Saturday, 25 December 2010 00:12

Kaze no Stigma (TV, 2007)

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Overview

There once was a young boy by the name of Kazuma Kannagi who was found to have none of the hereditary power of Ejutsu, the ability to control fire, that his entire family wielded. This became a source of constant ridicule, petty (and not so petty) bullying, and constant shame. Eventually this came to its culmination one day in his exile at a very young age after his defeat by a distant relative, Ayano Kannagi, in the bout to decide who would be the heir to the family and wield its family sword, Enraiha and all the power it contained. Weak, broken, and betrayed by those who were supposed to love and care for him, he left to make his own way in the world or die. Several years later he has come home, now going by the name Kazuma Yagami, with a new power, the Fujutsushi; the power to control air. And he is very VERY pissed off.

Review

Kaze no Stigma or Kaze no Seikon was a Japanese light novel series written by Takahiro Yamato and illustrated by Hanamaru Nanto. The book series reached 11 volumes before the author's untimely death in July of 2009. So, unless he left some author's notes laying around somewhere I'm not aware of (which is both quite likely and unlikely), it's a story that we'll likely never see the end to, unfortunately. In April of 2007 they made a 24 episode anime adaptation of the story, which is what this review will concentrate on.

You ever watch an anime series that you were just screaming at, "WHERE THE FUCK IS THE GUY WHO'S GOING TO GET PISSED OFF AT THIS SHIT AND JUST FUCK IT ALL TO HELL?" If you're like me, you see anime series like that often. Seriously, the abuse many of the protagonists take is unreal, and they either keep smiling, or more often just go on blithely in a near Zen-like state of apathy…the latter of which is what you get in most harem anime protagonists, but bleeds over into other genre's like Hiro in Kaibutsu Oujo (though, in that guy's defense, he IS learning to access his inner Ash Williams more and more). Then you have the protagonists who are so insufferably arrogant in their self righteous moralizing as 'Heroes of Justice' you find yourself screaming for the bad guys to win because these fuckers wouldn't know true justice if it hit them in the cock with a planet sized chain saw. You see this quite often due to your average author on that side of the pond having little notion of true responsibility in several situations and an inability to take the appropriate levels of personal responsibility in several situations. Then again, I suppose I shouldn't throw rocks at just them, given the ungodly awful levels of that I see in domestic comics and cartoons too, but the point remains valid. Basically the question is, where's the guy who gets pissed off at what's happened to him and those he cares about, and just goes to do the job and fuck up the bad guys while taking no shit in the process? Or as Kain said: "Let's drop the moral posturing, shall we? We both know there's no altruism in this pursuit. Your reckless indignation led you here. I counted on it. There's no shame in it, Rahziel. Revenge is motivation enough. At least it's honest. Hate me, but do it honestly." And that's the biggest problem, with the above stories, I think. You can't fully sympathize with the main characters, because they're presented in a way that is dishonest in regards to what's happening to themselves and those around them. Even those like Optimus Prime, who isn't so much someone you sympathize with as aspire to be, was honest in dealing with the situation presented to him before and during his involvement with the war. You can't help but put yourself in the protagonists' place and think, "How would I react or want to react?" All too often, the answer is to go build the Death Star and nuke the shit out of everything and their mother…just for starters.

Well, if you've been screaming half of what I have, THIS is that anime. Kazuma Kannagi was a young boy when he was exiled, but through his life he was bullied, humiliated, and possibly worse by his father, the members of his family, with precious few willing to stand in his defense. This left him a weak, crying, broken, beaten mess like most children would be when subjected to that level of abuse. You'd think after being driven out he'd crawl away and die somewhere, which is what most would have done in his case, and it really looked as if that's what was about to happen when you see what occurred. Mind you, this isn't how you're introduced to this character. We're introduced to him after well after these events where he has rebuilt himself into Kazuma Yagami, a man arrogantly confident in his power and attitude, and rightly so as he makes an Ejutsu user from his family look like a little bitch in front of both a client and the ghost they were both there to exorcise. Only it wasn't a ghost as his cousin found out, but a Youma, which required a different tactic to take care of. A tactic to which Kazuma was now uniquely suited to employ as he revealed his power wasn't Fire…it was Air. He then proceeds to embark upon a path of revenge and karmic retribution that one can only giggle at, because not only does he beat the living shit out of his former tormentors (putting his own father in the hospital for quite some time), he proceeds to make them look like utter neophytes in their duty to exorcise ghosts and kill demons as the story progresses. This is basically the entire thrust of the series, the prodigal son returns from his exile and now he's packing a fusion cannon…not to mention dragging enough supernatural baggage from his adventures away from their tender mercies that I suspect another season could be done to deal with them as it only appears we've scratched the surface with this one. I admit to enjoying the entire trip with a main character that doesn't take shit (unless he's paid for it…he's ruthlessly mercenary that way), the various take that's to character and situation archetypes, and general overall treatment of those characters and the situations they're in to weave a coherent and fun action adventure story. I would have to say the only real weak point, and it's all the more sharp due to the incredibly strong story to that point, was the hand waving there at the end concerning Kazuma being weaker when he went on a ruthless Sith Lord style revenge trip there at the end on people who had actually managed to hurt him worse than his own family had, and that's understating what these people did to the most extreme degree that could possibly be understated. Considering what actually went down, I don't think he was angry enough, and that's saying something considering the shit he was pulling right then. But weaker? Bullshit! A very dark spot (which is ironic, but you'll get it when you see it) on what is otherwise a fantastically put together and coherent story. My own personal opinion was it was the power of love that did it, and maybe that's what the author was trying to avoid, but this 'take that' didn't work so well when he tried to subvert the power of love trope. Though I do understand the issues one could have with the aforementioned trope, someone should have told him, tropes aren't always evil. Sometimes you just HAVE to use them because they're what really works for that situation, even if they're delivered with a large ham.

