tldr? Could’ve been great, managed to be good.
I’m hoping not to be the last person to wrap up Kure-nai — quite a few people already have — but I needed a little time to collect my thoughts about one of the most interesting series of Spring ’08, a pretty good season.
Kure-nai has a fairly simple, though inherently odd, storyline. Shinkurou Kurenai is a high-school student who has a part-time job as a “dispute mediator,” working for the tough and somewhat mysterious Benika. His duties include kicking a lot of ass in some fairly brutal sequences, and… that’s about it. But one day Benika has a job for him: protecting rich little kid Murasaki, who’s been forcibly removed from her family, the Kuhoins.
I often lump “story and characters” into the same little section in my reviews, but characters are way too important to Kure-nai for that, especially Shinkurou and Murasaki.
The main thrust of the series is Shinkurou’s development as a character; he starts off as a kid who admits his own weakness. He’s had a demonic bone-sword installed in his arm by high school haremette Yuno’s assassin family to compensate for his weakness, but he spends most of the show trying very hard not to use it. Murasaki of course makes the typical transition from spoiled rich girl to a regular kid who’s able to enjoy simpler things, to a child with a head full of crazy ideas implanted by Shinkurou’s bizarre neighbor women, and to something much more by the end.
Not an issue you usually have to discuss much, but Kure-nai seems to defy easy categorization. The fight scenes, though sporadic, are especially brutal and simple, far unlike the stylized Ninja or Chinese martial arts normally found in anime. But a big portion of the series was spent on simple slice-of-life non-events. Yes, between Shinkurou’s job, the freaky neighbors, and the very nature of the situation, these were really weird slices of life. But they could very easily be touching, cute, sad, or laugh-out-loud funny. So I have to hand one the best compliments I can think of to Kure-nai: It doesn’t live too simply in any one genre.
I’ll cover this issue more fully sometime (put it on that big list of Someday Posts), but certain bloggers seemed to be really cheesed off by certain aspects of the plot. I can definitely speak specifically to that issue, and maybe even said blogger understands now that that particular point was fully explained in later episodes. Either way, Kure-nai does in fact make a weird situation seem somehow plausible, despite what the dinosaur says. I think that’s achieved by the creation of what basically amounts to a fantasy world, even though it resembles the real world. A high school “dispute moderator?” Female friends who are an information gatherer and the heiress to a family of assassins? Incestious imprisoners of female family members? A musical episode? It all works. How?
Anachronism and other contrasts
Kure-nai seems obsessed with the idea of strange centuries-old traditions (and equally dated career paths) living comfortably alongside the modern society that the rest of us think is hunky dory. There’s an air of mysticism that subtly presents itself time and again, even when nothing strange is really happening and the series is focusing on thoroughly modern stuff.
That contrast and duality is not the only one — obviously you have Shinkurou’s high school life and dangerous job, or his deadly serious task and the goofy antics he gets into with his friends and neighbors. Even the execution of Kure-nai is about contrasts. The show itself seems far more serious than the throwaway pop OP would lead you to believe (especially in the first episode, which starts pretty violently), and the similarly useless ED carries us away to happy-land right before the “next episode” preview halts all action and demands your attention with a captivating, minimal shamisen tune and silenced dialog.
Animation and execution
Some of the character designs really weirded me out, and anatomically just didn’t jive. Especially Benika’s. If you add it all up, two and two don’t equal four and the ears shouldn’t be coming from there. But Shinkurou and Murasaki were very appealing designs, and the animation (by Brains Base) was overall one of the show’s highlights.
The ending didn’t do it for me. Perhaps the writers needed just a little more time that they didn’t take in other places, but the end took that plausibility and threw it out the window. I think the believable-factor really only happened the way it did because of the characters. They acted, overall, in a way that you didn’t have to stretch to much to imagine real people doing. Many times that was in the little details, like bored bodyguard Yayoi’s obsession with some game on her cellphone. Sometimes it was in the overall character arc, like Shinkurou himself. But for those of you who have seen it: Murasaki’s behavior at the end provides a convenient way to tie up the show without going in one totally obvious way or another, but is it right?
Bottom line, even with that ending, Kure-nai managed to be that one show that comes along every once in a while and elevates itself just a little bit above the typical TV anime fare. Not really even as much as last season’s True Tears, but enough that I can recommend it. The story was decent, the animation quality was a notch above standard, and I think it actually stands a reasonably good chance of being licensed somewhere in the future.