Monday Anime: Kuttsukiboshi

Before we get into talking about this weeks anime, I have two warnings to give. Normally, I don’t give warnings, because life is unfair, and that’s just how it is, but in this instance, I feel it’s warranted.

First, Kuttsukiboshi deals in themes that some people may find offensive, troubling, or otherwise distasteful. I offer no argument against one of those reactions. However, I feel that it was done intentionally on the part of the anime, in order to address larger issues, so I chose to let it slide. Some distasteful things are meant to be seen as distasteful, and are brought up in order to make people at least think about it.

Second, my reasons for wanting to discuss this anime have more to do with how it came to be than the actual content, and that it touches on things that are important to me personally. So, while some of the content may be difficult, or even impossible, to defend, I do defend the work as a whole.

I’m weird that way.

Before we get into all that, let’s cover the basics.

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Kuttsukiboshi is a 2 episode series that was released in 2010, with the second episode coming in 2012. There’s a good reason why that happened, and it’s part of what made me select this one this week.

The story revolves around high school student Kiiko Kawakami, who developed psychic abilities after a car accident left her in a coma. She is unsure just how strong these abilities are, or what her limits with them could be, but she does hide them from others for fear of being ostracized, or worse.

The only person who knows is fellow student Aaya Saito, who is invested in helping Kiiko find out just how strong her abilities are. Every day after school, they retreat to a secluded class room to test the limits of Kiiko’s abilities and try to figure out what else she is capable of beyond low grade telekinesis.

Kiiko, however, has an ulterior motive for allowing Aaya to run these tests. She is secretly in love with her, though she knows a relationship is never going to happen. Unknown to her, Aaya has no actual interest in her psychic abilities, and is just using the tests as an excuse to spend time with her, because she is in love with her as well.

Oh, yeah, by the way, this is a yuri anime. Forgot to mention that earlier and I’m too lazy to go back and edit, so surprise!

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Anyway, the two quickly figure out the others feelings and begin dating, among other things they like to do together. With the pretense gone, Aaya turns out to be a massive horndog, and Kiiko is constantly worried about being found out. Regardless, she goes along with Aaya’s more dominant personality, until one day she realizes she forgot her cell phone in Aaya’s bedroom and goes back to get it. There she discovers Aaya having sex with her own brother.

Things get pretty weird after that.

Yes, only in anime do you get to call incest the beginning of the weird things.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, so let me start by saying that while there is a lot of suggestive nudity, there’s never any blatant nudity. It is kept somewhat tasteful, or at least, a vague attempt at it is made. Kiiko and Aaya are obviously in a sexually active relationship, and no secret is made of that.

By the by, while we’re on the subject, I just want to point out that I am not a fifteen year old horny boy. The near nudity is neither here nor there to me, but I am aware that a lot of people find it everything from annoying to insulting. For my part, my sister has a wife, so public displays of affection between two people of the same gender is not something that even tickles my radar anymore. It is, in a word, normal. At least, from my viewpoint.

So, while I do understand that a lot of people could look at this and say it’s titillation, and that be a fair criticism to make, I must also be honest in admitting that it was no different in my viewpoint that watching a straight couple make out. Point being, your reaction may well vary, and I advise giving some consideration before checking the show out if you have issues with homosexual relationships being depicted, find the idea of two girls kissing to be a thing that makes you need to hide in the bathroom for a few minutes, or don’t have a point of view that finds it to be a completely normal and mundane thing to see.

Though, I must also say, if that last one is a problem for you, you have bigger issues than the content of an anime, and I suggest you figure out we’re living in the 21st fucking century, then get the fuck over it.

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All that said, one of the biggest reasons I wanted to talk about this show was because it was all written, directed, and animated by one person, Naoya Ishikawa. Stop and consider for a moment what you just read. Writing and directing, yeah okay, not a big deal. Animated, on the other hand, kind of is. Every single bit of the animation for this was done entirely by one person. Really roll that around for a minute.

It’s impressive as hell!

Now, finding out anything about Ishikawa proved difficult, as beyond the fact that he is a person who exists, there was pretty limited info on him. Honestly, I’m not even 100% sure he’s a he. Ishikawa may be a woman, or a striped marsupial dog for all I could learn. Which just means I have no context for what made him want to tell this particular story, and that context seems important considering the amount of work he put into it.

