterfly more? The one who captures and cages it in a small butterfly habitat so as to always keep it near? Or the one who watches it flit through the garden, never knowing where it will alight next? Freedom is what gives Akane’s life meaning. She even explicitly says so. Is this the real reason she doesn’t stay with any partner? If so, then it isn’t sociopathy that makes her wayward. It is fear of the cage. We’d have a completely different perspective on her. She just needs more freedom than most. Perhaps she can learn to be less abrasive in her dalliances and not define herself by the brutality of her conquests.
Narumi wins her heart by not trying to cage her and letting her continue to fly freely, completely counter to the convention of what anime love is supposed to be. He accepts that it is a butterfly’s nature to pollinate every flower within reach even while he provides a safe haven for her return to.
Early in the series, a boy had asked Hanabi out. She had put him off for a week and then simply stated that it was unpleasant to receive affection from someone you had no interest in. This was a rather cruel way to handle it, don’t you think?
A bit after half way thru, another boy confesses an interest in her and asks Hanabi out. Sanae rushes to drag her away, insisting she’s taken. However this time Hanabi pulls away and apologizes to the boy while saying that she is not available. We have growth here. Hanabi is no longer completely wrapped up in her feelings and behaves towards the boy with courtesy and empathy. She is progressing along an arc, an arc of healing. (Sanae has her own arc of healing, as seen at the very end.)
Ah! There is still one character to shift our focus onto. Noriko has been lurking about in the background telling Mugi that Hanabi doesn’t love him and that she is using him. Both statements are true but she doesn’t realize that the “using” is mutual. She does realize Mugi just thinks of her as a little sister and plots to change that.
Noriko has spent her entire school life in love in love with Mugi. She turned herself into a little princess in the hopes of marrying her prince but now realizes that if she wants to compete with Hanabi, she has to take it to the next level. She can no longer be a 17-year-old wannabe loli – she needs to be a woman. There is one difference between Noriko and all the other girls, though.
Yup. The childlike Noriko understands something that neither Mugi nor Hanabi does. Nobody should seek out replacements for their love interest. Also, to quote Master Yoda, “There is no try. Do or do not. That is why you fail.” She isn’t going to “try to just catch his eye” anymore. This is do or die. She will hit him the biggest gun she has – her virginity.
Rain is used for setting the emotional key. You’ll see a lot of very important changes in the rain. The change of the seasons is symbolic. The pink of spring begins and ends everything.
There is drama. Things happen. Lovers are rejected. Lovers get accepted. There are surprises. Virginity is at risk. Love is found. Love is lost. Hearts are broken and maybe healed. I suppose that sums up almost every young adult romantic drama. This is a superior example of that genre. There is no adventure here at all. No cowboys or ninjas or monsters from the other dimension, just a journey into longing. Unrequited love.
Each character has their own backstory and forward arc. The last 3 episodes are exquisite. The loose ends get collected in a loving way.
The theme of Kuzu no Honkai is that of enduring Koi while searching for Ai. How your desires can enslave you as much as any chains and lead one into behavior incompatible with growth. How one should not be controlled by the fear of the pain of rejection. The greater regret is not having tried your best and failed – and rather instead dwelling in that dim twilight where you are afraid to try. How moving on after rejection can actually be refreshing. A weight is off your shoulders and you are free for the next great adventure in life.
I felt for every character in this anime (Well, that might be a bit strong for my sense of Narumi.) and for me that makes it very good. I especially loved the villain. There was a bit of tension up to the very last minutes. What a refreshing anime!
I give it two arthritic thumbs up.