Kuzu no Honkai – 11

While on a train to a weekend hot springs getaway with Kanai (two adults! How often does that happen in anime?) Akane falls asleep (she later blames being with the younger Mugi last night). She dreams she’s in a gallery of all the men she’s had, and all the lines she supposedly crossed, while either not realizing it…or not caring.

The distinction is moot; what matters is the reason: she’s never felt truly connected with anyone. In the dream, Kanai asks her why she “keeps doing this” if, as she herself said, she’s not “suited for it.”

Like last week, there’s only one brief scene involving Hanabi, and it’s one in a situation we’ve barely seen her in: hanging out with high school peers she hasn’t laid with. They view her and Mugi as some kind of ideal couple, and we the audience, like Hanabi, can only roll our eyes and say If they only knew.

When Hanabi tells them how she thinks it’s best if she and Mugi don’t see each other, they call her “such a grownup”, and considering everything she’s been through in such a short time, and the satisfying end result of Kanai’s rejection and Mugi’s, er, “moving on,” I tend to agree.

Even the contrast between the girls’ food orders and her plain ol’ coffee seem to help her exude a wisdom beyond her years. She’s been through some stuff; they haven’t. If they actually have, this show didn’t have time to show it.

Last week Akane didn’t like her dynamic with Kanai, in which she he was occupying far too much of her thoughts for her comfort. Trying to move on by telling all, if anything only intensified Kanai’s feelings for her. She’s in a nonchalant “okay let’s see where this goes” mode when they start off on the hot springs trip, but by the end, she starts to notice her heart beating.

No one has been able to throw Akane off like Kanai throws her off here. He tells her he’s fine with her messing around because he thinks she does it because she likes it, as opposed to never having known anything else. The flaws she’s always thought kept her from connecting are of no concern to Kanai, and his love for her isn’t transactional; it’s unconditional, almost paternal.

That unconditional love, and his desire for her to live a happy life, wipes clean those portraits in her dream gallery, replacing them with the image of her and Kanai. She finally feels connected. It’s something entirely new to her, but she doesn’t dislike it, and the next morning when Kanai goes for it and asks if she’ll marry him, she decides to give it a try.

Now that she’s ready to take that step, her first date with Mugi is more about closure than anything else; even Mugi realizes this. For so long he tried to find out how he could change her, but in reality, the Akane he loved was the one who existed; not the ideal he hoped to help create.

It’s clearly shitty for Mugi to see the change in her once she announces her marriage, knowing he had nothing to do with that change. But like Kanai’s rejection of Hanabi, it’s also freeing. Mugi loved the way Akane was before she changed. But she has, and so I imagine he’ll move on. But he won’t forget her.

It will hurt for a while, but Mugi will be okay, just like Hanabi and Moca and Ecchan will be alright. With Akane and Kanai getting hitched, it will be interesting to see if Hanabi and Mugi attempt a relationship, only not as it was: rather than an pragmatic alliance of “replacements”, a genuine romantic pairing of two people who no longer consider themselves scum.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 10

Mugi may have been able to sleep with Akane while Hanabi was rejected, but Mugi isn’t under any illusions the reason is anything other than Akane “just felt like it today”; that she’s role-playing, student-and-teacher; because it seemed like a lark. His connection with her matches the episode’s title: “Fragile and Empty.”

The thing is, Mugi does know Akane better than most, if far from as well as she knows herself. He knows from watching her all these years how she jumps from man to man. In her inner thoughts, she tells us how it was always like that since her first: taking all of a man’s love and giving nothing back; taking all the jealousy of the other women and wrapping herself in it. This is the process by which she assigns worth to herself, and it’s the only process she’s ever known.

She executes the same process with Mugi, “shattering his world” so that she can keep standing. But unlike other men, Mugi knows her game, and wants to change the rules. But he also knows changing her is no mean feat, as she isn’t someone who’s ever fallen for anyone, only had others fall for her.

After scores of random, inconsequential men who simply played the game her way, Akane now finds herself afoul of not one but two very different men. Even though Mugi knows what kind of person Akane is, and even when another man tells Kanai, neither of them flinch in their devotion to her. The difference is, Kanai doesn’t care, and wants her to be herself. Mugi, on the other hand, still wants to change her.

