The 2nd Dimension

Friday, March 14, 2008

Viewing Journal: Kamichu! (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= C+
Story = B-
Video = B-
Audio = C

Yurie Hitotsubashi was just an average middle school student living in the city of Onomichi on Japan's inland sea in the easygoing times of the 1980s. She spent her days worrying about exams and trying to get Kenji, the clueless boy she likes, to notice her. Then during lunch one day she suddenly announces to her friend Mitsue that the night before she had become a goddess. Their classmate Matsuri quickly latches on to Yurie’s newfound divinity as a way to promote her family’s bankrupt Shinto shrine. She hopes that replacing their hapless local god, Yashima-sama, with Yurie will make the shrine more popular (and profitable). Now, with Matsuri as her manager, Yurie has to grant wishes, cure curses, meet aliens, and attend god conventions. All the while attending school and working-up the courage to confess to Kenji. (Source: ANN)

Kamichu is about a young girl who one day becomes a god; but not the Mount-Olympus, throw-fire-bolts-from-the-clouds kind of god. She is still the same person that she always was -- she looks the same, acts the same, and has the same troubles that kids her age always have. It's just that she happens to also be a god. And everyone around her seems to be just fine with that.

Kamichu tries to use the concept of girl-become-god to highlight the innocence of youth, with varying success. When it's at its best, the show plays out like a slice-of-life anime with a twist. Even though Yurie is a god, she is not sure what kind of god she wants to be. She's shy, hesitant, whiny, and lazy; and probably would never have ended up using her god-powers if not for the constant prodding of her new-found friend Matsuri and the occasional responsibility of having to answer people's prayers. The fact that Yurie is so hesitant to use and abuse her powers keeps the tone of the show low-key. As a result, much of the show is calming, quiet, and at the best of times can elicit a youthful nostalgia.

There are a couple of other reasons the show has such an understated tone. First of all there is relatively little interpersonal conflict. Everyone in the town seems perfectly happy accpeting that Yurie is now a god; so there's no issue with her having to either keep her powers secret or convince people that she isn't lying. And even though she is a god everyone treats her pretty much like a normal girl, just one with an exceptional talent. Save for one episode, no one worships her; instead they treat her more akin to someone who was known for getting good grades or being good at sports. So in that respect, it's kind of like Ghibli's Kiki's Delivery Service -- where Kiki's a witch, but everyone treats that like it's an everyday occurance.

And while we're bringing up Ghibli movies, another good comparison would be Spirited Away. That's because, like Spirited Away, this movie has a whole host of odd-looking gods walking around. Of course, only Yurie can see them (though nobody in the show doubts their existence); but there they are just hanging out and being weird. Like a shark that is on the docks fishing. Or a little spirit that is always rolling a soda can around. The hodgepodge cast adds a fun element to the show, and since they are all acting so casually it keeps the tone light.

One thing that might make or break the show for some people is that it has so many Japanese cultural and religious references that a US audience wouldn't understand. There's all the gods for one thing, but on top of that there are terms and traditionals and certain visuals that I wasn't familiar with. Even the mechanics behind how and why Yurie becomes a god in the first place is never explained at all, and I wonder if the actual reason for it is implied in some way that a Japanese audience would pick up on, but which went right over my head. So on one hand all these cultural references can be fascinating, but for other people it might be confusing.

So that's how it is when the show is at it's best; but it's far from solid gold, and there are two main reasons why. First, there are some episodes that deviate from the simple, slice-of-life tone and end up being -- for the lack of a better word -- stupid. The most obvious example is episode four. First of all, it involves an alien which totally breaks with the slice-of-life tone. Then, it seems like it tries to balance this sci-fi element by making the alien obnoxiously cute. Then it gets the military involved and -- well it's just all over the place. Those kind of episodes that make Yurie's god status so blunt and break the easy-going mood may well drive some people away from the show entirely.

The other thing that I didn't like is that the puts so much stress on the cuteness of the characters. I know that the whole point is to have an immature and weak character with superpowers, but I can only watch a character hesitate, and mumble, and blush so many times before it gets annoying, if not downright nauseating. In fact, I think the only show I have seen characters blush more was SaiKano -- where it was actually part of their permanent character design. Although, that being said, the second half of the show balances out the cute/shy/moe element by adding some amusing storylines with a bit more conflict, which allows Yurie's character to become a little stronger.

As far as the animation, it is consistently solid throughout. The character designs themselves are pretty standard anime designs, but the animation itself is relatively smooth and I didn't notice any episodes where the quality dipped.

The music is appropriately cheery but subtle, in keeping with the tone of the show.

So overall I'd say that this is a good show if you are looking for something low-key to relax with. But you really have to watch it all the way through to get the most out of it because some episodes may turn you off.

One more note I wanted to add is that this show is very family friendly, and I'd have no problem watching it with kids of any age. Can't say that about a lot of anime, so I thought I'd point it out.

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