Koi Kaze: Volume 1 - The Reunion Review
Animation has always proved there are no limits to storytelling. When it comes to anime there's an equal level of output for both the mature and younger audiences. Once in a while, as artists and directors find new ways to adapt the medium, we witness something unique which touches upon subjects that might otherwise be glossed over or simply turned into a quick gag. While on the surface the taboo themes may not appear to be wholly original, the way in which Koi Kaze's story is dealt with is far more nurturing than one might initially expect. But alas, this very subject matter will still put off several viewers no matter how well the story might be told, and if the reader is of the disposition to feel this is nothing more than a series designed to upset then A) there may be no point in reading any further or B) this series may just surprise you yet.
The story follows Koshiro, a 27-year-old wedding planner who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. One day on his way home he notices a young high-school girl sitting near him on the train who upon making her exit drops her ID card. Koshiro retrieves this and gets off to return it to the girl, whose gaze leaves him lost for words. She thanks him and heads on home, leaving Koshiro stranded with just his thoughts. Later that evening Koshiro is told by his father to prepare for the arrival of his little sister, who he hasn’t seen in more than ten years. She is coming to the city so that she can attend high school.
While out with a work colleague the next day Koshiro sees the girl again and stops her, but this time asks if she'd like to go out, leading them on a trip to the fairground. The girl, Nanoka has also recently suffered from a break up of sorts and the pair finds some comfort in each other. At the evening's end they both go to head home but Nanoka tells him that she is waiting for her father to pick her up. Just then her father arrives. It turns out that Koshiro's sister is Nanoka and from now on they'll be living under the same roof. Koshiro must come to terms with facts but his feelings toward Nanoka prevent him from handling their relationship in a more responsible manner.
Koi Kaze is adapted from Motoi Yoshida's serialised Manga of the same name, seen in "EVENING" press in Japan. The series release to western audiences comes as a pleasant surprise with the subject matter being of the sort which might have otherwise seen it left in relative obscurity. Yes Nanako is 15 years old, meaning Koshiro is 12 years her senior, but age doesn't appear to be an issue at the moment and never will be in a legal sense. It might not be considered normal but when looking at Japan's consensual laws (where the age of consent is 13) there isn't a whole lot to worry about so that area of taboo doesn't really come into play. The mere fact that later on it's only encouraged by the stock, comic relief character of Odagiri signifies it further still, but as a social statement we are shown that it’s not exactly the coolest thing to be into either. No, what makes Koi Kaze "controversial" is that we're looking at a potential romantic relationship between brother and sister, but rather than just come right out with it and pair them together simply for shock value, the series takes a more unlikely approach and focuses on the mindset of its main character, who is going through a difficult situation that he needs to adjust to. Given the young and innocent qualities of Nanako she doesn't quite cotton on to things, even after their first day out together. Koshiro is the one who has come away with feelings after she consoled him that day, while Nanako after learning the fact is all too happy to get to know and spend time with her big brother. She never thought of any of this as being romantic and so we're given a set up that asks questions from Koshiro's side.
With that out of the way, Koi Kaze is a fine little romantic drama with slight comical tones in itself. Covering a range of feelings thus far, the series has remained a thoroughly human piece of work that touches upon our emotions ever so softly. It doesn't become too difficult to accept the situation Koshiro finds himself in with the interaction between him and Nanako appearing sweet in many ways. His feelings of brotherly love are without question, he's constantly worrying about her health and where she is, imparting advice and so on, but then contrasting this is his conflicting romantic feelings towards her. This is a progressive piece which sees Koshiro slowly examine his heart’s depths. We're never quite sure where things are going, and just when you think he might be accepting the outcome we catch him in some uncomfortable situations. Burying his face in Nanako’s bra is the biggest offender, and it's moments like these which may cause the viewer to switch off, but to do so would be to ignore the gradually thickening complexities of the series. It becomes interesting to witness the growth of these two characters with the younger experiencing puberty having just started her periods, whereas the elder at times demonstrates a child-like quality and selfishness.
So we begin to learn quite a few things about these characters as they progress and despite being a third of the way in already the series has only just begun to scratch the surface of this complicated family.
