Monday, November 8, 2010

Anime Review: Kaze no Stigma


Kaze no Stigma is a 24 episode anime series by the studio GONZO originally aired in Japan in 2007 and brought over to America starting in 2009 by our old pals Funimation. In fact the reason I picked this series to watch was because I kept seeing trailers for it on all the other Funimation DVDs I reviewed for this blog and finally broke down and gave it a view. Anyway much like with The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye this cartoon is based on a Light Novel series. To refresh your memory Light Novels are books longer than a novella but shorter than a full size novel with manga-like illustrations in them; a style that’s very popular in Japan. Unfortunately the writer of the series, Takahiro Yamato, passed away last year leaving it an unfinished work. The fact that the books don’t have an ending doesn’t affect the anime since it wrapped up two years before Yamato’s death so let’s check it out and how it stands on its own.
[WARNING: This review includes spoilers]
The Kannagi Clan are the foremost experts at using fire magic and famous throughout the world. Four years ago the named heir of the family, young Kazuma Kannagi who was not blessed with the full power of his clan, was defeated by his younger cousin Ayano in a duel and subsequently cast out of the family for being a failure. In the present day he returns to Japan, calling himself “Kazuma Yagami”, and sporting powerful wind magic that seemingly makes him even more powerful than his former clan’s senior members. However his arrival coincides with the death of several Kannagi branch family members by wind magic. Many of the clan, including new clan heir Ayano, erroneously suspect Kazuma is the culprit so he must now prove his innocence-
What’s that? He doesn’t actually give a damn whether they think he’s innocent or not and is now looking to crack some Kannagi heads? Oh. Right on. I guess.
Ayano, probably killing someone she suspects wronged her
An important note about the structure of this series is that it broken up into story arcs that each sort of feel like smaller stand alone chapters, much like with The Third but unlike that show Kaze no Stigma does have something of an underlying plot as it’s clear from the beginning that there are some major skeletons in Kazuma’s closet that threaten to come back and bite him, which of course they eventually do. Presumably this style of structure comes from being based on a book series but it works fine well enough. Some of these storylines are pretty decently told though others are boring as hell and were painful to sit through. The final arc though had lots of time to wrap up so while The Third’s ending came out of nowhere Kaze’s climax feels significantly more developed.
Too bad everything else about this show was mediocre.
Kaze no Stigma fails in certain key area, but probably the most noticeable to me was the cast. Perhaps "failure" is the wrong word. In truth not everyone is awful. Kazuma for example has a lot going for him: he’s strong willed and tough and as a result doesn’t let the fact that his family disowned him slip by when engaging them in business dealings, nor does he allow himself to be bullied by the spoiled Ayano (More on her later). He doesn’t let his family walk over him which seems like a change of pace for the Japanese cartoons I’m used to watching. That said he’s not very dynamic. His personality seems to be the aloof and cool badass type but doesn’t really change or grow all that much by the end. Well actually that may not be true as there is some rather dire personality change during the final arc but it doesn’t last and he’s right back to the same old Kazuma with one directly stated, but not shown, difference (More on that later). I once had a teacher in college that said a protagonist needs to experience change as a character from the beginning of the story by the end or otherwise the journey seems pointless. I agree and the only change that occurs here is…um…I guess there is none. Anyway his whole “I’m a cold jerk” gimmick got old fairly quickly. Ren Kannagi, Kauzma’s younger brother, is the only character I can really tolerate except that I still don’t like him very much as he’s na├»ve and tends to whine about “saving everyone”. Still unlike the other two main characters he experiences actual character growth without being too annoying to the viewer. Most of the other characters are one note figures who don’t add much to the show.
This brings us to Ayano Kannagi. Now I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve decided that Ayano is the absolute worst protagonist in any anime I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a good amount. To clarify anime fandom is known for its near universal hatred of Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion. I actually (mostly) like Shinji; I despise Ayano Kannagi!
Ayano about to murder someone she suspects may be a pervert
First of all yes, Ayano is the real protagonist of the show though it’s not immediately obvious in the first episode (Though judging by the marketing in Japan before the show aired it was obvious for our Japanese friends). By the end though it’s clear this is actually her story rather than Kazuma’s which might actually explain his lack of growth. Anyway she’s awful: she’s overly violent, massively quick tempered, emotionally stunted and repressed, extremely spoiled, needlessly possessive and jealous, frighteningly pig-headed, and lacking any real concept of self control. As she’s a powerful fire magic caster with all those traits she has a real bad habit of shooting first and asking questions never. She has not one positive trait and I literally barely got through each episode with her whining, her bumbling and her bitching. Just thinking about it gives me a headache. She’s utterly unlikable. She makes Paifu from The Third look kind of reasonable, and if you recall Paifu might be a rapist!
To make matters worse the show very early on degrades into a Will They or Won’t They and it becomes clear that Ayano has developed feelings for Kazuma. Now let’s ignore that the fact that they’re cousins (!) because lord knows it doesn’t get mentioned as much as it should have during the show. Ayano, despite having crush on Kazuma, treats him like crap, insults him constantly and frequently tries to beat him up (Though he’s stronger than her so it usually fails). She also repeatedly tells anyone who will listen that she’s not interested in him at all and yet gets violent when she sees him with another woman. She’s kind of like how a lot of the Ranma ½ fandom characterizes Akane Tendo, except that unlike the useless bag of suck in this anime Akane in the original manga has a lot of good points. Ayano doesn’t have a single redeeming or humanizing trait. You can’t have the main character be so dang unlikable. She’s not even cool or all that capable in a fight to balance things out nor is she very funny. She has NOTHING going for her and yet I had to sit through twenty-four episodes listening to her drivel and being told by the writers that I’m suppose to root for her. She literally singlehandedly makes the show almost unwatchable.
Speaking of that that overused trope I cannot stand shows that focus on the Will They or Won’t They plot device because it’s so tedious and so distracting that it tends to swallow up the whole show. That’s the reason I never liked Friends and that’s the reason I had to stop watching The Office. In Kaze supporting characters in large masses seem to dedicate their existence to getting the two main characters together and it’s so unbelievably dull and corny. Jugo, Ayano’s father and current head of the family, about a quarter into the show turns into nothing more than a scheming parent determined to trick Kazuma into loving his daughter and the show spends way too much time on his plots. Also it’s obvious to everyone that Ayano likes Kazuma but she won’t admit it. For his part Kazuma never expresses anything that really implies that any sort of romantic interest in her despite [SPOILER ALERT] apparently pulling an internal confession of love out of his ass at the end of the series that he never even came close to showing any other time. Basically the whole subplot is forced, unconvincing and has far too much time devoted to it when it could be used for something more substantial…like, say, character development.
Only sane man indeed
That’s a major problem but it’s not the only one. The animation is terrible. When I first put the DVD in I had to pause it and check its production year on the web because it looks like it was made in 1997 rather than 2007. I’m guessing the budget didn’t go to the artwork. The quality is dated from the beginning but like many other anime it dips here and there and then it looks like amateurish trash. Plus the large amount of stock footage was pretty noticeable. On top of that the character designs aren’t anything special and Ayano almost never changes out of her school uniform, probably s they can justify all the superfluous panty shots. Another big issue was the ending. I know I said the climax was done pretty well earlier but the ending itself felt pointless. It doesn’t actually end, rather it just stops. In fact the conflict wasn’t really solved and it all felt like this was all mealy the first part of a larger series. Seeing as there isn’t a Kaze no Stigma 2 that I’m aware of it looks like the jokes on me.
This creep is one of the better characters
That speaks volumes
This anime isn’t the worst cartoon in the world but it has so many strikes against it that it’s hard for me sit down and watch it. The cast would have been serviceable if not for Ayano who practically kills the whole show for me, the artwork looks about thirteen years older than the series actually is, and has a romantic subplot that put me to sleep when it wasn’t driving me insane. Shame on me for enjoying complex characters and intriguing storytelling; obviously this series wasn’t made for that crowd. Thinking about it this series is fairly typical and not particularly unique in the larger world of anime and everything I saw here I’ve seen elsewhere as well. Had it not been for its literally repulsive heroine it would just be an average series but since 90% of the time I was watching her I serious considered ripping out the DVD and setting it on fire I obviously can’t let it slide so easy.
Kaze no Stigma gets 2 Adorable Panda out of 5. However Ayano Kannagi gets 5 crowbars to the back of the skull out of 5.

