Sunday, December 21, 2008 11:03:13 PM
So where was I? Oh yes. Previously on Kimikiss Pure Rouge, I started to watch what I took to be an affable and realistic slice of life drama (albeit one which used a set of cringingly stereotyped characters). (But nice watercolour styling as you can see in the pic of Mao and Kai here.)
The feel of the story is summed up by the OP and ED which seem to bracket the series as a whole: The OP, Aozora Loop (Blue Sky Loop), has a nice bouncy feel to it, it gets on a roll and then soars into the sky, something that was brought out literally when they reworked the OP sequence half way through the series and inserted a lot of sky shots and upward pans. It left you expecting a light and uplifting story, and of course that's how it began. That's always how it begins...
The second ED, which came in mid-series is Wasurenaide (I won't forget) a melancholy song which signals how the series will end. The singer, Suara, tells us (paraphrasing here) "I can't promise I'll always be with you, but I love you for now, and even if you end up alone you won't really be alone, because I'll never forget you."
The Eriko arc
So there I was, expecting a slice of life drama, and it turned into a sliced life drama instead, with life being dissected by the clinical Eriko Futami who at first I loathed but ultimately came to understand. Right from the start she seems to be playing with people's feelings, when she challenges Kazuki to kiss her "as an experiment", but ultimately it became clear that it was her own feelings she was playing with.
In one of two subplots that help illuminate the main theme, the capricious nature of love, Eriko claims to be trying to work out what causes people to fall in love, by going through the motions of a relationship with Kazuki in the manner of a scientific experiment to see if it engenders any feelings in her. She claims it doesn't, but in the end we realise that she is simply frightened of being hurt and this is her way of trying to remain detached so that when the inevitable end comes she won't be heart-broken. However Kazuki has seen through her (long before I did, I must say! I just took him for an idiot that she was toying with) and he is determined to get a response out of her, and in the end her experiment fails: she is forced to trust him as she confesses that she is in love, but was scared of the inevitable heartbreak when the day comes that they break up. (We get hints that her parents have divorced, and never really cared about her either, which has probably engendered her cynical view of the futility of loving someone).
Anyway, throughout the series, Eriko's continual questioning of why people fall in love, and why if they were in love their feelings would ever change, serves to highlight the way in which most of the characters are not in control of their own hearts, but fall haplessly in and out of love and end up hurting one another without being able to do anything about it.
In the Eriko/Kazuki part of the story we also have Asuka Sakino (the nice ponytailed girl on the left here, pictured with Kazuki and Eriko), the sporty
The Mao arc
The main part of the story though is the romantic quadrilateral of Mao, Kouichi, Yuumi and Kai. The lesson here is "Look before you leap to set a friend up with someone else!" as Mao discovers to her cost when she sets Kouichi up with Yuumi only to realise that she's in love with him herself. If Sakino shot herself in the foot over Kazuki, with Mao it was more like a head shot, indeed I couldn't help thinking she was lucky to come out of it alive because she seemed pretty suicidal to me at one point.
Basically Kouichi likes the shy girl Yuumi who's in his class, but they've never actually spoken and he's struggling even to open a conversation with her. Apart from her name he knows nothing about her (other than that he fancies her!). It was this bit that first persuaded me to give the series a chance since I felt the fumbling first steps towards friendship and ultimately love were handled very realistically. To cut a long story short, Mao kick-starts their relationship by almost literally throwing them together (in fact she just drags Kouichi over to Yuumi by the scruff of the neck...) only to start to have increasing misgivings and butterflies every time she sees them together, despite the fact that she already has a cool boyfriend of her own in the shape of Kai, a jazz saxaphone player.
To be honest when I think about it, this story arc (which unfolds in parallel with the Eriko one) is not very deep or thought provoking. But it is the emotional heart of the series, because Mao is a charismatic girl who we root for from the start, and when she starts to go to pieces, which she does in a big way about 2/3 of the way into the series, she drags us along too for the ride. On the animesuki forums there were even people becoming hysterical because they were afraid she wouldn't end up with Kouichi.
But I'm going to talk about Kai, the outsider (he's not part of their clique) who in the end makes it all happen. He's a man of few words, and against Kouichi he really does look and act manly compared to Kouichi's cute boyishness, despite only being one year older. Kai's words are few but they always count. When Mao breaks up with him, all he says is "why?", and then won't let her go until she has explained herself (that she can't get Kouichi out of her head despite having only originally thought of him as a "little brother" figure). Then when he later sees Kouichi and the latter asks why they broke up, he refrains from answering. Kouichi's plaintive little-boy-lost look shows he has no idea what is going on, and rather than saying something cutting like "because of you", or trite like "why don't you ask Mao", Kai leaves him to make that decision by himself. It was a difficult situation, many men would probably have hit the other guy at that point, but Kai knows it's not Kouichi's fault and decides to keep out of the whole thing.
And yet much later on, it is Kai who finally gives Kouichi the push he needs to break up with Yuumi and fulfil his predestined love with Mao. Kai doesn't want his own suffering, nor Mao's, to have been in vain due to an ever-indecisive Kouichi. Right at the end, he sees Kouichi is still in denial, talking about staying with Yuumi, so Kai comments that his expression is the same as the one Mao used to have when she tried not to hurt him by denying her feelings even to herself, but that in the end it was in vain and she hurt him anyway because she had to be true to her feelings. As Kai walks away, we can see the message has struck home, and Kouichi breaks up with Yuumi shortly afterwards and goes running to find Mao so the story can end with them having a tearful kiss as the end of festival fireworks go off.
The fireworks are clearly symbolic of the fulfilment of Love. Each character responds to them appropriately, giving a memorable wrap up to the entire story. Mao and Kouchi, Eriko and Kazuki, watch the fireworks with tearful joy, holding one another close. Kai is at work and pauses to look at the fireworks thoughtfully. Sakino is out for a run when she sees them, and looks emotionally drained but composed as she stands there panting. Yuumi is in the park when the fireworks go off behind her. She turns to look at them for a moment, her face expressionless. Then she turns her back on them and walks away. The ending is poignant and even sad, but it is the right ending. JC Staff avoided the temptation of a happy but trite ending where everyone finds love and instead stayed true to the realistic slice of life genre by letting everything play out naturally to the bittersweet end.
Wow! that was so long and I never talked about the other subplot, the film they made! Well you'll just have to see the series yourself for that bit! There's a batch torrent available for the BSS fansubs of the series.
But to answer the question I originally posed, is the heart soluble in tears? Well the series certainly melted mine, much to my surprise since I had long since tired of high school romances.
Thinking the series over, I want to pick out just one incident that for me was the most emotional moment. In the final episode, Mao (who still believes Kouichi will stick with Yuumi) bumps into Yuumi during the school festival. She tells her that she's noticed how mature Kouichi is now that he has a girlfriend, and that it's time for her to stop being his "big sister". She takes Yuumi's hand and squeezes it, saying "baton pass", and says to look after Kouichi. It's an incredibly sad moment because it shows she has finally given up all hope and is abandoning her life-long friendship with Kouichi because it's become too painful for her. Later the same day, when Kouichi breaks up with Yuumi, Yuumi is dry-eyed since she has long known this moment would come. But she looks at her hand thoughtfully, and says "let's just shake hands", and so silently passes the baton back to him. (Kouichi though, as ever, is oblivious to what just happened.)