Shinkurou Kurenai is a high school student with a unique part-time job; under the auspices of his boss, benefactor and mentor Juuzawa Benika, he’ll do anything- no matter how dangerous. And yet administering rough justice to the thugs and lowlifes out there is nothing compared to Shinkurou’s latest task, for now he must become both carer and bodyguard to seven year old Murasaki, a daughter of the Kuhouin family who desperately wants to defy the rules that say she must never see the outside world. Will Shinkurou be up to the challenge of keeping Murasaki safe whilst teaching her about the outside world?
When I first heard of Kurenai, my main worry was that it was going to turn out to be another Chokotto Sister; but upon watching the first episode, it was clear that the rich kid-bodyguard dynamic was going to be more reminiscent of another series- namely Seirei no Moribito. This was still a cause for concern, however, for although it had started out well enough, by about a third of the way through, Seirei no Moribito had lost my interest. Would Kurenai succeed where its spiritual predecessor had failed? The answer, fortunately, was to be a resounding yes.
Although early impressions pegged it as more of an action series, in fact, the bulk of Kurenai has more of a slice-of-life bent, as the isolated and imperious Murasaki learns about the outside world with the help of Shinkurou and his somewhat eccentric neighbours. Never too heavy-handed, the series showcases a masterful command of dialogue and character interaction, bringing us everything from humour (“is university a place where you go to catch men?”) to more poignant moments as we delve into the fears and insecurities underpinning the various cast members.
Underneath this tranquil veneer, however, a darker story is brewing, and by the last quarter of the series, it is ready to show its hand. Driven by the “only in anime would you find this” circumstance of only being able to breed by incest, the Kuhouin family are desperate to recover Murasaki, so that by the time she turns thirteen, she can starting bearing her brother’s children. Not only does this disturbing revelation colour everything we’ve already learned about Murasaki’s origin and her parentage, but it adds an extra note of urgency to our heroes’ efforts to keep her safe.
Unfortunately, with all this going on, it seems no surprise that twelve episodes simply isn’t long enough to come up with a good conclusion- instead, we get an ending that is “as good it could be under the circumstances” rather than genuinely worthy. Somehow, our main characters level up enough to defeat previously untouchable enemies, whilst one speech from Murasaki is all it takes to seemingly change the long-held practices of a powerful family. Not that I can complain too much- the series bought us so much greatness and enjoyment in the preceding eleven episodes that I can forgive it for not having time to wrap everything up in the finale.
As with many twelve episode series, Kurenai has more characters than it can properly develop, yet even so, it’s hard to complain when they’re all brought to life so well. From Shinkurou’s classmates to his neighbours, everyone has a distinctive voice to bring to the series, and their interactions- both subtle and overt- elevate the series even further. Central to it all, however, is the relationship between Shinkurou and Murasaki, and although there could be an air of creepiness about it, somehow the series manages to convey the depth of emotion between them without making it seem weird or disturbing.
Visually, Kurenai tends to play it a bit fast and loose with the animation, resulting in a mix of fast and fluid action scenes with moments that look like they’ve been hastily scrawled on the back of a napkin (take filler episode six, for example). Nonetheless, overall the style is attractive and well complemented by the background music.
Although it has a few flaws that prevent it from quite reaching the hallowed halls of Platinum tier, Kurenai is nonetheless a masterful series and a real class act with content so good that we can forgive its flawed conclusion. One can’t help feeling that once the end of the year rolls around, we’ll be remembering this as one of the best series of 2008.