Kurenai is a nicely made slice of life show that implements far more elements than just a slice of life story. That is in a way its biggest problem, since it tries to combine things that do not combine. It is by no means a masterpiece as it is way too light hearted and its elements are used mostly for appeal rather than substance.
First things first, it is animated by studio Brain’s Base, so it definitely has good artwork and animation, as the characters move and act very fluently. The backgrounds also have a high degree of details and colors and in a way the entire show feels like it was first filmed with actors, and then was drawn over them in order to become an animated feature. There are still scenes where the characters feel stiff and physics don’t look realistic, but overall Kurenai is wonderful to stare at. It is not artistic in any way, since you are just watching everyday items and places, but does a good job making you feel that it really takes place in an existing contemporary Japan.
The soundtrack is very subtle as it never takes over the spotlight from the characters. It is not bad yet it doesn’t stand out one bit. Most BGM for example is a very soft piano tune and even the battle theme is nothing much to remember. The OST in general helps in building up a whooshy fuzzy atmosphere but it is not exceptional, memorable, or interesting in any way.
Voice acting is ok in terms of dialogues; most of it sounds very natural-spoken. Yet many parts in terms of context of the dialogues as well as the decibels of the voices are off. For example, most sexually teasing dialogues are cheesy and fake, like they were taken from a mediocre harem show. And many characters have a tone of voice that feels fake; such as the lead girl Kuhouin that sometimes you know she is a little girl voiced by an adult woman or the lead boy Shinkuro who is a male voiced by a girl. Not super natural-sounding all the time.
The story appears to be very complicating at first but in practice it is quite simple and easy going. It is the simple lives of a teenager boy and a little girl, both with dark pasts, having to share the same little apartment. There are some extras added to make it look fancier, such as Shinkuro being used as a mediator in disputes for a shady organization, many of which end up being violent. And then there is the backdrop story of Kuhouin, which is full of incest and pedophilia. Yet these are just flavoring the core story, which to be frank is closer to a harem than an action / adventure / mystery / drama, about a teenager taking up an important mission. Him becoming the bodyguard of a very important girl from a prestige family feels like a lazy excuse to have some guy becoming the butler to some tsundere. Fan service anyone? It is nothing too trashy but it still doesn’t take more than ten seconds to see the entire premise falling flat on its face.
It also has some fighting scenes with thugs and yakuza and assassins, all of which are simple, and unexciting yet are there just for attracting the action fans. It becomes like an exaggerated fighting shonen show at times by having the lead character sprouting super bones from his hands that deflect bullets and cut like swords. Lol, what crap is all that? It felt like Naruto turning harem and adding lolicon and masochism. It may sound interesting but it is doing very little in terms of plot. There is of course an overall story but the resolution to all the problems is easy going and anti-climactic.
The best part is the character flavoring and only when it is focused on the lead duo living their normal lives together. It is cute seeing Kuhouin learning various things about the outside world from Shinkuro and the other people he is familiar with. And by other people, I mean a bunch of girls all of which are attracted to Shinkuro and constantly try to gain his affection with various bold ways. He on the other hand reacts with the usual romantic frustrations; he backs down, doesn’t care or just is too indecisive to know what to do. So yeah, this is in effect a harem cast. A nicely colored and far more developed than a typical one but still a harem. It goes far beyond that by having various allusions to pedophilia and incest, by treating Kuhouin as an edgy loli that constantly needs the hero to protect and teach her, as well as having a bath together and do various misunderstandings with other people seeing them living together. All these are there just as shallow entertainment for imouto-lovin’ perverts. If you ask me, it takes away from the show instead of adding depth. They had such nice grim backdrop stories for the main duo to make them far more tragic and easier to care for, and then they ruin it by throwing in that sort of fetish crap. Sorry Kurenai, you blew your chance by appealing to otakus.
Even if one tries to focus on stuff other than that, he will only come face to face with the rest of the characters. Past the main two, the left-overs are just static stereotypes that offer nothing to the story. For example, what effect did Shinkuro’s classmates and neighbors had to the plot? How did they change? Why were they there for any other reason than harem material? Couldn’t they all be removed from the show without changing anything? This is a show running on just two people!
And even if one tries to excuse that by saying secondary characters are important to flavor the main ones by having someone to interact with, you still don’t get much of anything. They are not interesting, nor is the plot, nor is the conflicts. Furthermore, their ages are so off for this type of story. Kurenai would feel far more plausible if Kuhouin was a teenager instead of a loli. I mean she is so young, and she is living with a teenager, and everybody thinks he is doing stuff to her, and they are not annoyed much by that, as if pedophilia is somehow fine and acceptable in this society. Last time I checked, the setting is modern Japan and that sort of thing is not legal there (yet). If she was 17 or older though, ok, she is his lover and everything is fine.
Then it’s the whole stupid harem where every girl is hitting on Shinkuro. He is clearly an anti-social, he is moody, he doesn’t know how to react to women, he has a very dangerous and illegal job, and gets very violent if you piss him off. Why would they like such a creep? And why the devil is he still a teenager going to a normal school? He would feel a lot more plausible if he was an adult; his double life makes no sense if he goes to school full of bruises twice a month and the teachers don’t mind that in the least. Why would they even allow such an emotionally unstable guy to go to school? He is being paid to be a bouncer, he has ties to the underworld, and if he snaps, he is going to kill someone. He should be kicked out before he does the unthinkable! Heck, why stop there, how is it possible for a guy who can kick ass a dozen brutes to be acting like such a wimp in front of women? Shouldn’t his training and his grim past have molded him into a macho man? He looks like a freaking harem lead. And mind how this anime is not a goofball comedy but was promoted to be a somewhat realistic drama set in modern Japan.
So here is what ruins this show. It had themes that could make it a very mature seinen and instead they trash everything with retarded fan service and unrealistic reactions to serious matters. Every conflict is scrubbed off as unimportant, yet at the same time they constantly try to convince us it is very important. The tragic flashbacks are more than enough to drive people insane and to make their friend feel pity about them. Yet what do they do? Have fun and with harem and play games at school before they go to kick the crap out of some thugs. And no, this is not supposed to be funny but tragic.
In all, Kurenai is going way too light with everything it has. Its plot is weak, its tragedy is weak, even the fan service is not bold. Stuff happen in such a dull way they just don’t seem to matter regardless of how severe they appear to be. Everything is undermined to the point you just don’t care. Something which is obvious if you know the style of the director of this show. Matsuo Kou has made Rozen Maiden, Red Garden, Yozakura Quartet, and Natsuyuki Rendezvous. All these anime have the exact same feeling; extremely interesting premises that are presented in a dull way.
It is not a bad show to spend your time but its aesthetics are so off and the context is hardly taken seriously. It may stand above most easy going slices of life and harems, yet it is far less exciting than most stories about yakuza, mystery, and dark mentality.
If you want something with a more serious mafia setting, check out Gungrave.
If you want something with a more elaborate coexistence of an adult and a little girl, check out Usagi Drop.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks nice)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 2/2 (smooth)
Visual Effects 2/2 (nice use of lightening)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 4/5 (faulty but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/5 (average)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (only the main two have some)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Historical Value 0/3 (none)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 2/4 (it has its moment but in all it is too light to bother remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 4/10
Art 1/1 (looks nice)
Sound 0/2 (sounds meh)
Story 1/3 (good ideas presented too lightly)
Characters 2/4 (they are ok but are hardly explored or taken seriously)