I mean, writing, directing and animating an hours worth of material all by himself is kind of a big thing to do if there wasn’t some measure of passion for the story involved. I’m assuming it was important to him, but it is also possible he just found that there wasn’t as much lesbian porn on the internet as he would have liked, and decided to make his own. I have no real idea.

Regardless, what he did end up producing was a rather thought provoking story about sexual identity, abuse, love, and forgiveness. That’s a lot of themes to tackle in a single hour of material, and Ishikawa does manage to pull it off. There is no real point where you don’t understand completely just what is happening, and why.

Or rather, if you have ever been around people who have struggled with their sexual identity or sexual abuse, it’s pretty hard to miss. There is always that possibility that folks reading this haven’t had that be part of their life, and would miss the subtext, which is barely even subtext. It’s so overtly text that it’s almost an insult to the idea of subtext, but that might just be my experiences in life allowing me to see it.

I’m going to do something now that I almost never do, and that’s include spoilers. There’s no way to really discuss this without them, I’m afraid, but I will try to keep them to a minimum. (Edit: No, I’m not.)

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One of the first things that jumps out during the first half of the story is that Kiiko is obviously still coming to terms with her own sexuality, while Aaya is definitely not. Kiiko is already timid and shy, as well as worried about people finding out about her psychic abilities, which puts her firmly in not just the camp of “Other”, but also reinforces her fear of being outed.

Aaya, by contrast, doesn’t give a single shit if people know. She does bear in mind that, since they are teenagers, it would be bad if they got caught having sex, but beyond that, she has no hesitation about holding hands, or even kissing in public. She normalizes their relationship in that regard, casting them as an ordinary couple, and their relationship as something that should be taken as nothing different than what we see every day.

The two represent opposite sides of the dynamic that is common in same sex couples, and it’s presented entirely with showing, rather than telling. Neither of them ever talk about their differing views, but they are on display all the same. All of this matters for the second half of the story, as well, making it just plain old fashioned good writing.

Later, after Kiiko sees Aaya and her brother having sex, she is, naturally, hurt and begins to rethink her feelings. She avoids Aaya as much as possible, and refuses to even talk about it. For her part, Aaya becomes even more aggressive, to the point of holding Kiiko hostage, and sexually abusing her.

I don’t think I have to spell out just what’s going on there, but I will anyway.

Relationships, even between two people who love each other, can become toxic. It isn’t always anyone’s fault, either. It just happens. In this instance, Kiiko is ready to let it go and move on with her life, but Aaya is not, and things go from bad to terrible very quickly. However, Kiiko has psychic abilities, and could have freed herself from the situation Aaya had put her in with considerable ease. She knew that all along, and yet, chose not to.

This is another element of toxic relationships. People sometimes stay in them, knowing they are bad, and even they can’t always say why. Their affection for the person hurting them outweighs their own survival instincts and even common sense.

At the same time, Aaya knows what she is doing is wrong, even terrible. Yet she does it anyway, and seems almost helpless to stop herself. She can’t even explain why she did it, but deep down, she knows why. She wants Kiiko to hate her for what she did. In fact, most toxic, and even abusive relationships revolve around the fact that the one doing the abusing hates themselves, and externalizes that in an effort to be hated by the person they love.

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Of course, some are just horrible people being horrible, but not all of them, and Kuttsukiboshi does draw that distinction here. Aaya knows she betrayed Kiiko’s trust, in a way that can never be forgiven. Unable to simply let her go, she turns their relationship abusive in the hopes Kiiko will lash out at her, and justify the self image she now holds as someone who deserves to be punished. Because of Kiiko’s abilities, Aaya knows Kiiko can punish her in ways no one else ever could.

There is a second layer to Aaya’s actions, however, that aren’t revealed until a bit later in the second episode. Specifically, her brother was facing death from an illness. There was a chance a surgery could save his life, but it was extremely small. In his own grief and anger at his situation, he emotionally blackmailed Aaya into sleeping with him, and she went along with it because he was about to die. He made her feel guilty for having the normal reaction of, “Ew! No!”, then compounds that by implying he would rather not even try to live by having the surgery because she said no.

Guilty she refused her dying brothers request, Aaya agreed to it. Her brother dies on the operating table during the surgery. Aaya is then left with not just the guilt of what she did, but the grief of losing her brother, and Kiiko’s anger at her, which was justified. To say her emotional and mental state is is in a bad place is an understatement. Basically, Aaya is a complete mess, and takes a bad situation and makes it exponentially worse through poor decision making, grief, guilt, anger, resentment, fear, and self loathing.