Yes, Tropes has ruined my life.

A lot of what makes Kazuma Yagami interesting (by and large making the story interesting by his shear presence) is mentioned above. As in most cases, it’s the details that are important. The biggest one is that he will not take shit…from anyone. At all. Well, unless he's paid for it that is. It's especially sweet considering through the series it's his former family that winds up having to pay him a considerable sum to deal with the shit they just cannot deal with, effectively turning him into an outside contractor in regards to the business of exorcising evil spirits and killing demons of all types. You can tell he revels in it too, and with good reason, given how he was abused and then exiled as a child for being so weak, but then returning, not only as a bad ass Air elemental user, but as the contractor to the Wind Spirit King, which enables him to summon Wind Spirits at will, allowing him access to greater powers than any human would find possible, though it puts an incredible strain on his body to utilize this link.

Another atypical aspect of the character, which harkens back with how he doesn't take shit, is his handling of the archetypal tsundere, Ayano Kannagi. Yes, the one who beat him and thus prompting his immediate exile, which to his credit he does not blame her at all for. On the other hand, when she gets out of line due to her inability to control herself, the problem with all tsunderes, he has no qualms about reminding her just who REALLY holds the greater power in their current partnership. This takes various forms, from occasionally leaning over and hugging her, kissing her, even licking her because it seemed like the thing to do (something you NEVER see in anime, but know you'd do the same thing if you could get away with it like him) to dropping buildings on her because she's getting in the way (oddly, this really does only distract her), and finally to simply overpowering her in such a way as to ensure she gets the idea that he's really close to causing her physical harm…and would not care if it got to that point so she needs to back the fuck off. This INFURIATES her, since she can only tsun when he finds it entertaining to let her and worse, finds even more entertainment in her constant simmering anger that he stokes from time to time when he does something inappropriate…like kissing her out of the blue. I'm actually with him on this, she looked like she needed it, and it seemed the thing to do…and her shrieks of pure RAGE are just amusingly delicious to behold. I can see why the head of the Kannagi family pays Kazuma to stay at her side in a partner-esque situation. He provides a much needed check on her fiery passions, which do her credit, but get in the way of thinking straight. This is a problem considering her unrealized potential as a wielder of the Crimson Flame, being unable to control it consciously, and her status as next head of the family. Her capacity for unthinking collateral damage with her power during battle is something she'll need to head off, or she could wind up killing people without realizing she's doing so. This is in stark contrast to Kazuma's younger brother, Ren.

Ren is another one of those overly pretty somewhat girly looking harem anime protagonists you see far too often in modern anime...at least that's what he appears like at first glance. He even has a damn good looking girl his age by the name of Suzuhara Kannon and a male fanboy, possibly gay, friend, Serizawa Tatsuya who pretty much follow him everywhere in a parody of the harem anime protagonist situation; though with only two this may be more of what you'd call a love triangle…your mileage may vary. Again, this is all at first glance. There comes several points where he shows that while he is young and unsure, he's certainly Kazuma's brother in both form and action. He absolutely idolizes Kazuma, wanting to be like him when he gets older, and this relationship I can see occurring, for there is much about Kazuma for a younger brother to want to be like. Kazuma has developed a level of power, control, and confident self assurance, bordering on pure arrogance, which anyone would want to emulate, especially considering how justified it is. Ren also rightly sees that Kazuma, while he's mercenary and doesn't take shit, genuinely does what he can to help the most people with his power that he can; he's ruthless, but not a tyrant...well, not usually. Though later in the story he found it was not all story book heroes and villains when he took a full on hit of what his brother had already gone through. This occurred when he found and fell in love with a girl by the name Ayumi, who turned out to be a clone of one of the matriarchs of the users of Chijutsushi, or the Earth element, and was to be used as a sacrifice to keep a very nasty demon sealed. Here, like his brother, he found his real power, the Golden Flame, the greatest of powers to exorcise spirits and cleanse impurities. If nothing else now, the two of them will have a very unique understanding of things between the two of them. Given time, it's hinted he may become stronger than them all, something it appears his brother is trying to encourage. He grows considerably through the series, and watching him become a man would have been something to see; something we may never get given the untimely death of the author.

