There is one way I would surmise what the essence of Kurenai – what a ‘good life’ really is. The reason/motivation a person has to wake up each day and do what they do. The little things/moments in a day that made it worth living. Most of all, it makes you consider what life would be like without them.
Try imagining this – from the moment you were born, your whole life is planned out. You will have no rights. You will be kept inside for your whole life. You are not allowed to speak to others. Only material possessions will be allowed – those devoid of emotional value and life. Now compare that to your current life. Feeling a bit more fortunate?
This is the bleak reality for Murasaki Kuhoin, a 7 year old girl in the mighty Kuhoin family. Following strict traditions from centuries ago, females in the Kuhoin family and employ are forced to live in the ‘Inner Sanctuary’ for life. Her life completely manipulated for her by her cold, cruel father – she is barely a shell of a person. Until Benika, a former female security agent of the Kuhoin family, takes Murasaki from her confines and places her in the care of her apprentice – 16 year old Shinkurou Kurenai. (hence the series name) Learning his way as a ‘dispute mediator’ under Benika’s direction, Shinkurou is a person with little motivation or direction. He has more than his hands full being the protector of Murasaki. But gradually, Shinkurou and Murasaki end up bonding and filling the voids in each others’ lives.
I need to point out something now before one gets too deep in – Kurenai is not an action series, so don’t go looking for action. There is a coherent plot in this story, but this is not the crux of it. This is a series that is about EVERY moment that the characters live through and what they take from it. Yes, this is an unusual emphasis, but this is where Kurenai’s strength as a series comes from. One’s patience/desire for action may hinder them from being able to appreciate this style. So be warned about this style – it won’t be for everyone. This will depend on your values and what you expect to gain from Kurenai. My advice – have no expectations. At all. Let the story do its work.
Brains Base, a younger studio with titles like Kamichu and Baccano under its belt, have proven to consistently provide quality production values. This is their best effort yet. The animation is simply spellbinding. The caricature-like nature of the opening sequence is a laugh and very well done. It acts as a good foil to remind the viewer that while this is a somewhat serious series with some darker moments, you need to lighten up as well. The in-episode animation is gorgeous. Characters, backgrounds, moving objects and the like all get equal attention. The colours and line details are spot-on, making for very pleasing, fluid viewing. The faces are some of the best I’ve ever seen. To say that the quality is top-notch would be an understatement. The music in-episode is a very sedate, ambient affair that suits the series.
Musically, this series does a decent job but I wouldn’t call it stellar. Both the opening and ending songs are light, bouncy songs with messages of value, everyday life and memories. In-episode music is mainly for mood purposes. The voice acting is of a very good standard. Of particular note is the ease in which the voice actors are able to properly emobdy the emotions and psyche of the character at that particular moment. One can feel Shinkurou’s confusion or his sudden passion, Murasaki’s snappy mood or her affection, the eternal bitterness of the Kuhoin head, Benika’s constant struggle and her frustration at seeing Shinkurou not reach his potential.
The story is not very complex. Murasaki has been taken from the Kuhoins. The Kuhoins want her back at all costs. Benika and Shinkurou have something they have to do for Murasaki before they will let that happen. But once again, the story is not the emphasis of this series. It is on the characters. Still, the story felt like one that had enough purpose and plot within it to justify this series. The seemingly simple events like taking a bath, walking around school, playing out a musical are made to be special and meaningful because they really are. An experience that is had under freedom and that is a positive one should be valued and not taken for granted. That is one of the core messages of Kurenai. Loaded with many classic one-liners (including the funniest payout of lolicons ever [yes, Kurenai can even parody itself!]) and many gripping scenes, there is plenty to enjoy and be moved by.
Kurenai’s characters are what the series live and die on. It excels with them. Shinkurou makes for a very unlikely hero. He’s somewhat strong but not very. Initially he is unable to converse well with people and lacks confidence in himself. (Considering he watched his parents die in a terrorist attack, that can be forgiven somewhat.) His female classmates intimidate him and almost act as pseudo-parents, not to mention graudally falling for him. But this is what is so interesting about the guy – he has flaws and he knows it, but he wants to be stronger. He just doesn’t quite know how. But through Murasaki’s difficult and demanding nature, Shinkurou is forced to draw upon himself to be a responsible minder for Murasaki and make her understand that the outside world is a very different place. He isn’t the most ideal/qualified minder for Murasaki – or so he thinks. His ability to see Murasaki as what she really is – a manipulated girl who wants to live live but doesn’t know how, as well as having selfish behaviour programmed into her by her family – provides Shinkurou with something he didn’t have before – motivation/raison d’etre. Everything up to this point has offered Shinkurou little reason to feel good about his life. But once Murasaki enters it, Shinkurou knows that someone has to save that little girl, which he takes upon himself. Not to mention being more grateful for the basic freedoms and choices he once took for granted. To say ‘Kid, your life isn’t over. There’s a whole world out there with so many things to experience and see. And I won’t let anyone deny you those experiences.’
By the time Shinkurou reaches the end of this story, he no longer doubts himself. He interacts properly with others, he wakes up with a purpose. Most importantly, regardless of the outcome of this part of his life, he is ready to live the rest of it with passion, to cherish every moment and to enjoy the times with his friends. He is now a person that demands respect and can hold his own with anyone. His metamorphosis through the series is a real delight, for few males in anime display the true strength to be a man with dignity when needed and to be tough when needed. A perfect antidote to the mass of weak/emo male leads that plague anime today.