What Ishikawa manages at this point is to give us both sides of this now toxic and abusive relationship. It keeps both of the characters humanity intact, while also showcasing that sometimes, abusive relationships are born out of abusive relationships. Aaya’s relationship with her brother became toxic and abusive, then he died, and she couldn’t even be angry with him, or punish him. Instead, she punished herself, and Kiiko by extension, in the desire to be punished in return.

It’s a spiral of events that leads her to the point she decides to leave, and go live with relatives in America, not just for herself, but for Kiiko. At no point does Aaya think her actions are acceptable, or even defensible. She knows what she is doing is wrong, and that if she doesn’t remove herself from the situation, her relationship with Kiiko is only going to get worse.

However, Kiiko’s psychic abilities begin to expand, and she experiences Aaya’s memories. She learns what led to the events, and experiences how she felt, what she thought, and why she did what she did. By the time she figures it out, Aaya is already on a plane.

For Kiiko, it is the most unforgivable of things Aaya could do. Her brother abused her, then died, escaping any responsibility for his actions. Now, Aaya has fled to escape responsibility as well, extending the pattern of abuse. Kiiko has had enough, however, and in a fit of rage, teleports herself to Aaya and holds her accountable.

Not with hate. With love.

Aaya was abused. Kiiko understands that. Her anger is that Aaya didn’t just talk to her about it. It seems the most simple thing in the world, but it truly is the hardest. The abused find just talking about it to be one of the most insurmountable obstacles in the world. For good reason.

Knowing what Aaya endured, what her brother did to her, the state it put her in, Kiiko forgives her, reminds her that she loves her, and just holds her as Aaya cries.

The two teleport away, to a new world, symbolic of reaching that place of healing. A far away place, an alien and beautiful planet, where the two of them can begin to put their lives back together.

Now, the reason I pretty much just explained the entire plot goes back to what I said about Ishikawa’s passion for this project. All of that had to come from something, because those are some big themes to explore in an hour, and Ishikawa manages to pull it off. Not just in the writing, but in the way he chooses to animate every single scene. There is no part of this anime that is not used to reinforce the story of the cycle of abuse, and the need to heal.

Another reason I related all of this was so that before you watch it, you know that there are two ways to see it. The first is as a titillating experience of girls making out, in which case, I suggest you just watch porn. The other is an exploration of some dark and heavy themes, with an eye towards how to heal. If you chose to watch it from the second perspective, it’ll be a pretty fulfilling experience.

As with most things in life, it’s all in how you view it.

Turning our attention to the animation, I’m going to admit that I’m grading on a curve here, because again, one person did this. I think that’s reason enough to be slightly more generous.

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Not that I really feel the need to. The animation is actually quite lovely. It’s got a unique style that is all its own, allowing it to stand out from the crowd in a lot of ways. It can take a minute to get used to, however, as it is somewhat different. Though, I admit, that is something I consider a point in its favor, what with the themes being used. The character designs are good, as well, and the animation has a nice fluidity to it.

Much of that can be debated, I’m sure, but this is my opinion, and I liked it, so there.

The music is decent enough. It’s never terribly intrusive, but does add a decent layer to the events you are watching, so I guess that’s all it really needs to do. I’m not sure who scored it, as I couldn’t seem to locate that information, but they did a good job. Not saying I’d run out to by the soundtrack or anything, but it was well done enough that I’d buy it if I saw it.

The production over all is well executed, and Ishikawa manages to fit a hell of a lot into a very small span of time, keep the characters largely relatable, and tackle the themes he wants to with solid writing skill. In all, the entire effort is pretty impressive, and I admit I’m unsure just why it is I can’t learn more about him. You’d think someone capable of all this, and with such skill, would be more well known.

Regardless, Kuttsukiboshi is worth the small amount of time to invest in it, especially if you are interested in complex character driven stories that aren’t afraid to explore heavy themes and dare to dive into difficult waters. While it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, or people who have difficulty accepting that we aren’t in the 1950’s anymore, it is ultimately a very rewarding viewing experience.

I hesitate to recommend it to anyone who has experienced sexual abuse, however, as it may be too graphic or emotionally intense. On the other hand, the message of healing it seeks to convey may be what such people need. In the end, it isn’t really for me to decide. That’s for those folks to decide for themselves.

Ultimately, Kuttsukiboshi is an ambitious project, from a single determined creator, and is worthy of at least respect for the talent, effort, and creativity on display.

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