My plan was to go back and review all the manga and anime I've read/watched so far...But I feel lazy. I *AM* going to do it because I have a lot of opinions about the characters and titles...however...I want to talk about the anime I am currently watching.
It's Kaze No Stigma- or Stigma of the Wind, as some translations have it. The Kaze No Stigma anime is based on the light novel written by Takahiro Yamato and illustrated by Hanamaru Nanto. I think the best way to explain a light novel is that it consists of stories more suited to young adult readers- junior high and high school, primarily.
First things first: apparently the author died before the series of books was completed. I haven't read it yet. The anime, however, has been completed and is only 24 episodes. I've noticed that often anime based on a long-running manga (and some manga can run for years and years) will choose only a few volumes/story arcs and end. That's what happened with Fruits Basket and Kare Kano...and so far, with Kuregahime (oh please, please, let there be more seasons of jellyfish-inspired dresses, cross-dressing, and Banba's righteous afro).
The whole premise of Kaze reminded me of Avatar: The Last Airbender in that you have different groups of people mastering the use of powers based on the four elements. In Kaze, however, they are "magic users," as opposed to "benders," and the action takes place in contemporary Tokyo.
So the plot revolves around the disgraced former-head-to-be of the Kannagi family, Kazuma. Kazuma had the misfortune of being born into a famous fire magic wielding family...and had no real talent for mastering his fire magic. He was taunted and bullied by members of his own family. Finally, he had a showdown that was supposed to decide who got to be the next generation's family leader...and he lost to spitfire Ayano, an impulsive redhead whose wardrobe consists mainly of her teal colored school uniform... Ayano won the status of family leader and inherited a mystical weapon, Enraiah, which she can summon into a fiery existence from the ether...(Yikes! I had a nerd moment. I'm ok now.) Kazuma, having embarrassed his father, Genma, an accomplished fire master, was disowned and expelled. Ren, his kid brother, was considered the only son.
Harsh stuff. Kazuma disappeared for a bit...but suddenly returns after four years in exile. And guess what? He's kick ass now. The problem was that he was never meant to master fire: he's a wind master. The dude can fly, he can blast enemies with gusts of wind that slice like blades, and he's got that devil-may-care attitude that is very blase. He returns to the ancestral home, promptly duels- and defeats- his father, reconnects with his little brother, pisses off Ayano, and earns the respect and appreciation of the Kannagi patriarch, Ayano's father, Jugo. Basically, because he has a contract with the great wind spirit, he is a powerful ally. He can easily track enemies and sense the presence of yoma- or demons- that wreak havoc in the world.
This is where the cool subtleties kick in: Kazuma got booted out of the family, but not out of hatred. Even Genma, who acts so harshly, seems to have done what he did out of concern, out of desire that his son find his own way. Jugo turns Ayano's world upside down to make sure Kazuma secures a spot back in the Kannagi family. Even Ayano is intrigued by Kazuma, who seems to dole out some of that school-of-hard-knocks education he received by not making anything easy for her. Jugo constantly hires Kazuma to help the Kannagi family- either with investigations or as Ayano's bodyguard. Kazuma likes to jadedly state that he's only helping out for the money- and indeed you get that sense when Catherine doubles what the Kannagis pay him in order to get him to coach her for her duel against Ayano. However, Jugo even states that by offering him monetary compensation, he allows Kazuma to maintain his pride after having been so publicly disgraced. In fact, during Catherine and Ayano's duel, you get the sense Kazuma is rooting for Ayano when she finally brushes the dirt of herself and understands the weaknesses he'd been pointing out to Catherine...
When the series began, I thought the banter between Ayano and Kazuma would be more even- they would drive each other crazy sort of deal. It's not quite like that, though: Kazuma definitely has the upper hand: he's older, more experienced in combat...and in life. He's observant, skillful, and doesn't reveal anything he doesn't intend to. He doesn't lose his cool, he doesn't get flustered. Ayano is the one who gets flustered by Kazuma's cool and hip behavior.
Ayano is immature, hotheaded, impulsive, insecure...but also has a deep sense of justice, duty, and loyalty. Sometimes I'd find myself wishing she'd give Kazuma a harder time, call his buffs, and make him squirm. But she's not like that at all- she's not a player and doesn't know what to make of all these confusing feelings. She's a bit in a dither at times- not in a terribly annoying way. She doesn't have any real feminine wiles, she is guileless. She wears her heart on her sleeve and there are times where I found myself shaking my head thinking, "Nooooooo," such as when she almost reaches for Kazuma's hand and when she yells to Catherine that there's no way she's letting her take him to the USA with her (I would have loooooved it if she had turned to Kazuma at the end and simply said something to effect that he was free to go wherever he wanted if the pay was good...but her name is Ayano, not Mary Sue...).
