Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens

Kannagi

KANNAGI: CRAZY SHRINE MAIDENS

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Jin, in an attempt to hone his artistic skills for an exhibition, carves a young woman out of a fallen ancestral tree. He unknowingly grants the goddess within the wood the ability to be set free by giving her a vessel to take form in. The initial setup of Kannagi reminds me a lot of the old Ovid poem from Metamorphoses about Pygmalion, who was so in love with his sculpture, that he wished her into existence. While the story takes a wildly different turn from the old classic, it is still just as much of a love story.

The goddess within the tree, Nagi, seeks to make the world a better place by getting rid of “impurities”, these evil spirits are a general nuisance and contaminate the world. Nagi, in her weakened state, has difficulty capturing these impurities on her own. That’s where Jin comes in. For some reason he has the ability to touch the impurities, despite being human, and so is the perfect accomplice to help capture these icky little critters.

Since Nagi has no where else to go, because her ancestral tree has been cut down, she ends up staying with the young Jin. This of course creates some highly charged sexually awkward situations where Jin struggles to retain his composure while being attracted to Nagi. There are red flags, misunderstandings, and your usual relationship woes as the two learn to live together.

PLOT: After a local sacred tree was cut down, high schooler Jin decides to carve a sculpture from part of the trunk. He ends up making a sculpture of a girl and, due to this girl resembling the goddess who lives in the tree, the goddess awakens and takes on the form of a teenaged girl. Naturally, this goddess, Nagi, wants to continue with her purpose of cleansing impurities from the world, but she’s weak from her tree being cut down and resorts to using a magical girl toy wand to boost her powers. On top of that, Nagi can’t touch the impurities but Jin can, so she ropes him into helping her on her mission. And what’s the best way to make sure Jin helps Nagi out? By living with him.

You can see the standard harem setup forming already, can’t you? It gets added to by two other main girls, Tsugumi and Zange. Tsugumi is Jin’s childhood best friend and, of course, both is in love with him and constantly takes care of him by making him lunches and whatnot. Zange, on the other hand, is Nagi’s sister, a goddess whose tree is currently on the land of a Catholic church. Zange doesn’t get along with Nagi at all, but there is some concern between them, even if it takes a lot to make it show.

Plotwise, Kannagi doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself or how best to pace itself. The show flipflops between teenaged shenanigans and hints of a deeper plot involving Nagi’s past, with a heavy emphasis on the shenanigans. The kids find a lot to get up to between getting rid of impurities, going to school, and going to Jin’s art club, but these activities play off more as filler because the show didn’t know how to properly develop anyone, shoehorning all of the character development into the last few episodes. Overall, the plot is very uneven, and it’s very frustrating to watch.

I think the plot has a lot of potential, but none of it is used in the anime. If the characters were just a bit more interesting, I’d be tempted to read the manga to see how things develop more fully.

SETTING: With the pair living together, most of the action takes place in Jin’s house, at the shrine where Nagi’s tree originated, or at school. This creates ample opportunity for typical red flag moments where the two can work together and get closer to each other.

The impurities start off at the shrine, but they quickly move on to inhabiting individuals at Jin’s school, which gives Nagi all the more reason to done a school uniform and invite herself more into Jin’s life. Despite the premise that the two are fighting off impurities, many of the episodes go into more detail on developing a mini sort of harem for Jin to navigate his way through. There are several girls of various types all vying for his affections, in some way or another. For the most part this comes to a head at the school, and the girls find themselves making up crazy ways for them to fight over Jin. There just happen to be some impurities along the way that facilitate some of the crazy action. Really the only reason for the setting is to highlight that Jin is a typical male teenager, aside from that the shrine is the most interesting location, but it is hardly used as a means to push the story further.

Both of the primary settings in Kannagi—the shrine and the school—function to heighten its otaku appeal, since fanboys love both of them. This is one of the ways that Kannagi’s obviously pandering to its audience in an attempt to be better than it is.

SETTING: As Whitney points out, the setting here is very pedestrian for a seinen anime. Though we have the somewhat-interesting premise of a goddess coming from a tree, the show doesn’t know what to do with it aside from sticking the characters in school and having them go to clubs. Granted, Nagi spends some time finding impurities and dealing with them, but Nagi also spends a lot of time running about the school and bossing people around. I know that high school life is the comfort food of seinen anime, but I would’ve liked more variety from this anime.

Kannagi does get interesting with how it contrasts Shintoism to Catholicism in Japan, though this also doesn’t get addressed to its full potential. Zange’s tree hasn’t been cut down, and it’s on the grounds of a Catholic church, so she’s naturally stronger than Nagi. However, Zange also claims to be stronger than Nagi because, according to Zange, Catholicism (or Christianity?) is the stronger religion now. This point makes me really curious, because I didn’t think Christianity was that big in Japan, and I know Shintoism’s at least somewhat practiced all over. Or maybe I’m confused about that.

CHARACTERS: Jin is your typical every man who unknowingly gets caught up with an eccentric beautiful girl. Somehow he has the magical ability to sense and touch spirits, which makes him a wonderful asset to Nagi’s goal. While he seems rather straightforward and uneasily swayed by fanciful ideas, he’s very supportive and becomes an enabler for Nagi’s actions.

