Hitsuji no Uta
Another review courtesy of the rather enjoyable Manifest 2004. Now all I need is the address of a Pocky abuse hotline so I can return to the innocent life I used to enjoy.
Kazuna is just a normal high school boy. Sure he's got a bit of family history, having been separated from his parents at age 3 and brought up by relatives, but his life is stable and has its pleasures. However when he visits the art club, or more specifically the mousey female who is its sole member and on whom he has a crush, he realises that she had previously cut her hand on a palette knife (which is actually quite a trick, but never mind). All of a sudden his appetite for food, which had seemingly vanished, returns in combination with a crushing spasm and delusions of rich red blood running free.
Something is wrong with him, his body wracked with strange pain and obsessive desires. His memories of the past re-asserting themselves he returns to his old home and is shocked to find his sister living there alone. She seems very cold, her eyes painful, as if she has been hiding some dreadful secret. Could this mystery have some bearing on his own situation? If he learns it, can he return to the way he is?
Okay, it's not really much of a spoiler because anyone who doesn't pick it up pretty quickly just isn't paying attention. However for those of you who want to keep the mystery alive, even though it will make the review less clear, skip the following paragraph. In other words this is your incoming spoiler warning.
It comes as a surprise to just about nobody, given the gothic feel and the blood imagery, that Kazuna's family are vampiric. Unfortunately they got the low rent version, no magical powers, no immortality, no advantages of any kind. All it means is that they have a physical need for blood, and they will sicken and die if they don't get it. It should also come as no surprise that this curse, for it's a genetic trait of the family, has dire effects on the minds and lives of those who are inflicted with it.
In short order, especially since it's only a 4 episode OVA, Kazuna's life begins to collapse around him. He's a danger to the girl he loves, and realising how deep their ties are only wounds him the more. He knows he can't remain a part of school, of his adopted home, possibly even the normal elements of life itself. His sister, who has had the affliction since age 3, is in an even more precarious state and as we discover the course her life has taken we get to see why. The only thing in the world that they have is each other, but even that doesn't seem to offer hope. For that matter they're even a danger to each other, in many ways.
Of course being a nerd I can't help wonder if there isn't a harm minimisation strategy they could have followed. After all, the substance they require is not actually rare. Does it have to be gathered in such a painful and restricted way? Does it have to exact a such an extreme human cost? Who knows, the people involved in the story don't consider it. I guess it would impinge on the growing tragedy if they could keep a 6 pack in the fridge.
And that's what it really boils down to, this anime is focusing on various stages of a tragedy. People with no hope of living a normal life, tormented by the acts their condition forces them to do, wondering how long they can hold out against the pressure. As such it is really gloomy and fairly depressing little story. Something accentuated by the fact that they are surrounded by the memories of those who gave up hope in one way or another. It's not without a certain intensity, in parts, but it achieves this without a great deal of subtlety. The story has to crush the characters to make it work, and as such it can be a little too much. The conclusion, when it comes, is fitting but not satisfying at all. If you really want a serving of gothic, slightly illogical, depression driven angst then this is for you. But I suspect that's a reasonably narrow subset of the anime community.
This is accentuated by the fact that the show has no driving direction to it. The mood is extremely quiet and somber. There's little action, the dialog and progress is very reserved and subdued and even the conclusion is fairly obvious well ahead of it happening. This is not a show in which things happen, or the characters act, it is a show in which they are on the defensive. As such it balances a quite imposing sense of stillness and withdrawal against, to be honest, boredom (magnified by the production). So personal tastes will be central, but even for those well aligned and tolerant it probably has too many weaknesses to be something you cherish.
Certainly it's not helped by the production. It's reasonably stylistic, with some of the linework having the appearance of brushstrokes and ink effects and an extremely somber palette which is often nothing more than greyscale. At the same time it's pretty obvious the budget was not huge, motion is limited, character design is not that detailed and there's an excessive repetition of stillframes and flashbacks. These are fine in that they accentuate an event, but they do it too often so you can actually start to get bored of the scene that once held power. There's also sections where they have characters talking, but can't be bothered to animate their mouths, or reasonably often actually have the characters visible. The background is fairly quiet, the main ambient sound I remember being the use of bells or sudden ambient effects to accentuate a scene. The voices are good, but much of the time they are so subdued and lacking in energy that the actual acting seems minimal.
A young school boy discovers that he bears a genetic affliction that is unique to his family. While it exists in myth, as an almost romantic concept, the practical pressures and costs it imposes in real life start to collapse his life upon itself. What hope, and what strength, will he and his similarly afflicted sister need to go on. The keywords here are still, somber and depressing which gives you an idea of the outcome. Stylish, but not particularly attractive or impressive, production helps reduce the watchability even further.
Can't see any reviews of this title from my regular sources. I don't think this is going to be one that will set fandom afire, so it might take a little while.