The Gist: Yasuraoka Hanabi is and has always been in love with the older Kanai Narumi, who she calls onii-san. Awaya Mugi has always loved his middle school tutor, Minagawa Akane. Now both Kanai and Akane are teachers at Hanabi and Mugi’s school, and they are into each other.
Brought together by their similar situations, Hanabi and Mugi grow closer, nearly sleeping together, then enter a pact to soothe each other’s loneliness, becoming, in effect, replacements for the ones they truly love.
Whoa. Move over Masamune-kun, Kuzu no Honkai is the best Winter ’17 romance I’ve yet seen. It certainly has the strongest opening episode, which cuts to the freaking chase with immense alacrity.
And while it centers on the girl Hanabi (voiced by Anzai Chika, Reina from Euph as well as Chaika) and her thoughts, what drew me to KnH is how it tosses the usual girl-pursues a boy and boy-pursues-girl scenarios out the window.
It also makes them equal actors with equal agency. In the face of the utter despair that comes from not being chosen by the the ones they deem their soul mates (and watching them flirt with each other every day at school), Hanabi and Mugi act to change their conditions, and make their miserable lives just a little more bearable.
In the episode’s powerful central act, Hanabi and Mugi are hanging out in his room as they always do, acting something like friends, in a dark and gloomy room. They’ve done this many times, but this time Hanabi feels compelled to reach out and embrace Mugi from behind. Mugi suggests she not see him as himself, but to imagine he’s actually Kanai.
Things get quite a bit steamier (without the deed being done, mind you) as Hanabi allows Mugi to be a vessel that contains her ideal version of Kanai doing these things with and to her, and she’s very conscious of how Mugi is no doubt seeing her as his beloved Akane. It’s so raw and sad, but it does soothe both parties, so it’s not a total waste of time.
When she was much younger, Kanai told Hanabi “we both have something the other is jealous of”, referring to her mother, a great cook, and his father; Hanabi’s never known hers. He then says they’ll be able to “help each other when we’re feeling lonely.” Hanabi took it as the God’s truth, but Kanai let her down, and came off as a liar.
Mind you, that didn’t break the powerful spell he’s always had on her, and so here Hanabi and Mugi are, deciding that they’ll be the ones to help each other when they’re lonely, because they both have the exact same thing: someone who may never return their burning feelings. They agree to let each other have everything but their feelings, and if one of them makes it with the one they actually love, their pact will end.
Yeesh. That’s some dark, depressing stuff, but also not outside the realm of reality. While the formula is common, I personally haven’t seen this specific premise crop up much. It’s so simple, yet powerful, and like I said, it’s great that the girl and guy are equal partners. One hopes they’ll eventually fall for each other, because their other prospects don’t look so good, but who knows…that’s why we watch!
The show also has welcome moments of levity that don’t come off as tacked on, even though they sometimes surprise. And while its palette is a little on the drab side most of the time, that fits the desired atmosphere, and the animation is superb. If you’re up for some really well done seinen romantic drama, check this kuzu out.