Kuzu no Honkai – 03

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Just as Moca has a legitimate reason for loving Mugi (they’ve known each other a long time), Ecchan has one as well: Hanabi saved her from being assaulted on the train. When she ends up sharing Hanabi’s bed, Ecchan isn’t planning to do anything, but she just can’t hold back, and takes a gamble…one that doesn’t work out.

Hanabi thinks Ecchan is pretty, and she clearly values her as a friend, but when things get physical…it just doesn’t feel right for Hanabi, and not just because Ecchan is a girl. There’s a heavy weight she feels from being the object of Ecchan’s desires, accompanied by an acute, paralyzing fear.

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We learn a little more about what sent Mugi head over heels in love with his tutor Akane; he had his cherry popped by a beautiful senpai who later dumps him and breaks his heart. There’s every indication the girl he was with treated their fling as just a fling: casual, secret, fun while it lasted. Then she moved on.

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We see this unfold in what turns out to be a sexy dream Mugi wakes up from with an erection, just when Hanabi sneaks into his room for some contact. He initially stops her from touching him, worried he won’t be able to stop if they cross that line, but Hanabi doesn’t want him to stop, so she continues.

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Just as he was once so inexperience with his first, Mugi no doubt sees a little of himself in Hanabi’s inexperience, but after she expresses a bit of smugness, she starts to tear up, because she’s realized something: what she gets from Mugi she can’t just get from anyone. She didn’t get it from Ecchan, whom she was too scared to touch. Mugi is different.

Then and there, he’s someone she can see falling in love with, even if he isn’t Onii-san. After all, if she came on to Onii-san, who’s to say he wouldn’t feel the same tense, uncomfortable weight she felt from Ecchan? This is Hanabi taking stock of what she has in Mugi and thinking about her best interests.

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Later that night Mugi and Hanabi go to a family restaurant for dinner, and who do they run into but Akane-senpai, with a young-looking guy who definitely isn’t her brother who is really into him. Talk about awkward. Akane tries to be friendly, but the guy drags her away, clearly eager to continue their evening unfettered by her “students.”

The next day, Mugi tells Hanabi he recognized the guy as another student she’s tutoring. It’s all too clear he was more than that. Hanabi can’t believe how blind love makes Mugi, and is frustrated they don’t see things like this the same way, to the point she worries they weren’t as close as she thought.

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But then she realizes of course they’re not that close, at least not yet: their relationship, such as it is, has only just begun, and both of them agreed at the start they’d see other people in each other. Seeing Akane out in public with a different guy threw that plan into chaos for Hanabi.

She decides what she’s feeling now is something approaching hatred for Akane, which isn’t allayed by their brief, uneasy encounter in the schoolyard. Hanabi asks Akane (still wearing the same clothes from last night) if that guy was her boyfriend; she said it was just a friend, and that they can talk about it later. Assuming neither of them want Onii-san to find out about them being with other guys, Hanabi contemplates her next move as Akane, her back turned to her, cracks a wry, knowing smile.

Kuzu continues to excel with its serious, weighty but deft internal drama (not of the melo- variety) and quietly steamy scenes of sensuality (one of which ends with the mundane practicality of having to wash dirty clothes). We’re with Hanabi and Mugi all the way as they endure and explore their pain and pleasure; their playfulness and despair; their confusion and their revelations.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 02

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Just as Hanabi and Mugi are getting acclimated as a kinda-sorta-couple, Kuzu no Honkai throws a couple of wrenches into the works: namely, alternate love interests for both of them in the persons of Ecchan (Hanabi’s only female friend) and Moca (Mugi’s childhood friend).

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Hanabi makes it clear to Moca that Mugi is hers and she isn’t into sharing. Possessive or not, it’s logical for her to suggest Mugi gently reject Moca, but because both of them are in situations of unrequited love, it’s also not strange to see him hesitating.

That being said, there are already signs that Hanabi sees Mugi as more than just an onii-chan replacement; she even calls him Mugi when he starts to make out with her. The rules of their “arrangement” are being bent this quickly, what hope to they have of not falling for each other?

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Hanabi never having the slightest opening with onii-chan, nor Mugi with Akane, certainly makes being a couple together more mutually comforting. Mugi is starting to feel like a boyfriend, and she doesn’t hate that.

When she interacts with other girls who ask her for love advice, they seem to be simply playing around, compared to what she and Mugi are up against. They laugh off her talk of liking someone so much it hurts, so she can’t take them seriously from that point on.

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Hanabi decides she wants a girls-only night with her only friend Ecchan; little does she know Ecchan is harboring a crush on her; one we see her acting on despite herself as the night fast-forwards to Ecchan kissing Hanabi in bed. As if things weren’t already complicated enough, eh…

Kuzu no Honkai continues to be a moody, intriguing drama, wading into the murky swamp of infatuation and longing, and punctuated by sudden moments of intimate contact. Moca seems like she belongs in a different show so far, but Ecchan is more promising, if for no other reason than she completely blindsides Hanabi.

As Kuzu nears Nagi no Asukara levels of love polygonage in just its second episode, I’m curious to see how those pursuing their own one-sided loves deal with others pursuing them.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 01 (First Impressions)

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It’s not what it looks like…

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.

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This show isn’t entirely humorless

Whoa. Move over Masamune-kunKuzu 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.

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Look at those lovebirds down there…disgusting!

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.

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This is what they’ve wanted for a long time…but not from each other

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.

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If we’re going to do this, then let’s DO this!

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.

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