by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Engage Kiss ?
Community score: 4.4
Engage Kiss delivers its first legitimately great episode this week with “Fleeting Scars,” and it's all thanks to two characters having sex. Well, that, plus the series doubling down overall on the spicy demonic soap opera qualities it raised last time. While the demon of the week slashes her way through mirrors and towards vengeance, Shu, Ayano, and Kisara turn up the heat in their increasingly steamy love triangle. Shu even receives some overdue development explaining why he's so hell-bent on sacrificing everything to find his family's murderer. It's solid storytelling from start to finish, and my most major complaint is that Engage Kiss didn't lead with this material back in the premiere.
I have a simple philosophy when it comes to anime romances of a certain ilk: if you're going to have your two main female characters fighting over your scumlord protagonist, then all I ask is that you drop the cutesy shit and get straight to the psychosexual mind games and messy seductions. Engage Kiss' fifth episode satisfies strongly on that front, and most prominently with Shu and Ayano's moment of candlelit vulnerability. It can't help but throw in an eye-rolling introduction, with Ayano getting childishly flustered over Shu seeing her in her loungewear, but everything after that is nice and melodramatic. We get a clearer picture of their past relationship, why it fell apart, and why they still can't help but pine for each other. They finally sound and act like adults here—adults caught up in a ridiculous sci-fi soap opera, but adults nonetheless.
The lead-in to the sex scene also exhibits some great craft. The low, romantic lighting and the attention to body language both show Shu and Ayano growing more intimate well before she rips his shirt off. And while seductions on film usually emphasize eye contact, Engage Kiss turns their inability to do so into another angle of eroticism. The pair cannot look in each other's eyes, so Ayano instead focuses on her other senses: the taste of their kiss, the feel of Shu's exposed chest, the scent of their bodies pressed together, and so on. Yet, amongst this lust, there's an undeniable air of sadness and regret. Ayano wants to look into Shu's eyes, but she knows she can't, and she knows he's going to forget this night anyway. Kudos to episode director/storyboarder Yūsuke Kubo for honing all of these qualities into an appropriately mature exhibition of doomed romance.
However, the biggest dash of spiciness slices through their tryst on the edge of Kisara's blade. As we saw last week, her steady diet of Shu's memories has only softened Kisara's feelings towards her romantic rival. More and more moments that Ayano and Shu once shared together are now shared only between Ayano and Kisara. And Ayano, equipped with that knowledge, utilizes it to her advantage, engaging in cathartic and messy post-breakup sex, while using Kisara's memory munchies to avoid any awkward friendship-ending aftermath with Shu. Kisara goes along with her plan too, but I doubt even she knows whether she does so out of obligation to Ayano's feelings, or simply due to her own jealousy and obsession with Shu. Personally, I'd wager it's a little of both. Now, it's still not great that both of these women's personalities revolve entirely around wooing our loser hero, but given those parameters, this current arrangement is one of the best outcomes. They're each fighting on the battlefield of psychosexual subterfuge, suspended on the taut emotional tightrope of mutual respect and envy. That's exciting. That's compelling! That's the stuff that could launch thousands of steamy threesome fanfics.
But those are enough words on sex (for now). There are two other quite good scenes I want to highlight. The first is Kisara dangling like a helpless cat stuck suspended in the middle of that traffic mirror. I don't have anything to add to that beyond it being a perfect image. The second is Shu's diner conversation with Mikami. As exposition, it's clunkier than it needs to be—the detective spells out stuff for the audience that Shu is already well aware of—but I'm glad it contextualizes Shu's motivations into something beyond mere revenge. The government smeared his father's name to cover up the inspection incident, so Shu wants to clear it. I think that's juicier than vengeance alone, and it also explains why Shu would be more willing to trust a shady informant than work alongside the police. His belief about his sister fits into this picture too. After all, despite his seething bluster, he can't bring himself to unilaterally hate demons if it's possible she lives on working as or with one, which furthermore throws his unusual relationship with Kisara into a new light.
Ultimately, this episode is another step in the right direction for Engage Kiss. The action is cinematic, the lamest jokes are almost completely excised, and the melodrama is cranked all the way up. I didn't like any of these people in the beginning, but now I'm emotionally invested in seeing our three main screw-ups lick each other's wounds (and other parts of their bodies). I'm hoping Engage Kiss will continue to prioritize these more salacious storytelling angles, and given what I've heard about Fumiaki Maruto's other works, it just might grant my wish.
Engage Kiss is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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