Pros
-Kazuma is kind of cool. Sometimes. Sort of
-The climax of the series is good, no doubt about that
Cons
-Ayano Kannagi kills this anime dead
-Characters (Including Kazuma) are flat
-The artwork looks old despite not being very old at all
-Romantic subplot is completely uninteresting and distracting
-I forgot to mention this earlier, but there's far too much fan service. I have a limit to how much I can stand and this show crosses the line

11 comments:

  1. Yay! I thought I was the only one who hated this show. I despise Kazuma and Ayono. Kazuma is a stuck up Gary sue who thinks he's better than everyone else and you described Ayono perfectly. Thank you. I really needed to read this.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's weird that as much as I hate this show there aren't a ton of people who seem to agree. So thank you for also noticing.

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    2. This anime isn't bad so stop hating on it! Kazuma is a cool guy with a cool personality and acts like he's better than every one because he is.

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    Replies
    1. Apologies, but Beta is Dead is a one man operation.

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  3. Even though I enjoy the series, I find the review pretty good as well. Although, I hope someone finishes the series. I've come across so many unfinished series it's frustrating.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the compliment.

      Unfinished series are pretty annoying. At this point I've reviewed a bunch of anime that have simply stopped without proper endings.

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    2. Isn't Angel Beats! another unfinished work?

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    3. I'm not sure. I haven't seen Angel Beats!

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    4. I'm not sure if you would like it, but even though I do, it is a chopped up story, so to speak.

      But I was thinking about starting petitions to help finish animes. Might be a waste of time, but I would like to at least try, ya'know? :)

      Delete