During their aquarium date, Akane racked her brain about what exactly Kanai’s deal was. She felt like she was the one pursuing him by committing so much of her thoughts to him, and didn’t like how it felt, so tried to make the date their last. She thought if she told him enough about who she is (or at least the perception of that person that had been crafted both within and without), but Kanai still stopped her from leaving.

Akane has been unique in Kuzu no Honkai as the only character not “in love” with another. Indeed, Akane may not even know what it is to love someone. She’s been loved by men many times before, and every time she shattered their worlds and danced on the ashes. Now things are different.

Neither Kanai nor Mugi will back down. Both know who and what she is, yet still yearn for something she’s never experienced: a relationship that endures, a prospect that doubtless terrifies all parties involved. But Mugi knows the only way he can change someone else is by starting with himself. That’s advice he got from his pact-mate, Hanabi.

Can Mugi actually succeed, and if he does, where does that leave Kanai? Hanabi, Ecchan, and Moca are in pretty good places emotionally right now, but it feels like Mugi’s still operating deep in that murky soup they once inhabited. Who, if not himself or Akane, will be able to help him out?

Kuzu no Honkai – 09

When this week’s Scum’s Wish starts, Hanabi is alone, and wants to die. When it ends, she still feels alone, but realizes she isn’t, and doesn’t want to die. But first thing’s first: Both Narumi and Mugi reject her on the same day (poor girl!) a trip to a forest getaway with Ecchan is a welcome distraction. Any time her mind is busy is better than not.

Ecchan is looking forward to having Hanabi all to herself, but they find her cousin Atsuya is at the cabin. Atsuya feels like an interloper the whole time, but he’s not just there to mark his territory. In his opinion, Hanabi is a dead end for Ecchan: she’ll never get her to feel how she feels about her. And he doesn’t want Hanabi continuing to string her along.

But this trip was never about “making Hanabi hers”, but about saying goodbye for good. Atsuya in the next room or no, Ecchan still gets one last night of bliss with Hanabi. But after that, she vows to be alone. Hanabi wakes up early, and on a walk with Atsuya he tells her Ecchan can’t be used as a replacement.

After they spend one last day out on the town, as the couple Ecchan had at some point hoped they could be, Ecchan expresses her pride in Hanabi for “going for it” with Kanai-sensei, even though she knew how much the rejection would hurt. She did, in effect, what Ecchan had already done, only Hanabi has been “too nice” to reject her, so she has to break it off herself.

With a heartfelt, genuine display of affection and an intense desire to keep knowing Ecchan and learning more about her, Hanabi manages to secure consideration that Ecchan may come back to her, but it may take a long time. Forgetting how to love someone after loving them for so long, takes time, if it happens at all.

Now down Narumi, Mugi, and Ecchan, Hanabi returns to school in a haze of loneliness and despair. She wouldn’t be out of place in Zetsubou-sensei‘s class. Neko spots her looking forlorn and at first appears eager to gloat about how now, finally, Hanabi is getting her comeuppance; a taste of the bitter medicine Neko’s been tasting for years.

But doesn’t gloat; not really. She also has an earnest nugget of recently-earned wisdom to deliver: being rejected is a kind of liberation. Once one starts doing things for themselves—even something as small as buying and wolfing down a danish—you can start to feel better. And having heard these words from Neko, Hanabi realizes she isn’t alone. Her pain isn’t unique, and it’s not implacable.

The episode closes with Akane at Mugi’s for a “teacher home meeting”, only with the parents not home, it’s actually a booty call. And despite Mugi’s clear discomfort with the premise, she is very insistent that he acknowledge that it is an official teacher meeting, and that he call her “teacher.” Yikes.

On the one hand, Mugi is getting something he’s wanted for years. But there’s no indication he’s succeeding in “changing” her as he vowed to do last week. Instead, he seems to be falling deeper under her control, with no discernible way out as of yet. Hanabi thinks Mugi’s being “tricked.” Akane (at least the one in her head) agrees, but adds that he wants to be tricked; that all men do.

Maybe Mugi will go on like this, content with what he has. Or maybe, in time, he’ll come to see the real Akane as nothing but a replacement for the Akane of his dreams…and that he can’t go on like this.

Kuzu no Honkai – 08

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Nice hat!

