"Ranmaru himself! Yes, this feeling. This is my hero. I can't…hold myself…anymore!"—Kai
Sex can be a powerful weapon. Case in point: gay porn. While it might be fair to say that most heterosexual pornography works to objectify women (although this is a gross simplification), women have occasionally turned the tables. Take "slash" fiction, for example. In the 1970s, female Star Trek fans began circulating fan fiction that took the male-bonding of Kirk, Spock, and company to its extreme. "Kirk/Spock" pairings (note the slash that lends its name to the genre) featured graphic homosexual encounters, allowing female fans to appropriate the tools of objectification, the power of the Gaze inherent in pornography, as a means of empowerment. Slash fiction still survives today, mostly on the internet, where you can find Xander Harris lurking around Spike's crypt, Captain Janeway trussed up in dominatrix leather, and the like. In the world of fandom, heroes (and sometimes villains) allow fans to project their own needs for security and empowerment, and women are no exception.
The same may be said for women in Japan. Taught to be passive by the strictures of a traditionally male-dominated society, young women in Japan are often anxious and confused about the socialization rituals they must undergo. For instance, how do you meet a boy? How do you talk to a boy? How can you have a meaningful connection when your family has to chaperone you on a date? In America, women often turn to romance fiction and Hollywood movies in order to vicariously experience the deep emotions they expect (or are taught to expect) from heterosexual dating rituals. Romance comics are extremely popular in Japan as well, offering vicarious satisfaction for anxious teenage girls.
But there is a twist. Many Japanese comics targeted for girls feature homosexual relationships between men. Soft focused, rose-petal covered, effeminate men. Perhaps there is an act of displacement here: Japanese girls can empathize with the romantic characters without feeling too close to them. The connection looks safe, disguised, even if the sexual content gets occasionally graphic.
Such is the case of Kizuna, a "be-boy" soap opera from Japan. Based on the popular comic book, this two-part anime tells the story of kendo champion Ranmaru Samejima, a "beautiful warrior god," whose career is cut short after a hit-and-run accident. Ranmaru's boyfriend Enjoji nurses the selfless and sensitive (if occasionally clueless) hero back to health, and they move in together. Wacky hijinks ensue.
Well, not so wacky, actually. The problem with Kizuna is that it avoids pushing any emotional buttons. Conflicts are certainly established: Enjoji is the son of a mob boss and torn by a guilty conscience, setting up the possibility of dramatic tension. But very little is done with any of it. While it is good to see positive gay characters in anime, Ranmaru and Enjoji are so cardboard and melodramatic that the sentimentality would ooze like molasses no matter what gender the characters were. Other times, the show tries to add elements of farce, but everything is cranked down to the point of lethargy.
Culture Q Connection's release of Kizuna consists of two episodes of what appears to be an abortive anime series adapting Kazuma Kodaka's manga. In the first, a professor takes Ranmaru to a gay bar (where the dimwit cannot figure out why there are no women around) and tries to seduce him. Our pure hero tries to resist and gets rescued by Kai Sagano, a former fencing rival who turns out to be Enjoji's half-brother. Of course, Kai is in love with Ranmaru, setting up the usual love triangle and offering Enjoji opportunities to emote jealousy.
Episode two is a little better than the first, focusing on Kai's strained relationship with his yakuza father. Kai, who is not enough of a "real man" to even assemble a gun, moves in with Enjoji and Ranmaru, while Enjoji thinks his beloved Ran is sneaking around with a girl. Nothing much happens, and it is all over in a relatively painless 25 minutes.
Kizuna tends to be more dull and listless than offensive. This is meant as a pleasant diversion where even the fight scenes lack force, apparently so as not to make the audience of teenage girls overanxious. Think of this as gay porn done in Perry Como style, with all the edges sanded down. Women seem absent from this world (apart from the brief subplot in episode two), all the men accept homosexuality without comment (so no social pressure intrudes), and even the sex scenes themselves are romanticized PG-13 level stuff, with lots of kissing and missionary-position hugging.
I am not sure whom Culture Q Connection seems to be targeting this disc for. The low-budget limited animation is presented in a somewhat dirty and occasionally blurry transfer, with no chapter breaks. The subtitles are burned onto the print and not selectable. There are no extras at all, not even a trailer or insert or anything to explain whether CQC (or the distributor, Ariztical Entertainment) is targeting this to male anime fans, women interested in romantic stories, a gay audience, or whatever. But whatever the audience, unless you are particularly a fan of Kazuma Kodaka (and even then you will probably be disappointed), you will likely find Kizuna a dull experience.
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