Monday Anime: Kashimashi

While I may be taking a break from recapping an anime series, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop talking about anime at all. Until the fall season starts, though, I figured I’d focus on some anime that I really love a lot, but don’t always get a lot of attention from the various list makers and anime bloggers out there.

Rather than an episode by episode recap, this is just a brief look at a series as a whole. For my first entry, I decided to go with one of my favorite little talked about animes, Kashimashi.

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Kashimashi is kind of a strange little bird in the anime world, as it brushes up against a lot of other things, without ever really being a part of them. It’s a little bit of a harem anime, but doesn’t actually have a harem. It’s a bit of slice of life, but has larger stakes than what you usually see. It’s a bit comedy, but has enough drama that it doesn’t really fit in either category well. There’s also a touch of ecchi, without ever really being ecchi. So, weird.

The story revolves around high school student Hazamu, who is a rather shy and somewhat sensitive young man, already separating him from most male protagonists. After confessing to the girl he is love with, and being rejected by her, he goes for a long walk in the nearby mountains to console himself. While there, an alien spacecraft crashes into him, and kills him.

Yeah, that’s how the show starts. The main character gets killed. In an effort to make things right, the alien aboard the ship gathers some of his DNA and regenerates him. However, due to a slight miscalculation, Hazamu is now a girl.

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From there, the series mostly just tackles his transition to his new life as a girl, while actually avoiding all the easy jokes that it could have made and cliched situations this kind of story usually involves.Hazumu’s transformation is far from easy, and he, or rather she, has around sixteen years worth of understanding to catch up on. While the series doesn’t touch on every aspect of this, it does deal with enough of it to show this isn’t an easy thing.

Obviously, there’s a lot to be said about the difficulties of transgender people who live openly, and in that respect, the series does really try hard to be as sensitive and thoughtful as it can, rather than crass or silly.

One of the main obstacles Hazumu finds herself facing is that she still has the same feelings for the girl she liked when she was still a he, Yasuna. Hazumu struggles with this, but tries to continue being Yasuna’s friend, but both her previous rejection and Hazumu’s own new situation makes things tricky.

Adding to the mix are Hazumu’s two oldest friends, Tomori and Asuta. Hazumu’s transition into a girl has made Tomori uncertain about her own feelings for Hazumu, who she had long harbored a crush on. Her tomboy nature made her reluctant to say anything, and now, she’s not sure what she feels, but finds herself growing jealous of Yasuna.

For Asuta, it’s a radically different problem, as his long time best friend status has now become somewhat different, and he begins to develop feelings for Hazumu now that he’s a she. Naturally, he goes about showing it in all the worst possible ways, and is mostly comic relief, but he does get a wonderful moment of acceptance late in the series that is just beautifully done.

As the story progresses, Yasuna seems to change her feelings for Hazumu, though it is later revealed that her rejection wasn’t because she didn’t have a romantic interest, but because she did, and now that Hazumu is a girl, feels more comfortable pursuing it. This makes Tomori even more unsure of herself, as she begins to accept that gender is irrelevant, and her feelings are real.

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Wandering through this already difficult situation is the alien responsible for Hazumu’s change, who originally came to Earth seeking a cure for an affliction that has beset his own people, one that has begun to manifest in Yasuna, leading the alien to hope that Hazumu may hold the means to finding a cure.

The affliction itself is the inability to distinguish the features of someone of the opposite gender. For Yasuna, all men are just shady, indistinct forms, making it difficult for her to interact with them, since she can’t tell who is who. On the alien’s home world, this condition is wide spread, and has lead to declining birth rates which now threaten his people with extinction. Because Yasuna could “see” Hazumu before his gender switch, the alien believes Hazumu may hold the key to discovering a cure.

However, once Tomori reveals her own feelings for Hazumu, Yasuna’s condition worsens, to the point she can’t make out anyone, regardless of gender, creating the shows central conflict. Does Hazumu stay with Tomori, his friend for his entire life, and someone he has long had feelings for, or Yasuna, the girl he had a crush on and actually needs him now more than ever?

One of the reasons this show is a favorite of mine is that, while the stakes are rather low, and there’s no action to speak of, the implications of Yasuna’s condition are actually far reaching, and the threat it implies the kind of thing that could easily wipe out a civilization. More importantly, neither of these things are ever really at the center of the show. Instead, the focus is on Hazumu dealing with her new circumstances, and all the problems that come with it.

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The emotional core of the story is where the story stays, from beginning to end, as all of these teenagers on the cusp of adulthood try, and sometimes fail, to deal with their emotions, and the needs of others, in the most adult way they can. Which is really a pretty amazing thing to see, not specifically from anime, but from television in general.

The characters are all very well written and defined, with the exception of Hazumu’s parents, who are there mostly for sight gags and some slightly disturbing jokes. Hazumu’s teacher is mostly a caricature, and serves little actual purpose in the story except to fall in holes a lot for no apparent reason. Otherwise, the central cast is extremely well crafted, and make it easy to get invested in their emotional difficulties.

My favorite character of the entire series, though, is Ayuki, the science minded and observational friend of the group. For the most part, she just offers advice to her friends, but it’s always good advice, given by someone who cares about everyone involved. Her friends don’t always listen, but she is still always there for them, no matter what. She is the quiet, soft spoken highlight of the entire series.

In terms of animation, Kashimashi is really very pretty to look at, with lots of vivid colors, beautiful scenery, and rather dynamic animation for a slow burn of a show that never has any actual action. Director Nobuaki Nakanishi (Cardcaptor Sakura) uses his camera angels very wisely, and relies on lighting to really set the mood when it needs to be set.

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The soundtrack for the series is just beautiful, never overshadowing, but always enhancing every scene. In a lot of ways, the use of music in Kashimashi reminds me of Fruits Basket, where the soundtrack was used to help sell the emotion of a scene. Also like in Fruits Basket, it’s a soundtrack I’d love to own, for it’s soft and gentle music mixed with upbeat and happy tunes.

While the series itself ends on something of an open ended note, there is a follow up OVA that ties up all the loose plot threads in a wonderful, beautiful fashion that also serves to showcase just how much all the characters have grown up during their experiences through the series.

Based on a manga series written by Satoru Akahori and illustrated by Yukimaru Katsura, the anime drops a few plot elements in favor of others, making it a slightly different story to the source material. Both are very well told, however, making it impossible to really say which one is the better story, though for me, the anime holds a special place, as I encountered it first.

So, if you’re looking for a sweet, slow, heart tugging series to watch, check out Kashimashi. At 12 episodes in length, it’s pretty easy to take in over a weekend, or a single day if you tend to binge watch like I do. While it deals in transgender and homosexual themes, at no point is the show ever crass, and treats the emotional core of the characters with great care, making it a real gem that more people should enjoy.

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