This episode was so strong throughout, and its ending had so much impact, I nearly forgot that it started with Ecchan and her cousin Atsuya, automatically the weakest of all the pairings simply because we’ve never met Atsuya before.

Aside from being tall, long-haired, and a bit shy, we don’t learn much, except that he’s certain he still has a chance with Ecchan (despite most evidence to the contrary). Ecchan, interestingly, doesn’t seem so certain he doesn’t either.

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Now, on to the Big Event(s): the Dual Confession of Hanabi and Mugi to their respective crushes. I like how they make sure they do all their Summer homework first. Not only are they being proactive, responsible honor students, but they’re operating under the assumption that they’ll be in no state to study later.

Naturally, they don’t study the whole time, but fool around a bit, and that’s when Mugi tells her he’s had trouble imagining her as Akane. Which is interesting because she hasn’t been thinking of him as Narumi either.

From what I gather from their pre-confession interactions is that Hanabi and Mugi are gradually falling for one another, and starting to become aware of it.

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Of course, they still believe (and are probably correct) that their lingering hope of being with their crushes is an impediment that must be extinguished. Whether they move on as a couple together, to them, moving forward means confronting those crushes and getting rejected.

They’re both scared, but in another sign of how her feelings for Mugi have evolved, when he hugs her, his intent doesn’t matter: the hug calms her and stops her hands from shaking. No one but Narumi ever excited Hanabi, and yet here’s Mugi, doing just that.

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Hanabi and Mugi agree to meet back up at 10pm the evening of the Sunday they’ll confess, but I didn’t believe for a second that they would actually meet up at 10pm. Mugi meets with Akane during the day, and she immediately takes command.

When Mugi manages to quickly get out an “I love you”, Akane doesn’t react, because she knew. Mugi, we know, knew she knew. But she didn’t know that he knew she knew, so the knowing stopped at two levels.

And if Akane ever had anything resembling a match, it would be the person who has watched her and knows the person behind the mask. Mugi only liked her because he couldn’t have her.

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Just as Hanabi is meeting up with Narumi, Mugi finds himself in a hotel room, in bed with Akane, removing her clothes. As the RPG shot above shows, he knows he’s outmatched against such a tough boss, but doesn’t care. Akane may be a “horrible, promiscuous, broken narcissist”, but he wants to believe she can change, and that he can be the one to change her.

Can Mugi be her “first”, as in the first person she actually cared about? Mugi assumes she’s incapable of caring about him, but we don’t get in Akane’s head, so he may be wrong about that. We certainly see expressions from Akane we never have before, and they appear genuine, as if the sheer audacity of Mugi’s gambit threw her off balance.

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Of the two confessions, I always assumed Mugi’s would get messier, because of the object of his desire would make it messy with her masks and manipulations. What I didn’t expect is that Mugi was well aware of what he was getting into, but that he still had hope Akane could be redeemed in some way (and if the one who knows her and how she’s lived her life the most believes that, there could well be hope).

Because Narumi is so guileless and kind—basically the opposite of the Akane—it was a good bet that, pending a sudden unrealistic shift in his character, he’d make his rejection of Hanabi as clean and gentle as possible.

That doesn’t make it any easier or less painful for Hanabi, but once it’s all over—and it’s over pretty fast—she feels like a weight has been lifted, because this impediment to her future happiness had been extinguished. Call it a ripping off of a band-aid.

But part of why she’s relatively fine with how things go down with Narumi is because of how she’s started to feel towards Mugi. She believes she’s not alone because both he and she have unrequited loves, but Akane’s love didn’t out-and-out reject him.

Instead, he rejected the awful person she is and vowed to make her a better one. And now he’s in bed with her, and Hanabi is alone.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 04

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Whew…well that was a properly intense episode. In it, we finally enter the head of Minagawa Akane and find out what makes her tick and what she says gives her joy in life: being desired by men. She started back when she was in school, stealing away her best friend’s crush even though she didn’t even like the guy.

Indeed, she’s only interested in guys other girls desire; it’s how she gauges their value. It’s as if she only derides pleasure from her contact with men if she knows it’s pleasure being taken from other women; depriving them of it.

