"Have you ever loved anyone from the bottom of your heart?"
This was the question posed by Koshiro Saeki's ex-girlfriend as she left him for someone else. Though he works as a wedding planner, he finds himself unable to answer, as he is the product of a broken home and has never been able to connect to anyone meaningfully. Lost in thought, he notices that a high school girl has lost her train pass, and he rushes to return it to her. Thus he meets Nanoka Kohinata, a bright young high school girl who, nonetheless, has felt her share of sorrow in life and love.
Though he is a 27-year-old professional, and she is just 15, they make a deep, entirely unexpected emotional connection. Soon, however, they find out to their mutual shock that Nanoka is Koshiro's long-separated little sister. Therefore, Koshiro tries to protect Nanoka from himself by driving her away. Still, the more time they spend together, the more they realize that the powerful, uncontrollable feelings they have toward each other are anything but filial.
Slowly, inexorably, Koshiro and Nanoka begin to fall ...
Incest is one of those things that, in anime, is almost never taken seriously. For example, Angel Sanctuary cops out and chalks it up to reincarnation of past lovers. Boku wa Imouto ni Koi o Suru presents a patently unrealistic relationship and expects us to simply buy it. Virtually any other series that discusses the issue uses it simply as a cheap excuse for porn.
Perhaps it is because Koi Kaze takes such an honest, straightforward, and realistic approach to the topic of incest that it is such a difficult series to watch. From the dawn of civilization, incest is one of the few taboos to carry over between mankind's disparate societies. At the same time, there is the well-documented phenomenon of genetic sexual attraction, where close relatives who first meet as adults (often unwittingly) find each other sexually attractive. Instead of ignoring the conflict of societal pressure versus internal attraction, Koi Kaze looks it squarely in the eye, and in doing so, transcends any other series that even purports to discuss the issue.
The great strength of this series really lies in its lead characters. Koshiro is a huge, bear-like man whose rough, unshaven appearance seems entirely at odds with his occupation. His tense brusqueness and seeming coldness is a defense mechanism against truly revealing his own emotions, so complex and powerful that he simply doesn't know how to describe or handle them. (I honestly felt like I was looking in a mirror when he had his heart-to-heart with Nanoka in the very first episode.) Nanoka's earnest nature is too often mistaken for seriousness, and while she may seem to be utterly naive, she shows remarkable honesty and clarity in the face of despair, and a gentle, easy playfulness that would be hard not to fall in love with in any case. Gruff-voiced Kenta Miyake and first-timer Yuuki Nakamura are simply spectacular as the voices of Koshiro and Nanoka. It gets really hard to not root for them, even while realizing the full implications of their forbidden love.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Ryoichi Tanaka is practically caricaturish as their oblivious, ineffectual worrywart father, Zenzo. (How on Earth would anyone have had an affair with this guy?) Yuko Kato is better off as their super-competent, independent mother, Makie, though she doesn't get a lot of screentime. In fact, out of the rest of the cast, the biggest standout, particularly late in the series, is likely Akemi Okamura as Koshiro's supervisor, Kaname Chidori (no, not the same one as Full Metal Panic!). In fact, the only truly sour note in the whole production lies in the inclusion of a lolicon coworker, Kei Odagiri (played with irritating insistence by Kosuke Okano), whose perverted outbursts nevertheless echo Koshiro's fears that he is that kind of guy.
In technical terms, Koi Kaze is too gentle and unassuming to be exceptional. There is a very light touch to the visuals that perfectly suits the series, particularly in the opening credits, while the music is similarly toned, and occasionally even is allowed to fall silent when necessary. The animation never looks terrible (though it's never great and clearly done on a tight budget), and the art style often emphasizes the great contrast between the two leads, making them virtually into physical extensions of their inner selves, without entirely leaving the realm of reality. It's actually refreshing that Koshiro isn't a pretty-boy, honestly. There is a fair amount of attention to detail, whether it be in background scenes or the leads themselves, much less so with non-lead characters.
All this would be useless without a good story, though. Koi Kaze could have relied on deus ex machina, but instead, lets the pressure build slowly, avoiding a lot of the cliched romance-comedy-drama tropes. The storytelling and writing here are about as good as I've ever seen in an anime, period. The show's characters make decisions that, if not rational, are entirely understandable, and have palpable, noticeable consequences. Ultimately, it boils down to an internal war between being socially responsible and emotionally truthful, and I can't imagine that any audience will be able to feel entirely comfortable with the material or the very down-to-earth, frank manner in which it is portrayed.
That, precisely, is the point.
Koi Kaze doesn't sugarcoat the issue of incest and tell us it is perfectly okay, but neither does it condemn its characters to hellfire and brimstone. It doesn't even end up tying all the loose ends, and the ending might leave many wanting in resolution, though in truth, the plot resolves what needs to be resolved and nothing more. Rather, this series simply asks us to weigh the facts, the events, the emotions, and the consequences, and decide for ourselves how we should feel about it. Perhaps no two viewers will come up with the same answer; it is that provocation of thought and discourse that defines a truly great piece of art.
There are a million ways this series could have gone wrong. Instead, Koi Kaze deserves the highest marks possible for its thoughtful, honest, and mature handling of such a difficult and controversial issue.
If that's not enough to convince you, then I'll just have to sum everything up in three simple words.
Watch this show.
Thought-provoking and emotionally powerful, Koi Kaze stands as a direct challenge to our preconceived notions regarding one of the deepest taboos in the human experience. If you can not come to this series with an open mind, then avoid it by all means. However, if you wish to experience something all too rare in the realm of Japanese animation, you owe it to yourself to watch this at least once. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: I can't recommend this to children at all, due to adult material (implied sexual situations among them) that is nonetheless integral to the plot. There is one scene in a girl's changing room, but it's tame compared to the very difficult main theme of incest that is the key concept of the series.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Koi Kaze © 2004 Motoi Yoshida / Kodansha / Koi Kaze Production Committee
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