(Neo, Uncooked Media)
How far is too far? It’s a question asked by the 2004 series Koi Kaze, but it equally apples to the series. Anime has pushed against acceptability for decades, often by linking sex and violence in shocking ways. Koi Kaze has almost no violence and no explicit sex… and yet it’s one of the most uncomfortable, disturbing anime dramas outside out-and-out hentai.
Yet Koi Kaze has a remarkably compelling story that – outrageous as it sounds – is comparable to A Silent Voice. Like that film, the 13-part Koi Kaze is set in contemporary Japan, and mostly seen through the eyes of a guilt-ridden protagonist. Not that twenty-seven year old Koshiro is guilt-ridden at the start. He’s just hollow, removed from life. He’s broken up with his girlfriend, but can’t feel much about it. His only concern is some surprise news from his dad, with whom he lives.
The news is about his kid sister, who he hasn’t seen since his mother divorced and took her away about a decade ago. Now she’s starting a new school and the parents have agreed she should live with her dad and Koshiro, as their house is closer. Koshiro is unenthused by the prospect; he can’t even remember her face.
On the morning train, he helps a schoolgirl when she drops her rail pass. Next day, he bumps into the same girl outside his workplace, after he’s just been handed tickets to the local amusement park. He impulsively gives the girl the tickets; she blithely drags him along with her. On a Ferris wheel, she talks of her first heartbreak, and Koshiro finds himself telling her not to bury her feelings (as he’s done himself, of course). The girl’s wide-eyed innocence triggers something in him. He starts crying, for him not her, and she touches his head to comfort him. For both of them, it’s a shockingly intimate experience.
Embarrassed, the two are saying goodbye when… Well, you’ve guessed it. Koshiro’s dad turns up, greets the girl, Nanako, and she and Koshiro realise they’re sister and brother. It should be a joyous reunion, but Koshiro can’t get his “unbrotherly” feelings towards her out of his head, to his horror. He tries every way he can to avoid Nanako, to keep his distance – a tall order now they they’re living in a small house. For her part, Nanako is hurt and baffled by Koshiro’s cold behaviour, but persists in trying to get close to her big brother.
Later developments in Koi Kaze become far more uncomfortable. So do Koshiro’s desires, incestuous and paedophilic, as Nanako is only fifteen. Yet both key characters are hugely sympathetic. Koshiro is no stereotyped pervert, but rather a stunted, vulnerable man in a terrible situation. For her part, Nanako is heartbreakingly frustrated that her brother is so inexplicably mean to her, even as she senses another Koshiro underneath.
Koi Kaze sometimes plays as a horrendous “tsundere” comedy, in which the audience is all too aware of what Koshiro showing his true feelings would mean. At times, the series also recalls 2004’s The Woodsman, a live-action film in which a shamed ex-con (played by Kevin Bacon) battled his attraction to underage girls. But if anything, Koi Kaze puts the blame on the parents, for separating their kids for so long. You get the feeling that had they grown up together, Koshiro and Nanako would have been the best-adjusted siblings in the world.
Koshiro has a creepy “lolicon” workmate who’s a dull, badly-written joke (though he’s clearly there to establish what Koshiro is not). The characters’ whited-out mouths look weird, occasionally grotesque, and the last episode is no conventionally satisfying resolution, though it works better if you rewatch the series. Most fundamentally, you could argue that Koi Kaze’s approach is dangerous precisely because it’s tasteful and sympathetic, that these subjects are better left to outrageous anime pornos with no pretence to real feelings. Yet it’s those feelings that make Koi Kaze good.