First: I picked up Kimikiss, uh, last night. I’m now on episode 7 24 hours later, which isn’t bad progress at all (for me, anyway), and I’m highly surprised that I’m that far already. This is a good thing, as, although I was expecting Kimikiss to be good, I don’t think I was quite prepared for what Kimikiss was, nor how well it pulled it off.
By “ensemble romance” I more mean the large cast of male and female characters, where none of the relationships exist in a vacuum to each other; ef – a tale of memories, for instance, sort of pulls this off, but ultimately Chihiro and Kei’s stories didn’t seem to have much effect upon each other during the course of action (aside from text messages and shared histories). Kimikiss, however, has the main cast–the three childhood friends Kouichi, Kazuki, and Mao–pursue separate but interlocked stories. Kouichi’s is the most straightforward, apparently, as Yuumi seems to be the only one interested in him, but no doubt that will change over the course of the series. The other two seem to be embroiled in complex love polygons (I’m not even sure of the full extent of the shape of the loveagon), and none of the stories exist outside the context of the others.
That, of course, makes for compelling watching, as you can almost touch some of the more wrenching developments, even this early on–a step forward for one pair is a setback for some of the others, sometimes without their even knowing it. I think that, too, is where the strength of Kimikiss lies: the ability to address character flaws and interpersonal mishaps without ever really saying them explicitly in expository dialogue. I’m hesitant to use the word “subtle” here because the direction from Honey & Clover veteran Kasai Kenichi doesn’t really seem to be downplaying things in that way, but yet it’s not exactly stated explicitly. It’s the old “show, don’t tell” authorial gimmick, and I never cease to be amazed when someone pulls it off–most of all when you innately don’t expect it to be pulled off, even if you know better.
Consider, for instance, Mao: after transferring, within a day she has the cell phone numbers of twenty students–her “friends”–in her class without even owning a cell phone herself, and doesn’t seem to be very close to anyone other than Kouichi and Kazuki, and even there it still feels a little flighty at times. It’s an incredibly obvious case of living vicariously through other people because you’re empty inside–staying up late to play games, not caring about passing entrance exams, etc.–but it’s all revealed implicitly instead of explicitly–we’re never told this is what’s up with her, but it’s obvious from her actions (and a bit of expository history) how she got that way. Her own tendency to keep relationships shallow (all the better for a disseminated identity, in this case) comes back to bite her when Kai, who’s very obviously falling in love with her simply from the fact that she shows friendly interest in him when no one else has, declares his love not with words but with a rather forceful kiss, driving her away from him in shock.
Right before that moment at the end of 7, you’re dropped hints that Mao, although friendly, cheerful, and willing to be there for Kai’s sake, still isn’t fully there–she’s checking her cell phone messages, in the jazz bar physically but out with the Movie Research Club mentally. She doesn’t seem to exist outside a context of other people, whereas Kai doesn’t seem to exist inside that context. Kazuki has a similar problem–so smitten is he with the first girl who showed him a direct sign of interest by kissing him unexpectedly (despite the fact that Futami did it entirely out of a desire to investigate the origins of love) that he doesn’t even realize that Asuka, the soccer-playing fanatic, has very obvious feelings for him.
The only pair who doesn’t seem to have any problems–yet–is Kouichi and Yuumi (the latter of which is after my own heart with her love for horribly traumatic and depressing romance stories), and that might just be because someone has to be the control in the show. Although, then again, it took Mao’s intervention to get them together to begin with, since they’re both so painfully adorably shy, so who knows what’s going on with that. And maybe Yuumi is one of those people who’ve read so many tragic stories of unrequited love that she becomes convinced that her and Kouichi have to end badly so that they both can be properly cathartic.
The next-episode preview for episode 8 had Futami making what was probably an in-character episode preview joke, but it did pose the wonderful question: does a relationship begin with a kiss, or is a kiss merely a finalization of the relationship that pre-exists? Thus far, we have the examples of: a relationship that began with a kiss (Kazuki and Futami), one that might end with a kiss (Mao and Kai), and one that is very clearly a relationship in its burgeoning phase that has involved no direct physical contact at all yet (Kouichi and Yuumi).
I think I pegged it best 24 hours ago after watching episode two: Kimikiss is probably going to end in tears (for some characters, no doubt, and potentially me), and I, for one, welcome the onslaught of salty outpourings of emotion, for I am an Aristotlean when it comes to that.