Beyond the early episode where Kazuma confronted his father, the first half of Kaze no Stigma was a diligent exercise in rigorous mediocrity. Its second half, somewhat surprisingly, actually steps up its game a notch, as it does not lack for entertainment value and its serious and comedic parts are a little more effective. If your interest in the series was left on life support after the first half, this half might revive it.
Compared to the first half, these later episodes do a better job of not taking themselves too seriously in lighter moments, as they show in the first four episodes of this set. The elder Kannagi's elaborate efforts to hook his daughter up with Kazuma - which also give the series a convenient excuse for including obligatory hot springs and amusement park episodes - becomes a running joke only slightly undermined by his ulterior motive for doing so. (This plays even funnier in the subtitled version, as unfortunately the dub script washes out more blatant references to Ayano and Kazuma having an ccident together.) Ayano's friends Nanase and Yukari continue to provide valuable comedic support with their involvement in said efforts and continuing observations about the state of affairs between Kazuma and Ayano. The comedic highlight, though, is arguably Genma's return to action in the spa episode and his ongoing battles with Kazuma through that episode, which take on a decidedly lighter tone than their original early conflicts. Less welcome is the entrance of Catherine McDonald, the obligatory haughty rival for Ayano, who, thankfully, is forced by injuries to fade into the background for the last few episodes.
Ayano also comes off better in this volume. Being so outclassed by Kazuma mostly relegated her to secondary combat status in the first half, but her expanding proficiency with her powers makes her less needful of being bailed out by Kazuma; in fact, she stands up impressively well in one crucial scene where she has to fight Kazuma and is clearly shown overcoming her need to rely on him for help. Her blustery attitude somehow seems less irritating here, which makes her a more likable character in the end.
The most crucial improvement, though, is finally making Kazuma seem at least a bit vulnerable. In the first half of the series he was too untouchable, but around the end of episode 17 the first cracks show through as the series finally starts bringing up elements directly connected to his years away from Japan, including half an episode of flashback content involving his time with Tsui-Ling. How Kazuma's history with Tsui-Ling ended would rattle anyone (though how he and Tsui-Ling ended up in that situation is insufficiently explained), and having it thrown back in his face like it is here would force almost anyone to require help from another to regain equilibrium. The series does such a respectable job of handling this during the major finishing plot arc that the series is at its best during those scenes.
The Pandemonium arc, which covers episodes 17-24 and essentially involves teenagers acting out a battle-focused RPG in real life as part of a schemer's evil plot, starts well and plays fairly well during most of its run but ultimately ends up being a bit unsatisfying. It does raise some interesting (if not entirely novel) notions, but the hard-core info-dumping it engages in early in the final episode disrupts the dramatic and action flow the story arc had until that point. While the immediate problems raised by the Pandemonium arc are resolved at the end, the bigger picture involving the key antagonists is not. Sadly, there will almost certainly be no follow-up, as Takihiro Yamato, the author of the novel and short stories on which the series is based, passed away this past July. At least Kazuma and Ayano's relationship gets some degree of appreciable resolution.
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