Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The name's Kurenai, Shinkuro Kurenai.

Kure-nai: An Anime Series Review

Number of episodes: 12
Genre: Slice of life, action
Source material: Light novels written by Kentaro Katayama 

Kure-nai is not a particularly compelling or profound anime, but there's something charming, mysterious, and frustrating enough about the story and characters that allowed it to pass my 3-episode test and keep me watching until all 12 episodes were over. If you have time for a short anime series that has a decent overarching story intermixed with a good dose of slice-of-life, read on and see if Kure-nai is for you!
**May Contain Spoilers**

The Story: On the surface, Kure-nai is about a high school student named Kurenai Shinkuro who works as a dispute mediator for a woman named Benika. Though not infallible, Shinkuro
is quite good at his job and often asks Benika to assign him duties of greater importance. Complying with his wishes, Benika soon tasks Shinkuro with bodyguard-ing a 7-year old girl named Kuhoin Murasaki, whom for all intents and purposes, has been kidnapped from her family by Benika. The complications of her kidnapping, and the craziness of a high school student being responsible for a 7-year old child result in an interesting plot mix of slice-of-life moments with a deeper subplot involving patriarchy, traditions, and oppression. 

Though the slice-of-life aspects of Shinkuro and Murasaki's life together (along with some of the funny tenants of a tiny apartment complex) take up 2/3 of the anime, it is the other 1/3 of the
anime that provides the juicier storyline. The plot thickens when we begin to understand the mysteries (and weirdness) of the Kuhoin household and the background circumstances of Murasaki's kidnapping from her family. The anime teases us with small bits of flashbacks and peeks into the Kuhoin family, but you really don't get the darker and more violent  picture of just how strange (and messed up!) things really are until the latter third of the series. Without giving too much away, the Kuhoins are basically a wealthy and powerful family who are completely patriarchal and enforce very unpleasant rules for the women of the household. Murasaki's mother, Souju, suffered under these rules, and Murasaki would have experienced the same thing, had Benika not kidnapped her. There are some interesting twists and turns, but how Shinkuro deals with the facts of Murasaki's background and the Kuhoins make up the latter third of the anime series.  

The Characters: I can't say that any of the characters in Kure-nai were stand-out, but they are all fairly likable (minus the males in the Kuhoin household) and realistic. Murasaki starts out as a brat 
From L to R: Shinkuro, Murasaki, Ginko, Yuno, Chizuru, Tamaki, Yamie, Benika, Yayoi
but is quick to learn under Shinkuro's guidance and seems willing to do the right thing, even when it isn't necessarily the easiest thing. Shinkuro is a laid-back guy with a pretty dark history, and even though his sometimes placating attitude infuriated me, I could understand why he wanted to avoid conflict (even though I didn't necessarily agree with his actions--if you watch this anime, you'll know the specific scene I'm referencing here). Benika and Yayoi are perhaps my favorite characters because they are strong women who aren't afraid to step out of bounds, but Shinkuro's high school friends and neighbors were also fairly decent to watch. The most compelling character, however, would probably have to be Renjo Kuhoin, Murasaki's father. He is a conflicted figure in the series, and although it is difficult not to hate him, we also see how he is powerless to fight against years of tradition even though his love for Murasaki's mother was real. The characters that grow the most are Shinkuro and Murasaki, with the latter becoming a strong-willed girl changed for the better after seeing the outside world with Shinkuro. 

Overall Impressions: I generally don't like slice-of-life animes, but as I mentioned before, the mystery surrounding the Kuhoins was enough to keep me interested in this series (along with plenty of good fight sequences). Kure-nai is, at times, frustrating to watch for two different reasons. On the positive frustration side, characters that I thought were overpowered (Benika, Yayoi) get a serious beating (boo!), and I appreciate that the playing field was balanced and that I was invested enough in the characters to want to root for them. On the negative frustration side, the plot is somewhat disjointed between the lighthearted moments of Shinkuro and Murasaki's daily lives and the darker and much more violent aspect of the Kuhoin traditions. I almost felt, at times, that I was watching two separate animes. To me, this was a big problem because I felt like too much time was spent on the normal day-to-day happenings of the characters for such a short series, but looking back, that was perhaps the point of Kure-nai. Maybe we were supposed to feel the contrast between Murasaki's oppressed life with the Kuhoins and her carefree life with Shinkuro in such a striking manner. After all, Benika kidnapped Murasaki so that she might experience the outside world and learn to love it as her mother wanted her to. 

I did enjoy the interactions between Shinkuro and Murasaki, especially because Murasaki matured a lot throughout the 12 episodes with Shinkuro's help. Her decision at the end of the anime was a very grown-up one (although not necessarily realistic), but I liked the fact that Shinkuro supported her and respected her choice. There's a genuine sweetness in the way these two characters interact, and it was nice to see that even though Murasaki is still only a child at the end of the series, her opinions begin to be valued by the people around her--a huge change from the beginning of the anime. With respect to the ending, some might call Kure-nai naive, but I'd like to think that it leaves off on a hopeful note with the "bad guys" sort of defeated and endless (better) possibilities for both Murasaki and the Kuhoin family. 

Rating: 6/10

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