Elemental magic, family disfunction.
Fire, meet your match.
I feel rather conflicted about reviewing Kaze no Stigma. When it began I liked it very much, but then…
Okay, first thing’s first: here’s the gist of the story. Kazuma used to be a member of the prominent Kannagi family, aka the world’s foremost fire magic users. However, DNA was cruel to Kazuma, so after he failed to defeat his cousin Ayano in a battle to determine the next head of the Kannagi clan (and in fact failed to produce any fire whatsoever) Kazuma’s father booted him out of the family (great parenting skills in action!). Luckily China was far kinder to Kazuma than Japan, because after moving there he enters into a contract with the Spirit King of the Wind and becomes one of the most powerful wind magic users in the world. In a move that I feel is more than justified, he returns to Japan and gives his former family a big “suck it” by showing off his powers. He even runs into little Ayano, who isn’t so little anymore, as she now wields the sword Enraiha, which is inherited by the future head of the Kannagi family. He also gets reunited with his younger brother Ren, who seems to be the only Kannagi happy to see Kazuma return. But someone starts killing off Kannagis with wind magic, which is bad news for Kazuma. Hating your crappy family is one thing, but killing them is another.
That’s where the series begins and immediately takes off at a run, right in the thick of it. However, the wind magic user killing Kannagis isn’t the main thread of the series, only for the first story arc. And that’s one of my biggest problems with Kaze no Stigma. The intro to the characters is great, and the events are interesting, but I felt a bit lost without an underlying thread of a story to guide me. On one hand I never knew what to expect in a new story arc, but on the other it gave the series as a whole a disjointed feeling. Even Hell Girl, which basically begins as a series of one-off episodes, felt more cohesive than Kaze no Stigma, at least from a storytelling point of view. Then there’s Ayano. I get it, she’s supposed to be fiery and hot-tempered because she’s a powerful fire user. But everything about her from her angular hair to her screechy voice to her insistence on always wearing her too short school uniform annoyed me. And for heaven’s sake, if you work among fire and wind, your clothes will get burned or tattered at times, so maybe wearing a pair of trousers would be better than a tiny skirt! Or if you have to wear the skirt, at least wear interesting underwear with it. I understand it’s all fan service (which is pretty tame, all things considered) but if I had to see Ayano’s tidy whiteys one more time I was gonna scream.
There was good here too, though. I liked Kazuma from the start, and Ren grew to become one of my favourite characters as the series progressed. I especially loved Ren’s two best friends who fought over him constantly. Ayano also had fun friends who took her to an all-you-can-eat cake buffet nearly every other episode, yum! I really liked the wind magic, and I found Kazuma to be a sympathetic protagonist. In fact, I enjoyed the first two episodes so much that I went ahead and purchased the series after watching no further. But then the lack of an underlying story thread became apparent. And not only that, I made what I now realize is a crucial mistake: I watched two anime series in the same genre back-to-back. I began Kaze no Stigma, but then I switched over to Darker Than Black, which was phenomenally awesome. Then I went right back to Kaze no Stigma, and I enjoyed it so much less than I had before. When watching shows with so many similar themes, one is bound to outshine the other. I couldn’t help but compare Kaze no Stigma to Darker Than Black, and in the latter’s awe-inspiring shadow, Kaze no Stigma looked a bit silly and too Saturday morning cartoon-ish for my taste. In retrospect I see the error of my ways, and for future reference I intend to break up anime from the same genre so as not to draw such heavy comparisons. (I think that the same thing happened with Ouran High School Host Club and Fruits Basket.)
Basically I enjoyed this series, if not as much as I initially hoped I would. The theme songs are great (except for the second end theme, which sounds like nails on a chalkboard after growing used to the excellent “Hitorikiri no Sora”) and the art is good (which is no surprise, coming from Gonzo). The final episode of the anime was satisfying enough for me, and probably ended on a more complete note than the light novels that it’s based on, considering that author Takahiro Yamato sadly died before completing the series. I wasn’t big on the romantic aspects, because as I’ve said before in other reviews, kissing cousins grosses me out, but it didn’t bother me that much because there was basically zero sexual tension between Ayano and Kazuma.
Overall I was glad that I found this series and glad that I watched it. I’m tempted to sell my copy because I don’t feel that it has as much rewatch value as I at first thought it would, but I’ll hold off for a while. Perhaps my expectations grew too much in the lengthy pause I took between the second episode and the rest of the episodes, and maybe I’ll enjoy this anime more at a later point when I’m in the mood for an action series with contractors and magical powers but I want something a bit lighter than Darker Than Black. And besides, it never hurts to have a quality anime in your collection.