In a world filled such anger-inducing things such as parents being angry over a 5-year-old’s display of crossplay in a school Halloween party, or on twitter where one week’s trending topics include the terms “#LGBTrights” or “#ItGetsBetter” lead to yesterday’s “#aregaytothe10thpower,” it is nothing short of refreshing to see a show like Kuragehime kick such hateful conventions to the curb.
And it’s not that Kuragehime provides a form of escapism for those who are LGBT/NEET/etc. (in fact, events in the show might come off as realistic to the point where it might hit home too hard for some viewers), but the show presents itself as a story that treads the line between idealistic and realistic, and lets those who prefer one of the two sides to be opened up to the other.
Episode 3, in more ways than one, executes this as well as one could possibly fathom, making it my favourite episode out of all the series I’ve been watching so far, making for an excellent opportunity to write my first actual anime post.
In this episode, we are subjected into three acts. The first begins with the morning-after of cross-dresser Kuranosuke’s charitable offering of Matsusaka beef to the Nunz, a group of women who live in a housing complex consisting of NEETs and self-isolated social rejects.
We start off with a nice little scene between Kuranosuke and his brother, an aspiring government official, and the heir to the throne of his family’s political clout. Through narration, Kuranosuke reveals that he cross-dresses because he feels it is the easiest way to escape the tradition of politics in his family, as his hobby guarantees controversy and an unsuccessful career in that field.
He visits Tsukimi’s residence and despite his temporary acceptance amongst the Nunz, he is shallowly greeted, particularly by the afrotastic meat-lover, Banba. Amidst the snark that he receives from Tsukimi’s social circle, he retorts by asking them what they do for a living, blatantly pointing out the pathetic lifestyles of this sisterhood of NEETs, eliciting a hostile, yet comedic response from the quirky group.
In act 2, Kuranosuke and Tsukimi sit down at a park discussing his dismissal from the apartment, after having watched a TV segment featuring his brother, Tsukimi asks about cross-dressing in a political family.
Kuranosuke responds with the same sentiment that he tells the audience through his narration in act 1, and is suddenly struck by the idea of wanting to give Tsukimi a makeover, prompting the Nunz’s trademark “stoneform reaction.”
They return to Kuranosuke’s family manor, and Shuu, the older brother, walks runs into a dolled-up Tsukimi, who escapes her fashionista captor’s grip. Kuranosuke abandon his old circle of associates by phone, stating that he has found his “diamond in the rough.” When he finds out about Shuu’s fascination with Hime-Tsukimi, he gives him a bag with Tsukimi’s clothes to return, giving Shuu an excuse to meet her while she’s still supposedly in her Hime-form.
However, this is not the case, as Tsukimi rubs off her makeup at a fountain at the nearby park (albeit poorly), and arrives at home in her physically plain and generally less attractive Kurage-form, with a ghoulish appearance thrown on top of that. The 3-kingdoms otaku Mayaya plays on this development, chasing Tsukimi around the housing development.
Kurage-Tsukimi bumps into Shuu mid-chase. Shuu, expecting a beautiful woman, gives Tsukimi her clothes back, despite mistaking her for another person entirely, asking her to return the clothes to the “real” Tsukimi.
Act 3 is the aftermath of the events, beginning with Tsukimi watching Shuu ride off in his car with a longing stare in her eyes. Shuu, on the other hand, stares back at the house, contemplating the future of the house itself, revealing that it will be demolished as part of a new housing project.
Tsukimi, back in her Kurage-form, reflects on her encounter with Shuu, with whom she appears to be smitten with immediately. Shuu, on the other hand, is completely unaware of Tsukimi’s NEET appearance, is derided by Kuranosuke for having his “spell” over Tsukimi wear off. They also discuss about their mother, who is not present with the family for a yet-explained reason. Kuranosuke reveals that he wants to meet her someday, and wishes for his brother to help him do so.
Compared to the writing of Ore no Imouto, which is actually very good at select spots, Kuragehime’s storytelling has been generally solid for the entirety of the series leading up to episode 3. However, the writers were in completely full-stride today, nailing every aspect of this show’s development precisely, expanding on existing themes and characters, as well as introducing new developments at the same time.
In act 1, we are able to see the tension that still remains between Kuranosuke and the rest of the Nunz household, despite his shallow gesture of goodwill, which was received shallowly as a result. In the beginning, however, we are introduced further to the Koibuchi household, where we are shown the supposed daily life between Kuranosuke and his brother, father, and new to this episode, his uncle as well.
Considering that most stories that examine the relation between political figures and an LGBT character in a familial context, we are treated to a welcome subversion of this interaction. Instead of the expected “cold, political” heartless dismissal of a youth when they discover his or her associations with the LGBT community (i.e., The Birdcage), we see an alternative comedic reaction where Kuranosuke’s uncle shows adoration for his prettiness and generally attractive appearance. This reeks entirely of anime/manga influence, and is an unexpected, but pleasantly familiar take on the trope.
When we get to the middle sections of the episode, and we are given the usual dose of interaction between Kuranosuke and Tsukimi that fans of the show have come to love: Kuranosuke’s aggressive advances on Tsukimi, and Tsukimi’s discomfort in reaction to them.
As a result of said interaction, we are given Tsukimi’s Hime-form, adorable, yet perhaps the most beautifully drawn character this season, save for maybe Nino from Arakawa Under the Bridge or Miho from Bakuman (also very good shows!).
The writers flawlessly presents us with the dilemma of duality between Tsukimi’s Hime and Kurage forms with Kuranosuke’s dialogue describing Tsukimi to his brother, which is not only written extremely well, but is accompanied by a brilliant animated sequence switching back and forth between Tsukimi’s forms with regards to different aspects of her character. Ultimately, Kuranosuke’s goal with regards to Tsukimi and Shuu is to have his brother reconcile both sides, and see her for what she truly is: a princess by birth, regardless of who she is on the outside. Immediately, fans of the show are able to accept her duality because of the way she has been presented to us by far: an ugly duckling with irrefutably redeeming qualities, but with the potential to be the most beautiful swan in the city.
After this episode, many will be posed the question regarding which aspect of Tsukimi do they like more: her Hime form, or her Kurage form. What makes this show the must-watch series of the season, in my opinion, is the fact that it aims to throw away that question altogether, and to embrace the fact that Tsukimi is both beautiful on the outside as well as the inside, regardless of the amount of awkwardness she may display, or the amount of makeup she will inevitably put on during the course of the series.
We will love her for not being kurage or hime, but rather, kuragehime.