Judge Adam Arseneau knows all about wind.
The cooler he gets, the hotter she burns.
Kaze no Stigma: Volume 1 (roughly translated, "stigma of the wind") is the latest DVD acquisition by Funimation, which seems to have bought up every franchise in existence. I'm not sure they invested wisely with this one, though.
Facts of the Case
The Kannagi Clan, powerful masters of fire magic, find themselves getting killed in large numbers. The prime suspect: Kazuma, the disgraced eldest son who was kicked out of the family when it was learned he had no ability to control fire magic. Now four years later, he unexpectedly returns to Japan as a disciple of wind magic. His family looks upon him with distain, as wind magic is a lower form, but he wields unexpected might and power.
While true that Kazuma harbors no love for the Kannagi, and would love to see them get their due, he isn't behind the killings. After he's pursued by Ayano, the new heir to the Clan and Kazuma's younger brother Ren, they convince him to help investigate the cause of the murders and clear his name. Reluctantly, Kazuma agrees—but as the three dig into the past, into the secret histories of the clans, he finds he may have more to do with this than originally thought.
I'm not sure at what point every anime series in the last ten years decided to have element-based magic as the themes to their combat, but one begins to notice a distinct trend. In Kaze no Stigma, the heir to the Fire magic family throne gets unceremoniously booted out of his family for failing to harness the magic, vanishes for four years, and comes back a user of wind magic. The controversy and shame! Wind, of course, is a lesser magic—used for exploration and reconnaissance, not awesome butch fire magic, which deals out burnmination for everything in its path!
And so it is. Kazuma is now a wind user, and a really powerful one to boot, and shows up to put shame on his family for kicking him to the curb. Things would be okay, except for all the murder and death going on perpetrated by a powerful wind magic user against his old family—not him, of course, but it sure looks suspicious. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about who set the plans into motion and what they have against the Kannagi family. The backdrop is set for Kazuma, the teenage girl heir to the fire family Ayano, and Kazuma's little gay brother Ren to piece together the puzzle. Ren isn't gay in the sense of him being a homosexual, understand, but watch Kaze no Stigma and try to come up with a better word to describe him.
After twelve episodes invested into an anime, audiences will have a clear idea of whether they want to stick with the franchise. Hell, I can usually tell after three or four whether there's enough there to warrant further interest. After going through Kaze No Stigma: Volume 1 from start to finish, I'm actually less interested now than I was before I started watching. If you read the synopsis, you might think that this show sounds kind of neat. Alas, the truth is harsh—there's nothing here to make Kaze no Stigma stand out in any way, shape, or form. Even in its most passionate and action-packed moments, Kaze no Stigma feels stale and cold, uninteresting and lifeless when compared to its peers. It is studiously average in every measurable aspect.
The animation style is handsome but derivative, plain and straightforward with almost nothing in the way of notable or original character design. The protagonist is lanky and spiky haired, sullen and unlikeable; the girl is pink-haired and short-skirted and prone to manic behavior and overeating during stress. The rest of the cast are too generic to mention, save for Ren, who's…well, a pansy. Animation sequences recycle and repeat, which gets noticeable fast. There are gratuitous fan service moments that feel embarrassing and tacked on. Ayano wants to kill Kazuma for the first half-dozen episodes, but then realizes (of course) that she really loves Kazuma, and so she starts chasing him about like a lovesick puppy, and it doesn't really make sense to cut away to Ayano bathing and bemoaning her grounded fate when in the sequence before it, audiences are asked to feel all distraught and upset about murdered bodies. It is almost as if the creators wanted to tell a serious story, more to the tone of the light novels the series is based on, but kept dumbing it down to teen levels. It's a shame, too—there might be something to the tale with the right hand on the wheel, but director Junichi Sakata (Card Captor Sakura) turns out a surprisingly lifeless series.
The transfer is on par with recent Funimation releases; vibrant colors, okay black levels, and a clean print free from damage, but a lack of sharpness. Edge aliasing is a noticeable issue here, with murky and grainy motion noise prevalent during motion sequences. As anime goes, this is about dead average; there are many worse examples, but the softness and edge issues detract from the quality.
Audio comes in both a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (dubbed in English) and a 2.0 stereo mix (Japanese). Once again, we get the short shaft for the native dub track, but my interest in this series is so mild, I can't even get that worked up about it. The Japanese track is clear with clean dialogue, but less punchy and bass-rich than the 5.1 mix, which has much more resonance and crispness. The subtitles are confusingly written, but so is the English dub, and neither really correspond to each other, so it's kind of Sophie's Choice on that one.
Extras are slim and kind of random—the only supplement of note is the "Ayano's House Call: All-You-Can-Eat Cakes," which follows around the female voice acting cast from Kaze no Stigma dressing up in fancy dresses and sleeping in hotels. It is cute, but totally pointless. Add to this some trailers and textless songs, and you're left pretty wanting.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Even for anime, this set is overpriced. Worse, you're going to have to pony up for the inevitable Volume 2. Why split the series into two parts, you might ask? Take a look at your empty wallet and then decide if you need to ask the question again.
An overpriced half-installment of a mediocre anime series, there isn't much to recommend in Kaze No Stigma: Volume 1. Grab any random anime series off the shelf and you're almost assured to pick something better than this.
Guilty. There's too much anime to be had to settle for second-best.
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