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Her latest victim is Hanabi, but what’s so insidious is that like her best friend’s crush, Akane wouldn’t even care about Kanai if Hanabi didn’t love him. Hanabi is unknowingly fueling her own despair by making it so clear to Akane that she’s into Onii-san. It makes Akane the villain – if you’re rooting for Hanabi. On the other hand, if you’re rooting for the one person who seems to be confident in what they’re doing, Akane’s your girl.

Akane believes it’s Hanabi’s own fault she’s in her predicament, but not because Hanabi has never gathered the stones to confess to Kanai, but because Hanabi should be on same side of this game. She kinda already is; Moca essentially feels for Mugi (whom Hanabi has) what Hanabi feels for Onii-san (whom Akane has). Akane’s become quite adept at taking full advantage of the situation, but Hanabi seems to lack the will.

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We’re then thrust out of Akane’s head and into Kanai’s for the first time, and while I didn’t quite fathom the scope of Akane’s true personality before it was unveiled to us, Kanai is pretty much what I expected.

Kanai is normal, boring, and enough of a romantic to throw caution to the wind when someone like Akane appears in his life, even though a part of him knows (and is correct that) she’s too good to be true.

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Demonstrating how experienced she is at this kind of thing, Akane executes a perfect reenactment of the way she hurt her friend when she separately tells both Kanai and Hanabi to be in the music room after school, then lets Kanai do the rest, confessing to an utterly disinterested Akane as Hanabi watches helplessly.

Akane’s eyes narrow and turn to see Hanabi, and then the episode fades to black in a spine-chilling close to Akane’s half of the episode. This show excels at many things, but it’s particularly good at transitioning from one “soliloquy” to another and keeping the flow moving. The fantastic score and cinematography pulls you into its dark soup of an atmosphere and makes it impossible to break free.

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And we’re only halfway through! Good lord, the first half felt like a complete, and amazing, episode. Thankfully, it isn’t all downhill from here. In fact, Akane’s actions drive those of Hanabi, the main POV of the second half. They drive her to finally emulate the one who hurt her.

I’m not talking about getting hot and heavy with Mugi again, to Moca’s dismay. Seeking comfort from Mugi wouldn’t be possible without telling him what she knows about Akane (the poor bastard). So she heads home alone, in tatters, then realizes she’s been followed…by Ecchan.

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Ecchan still wants Hanabi…very much so. So when Hanabi, in tatters, impulsively embraces Ecchan, then worries how it will feel to her, Ecchan assures her it’s all good. Hanabi this way is better than no Hanabi at all. Besides, Ecchan, makes no apologies for taking what she can when the opportunity arises, almost as payment for the pain Hanabi’s caused her to that point.

As they start having sex, Hanabi finds herself in an Onii-chan fantasy, but it’s soon broken by her waking senses making her see, smell, taste and touch Ecchan, and only Ecchan. Ecchan is ready to stop at any time, but Hanabi won’t tell her to, so she doesn’t. Ecchan wants Hanabi to be filled with her, and Hanabi lets her fill her void.

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The experience, however, leaves Hanabi cold and alone, walking home in the rain, with only her force ghost as company, taunting her for destroying a friendship, notifying her that she’s actively taken advantage of someone’s feelings for the first time, and congratulating her for being scum just like Akane.

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Her force ghost doesn’t tell her anything she doesn’t already know, it is her who is talking to her, after all. She’s having a conversation in her head, and the fact this part of her is mocking her means that she is no match whatsoever for Akane right now. But she wants to be a match, and she’s going to work towards it with everything she’s got. Dark shoujo.

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In one last scene, Hanabi confronts Akane openly about being loved by people she doesn’t even like, and how it can be so fun for her. Akane’s response? There is no greater feeling than being desired by men. Whether she likes them or not is irrelevant, as long as they’re liked, preferably loved, by someone.

It’s a “get with the program” kind of line; one suspects if Hanabi somehow fell out of love with Kanai there’d be nothing left of him to interest Akane. You can have it like i have it, she seems to be telling Hanabi, as long as you’re able to redirect your energies.

Indeed, Hanabi already started with Ecchan, but if she’s serious about wanting to be a match for Akane, she’s got her work cut out for her. And I’m not saying she should! Shit’s already pretty damn heavy. Everyone has their limits. She may just not be cut out for it.

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