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Review: Kurenai

Sometimes when writing reviews for anime I feel like a sommelier gone rogue: anime has exactly the same style of jargon. There are the broad classifications that everyone who is not blind can tell the first time they encounter an example, and there are the fine distinctions with weird, non-intuitive names which can only be distinguished by people with years of special training. In the case of Kurenai, we have a series which is about half shounen-style fighting and half shoujo-style kawaii slice of life. There are notable dark overtones, influences ranging from Maison Ikkoku to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, traces of the supernatural, and the barest detectable hints of lolicon.

The premise is actually a bit offputting when put down in words just because it sounds so much like some committee’s attempt to reach as many target audiences as possible: a high school student who is kind of a loser (though surrounded by a harem of half a dozen attractive women) is actually an expert fighter (with a weird, semi-supernatural Power) who makes his living as a “conflict mediator,” which job usually entails beating the snot out of one of the parties in the conflict. For his toughest job yet, he has to assume custody and bodyguard duties of a young girl on the run from her evil family.

The series actually does a pretty good job of introducing all that, though, so that at no point was there the sensation of egregious implausibility. Each individual episode was clearly the focus of much attention and care; they’re all nicely crafted and likeable. However, the series has the exact opposite problem that Trigun did: its overall story arc just doesn’t gel. For example, one episode is devoted entirely to a musical production which has nothing at all to do with the rest of the plot. It was one of the funniest episodes in the series, but with only 12 episodes to work with, the writers might have been better served by staying a bit more focused.

It’s worth mentioning that the child character is actually the most interesting one in the series. On the one hand, there’s a generally great portrayal of someone who is strong-willed and independent, but still a child from a cloistered background. On the other hand, there were more than a few moments when both her vocabulary and attitudes seemed more in keeping with a women a decade or two older than her stated age.

In the end, if you’re looking not so much for a series as a single episode or two to watch at a time, you can almost certainly find something here to suit your taste. However, despite the high production values and generally entertaining episodes, it falls short for those like myself who prefer a strong long-form storyline.

Genre: “conflict mediator” bodyguarding a child
Emotion: why does he keep letting himself get beat up before cutting loose?
BTFS: .79

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