Koi Kaze – Episode 1

Alright, we’re storming right into Koi Kaze. Koi Kaze has a very unique reputation in my anime circles – in short, it’s basically “the show that does incest right.” Instead of using incest for immediate fetish material or gags, it’s actually a character drama about two siblings that have romantic feelings for each other, and the consequences of those feelings. It’s not just “an incest show,” it’s a romantic drama that happens to center on an incestuous romance.

Incest generally isn’t treated as a serious thing in anime, even if shows are directly about incestuous relationships. It’s treated as a source of titillation, and any serious consequences of such a relationship aren’t really addressed. Not only is incest “forbidden,” but it’s forbidden in a way that plays into a lot of harem fantasies. The girl who’s already your friend, who you can take care of, who won’t abandon you – all of these fantasies are regularly indulged in male-focused romances, and all of them often come together in incestuous versions.

So far, Koi Kaze has certainly distinguished itself in terms of drama and tone, though we haven’t really gotten into any of the thornier material yet. Koi Kaze opens with cherry blossoms, soft music, and a beaming young girl, the kind of aesthetic touchstones you’d generally associate with a shoujo romance. Its opening sequence alternates shots of this girl with a slideshow of her baby pictures, deliberately emphasizing her innocence and childish nature. Our male lead receives the same treatment, until they meet with a smile. The effect is ultimately both knowing and earnest, a statement of “we know where we’re going, and yes, we’re going there.”

The contrast of youthful innocence and adult fatigue is easily this episode’s most consistent throughline. After an introduction awash in cherry blossoms, our protagonist Koshiro introduces himself with a melancholy “it’s been a long time since I started to ignore the changing of the four seasons.” It’s a sharp and true reflection on adulthood – once we pass the point where we’re attending seasonal classes, the time starts to blur. On top of that, the older you get, the faster time passes in general. It’s easy to eventually find yourself in a malaise of empty, faceless days.

Instead of shying away from the distance between Koshiro and his sister Nanoka’s experiences, Koi Kaze underlines it at every turn. Koshiro’s voice is much deeper than even most adult male anime characters, and both his design and posture reflect his late-twenties age. He’s a stocky and stubbled guy, and he moves sluggishly through a world that often seems drained of color. His girlfriend broke up with him, and he’s not even sure if he feels anything about that. He drinks beer and goes to work and generally acts like the directionless young adult he is.

When Nanoka appears, the fundamental world Koshiro inhabits shifts as well. Their first true meeting takes place when he runs to return her ID card, a meeting that’s once again heralded by a storm of cherry blossoms. Koi Kaze’s framing makes it seem like Nanoka represents youth itself, an engagement in life that Koshiro has lost along the way. It’s a familiar and not terribly healthy story (“your youth will bring me back to life” is not a great start to a relationship), but Koi Kaze’s framing makes Koshiro’s view of the situation perfectly clear.

The tedium of Koshiro’s general life is made just as clear as Nanoka’s strange power. Many of this episode’s best sequences focus on Koshiro’s failed previous relationship. His only present-time meeting with his ex-girlfriend comes about when she stops by the office to pick up her key, a wincingly specific encounter that ends on the brutal “I wonder if you have ever loved someone from the bottom of your heart.” Koshiro seeing Nanoka as some kind of escape from his drudgery may not be sympathetic, but the articulation of his existing unhappiness is consistently put in sharp, poignant terms. Koshiro doesn’t feel sad about his breakup, but that’s because he’s not sure he can feel anything at all.

After an episode of mostly wandering around in a daze, Nanoka’s arrival is once again announced by wind and cherry blossoms, leading into a sequence where he halfheartedly joins her at an amusement park. The fact that he’d invite her at all felt unconvincing to me, but the payoff was still excellent. After hearing Nanoka talk about her burning feelings for a lost crush, Koshiro admits he envies her pain. He can’t feel the way she feels any more, and after admitting he’s not even sure he liked his old girlfriend, he breaks down in tears. Koshiro isn’t crying for his lost love – he’s crying for his lost feelings, for the sense of engagement in the world he can no longer sense, and which Nanoka’s strange aura somehow brings to life. They have a moment, and then look away. The moment passes.

The episode concludes on the reveal that they’re siblings, though for me, that seemed like an odd place to put the emphasis. As people who’ve lived apart their entire lives, I don’t actually see anything wrong with them embracing a relationship – in general, the issue with incestuous romance is that there are deeply predatory issues of power balance involved. More important to me is the fact that Koshiro is twice Nanoka’s age, which does make me feel it’d be impossible for them to have any kind of equal relationship. But this was a heartfelt and smartly executed episode, so I’m ready to follow this wherever it goes.

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