Murasaki – what an amazing little girl. I rarely like kids but Murasaki stole my heart. Her ways with others are a mixture of insane hilarity and heart-warming moments that make for very entertaining, moving viewing. When she first enters the frame, she is a shell of a person who simply expects others to do what is necessary to maintain her empty existence. It becomes a very intense journey for Murasaki and Shinkurou to change her into someone who is respectful of others, grateful for what she has and to place true value on things. To be taken from comfortable, confined surroundings to a simple yet free environment is a major shock for her. But her inquisitive nature and the sudden jolt of feeling alive compel Murasaki to explore this strange new world that her family has continually condemned. Gradually, the girl learns how to smile, to laugh, along with a plethora of experiences and emotions she never would have experienced in her sheltered confines.
As much as Shinkurou is a catalyst for Murasaki to grow and experience life, Murasaki is as much the exact same catalyst for Shinkurou. Murasaki wants to explore this world she has suddenly been exposed to but is too little and sheltered to know how. She is essentially saying ‘I want to live but I don’t know how. If you care about me, please show me how.’ Although Murasaki’s initial defiance and brat-like behaviour may mask it, she is always asking that from Shinkurou. So once Murasaki gains some form of self-empowerment and feels alive for the first time in her life, she is able to repay Shinkurou by helping him grow into what a man is supposed to be. This is the true magic of their bond. Two people who find the strength from the other to be there for each other, to grow and to develop a purpose in life. So when Murasaki reaches the end of this story, she is no longer weak, without a purpose or submissive. She is able to find strength within herself to do what only she can. Once Murasaki has played out her part, you can’t help but admire her and be amazed by how much she was able to achieve. Her ending is hardly idealistic, but it is the most appropriate. Murasaki and Shinkurou reach a point where the two are now able to rely on themselves but are forever grateful for what each of them was able to show the other, allowing them to move on and remember the other fondly. It is a bond that is quite mature and inspiring.
The other parts of the cast are very solid. Benika is a very formidable woman with a scarred past of her own that fuels her to take Shinkurou under her wing and to take Murasaki into the real world, regardless of what it may cost her. Once Benika’s character is properly fleshed out, it becomes very apparent why she took Shinkurou as her pupil and her motivations to do such a daring thing as take Murasaki from the Inner Sanctuary. She has class, muscle, attitude and passion. A very capable woman worthy of respect. Yayoi, her semi-androygnous female subordinate, is a person who takes life and all aspects of it seriously, never allowing herself to enjoy it or to be happy. Initially begrudging having to watch over Shinkurou and help when needed, Yayoi begins to value the freedoms she has taken for granted once she appreciates the gravity of Murasaki’s life and is able to develop the ability to enjoy moments that make her fulfilled. Shinkurou and Yayoi develop a gradual respect for each other as they realise that thy may be able to learn from what the other has to offer, which proves to be very telling in the final part of the series.
Shinkurou’s flatmates and friends make for amusing times. The grieving widow, Yamie, gains a strange satisfaction from seeing Shinkurou initially struggle then is compelled to climb out of her sorrow through her interactions with Murasaki. Tamaki, a very promiscuous female university student who neglects her studies and is overly harsh on men she gets involved with, gradually recognises her own faults from helping mind Murasaki and realises it’s not too late to turn her life around. Ginko, a clever glasses-girl, firmly keeps Shinkurou in line at school and acts as his informant, but even she would admit she actually enjoys the role. Yuno, the female classmate who actively wants to be Shinkurou’s girlfriend, provides some good laughs when coupled with Murasaki and also acts as a good way for Shinkurou to be able to communicate with females better. Renji, the head of the Kuhoins, trapped in family tradition and forever angry at himself for turning his one true love into a broken woman who lost the will to love, makes for a person that initially seems like a villian, or at the very least the ideal person to vent feelings on. But even his own demons he tries to deny will eventually be confronted through Murasaki as he is forced to consider what his own life as become as well as those he has helped destroy. His trials heavily shape the outcome but end up being more worthy of intrigue rather than hate. He is easy to criticise but that would diminish and deny the point of his role. Make sure you reserve proper judgement of Renji until the tale is done. You may be surprised as to what he ends up doing.
A bit of impact may be lost on rewatch, but Kurenai is still such an enthralling series with stellar production values and a character cast that may have the most depth of any ever. Enjoyment of Kurenai is dependent on the ability to appreciate a character-driven series that values all moments equally and the interactions between people. Its unique approach and good mix of humour and reality had me captivated from start to finish.
Kurenai is a very unique, refreshing series. To value moments, people and the experiences freedom brings is something no other series has accomplished to the degree this series has. With strong characters and equally strong bonds, this series will entertain, enthrall and evoke everything that is good and bad about reality. But really, isn’t the fact that we get to experience these things what is so magical about life itself?
Personal Score: 9/10
General Score: 7-9/10
Watch if: You love character-focused series with bite and charm
Don’t watch if: You need moe like it’s a drug
Kurenai is currently unlicensed outside of Japan except in France and China. Somebody license this in English, PLEASE!
And that concludes my first review series, ‘Precocious Girls’. Hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you thought of it.
Before I do my next review series, I shall be doing a somewhat regular article next – ‘Anta, Baka?!’ A section where I let loose and take a swipe at anything and anyone that has really dived off the deep end and set new lows within the anime industry or anime fandom. Remember that this article shall be intentionally caustic but in the interests of humour and to remind one not to take life too seriously sometimes.