Reviewby Theron Martin,
Volume 1: The Reunion
Koshiro, a professional wedding consultant, has recently been dumped by his girlfriend when he crosses paths with a cute high school girl. Though inappropriate due to their age difference (he's 27, she's 15), he winds up on what passes for a date with her, where he ultimately displays more of his feelings than he had intended. The awkwardness of the situation is heightened tenfold when the two discover that she, Nanoka, is the little sister that Koshiro hasn't seen in more than a decade – and she's moving in with him and his divorced father in order to attend high school! Never a man comfortable with his emotions, Koshiro must struggle to sort out feelings that just won't go away even in light of their status as siblings. And how does Nanoka feel about Koshiro? Could it be that she, too, has feelings for him as well, feelings that transcend their familial status, even despite Koshiro's moody nature?
Every so often a romantic anime story steps aside from the mold of stock characters and story elements to produce something truly special and different. Last year SaiKano went down this path by offering a serious, intimate, and tragic look at two teen lovers struggling to maintain a relationship despite the fact that one of them was gradually losing her humanity. In so doing it became one of the most powerful, compelling, and best-written anime titles to be released in the States in 2004. This year's entry taking the “path less traveled” looks to be Koi Kaze, an intimate and mostly serious look at a potential forbidden relationship, one that involves both improperly disparate ages and incest. Though the storyline sounds like something that could have come out of an episode of Jerry Springer, delicate care is taken in showing how Koshiro starts to develop more than just familial feelings for Nanoka despite the improprieties of the situation. We see him react awkwardly, even gruffly, to Nanoka's presence in his household as he tries to sort out what he really feels towards her and desires about her, an altogether believable reaction which also neatly sidesteps the inherent creepiness of the circumstances. Although we do not get to see inside Nanoka's head as much so as we do Koshiro's, we also get a look at her reality as she adjusts to living with a brother she's never really known while leading the very ordinary life of a 15-year-old girl. The possibilities here for future developments are both intriguing and compelling, though they may make some viewers uncomfortable.
While the series could not rightfully be called a romantic comedy based on the first volume, it does have a few comedic elements. A male co-worker of Koshiro's adds comic relief as a man obsessed with having a relationship with a high school girl, while a trip to an amusement park with Nanoka does not go so well for the apparently motion sickness-sensitive Koshiro. The hyper “Next Episode” bits are also good for a chuckle or two. None of the humor involves the pratfalls and exaggerated reactions typical of romantic comediy animes, though; even when being funny Koi Kaze retains a certain degree of sensibility. A finely-shaped – and, most importantly, believable – supporting cast includes the emotional father (cheery at times, inconsolably worried at others), an ex-girlfriend who clearly still cares for Koshiro but wasn't getting the emotional investment out of their relationship that she sought, a female coworker of Koshiro's who teases him about his relationships but is also starting to put the pieces together about the odd way Koshiro has been acting lately, and a friend of Nanoka's who is so intensely interested in starting a relationship with a boy that she's riding an emotional roller coaster herself.
The writing is certainly the highlight of the series, as it emotionally invests the viewers from the very first episode. One early defining scene finds Koshiro and Nanoka (whom he doesn't know is his sister at that point) in a ferris wheel car, where Koshiro completely breaks down while telling Nanoka not to throw away even an impossible love, since such true and pure feelings are both rare and something to be cherished. This scene not only could bring many viewers to tears (when was the last time the first episode of a series could do that?) but is also a clever foreshadowing of the very dilemma Koshiro's own heart will face. Nanoka's gentle effort to comfort Koshiro in that scene also helps set the tone for later events, as she cannot forget her brother's sensitivity even when he is being mean to her.
As great as the writing is, the artistry is a disappointment. A subdued, washed-out color scheme is used on background art which often looks like it was lifted from watercolor paintings. It frequently has a rough, unrefined look to it and is too clearly distinct from the foreground character animation. Koshiro's square-jawed character design is simple and uninteresting, as are those for many of the supporting characters, but the appealing cuteness of Nanoka's design almost makes up for it. The quality of animation is also sporadic; one gets the impression that the artistic and technical budgets were concentrated on one key character and a few key scenes while the rest was done on the cheap.
The other place Koi Kaze really shines is in its musical scoring. The gentle, piano-driven tunes flawlessly set the tone for each scene, and the musical director knows when to let the music lapse. The opener is equally pleasant, while the closer is a mix of good music (an extension of the scoring) with amateurish artistry and weak singing. On the plus side, the vocal credits list the role with both the Japanese and English voice actors at the same time, a style Geneon has sometimes used in the past, that I greatly prefer. The English vocal casting is about as close as you're going to get to sounding like the original seiyuu, with veteran Patrick Seitz (Onishi in Texhnolyze, the sophisticated Valentine brother in Hellsing) matched with newcomer Tiffany Hsieh in the lead roles and backed by a very experienced supporting cast. The quality of the English vocal performances is also a close match to the originals, which is due in part to an English script which fully retains the essential meaning of the original.
Though the graphic content in this volume is virtually nonexistent, it is loaded with mature situations and contains some adult content which is not appropriate for younger viewers. This is a series aimed at older teens and young adults and reflects the sensibilities of those age groups.
Extras on this four-episode volume are limited to Non-Credit and Original Japanese versions of the opening and the now-standard trio of Geneon previews. Menu Design is friendly and appealing, though, and separate subtitling and language track options are a plus.
Koi Kaze is not a series which is going to suit everyone's tastes due to its subject matter. It has the potential, though, to be the year's premiere romantic anime series.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : A
+ superb, cliche-free writing
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