Midterm Examination: Kure-nai

Last night, I finally caught up to episode 7 of Kure-nai, and I figured this would be a good time to introduce a series of mid-season reflections on various shows so far. Kure-nai continues its mix of gangster action and the antics of this season’s most realistic 7 year old.

Two scenes stand out to me as emblematic of this show so far. One is a simple, probably overlooked, episode that takes place after Murasaki and Shinkurou leave Yuuno’s house. Murasaki is sitting in grocery shopping cart, and she is depressed as she imagines she has made Shinkurou angry. Her mood recovers almost immediately when Shinkurou informs her that he fixed Chizuru’s doll, and, considering she also broke Chizuru’s DS, has the gall to ask Shinkurou for one of her own too. When he finally gives in by warning her “you can only play two hours a day” and that she has to take care of it, she promises this almost thoughtlessly (they are almost certainly not going to be kept), and ends the scene by pumping her arm in a triumphant “Oh, yes!” in imitation of a TV star.

I was like that at age 7. The writers captured so very well the turn-on-a-dime mood swings of a child, the making of hasty promises, the way kids imitate things on TV, and the power of toys to bring temporary joy. It does this in less than one minute. It’s a testament to how Murasaki is no ordinary anime loli, especially when the show itself pokes fun at Shinkurou for being a lolicon. The writing is simply of a different order altogether. Murasaki sees through pretense, is selfish and spoiled, stands up to do the right thing (not necessarily at the right time–but always exposing Shinkurou’s cowardice, which needs to be the subject of another article in the future), and has no regard for the possessions of others. That’s a kid, folks: aggravating and endearing at all once. One wonders whether the show really should be called Murasaki instead. Shinkurou Kurenai seems like he’s mostly an accessory for her.

The other scene is the now-infamous musical section of episode 6. It immediately reminded me of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a demon curses everyone to sing their thoughts and feelings: it’s something that should never have worked, but it did. The “musical” of course describes the emotional positions of the various relationships in the show, which are exaggerated in the manner of opera and theater. It was at this point that I realized that, hey, Shinkurou actually has a harem of sorts, but the fact that I was able to overlook this for so long until they were mocking it is again a testament to this show’s relative originality. A lot of the individual elements of the show–action, a protagonist with a special power, raising a “little sister,” a guy surrounded by women, etc.–are staple genres in anime. The way it’s put together is rather novel, though, much in the same way that the A Charlie Brown Christmas was surprisingly sophisticated and even dark for what was supposedly a children’s show at the time. (The jazzy soundtrack of Kure-nai often reminds me of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s work on that Christmas TV institution.)

Does it matter that we must wait until the end of the 7th episode for the “main plot” to kick in–ie, the family trying to get Murasaki back? Not really. We get to learn a lot, for instance, about an otherwise comic side relief character, the boisterous Tamaki–who turns out to be quite flawed and complicated under the “drunken onee-san” archetype found in many anime other than this. The relatively slow, unhurried “slice of life” pacing of the show gives plenty of opportunities for verbal wit, the kind that is rarely ever done in anime: episode 3’s famous three way dialogue, as well as another instance in episode 7 when Shinkurou is trying to call home whilst two of his classmates are talking. It’s not Oscar Wilde-worthy yet, sure, though two similarities it does share with Wilde’s work are its reliance on banter and the conflict of being caught between different social roles and worlds: a rich little girl living with a poor guy who works in the underworld and still tries to be a normal student, all the while fending off the advances of another rich, scheming girl. It sounds like a setup for a comedy, if anything! (Which it becomes in episode 6.)

There’s still a part of me that has a hard time believing that a teenage guy could ever be a menacing, convincing “dispute mediator”–even with his implanted arm scythe–but the characters are charming enough to help me suspend disbelief most of the time.

So far, then, Kure-nai has managed to maintain its unique elements going with little loss of enjoyment. The problem now is whether the “main plot” is going to turn the show much more mundane; much more of a chase show than a group of amusing, interesting people doing things together. This is where the rather complicated premise of the show may become a drag on the show’s greatest strengths, especially if they’re only limiting this to 12-13 episodes. I like these people. I want to see them go on. It’s why the American version of The Office was able to continue in length far beyond the short, sweet, and surprisingly moving British original. I’m reminded of the advice I was given in creative writing: develop your characters well first. Interesting people create interesting stories all by themselves.

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

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