Kaze no Stigma
Yagami Kazuma was originally a member of the Kannagi family, a clan whose members are traditionally renowned for their abilities as users of fire magic. After being easily defeated by his cousin Ayano and proven to have no talent whatsoever at such magic, however, he was banished by his father and decided to set out to find his own path. Four years later, Kazuma has finally returned to Japan, this time as an exceptionally powerful user of wind magic. A series of murders of Kannagi family members has occurred just before his arrival, however, and besides his loyal younger brother Ren, most of his family, including Ayano (who is now next in line to be the head of the family), is convinced that Kazuma is the culprit. These events bring an all out war amongst the Kannagi family and a race against time to find the real perpetrator, with Kazuma and Ayano right in the middle of it.
(Adapted from MyAnimeList.net)
Although the anime adaptation of Kaze no Stigma isn't atrocious, it is an especially good example of a class of television shows whose existence simply makes me feel depressed: the mediocre series that has sunk with hardly a trace, one that offers no compelling reason to be brought back into the spotlight. Kaze no Stigma is a chimera of ideas seen dozens of times in previous shonen anime, with no cohesive result coalescing to give it the charm necessary for it to have a snowball's chance in standing out amongst its peers. Indeed, while relatively little of the series' material is truly execrable (although I will return to one of its more problematic aspects), I found it to be nearly unwatchable. The tale that it presents has been told before, and very often with more wit, more interesting characters, and much better art than is present here, and unless one simply cannot get enough of shonen fantasies then I cannot think of a single reason as to why Kaze no Stigma should ever receive preferential treatment over any other series of its kind.
Somewhat typically of light novel adaptations, Kaze no Stigma is divided into four arcs of more-or-less equal length, broken up by one-off episodes focused on such antics as customary visits to amusement parks and hot springs. The story is set in a world where certain families are able to employ strains of magic grounded in one of the four archetypical elements (which you should be able to guess if you're well-read enough) and where the general populace is largely ignorant of this fact, although exceptions, some of whom we meet, do exist. Each arc essentially follows Kazuma, Ayano, and (occasionally) Ren fighting against a different supernatural force, be it a rogue user of wind magic taking the form of a monstrous Incredible Hulk-esque figure or a family of earth magic users sealing a monster within Mt. Fuji via human sacrifice, and needless to say, none of them are especially interesting. The battles, while competent, are unexciting, driven by the same tedious sequence of progressively greater increases in power that Dragon Ball Z perfected ad nauseum years before, with the villains being either mindless brutes or generic "suave genius" types.
It does not help especially that relatively little context is given regarding the magic users or the villains they fight, and while some may say that none is needed, it was one of many missed opportunities for the series to distinguish itself. It's also unfortunate that the motivations of the characters are confused throughout, as Kazuma's banishment becomes a non-factor following the first arc, leaving him with no apparent drive until, in the fourth arc, a maudlin tale of lost love out of Saikano or a KEY Visual Novel is introduced to turn him into yet a different type of tragic hero. Kaze no Stigma gets neither the big picture nor the small bits right, sadly, and whichever way I look at it there isn't much hope for its plot: it is broody and dark, but with no intelligence behind it and, to boot, possesses a completely unenlightening ending. The humor does not help much, unfortunately, as the best they can think of is a fairy "haunting" a school by pretending to be a more formidable spirit and an extremely unfunny magical girl parody.
Kaze no Stigma, meanwhile, suffers from the dual syndrome of having an egotistical and mean-spirited punk as its male lead and an unlikeable tsundere as its counterpart female lead. We're meant to feel sorry for Kazuma, but he's simply too big a jerk for the viewer to feel that way, and his cockiness isn't even well-written enough to work as comedy. The "misunderstood outsider" archetype requires nuance to at all work, and Kazuma simply verbally abuses other characters with no clear motivation besides the oh-so-original excuse that he was banished and that his family (and most anyone) deserves scorn as a result. His snide comments aren't the least bit funny, and considering that, after the first arc, his family is good enough to re-accept him, at least conditionally, his continued unpleasant behavior is incongruous. My opinion of him was not in the least bit helped by his occasional dropping of sexist comments, such as "jokingly" telling a girl who asks how she can repay a favor that she must do so "with her body", and while the series attempts to justify this behavior with the the "tragic romantic" angle introduced in the fourth arc, it's an exceptionally lame excuse for his chauvinism.
Ayano isn't much better, unfortunately, for aside from being a loud-mouthed tsundere overflowing with the associated tropes (female-on-male violence, overeating for "comic" effect), she is subjected to the unfortunate role of the angry, hot-tempered girl who is somehow one-upped by the boy whom she subsequently falls for in spite of professing to hate. Indeed, this show managed to make basically every mistake I can't abide when dealing with female characters: she is shown as being an incompetent fighter, vastly inferior to Kazuma, in spite of being next-in-line as leader of the Kannagi, she gets an oh-so-wonderful scene in which her clothes are torn off while she fights (in addition to some standard panty-shots), and she does fall for Kazuma, as the show intends, in spite of his being an arrogant womanizer. The show's one decent main character, Ren, honestly, can't be said to be much besides that: he's bland, but he's at least earnest and friendly enough to not dislike. If Kaze no Stigma does do one thing surprisingly well, it's that Ayano's two friends, who a la Pique and Lilie from Princess Tutu would normally provide unfunny comic relief, do serve a semi-important role in the plot; the other side characters, which include yet another of anime's "blonde-haired American Diva" caricatures aren't bad, either, though they don't do much to save the show.
Artistically, Kaze no Stigma is decidedly mediocre, with the character design being as generic as one can get and the monsters having the unfortunate predicament of looking like Pokemon rejects. Considering how blandly Ayano and the other female characters are drawn, it's almost amusing that the show attempts to turn them into fan service objects at all, but I suppose it's to be expected of shows made for that demographic. The color scheme and texturing make the entire show look like something out of a badly-dated computer game, with the hair in particular being both too bright and too devoid of detail, and the characters' mouths have an unfortunate habit of not entirely synching with the lines coming out of them (which are rendered competently but flatly). The soundtrack, meanwhile, consists of forgettable synthesized fluff, although the opening song is catchy enough, with some surprisingly good lyrics courtesy of Chiaki Ishikawa. Rather than necessarily looking or sounding bad, however, Kaze no Stigma simply exudes blandness: all of the archetypes of shonen character design placed in the concept of Gonzo's lazy animation and weak music, resulting in a work that might as well have been a radio drama for all I cared about its appearance.
I don't hate Kaze no Stigma, but to put it bluntly, I view it as a waste of space. A show can survive a passing resemblance to another if it is at least charming and entertaining, but Kaze no Stigma's attempts to be such are half-hearted at best. It is what you would get if you stuck every shonen series you'd seen into a blender and forgot to add the spices: the taste is passable, but the memory of it is gone within minutes. I'd look elsewhere before settling for this.
Too many cliches of the shonen genre and too few attempts to branch out make this a definite two stars in my book. If you absolutely can't get enough of this kind of stuff, go for it, but leave it be otherwise. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: This show is fairly dark for a shonen title (a very large number of redshirts die), but not more so than most seinen. While pre-teens and up should be able to handle the violence, some of Kazuma's creepy sexual comments make me feel hesitant to recommend this to anybody under 13.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Kaze no Stigma © 2007 Takahiro Yamato/Hanamaru Nanto/ FUJIMI SHOBO/Stigma of the wind Partners
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