I love that Ayano's such a tomboy and that when she's angry she goes out to have tea with her best friends and stuffs her face with an inordinate amount of pastries while fuming about the latest offense Kazuma perpetrated. The fact that Ayano is so transparent kind of bothered me, though. Well, maybe not so much that she is transparent as much as Kazuma is so guarded and aloof. I kept thinking, "Where's your pride, girl?" But now it hit me- I haven't finished watching the series, but I'm halfway through the second season, right in the whole Pandemonium arc, and it seems Kazuma has a heartbreaking past involving the loss of someone he loved very much. Perhaps someone unflinching, real, and consistent, as Ayano reveals herself to be, is exactly what the wounded Kazuma needs?
Ayano hasn't gotten all googly-eyed and worked herself in a heart-infested tizzy over Kazuma, after all. She isn't annoyingly in love with him- she's just really lousy at masking her interest, her desire to be close to him, know what he's up to, and shows this affection through her irritation, her sparks of occasional jealousy, her disastrous strategies to get him to spend time with her (in her defense, though, Jugo gets the cake for coming up with the inane date-perfect scenarios- which, of course, fall apart catastrophically: the fake investigation in the amusement park and the hot springs vacation for all...), which always involve making Kazuma buy her dinner- always the most expensive items on the menu at the finest restaurants in town- her way of getting back at him for making so much money off her. She is not devoid of introspection- and then you realize that what Kazuma says earlier on in the series is quite true: someday she will make one heck of a woman...to which she irritatedly replies (but not without feeling the depth of the compliment), "I already am!" She is young, and her clumsiness is just inexperience- she is fresh and true. She is figuring these complex feelings out on her own, realizing that the realm of human relations and emotions is far more dense than the battlefield. Kazuma in fact calls her on it, when he states that Ayano prepares only to take her opponents down with one attack. Her world, so far, has been that black and white: good or bad, win or lose. He's been observing her all along, through what we gradually come to understand, is a pretty numb self right then- reeling from so many losses. The guy doesn't need subtle. He needs clear and unequivocal- and that's exactly what Ayano is.
I'm curious to see how their tale will unfold.
I will update once I am done watching the series...
I finally finished watching the series and...yes, I was on the right track. Kazuma had been carrying a huge burden: his lover, Sui Ling, was murdered, before his eyes, by the Pandemonium folks. To make things worse: 1) As she was being sacrificed she asked, "Was I born just to be sacrificed to a demon?" 2) Sui Ling had asked Kazuma, at a happier time, to always protect her and be by her. 3) Kazuma did not gain his powers until AFTER Sui Ling was killed. Takibana reveals to Ayano that when she first met Kazuma, during a special mission in London, he was a very dangerous and dark character. His pursuit of justice made him into a sort of "the ends justify the means." He did not care how much destruction he brought forth as long as he accomplished his goal. Takibana further notes that since his return to Tokyo, Kazuma had changed- and she believes it's because of Ayano. Ayano's persistence, her loyalty, and ultimately her honesty are what finally break down Kazuma's defenses and bring him back to his senses.
I found it interesting that Ren and Kazuma are so opposite- not just in appearance, but in behavior. When Kazuma experiences grief and loss, his powers become dark and, as Ayano notes, toxic. Ren, however, cherishes the memory, is grateful, and despite his sadness and longing, does not feel anger. Granted, the circumstances surrounding their losses were very different, but there is something very inherently good about Ren; it's no surprise he can cast the purifying flame...
I really liked Kazuma's little interior monologue as he comes to his senses after his big showdown with Ayano- it's a farewell to the memory of his lost love: that she will always have a claim to part of his heart, but that he must make room for others because he can only truly own the present moment. I like that although he's been remarking to himself what an amazing person Ayano is, he makes the comment about making room in his heart while gazing at her and his little brother Ren. It's a Buddhist, perspective, which is up my alley- and I like that he doesn't immediately seize Ayano in a cheesy embrace. The guy's been reawakened- he's thawing out from a loooong chill, and his reactions toward Ayano are still playful. I loved how he takes the blowing wisps of her hair into his fingers and thoughtfully and gently brings them to his lips. The feelings run deep, so they will take a little while to reach the surface...
At the end of the anime, it's pretty obvious that the entire story hasn't been told. You are left wondering how Ayano and Kazuma's relationship is going to unfold, you wonder when Bernhardt and Lapis will surface to strike out again, and how the tensions between different members of the Kunnagi family are going to be resolved (Genma? And where is Kazuma's mother, whom we'd seen giving him a credit card upon his dismissal from the family? And what's the deal with Genma and Takibana? I actually thought it wasn't a bad match...Oh, I am so confused.)
I might have to read the light novel now. Even knowing it will never be completed the way the author would have conceived it.