Review for Kamisama Kiss Collection
I’m excited about an anime release, which is probably no surprise given where my interests lie when it comes to entertainment. But I have made room both in my viewing schedule and in my mind to take the time to appreciate this title in particular. Kamisama Kiss is directed by prolific director Akitaroh Daichi. That is prolific director Akitaroh Daichi whose works are rarely licensed for release in the West, and who has only had one previous title released in the UK. That show was Fruits Basket, one of the earliest anime shows that I watched on DVD, and still, after all this time one of my favourites. Fruits Basket wasn’t aimed at the usual anime fan demographic, boasting a story about an orphan girl living among a family afflicted by a strange zodiac curse, a story that manages to entertain, amuse and tug at the heartstrings, and do so for a broad audience. There really hasn’t been a show like it in the UK before or since, and I’ve always wondered whether it was down to the sensibilities of its director, Akitaroh Daichi. Now I get to find out, as another of his creations finally comes to the UK in the form of Kamisama Kiss.
Nanami Momozono (aged 17) is the unlikely protagonist of the show. She should have had a normal, high school life; only her father was an inveterate gambler who got into debt, and then scarpered, leaving her having to face his debtors. Which is why she wound up evicted, on the streets. There’s always someone worse off, and when she runs into a man named Mikage, whose fear of dogs has left him treed, she comes to his rescue, and the two share their hard luck stories. In gratitude for rescuing him, he tells her of a place where she could get a roof over her head, and even gives her a kiss on the forehead, more of a blessing...
Actually it was a blessing, as the place he points her to is actually a shrine, and she’s welcomed (initially), by a fox spirit named Tomoe and two minions, Onikiri and Kotetsu. Mikage was originally the god of the shrine of matchmaking, only he left two decades ago, an abandonment that his familiar Tomoe has taken personally. That blessing means that Nanami is now the god of the shrine, and it’s her responsibility to maintain its upkeep, and answer penitent worshippers’ prayers. But if Tomoe can’t countenance a mere human becoming a god, how can the rest of the supernatural realm? Nanami will have to make Tomoe her familiar if she’s to get his obedience, and keep her new roof over her head. Balancing being a god and being a high school student is something she never expected to do.
Thirteen episodes of Kamisama Kiss, plus extras are presented across three discs from MVM.
1. Nanami Becomes a God
2. The God Becomes a Target
3. The God Makes a Match
4. The God is Kidnapped
5. The God Loses Her Home
6. The God Catches a Cold
7. The God Asks a Boy Out on a Date
8. The God Goes to the Beach
9. The God Goes to the Dragon King’s Palace
10. Tomoe Becomes a Familiar / The God Goes to a Mixer
11. The Familiar Goes into Town
12. Nanami Quits Being a God
13. I’ve Started the ‘Being a God’ Thing
Kamisama Kiss gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer in NTSC format. Fortunately, it’s a recent title, which means it gets a progressive conversion too. With compatible equipment, you get smooth 24fps playback which is the best way to watch the show on DVD. There is a Blu-ray release in the US and Australia, but unfortunately not in the UK at this time. The image is clear and sharp throughout, with no visible compression or artefacts. The animation is comparatively simplistic next to other recent shows, and you can draw comparisons with Fruits Basket when it comes to the simpler character designs, pretty girls and elegant males, and straightforward backgrounds. But the point of the story does come across with style, flourish and individuality, and you can see that this is simplicity as a creative choice, not simplicity enforced by a low budget. Kamisama Kiss is a very appealing show to watch.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 English in a show that doesn’t really need a surround expansion, and DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese. The dub has a degree of naffness to it that is beyond the norm, and it is really better to stick to the original Japanese and read the subtitles. It’s one of those cases where the English dub cast try to match the Japanese voices too closely. But I was happy enough with the Japanese audio, the white subtitles were timed accurately and free of typos while the dialogue was clear throughout. Kamisama Kiss also gets some quirky music, both in the theme songs and the show’s soundtrack, which really sell its singular aspects.
The discs present their content with static menus and jacket pictures for compatible players.
Disc 1’s sole extra is one of those commentaries from Funimation, with ADR director Jerry Jewell, and voice of Nanami, Tia Ballard. They really should stop doing these. I could bear no more than ten minutes of the inanity before I had to stop the disc, take a couple of Paracetamol, and then go lie down in dark room and weep softly to myself.
Disc 2 offers the U.S. Trailer and an audio commentary on episode 12. This time it’s Jerry Jewell with the voice of Tomoe, J. Michael Tatum. It might be a tad more bearable than the first commentary, but it isn’t any less inane.
Disc 3 is devoted solely to extras, although there are not a lot of them here. Episode 6 gets a video commentary, one of those picture-in-picture jobs, with ADR Director Jerry Jewell, Tia Ballard and J. Michael Tatum as well as voice of Kurama, Sean O’ Connor. And the trilogy of pain is complete. Not only do you hear them but this time you can watch them being annoying.
Also on this disc is the textless opening, and all 13 textless closings.
