Continuing our trek through the yuri-ish shows that the winter anime season had to offer, we now come across Kuzu no Honkai. For an anime named Scum’s Wish, I have to say that given the actions of the characters involved, that’s a very appropriate title. Let me explain why~
To the outside world, Hanabi Yasuraoka and Mugi Awaya are the perfect couple. But in reality, they just share the same secret pain: they are both in love with other people they cannot be with. Hanabi has loved her childhood friend and neighbor, Narumi Kanai, for as long as she can remember, so she is elated to discover that he is her new homeroom teacher. However, Narumi is soon noticed by the music teacher, Akane Minagawa, and a relationship begins to blossom between them, much to Hanabi’s dismay. Mugi was tutored by Akane in middle school, and has been in love with her since then. Through a chance meeting in the hallway, he encounters Hanabi. As these two lonely souls spend more time together, they decide to use each other as a substitute for the one they truly love, sharing physical intimacy with one another in order to stave off their loneliness. [Source: MAL]
The synopsis makes it sound like this anime might be rife with heavy themes, and that couldn’t be more true. Kuzu no Honkai is an anime that handles adolescence in a very raw and unadulterated manner, and for that reason, I love it. This show is far from an idyllic representation of young love, and while it seems that we have a million shows that are trying to be Disney movies, this would rather present this phase in one’s life as what it really is, a trying time where you’re not only trying to discover who you are but what it is that you really want.
Almost every single one of the major characters has to deal with unrequited love and the anguish that comes from it, but it’s how these characters cope with it that really gives the story some oomph.
Driven by her desire to be with her longtime friend and now teacher, Narumi, Hana’s pact with Mugi reeks of desperation on both their parts, and that’s kinda sad. Their relationship soon turns intimate, and I think because of that, it’s probably easy to lose sight of why that happened in the first place. Through her emptiness and lack of self-worth, her reliance on Mugi sends her down a slippery slope that compounds the problem, sending her further into the abyss. Some of her actions probably didn’t win her that many fans, but at least by the end of the show, she seems to finally be on the right path, so at least there’s that.
It’s a bit hard for me to bash Mugi, because, honestly, he was just living out what most teenage boys think about, namely having a very active sex life (and with his teacher, no less!). Even though he’s not quite the man whore that Takuya is, for him, filling the void with sex was enough to help him manage the situation. Though, as a result, his journey had nowhere near the same emotional impact as Hana’s (or Noriko’s, or Ecchan’s), and even when he was bawling his eyes out while accepting rejection, I honestly didn’t feel that sympathetic towards him. That probably had a lot to do with the person Akane is, but compared to the heartfelt sympathy involving most of the other characters, he was the odd man out in this regard.
I’m going to be very blunt about this… Akane is a deceitful bitch who might be my most hated anime character of all-time. I don’t mean to be mean, but when it comes to her, I just can’t help it. Looking like she stepped out of the pages of a fairy tale, Akane seems like the ideal woman, but hiding underneath that veneer of perfection is a selfish and emotionally hollow individual that is ridiculously easy to dislike. Once the mask comes off and she’s exposed for what she really is, she’s almost like a villian that’s—directly or indirectly—pulling the heart strings of all involved, puppeteer-style. I could go on and on about how much I hate her, but I have to give her some credit as well. She is a very compelling character that, despite her hideous psychological flaws, makes things far more interesting.
At the start of the show, Narumi seemed like he had his head on straight, but all that changed when Akane got her hooks into him. He seemed decent enough, and I was hoping that he and Hana would wind up together, yet it didn’t work out that way. I’m on the verge of spewing more hate at Akane, so let me just keep this succinct and say that at the end of the day, Narumi is an idiot for accepting her, warts and all. An honorable idiot, but an idiot nevertheless.
Noriko feels a little strange to talk about, because, in the grand scheme of things, she doesn’t come across as being that bad. She and Mugi were childhood friends who used to live in the same apartment complex, and ever since then, she’s viewed him as her prince and the object of her affection. Unlike some of the relationships in this anime, you really do get the sense that Noriko is genuinely in love with Mugi, and that made it easier for me to sympathize with her situation, as opposed to someone like Mugi. Perhaps the worst thing you can say about
Noriko Moka is that she’s a little annoying, yet compared to what you can say about her contemporaries, that’s not exactly the worst insult.
This is great and all, but I’m sure the sole reason that nearly everyone reading this review tuned in to watch this is because of Hana x Ecchan. Short of someone being an ardent hater of yuri, I think hardly anyone would argue that their story wasn’t the most emotional of all the pairings. From their first meeting aboard a train (where Hana rescues Ecchan from a groper), these two form a connection that sparks Ecchan’s feelings for Hana. So often in anime we see relationships that are of little consequence and seem like they’re not meant to be much more than a bullet point to try to draw in additional viewers, but what we have here is something of substance that may in fact be one-sided, yet it comes off as far more sincere and authentic than what you’ll find in most other anime.
All the episodes that have a lot of those two are really good, but episode nine was definitely my favorite. They’re pretty much exclusively featured in that one, and from the sex scene to that heart-wrenching scene in the rain, the show never again reached those heights for me over the course of the last 3 episodes (even the final episode was pretty good, too). In typical fashion, there isn’t a “happy” yuri ending, but the fact that they’re on good terms and both seemingly in a better place is a bittersweet way to end things. All in all, having another non-yuri anime in which the yuri romance is arguably better than the main het romance should be a reassuring consolation prize for the genre and fans alike.
As a character-driven romance anime, Kuzu no Honkai could have very easily have been sunk by dull characters, but on the contrary, it boasts a handful of engaging characters who you can’t help but root for or against. But from a yuri fan’s perspective, Hana and Ecchan are the real draw, and their romance—while bittersweet—is easily the best reason to consider this.
As polarizing as the characters may be, I think one thing that can’t really be argued is that the visual presentation of this anime is superb. Something that immediately jumps out at you is the use of panels that overlay the shot and add a very nice cinematic touch to many scenes. I don’t think I’ve really seen that done in an anime before (and definitely not to this extent), but I hope it’s something that catches on, because it’s pretty great. Aside from that, the faint, wavering outlines of the characters are another thing that catch your eye, and for an anime as glum as this, that’s a very fitting look. Overall, Kuzu no Honkai‘s stylish exterior is another nice aspect of this anime, and considering the genre, that’s something you don’t see everyday.
While it may not be as attention-grabbing as the visuals, the music does its job very well. The many emotionally intense scenes are complemented by the subtle yet effective music that does just enough to enhance the mood without taking the focus away from what’s happening on-screen. The voice actors give noteworthy performances, and in addition to having some nice background music, Kuzu no Honkai also features some great themes that help are my favorite OP/ED combination of the season.
A refreshing glimpse into the psyche of those stricken with one-sided love, Kuzu no Honkai goes against the grain of romance anime and delivers a torturously intense story that is absolutely not for everyone. I can imagine some people despising this show, but I love the mature storytelling, the adult subject matter, and the serious, meaningful yuri that make this worth watching for anyone not deterred by some het.