There are many other supporting characters, such as Ren and Kazuma's father Genma, the man responsible for Kazuma's exile, who harbored a motivation that while I'm uncertain I can justify, I can not really deny its outcome. This fits in with his overall behavior pattern that is little more than droid like in how he approaches things, which, despite his tremendous power, would forever doom him to muscle status...he's not leader, but seems to be smart enough to realize at least this. Jugo Kannagi is the current head of the family, and is Ayano's father. He juggles a lot of competing responsibilities in their duties as Fire Element wielders, whilst trying to mitigate much of the wrong his family has done over the centuries (not to mention recently) both collectively and individually. It doesn't always work out the way he'd like, I can tell, but that's how life works, and he knows that too. He's also responsible for Kazuma's current involvement with the Kannagi clan, and is obviously trying to push him into a more...permanent...relationship with Ayano. Others such as Kirika Tachibana, a police detective who specializes in the paranormal and is an Onmyoji herself and appears to have some sort of sexual relationship with Genma, provide support to the Kannagi family from the outside in a variety of different ways to deal with the various ghosts, demons, and evil organizations that pop up from time to time. Still others like Yukari Shinomiya and Nanase Kudo, two of Ayano's classmates (who are fully aware of what she is and what she's capable of) remind us all that there's still a world outside of the goings on of this story's microcosm, and it is they who stand to be affected most of all by something going terribly wrong should those with power fail at what they're doing or go off the deep end and really start using their power to screw things up.

The animation is of the standard high quality of the current day, as any studio with the right computers and trained, artistically talented, staff can provide. There are a few scenes where they use a standard power up/transformation/stock footage type scene, but these are blessedly brief, and are mostly relegated to Ayano's over reliance on the power of the sword Enraiha (which, if the story progressed, is a weakness that would have had to have been dealt with). The motion flows, the power is suitably flashy, and the scenery destruction quit massive. Other than that, there's really no glaring problems that can be seen, unless you're one of those type that goes frame by frame to spot such things.

The background music is suitable, but nothing memorable. The opening and closing themes however, are earwigs and at times quite beautiful, conveying an almost tranquil feeling...a rather stark contrast to how the story actually is, heh. Of particular note, the dub, while fully localized (with all that entails) is actually quite good, so while it's not exactly a word for word transcription of the original Japanese, it does get the point across and is fairly entertaining on its own.

I honestly think this series has ruined my tolerance for bullshit in an anime series. Just watched the end of Fortune Arterial, and it was filled with so much quasi moralizing nonsensical horse dung that it completely ruined what was a great series up to that point. I barely got through it, where before I'd have still came to that conclusion, I'd not have had much trouble dealing with it. Kaze no Stigma is a fantastic series where everything you've probably ever screamed to the main character of anime series for the past decade does and does well. He don't take shit, he gets out his guns, and he does the fucking job. Outside of that one really bad part at the end where it was obvious the author didn't know how to handle someone going on a revenge trip of pure rage (though it was cool during it), this series delivers in the entertainment I've been looking for in quite awhile. I recommend it for everyone, though I do caution, it may keep you from fully dealing with the handwaving, quasi-moralizing, and twisted sense of responsibility, both personal and otherwise, that the authors over there seem to have en masse. Approach with that in mind, and have fun screaming, "FUCK YEAH!" every few minutes.

Characters Japanese Voice Actors/Actresses US Voice Actors/Actresses
Kazuma Yagami Daisuke Ono Robert McCollum
Ayano Kannagi Ayumi Fujimura Cherami Leigh
Ren Kannagi Rika Morinaga Josh Grelle
Genma Kannagi Rikiya Koyama Mark Stoddard
Jugo Kannagi Masaki Terasoma R. Bruce Elliott
Kureha Tsuwabuki Mami Kosuge Lydia Mackay
Mayumi Tsuwabuki Eri Miyajima Luci Christian
Ayumi Tsuwabuki Kanako Sakai Luci Christian
Kirika Tachibana Sayaka Ohara Colleen Clinkenbeard
Yukari Shinomiya Yuka Inokuchi Kate Oxley
Nanase Kudo Shizuka Ito Brina Palencia
Takeya Ogami Taketora Vic Mignogna
Misao Ogami Kana Ueda Monica Rial
Tsui-Ling Yui Makino Leah Clark
Catherine McDonald Chiaki Takahashi Caitlin Glass
Ryuya Kazamaki Dai Matsumoto Christopher Sabat
Michael Harley Eri Kitamura Joel McDonald
Bernhardt Rhodes Kenyu Horiuchi John Swasey
Lapis Yui Makino Leah Clark

Additional Info

  • Title: Kaze no Stigma, Stigma of the Wind, 風のスティグマ
  • Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance, Supernatural
  • Director: Junichi Sakata
  • Studio: Gonzo
  • Licensed: Funimation Entertainment
  • Network: Chiba TV, TV Saitama, Tokyo MX TV, KBS Kyoto, Gunma TV, Animax Asia
  • Format: Television
  • Episodes: 24
  • Animation: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Voice Acting: Very Good (+3)
  • Soundtrack: Good (+2)
Last modified on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 16:19

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