Comparisons are inevitable to Fruits Basket given the director, but I have to say that Kamisama Kiss is no Fruits Basket. Of course that was a extraordinary series with a whole lot of heart, some agreeable character development, and lots of useful little life lessons that elevated it beyond just simple entertainment. Fruits Basket was a very special series indeed. Kamisama Kiss on the other hand is merely a very entertaining romantic comedy. There certainly aren’t any life lessons to be had here, character growth is limited to what the story dictates, and while the characters are sympathetic, it doesn’t have the heart and emotional depth that in Fruits Basket could put the viewer through the wringer. Kamisama Kiss is a whole lot of fun though.
Also, despite the start of the show, which by turns seems to take inspiration from Ah My Goddess and Hayate the Combat Butler, with a main character thrown out of her home because of her father’s profligate gambling, and then finding a home in a shrine, it does match Fruits Basket in its set up of a central female character around which an ever expanding reverse harem of elegant males revolves. And just like Fruits Basket, an obnoxious snake is sent hurtling through the air on more than one occasion.
That aside, Kamisama Kiss is a whole lot of fun to watch, a rare anime released in the UK that’s aimed at the female half of the market, but with a broad enough sense of humour that appeals to all. And quite frankly in this summer of fan service, it’s refreshing to see a show that doesn’t rely on appealing to the more basic instincts of a male target audience to make its mark. Kamisama Kiss’ appeal lies more strongly in its characters and its storyline.
Kamisama Kiss calls on the broad spectrum of Japanese supernatural myths and legends also featured in shows like xxxHolic, the pantheon of small gods and spirits, demons and tricksters that inform popular culture. It’s not a rare thing for an area to have a local god or guardian, a god attributed with certain responsibilities. You might go to a certain shrine to pray for weather, another shrine to pray for good health, and so on. In Kamisama Kiss, high school student Nanami inadvertently helps a god, and gets ‘rewarded’ with his duties and his position as a result. At the time she’s homeless, and he directs her to his former shrine as a place of shelter, but instead she’s welcomed by the shrine’s caretaker spirits as the new god. That’s most of them, as the previous god’s familiar, a fox spirit named Tomoe is less than welcoming at first.
And so begin Nanami’s duties, although to be honest, her only powers seem to be the writing of talismans, and she doesn’t actually do a whole lot of godding in the show. Instead it’s more about her learning about her responsibilities, learning about the supernatural realm, and dealing with the other spirits, demons, and gods that she encounters, all the while trying to come to terms with the familiar she inherits, Tomoe. And of course being human, she also has to balance her daily life with her new responsibilities, going to school, spending time with friends, all made more difficult as she’s suddenly become a target for the supernatural, for demons who want her powers, and for rival gods who think that a mere human isn’t worthy of the honour.
Along the way the elegant males keep on adding to the mix, with a tengu (type of goblin) joining Nanami’s class, although he’s making it in the human world as a pop star, and brings a wholly different dynamic to the situation. Mizuki is a snake spirit familiar of a god who also vanished from her shrine, and when he encounters Nanami, he feels that he’s found another god to serve again, and starts by kidnapping her, although he’s a more naive and trusting character. It turns out that Mikage is keeping an eye on his successor, and with him is the androgynous wind god, Otohiko, while the Sea God shows up with a grudge against Tomoe. It all gets pretty complicated and entertaining, although I did feel that around episode 10 and 11, when the show started putting two mini stories in each episode that it started to lose steam, before it picked up again for the two episode conclusion.
Of course what Kamisama Kiss really is, is a love story between Nanami and Tomoe, as unlikely a pairing as you can imagine. That Nanami falls for Tomoe is no stretch of the imagination. Other than being a fox spirit, he’s tall, elegant, and protective, and it’s only because of his outward abrasiveness that Nanami is conflicted about her feelings for him. But she is a human who suddenly becomes a god, a girl who really ought to have nothing to do with the supernatural realm suddenly thrown into the thick of things, and there’s no guarantee that she’ll stick with her new position. And that is what holds Tomoe back, that and he’s just as unlikely a candidate for familiar. It turns out that he was actually a Yokai demon, and it was only the magnanimous nature of Mikage that got him into the position of familiar, not something expected of a Yokai. He may have an underlying darkness, but he was loyal to Mikage, and when Mikage vanished, he felt betrayed. That’s why he’s certainly not initially happy to see Nanami show up as his replacement, and as he slowly warms to her, it’s why he’s always held back by a niggling suspicion that she’ll leave and betray his loyalty too. So we have two characters, ill-suited for the positions they are in, who would probably fall for each other were it not for their respective insecurities and issues. It makes for great fun to watch, and you’ll have your fingers crossed for a happy ending.
Kamisama Kiss is fun, it’s entertaining, and it’s refreshingly free of fan service. It’s a romantic comedy that I enjoyed greatly, and it’s nice to see Akitaroh Daichi represented again in the UK anime marketplace. Now if someone could only get Funimation to stop doing audio commentaries. They’re starting to devalue the product.