Koi Kaze was released in Japan last year and found itself in amongst a competitive stream of anime reaching new heights in terms of animation aesthetics, such as the forthcoming Samurai 7. Taking a different approach Koi Kaze utilises a low key appearance yet manages to remain quite beautiful throughout. There's no CG manipulation, fast paced visuals or anything that will jump out and feed your eyeballs if that's what you’re accustomed to. Here the series flows with its finely detailed, watercolour-esque environment, lovingly hand painted to provide a fittingly aromatic slice of life. Art director, Chikara Nishikura has captured the show’s essence well, with pretty sakura blossoms and ever changing skylines, the details of leaves falling and the breeze that blows, reflecting the series' title of a briskly swept love.
Makoto Yoshimori and Masinori Takumi's score adds more subtlety to the mix. Fine piano based compositions run through the series accompanying the understated performances by Kenta Miyake and young newcomer, Yuuki Nakamura. The most deeply saddening addition to the series' score is its opening track "Koi Kaze", written by Ritsuko Okazaki, who tragically passed away last year. This was to be one of her last anime series but it's a lovely piece that is far from the melancholy surrounding her passing, with the vocals of éf providing a good introduction to our characters, digging deep into their inner thoughts and feelings.
Koshiro has recently been dumped by his girlfriend, but rather than worry about a woman he never really loved he heads on home. Making his way back by train, he bumps into a young school-girl named Nanoka, and after a brief encounter the couple part at their station stop. The next day he sees the girl again, but this time he asks her if she'd like to go to the fairground for a day. They spend the day together and come evening Nanoka tells him she must wait for her father to pick her up. However, when he arrives, Koshiro is shocked to discover that the young girl who he's attracted to is in fact his sister.
Koshiro is having a tough time adjusting to his sister's presence in the house. As such he tries to avoid her as much as possible but she's all too often doing nice things for him. When she visits his workplace one day she angers Koshiro in front of his co-workers and he tells her never to visit again. In frustration, she decides to spend the day with friends, which ends up worrying her father.
Koshiro just can't get his sister out of his mind. After a terrible night he roots through his childhood things and finds the bear his mother made for him. He gives it to Nanoka and in turn she gives him hers. At school Nanoka goes through cramps and one of her friends develops a crush on a boy she saw recently. Trouble is her best friend already beat her to it.
After a work presentation, Koshiro takes Nanoka to the cinema, where he catches a glimpse of his ex-girlfriend. When the film ends he tells his sister to go home by herself, while he heads to his ex's house to tell her what she saw isn't what she thought. That evening they share drinks and thoughts of sleeping with Shoko cross his mind.
Koi Kaze is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Transfer-wise the series looks as good as many a recent show, with no major distractions aside from black levels, which appear a little weak, but given the nature of the relatively soft palette it doesn't seem a huge problem. The softer colours, such as cheery blossom pink are perfectly captured and the haziness which appears from time to time is a deliberate animation technique. This provides a slight softness at times, which again is normal so overall it's quite pleasing.
For sound we have Japanese and English 2.0 tracks. There's nothing here to sonically harass your ears, this is a simple little mix, driven by its pretty score, with little need for surrounds. The environment is well realised and surrounds are picked up from time to time, although there's not a whole lot of spatial activity. The front speakers express the action and dialogue well, doing a fine job considering the content, which makes a nice change after some of the more recent, epic anime productions. I have a few reservations over the English dub. For a start character's names are very poorly pronounced - a worrying trend in anime and a frustrating one at that. Secondly the delivery is a little too flat. Patrick Seitz's Koshiro is far too quiet, often making him difficult to hear at times when he's feeling low, and at other times it sounds unnaturally deep. Tiffany Hsieh's Nanoka is a little out of character, with an unsuitable pitch, plus the supporting cast have a few troubles here and there.
Optional English subtitles are included and for the most part they read fine. Strangely though, there are more grammatical errors than can be expected, with a few words being omitted here and there. I spotted at the very least four instances of this. But it's not like you can't fill in the blanks as its obvious stuff, it just seems a little negligent.
Geneon don't go mad; providing us with a credit less opening sequence as well as the Japanese version, which is the same animated sequence with kanji titles. Rounding up the extras are Geneon trailers for Paranoia Agent, Rumiko Takahashi Anthology and Hanaukyo Maid Team.
Trepidation may well befall this series, which would be a shame as it's a very interesting start to what should only become an even more intriguing storyline. Koi Kaze deals with things which we don't ordinarily think about, but under the circumstances how would these feelings be transmitted? That's something the series manages to accomplish without offending, which in turns makes it an interesting and sweet natured study.