Nagi on the other hand is a fangirl tree goddess who loves anime and magical girls. Because her powers are weak, she adopts certain magical girl behaviors and tries to use a toy prop to help her defeat bug like impurities. She can be very naive and immature, but she always seems to pull through when it comes to looking out for Jin. There is a flashback at the beginning which hints at a relationship between the two when they were younger, where she acted much like a guardian to him. This is one of the few times you see her other type of personality show through where she is shown as older and more nurturing.

What would a romantic comedy be without the childhood friend? In Kannagi it is Tsugumi, who has had a long term crush on Jin. Her presence is used to cause conflict between the main couple. Then there is the art club, and the various members within it which help round out the group and help develop the world building, or what little there is of it.

Nagi’s more serious side is what kept me watching Kannagi through the end, much like Soushi in Inu x Boku SS. While Nagi’s normally silly and whiny, she can show her age and wisdom and times, which I found very intriguing and wanted to learn more about.

CHARACTERS: Jin, as the male lead of a seinen romance, is pretty wishy-washy. There’s not much that I find interesting about him, but all of the show’s girls are falling all over themselves for him. I guess he’s dedicated to helping Nagi, but he’s also your standard teenage guy who blushes all over the place and is a bit of a pervert. Not my favorite seinen main character, but he could be worse.

Nagi, on the other hand, is an excitable tsundere most of the time, running all over the place and getting carried away with ideas and ordering people around. Occasionally, though, she’ll revert to her goddess personality, which is old and wise and related to those hints about a deeper plot. This personality endeared Nagi to me more than any of the other girls, since I’m a sucker for happy characters with hints of a serious personality and a dark past. Granted, the show doesn’t spend much time with this side of Nagi, and things aren’t resolved that well, which made me feel like Kannagi was just teasing me all along.

The other characters aren’t much to write home about, either. Zange’s obnoxious with her superiority and knowledge about things, while Tsugumi’s very clingy and overly worried about Jin. The art club members bring some fun into the show, but they feels like a weird contrast with the religious stuff that the show tries to bring in with its main plot. Just like the plot, there characters are too all over the place in an attempt to interest viewers.

I agree, I found Nagi’s character to hold the most promise. I was hoping to learn more about her past with Jin, and to see what her deeper personality was like. I think having a spin off series or OVA about her past (like in Air) would have been much more interesting to watch than this series.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Kannagi has a lot of moe elements, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it moe itself. In that same sense I wouldn’t really call it a harem anime either. While there is fan service, it isn’t enough to really make it stand out too much from the main crowd. I’d say the series sticks to being tasteful, while still relishing in the embarrassment of youth and that special first love.

The character designs are colorful and energetic, which matches well with the atmosphere and personality of the series. Nagi is a goddess, but wears a short skirt and uniform, much better suited for a magical girl than a deity. Her sister, another deity in the series, also sports an uniform hardly fitting for a “nun”. It’s hard to take their powers and goals seriously when their outfits are so immature, but then again their metaphysical abilities are rather stunted as well.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I don’t know why Whitney said Kannagi isn’t moe, because I think it clearly fits into that category because of its art style. The characters are all very cute and slightly rounded to be more appealing, with each of the three main girls having a different style to appeal to part of the audience. Heck, each girls gets a different kind of fetishized uniform! Though they’re definitely easy on the eyes, they’re also clearly within the trajectory of moe, especially with how similar the art style looks to K-On!

The animation emphasizes the moe elements by paying a close attention to details of physical movements. Whenever the girls move, the animators focus on bringing every detail they can to the screen. Of course, the show’s quality waxes and wanes with the budget, but overall there’s a close attention to movement that A-1 Pictures has become known for with its more moe shows. The show’s opening is the highlight of this style, with a dance sequence featuring Nagi and showing off just how much the animators delight in capturing her movements.

You’re right that it has moe elements, I suppose I was getting more at the lack of lolita like characters. While Nagi is fangirlish, the character still retains a sense of maturity that is lacking in a lot of moe series. Gao.

OVERALL: Kannagi is painfully average and full of wasted potential. The characters are rather interesting as is the initial set up with Nagi coming out of a sculpture. Like I said before, I really like the throwback to classic literature. Unfortunately the series wastes a lot of time having nothing happen aside from chasing a couple of bugs and creating awkward misunderstandings between various characters. There is a bit of drama between Nagi and her sister, and a couple of love triangle moments, but ever after 13 episodes it feels like nothing really gets started. I suppose you could call this a “slice-of-life” series, but even in that case it doesn’t progress enough emotionally to really fit into that genre either. All I can guess is that the manga goes into a whole lot more detail, and that this series was made more for the sake of fan service. If that’s the case, this is probably better suited for those who are already fans, rather than building a new fan base.

OVERALL: Kannagi’s not a great anime by any means, but there’s a reason why it was moderately popular back in the day. It has an appealing, clean moe style with characters who appeal to most of the otaku fanbase and good animation to make these elements that much better. The show even brings in more fan-favorite elements, like a high school setting and plenty of referential humor. Of the anime that haven’t been dubbed, I think Kannagi would most benefit from one because of how hard that humor is to get into with subtitles.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t a gigantic fanboy, Kannagi doesn’t have much to offer you. The plot mostly runs thin, and the characters don’t see much development at all. There’s just enough going on to keep me watching, and I bought the series to see how the serious plotline resolved, but I’m unsure whether or not it was worth it. If you’re a fan of sakuga or moe, then watch this by all means, but otherwise it might not be worth your time, as there’re better shows out there that cover similar territory.

FINAL SCORE: (5/10) FINAL SCORE: (6/10)
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