Wind Breaker Episode 1: Black and White



Not having read the manga (in part saving myself for this moment) I’ve gone rather blind into this series. I watched a bit of a trailer, concluded that it looked too good to be true, and bided my time. And so, Wind Breaker episode 1 had aired, and I’ve had my socks blown off by it. Every department was firing on all cylinders to deliver this episode, and it’s so ridiculously good that I feel doubtful that it can even survive at comparable quality in a second episode. I’m not here to spread doubt though, rather, I’m here to share my opinion on the first episode, and there is a lot to share.

I suppose the easiest place to start is the story. Having had no real exposure to it, all I truly knew was that it was a delinquent-centric series. I knew there’d be action, I knew there’d be drama, but I didn’t really expect its angle with main character Sakura Haruka. Wind Breaker episode 1 is sort of a jack-of-all-trades in that sense, an episode that gives the viewer everything so that they can hit the ground running. You find out about Sakura’s rough past, and you see just how easily it’s shaped his character. A thick wall separates his outer self from what resides on the inside, but being a high school boy that wall is full of holes. He pokes through them, and similarly others are able to find those weaknesses within.

He’s a compelling character and has plenty of room to grow. He’s not a grouch that’ll take forever to crack, but nor is he someone who will immediately drop his guard. It’s a very nice balance that allows him quite a bit of space and freedom in terms of character development, and they make use of that rather quickly. His giddy nature for starting high school sees him meet Kotoha, and her experience with Furin lets her poke and prod Haruka very easily. It’s a solid dynamic where Kotoha is a step ahead of Haruka, leading him along like the lost lamb that he is.

I think it also does a great job of illustrating what kind of guidance Haruka needs. With a chip on his shoulder and a balled up fist, hitting him with it straight is sure to fail- we know that much thanks to the jumping drop kick that he plants on fellow Furin student Touma. Haruka needs a gentle hand to unravel the trauma of his past, and Kotoha as the adoptive guardian of this group of Furin “delinquents” is the perfect person to fill that role. It’s really impressive just how much narrative and character development has been fit into a single episode.

Though, a good deal of that has certainly come from series director and Cloverworks sweetheart Toshifumi Akai (with the help of scriptwriter Hiroshi Seko). The anime original sequence of Haruka’s tightrope walk to open the episode was absolutely incredible, and such a creative and well expressed decision that show Haruka trying to balance the two sides of himself that are expressed by both his hair and behavior. Absolutely stellar sequence, and the animation definitely set the tone in terms of expectations for quality.

And part of what makes it such a standout and memorable moment is how little you see of that internal world until the end of the episode. It’s an incredibly effective instance of bookends for the episode, enclosing within it the story of Sakura Haruka. It’s really clever direction and storyboarding, and is perfectly offset by the incredibly punch-drunk content of the episode. Flurries of fists, bodies flying across the screen, it’s basically a montage with Wind Breaker episode 1 saying “this is what I have to offer, you interested?”, to which anyone with half a brain would reply “absolutely”.

One of the more interesting things with the action though, is how much dimension there is to it. In the obvious sense, there’s the very intense camera work that reminds viewers of things like Yuji’s fight with Grasshopper in Jujutsu Kaisen season 2, as well as the opening action sequence of Seong-Hu Park’s Ninja Kamui. Speaking from the heart however, I think that Wind Breaker episode 1 has done 3D action the best out of the trio- a crazy statement to make, but it’s impossible to ignore when you see sequences like this.

It’s bold, stylized, and free. The camera refuses to restrict the action, instead almost trying to follow it. It’s not trying to capitalize on the use of a 3D environment, but rather shows it off as a consequence. It’s an incredibly important way to rationalize it within media like this, and is entirely why scenes like these look so good.

Though, there’s still plenty of other moving pieces. As much as Toshifumi Akai has provided an insanely dominant sense of style with his work in this first episode, it is still a work that has had the hands of many on it. For example, character designer Taishi Kawamaki. While I can’t exactly speak to how well it parallels the manga, what I can say is that they’ve been able to create incredibly memorable and expressive designs that work perfectly with the almost ridiculous degree of animation present. Of course, that’s what you’d expect from a longtime Cloverworks staff member, and one that’s worked rather close with Akai, alongside some of the greats of the industry- even if this is their first time as a lead character designer.

Though the real shock here is director of photography Yukiko Nagase. Most recently leading composition on UniteUp!, Wind Breaker episode 1 shows just how outstanding their work can be. Integrating 2D with 3D is an incredibly difficult prospect in anime, but in so many scenes Nagase is able to make it seem like a natural combination. Their use of blur is incredibly subtle but adds a great deal to the wild punches and doges of Haruka, and the harsher lighting plays really well with the 3D environment. It’s an impressive degree of harmony, and ultimately appears from Cloverworks itself as a studio. Plenty of the high level staff here have shared projects at Cloverworks, and their turn towards in-house staff has proven a massive boost for the quality of certain series.

Wind Breaker episode 1 shows viewers just what the perfect storm can do for a series. When a great story meets a great production, magic inevitably happens- this instance, in the shape of a black-and-white haired delinquent. It’s an impressive watch, (hopefully) a testament to the direction of the studio, and is just an episode that is plain fun to watch. Out of all the seasonals that have aired up until this point, it’s undeniably the best, and poses a challenge to those that will follow (sans Sound! Euphonium as that’s obviously a non-contest).

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