Kamichu!

Kamichu-03

KAMICHU!

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Kamichu! is yet another one of those school girl goddess series. The title translates to “A Deity as a Middle School Student”, which I’d argue is backwards considering she was first and foremost a student and secondly a “god.” Kamichu! came out in 2005, and it is easy to see the trends of the time that it was taking part in (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens are two examples of series that shortly follows this title). Unlike these two other series, however, Kamichu! gets stretched out all over the place, which is saying something if you look at those other titles.

Starting the series off, we are introduced to Yurie, a painfully shy and ordinary middle school girl. One day at lunch she suddenly broadcasts to her best friend that she is a god, but would like to know of what. Obviously her friend is skeptical, considering the lack of evidence and logic in the two conflicting statements. Nonetheless, Yurie’s other classmate overhears the conversation and hops on board to find out Yurie’s newfound duties, thereby jumpstarting this series and it’s “cause.”

But what exactly is going on in Kamichu!? From what I can tell, this series is a slice-of-life/Shinto antics series. I’ve probably already stated this, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of deity series. I have always found it a bit strange to see religious/spiritual characters cast as tropes for comedy purposes or fanservice. Anyways, as far as Kamichu! goes, I can’t even tell what sort of deity series this is supposed to be. There is no real rhyme or reason for Yurie’s encounters with the spiritual world. Each episode seems like a new unique branch to the question, “what if a school girl was a god?”, and then goes into a zany thought from there.

I think the complete directionlessness this series chooses is part of what throws me off. Instead of going all Shinto-inspired or all fantasy/sci-fi, like Kannagi or Haruhi, it goes in both directions alternately and ends up a muddled mess of poorly executed tropes instead.

PLOT: Kamichu! begins after eighth grader Yurie Hitotsubashi becomes a (Shinto) god and follows her as she explores her powers over the following school year. And, you read that right, this show starts after she gets her powers! Kamichu!, frustratingly, isn’t interested in the why or how of Yurie’s powers and never even bothers providing a flashback to when she got her powers. Instead, Yurie just mentions the occurrence to her friends in school one day, and the show goes on from there.

This setup should give you an idea of Kamichu!’s intention to provide a lackadaisical, cute girl-focused account of Yurie’s godhood and how she and her friends deal with it. That premise by itself would be interesting enough to me, but then Kamichu! adds in a layer of absurdity that takes everything too far in my book and muddles its “healing anime” premise. This show has all of the elements of a healing anime (including its pacing), but the humor just throws everything else out the window.

Let me give you some examples. Kamichu!, as you’d expect, has a bunch of stand-alone episodes revolving around shenanigans Yurie gets into that relate to her godhood and personal life. In one episode she transfers to Izumo for the month to attend the gods’ convention, and in another she confesses to the boy she likes. However, there are also episodes that parody Fight Club or where an alien lands on Earth and Yurie comes to the rescue. And these are treated just as seriously as everything else! It’s a bizarre mixture, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around the combination of healing anime style and non sequitur content. On top of that, the pacing really drags if you aren’t wholly buying the show’s premise, which made it tough to get through.

SETTING: I found the worldbuilding in Kamichu! to be very lacking. I have seen many anime series that explored Shintoism in a way that fleshed out both the “everyday world” and the spiritual world in ways that demonstrated how they overlap or move alongside one another. This gives credibility to the story and cast, while unifying the worlds and showing how co-dependent they are. Kamichu! does none of this. The world Yurie lives in is pieced together haphazardly with no real world order. It is hard to take her role in the world seriously when it seems to make no impression. I would have liked to see more intention with how these two worlds collide. Unless the goal of the show is to demonstrate how even divine powers can’t save you from your own futility, then I guess the show does a good job of bringing reality back down to earth.

I do think there are some intersections between the human and gods worlds, they just weren’t as significant as I’d expected based on other anime I’ve seen with similar premises. What most surprised me, actually, was how everyone treated Yurie’s powers like they were no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Sure, she knows the Prime Minister, but she isn’t called upon to fix the environment and create world peace, and there certainly isn’t any media sensation around her. The Japanese non-reaction to Yurie goes completely against what I’d expect if such a thing happened in real life, and it left me baffled.

SETTING: According to Wikipedia, Kamichu! takes place in 1983 and 1984 in Onomichi (in Hiroshima prefecture). Despite this exact setting, I didn’t notice anything in the show that outright suggests it takes place twenty years before the show aired. Sure, I was a little confused when Yurie didn’t use a cell phone to call her friends from Izumo or by her family’s old TV with dials, but I just assumed that her parents were old fashioned or poor. Instead of being firmly tied to the ‘80s, Kamichu! has a timeless feel that makes it more relatable and which keeps it from aging as visibly as more stylish, modern anime. The lack of modern technology definitely helps with its timelessness, as well.

On the other hand, I did get the sense that Kamichu! took place in a specific town, though I don’t know near enough about Japan to notice any particulars about Onomichi. The care in presenting shots of the setting stuck out to me, as did any landmarks that appeared, as they felt true to life. I can’t speak to how much the show was helped by this specific setting, but I think visually it aids the show by giving it a more firm setting than so many anime that are set in a vague “somewhere” in contemporary Japan.

Wow, until I read this I had no idea this was supposed to be in the ‘80s. It does explain some of the clothes/hair choices of the characters, though.

CHARACTERS: One of the biggest flaws with this series is character credibility. Sure I could wrap my brain around a story exploring a human as a deity with newfound powers, but there is hardly anything that makes Yurie a credible person. Yurie’s account of her granted powers is only ever explained as, “I just woke up as a god”. She comes across as lazy, selfish, and as a liar. Sure, we are proven wrong a couple times when we see her do something just or prove that she really has divine powers, but the lack of logic behind her character was just too much to overcome in order to connect with her.

Then there is Matsuri, a classmate who happens to work at a local shrine and who suddenly became friends with Yurie purely because of her deity status. She invites herself into every situation and takes charge of everything. Really the whole thing seems exploitive, but I guess that’s what middle schoolers would do.

Mitsue is Yurie’s best friend and first confidant. She is level-headed and provides balance to the crazy antics of the other two girls. She isn’t ever able to stop anything crazy from happening but serves more as a connection for the audience to feel as if they are a part of the story, since we can’t really identify with the other two girls.

Ultimately, I didn’t feel that this story really held up as the best way for us to get to know these characters. The cast and story are not symbiotic and do not help each other out in any way. I would have liked to see a series where the personalities pushed the story more or where the characters were allowed to have real development. This is one of the aspects where I feel the show was stretched too thin by trying to be too many things at once.

CHARACTERS: Being a slice-of-life/healing anime about cute girls doing cute things, Kamichu!’s success will sink or swim depending on how you feel about its central trio of cute girls. Unfortunately, they all fell flat for me, leaving me little to look forward to in the show.

To start with, Yurie is definitely an Everygirl, but in this case she falls into the moe side of things (as opposed to shoujo) in a way I found unappealing. She’s slow and whiny and lazy, all of which outweigh her moments of sweetness or determination for me. Your mileage will, of course, vary, but I think an entire episode where she doesn’t leave the kotatsu because it’s cold and she’s too lazy to get her own food speaks for itself. Yurie’s almost the epitome of what I dislike about middle schoolers, which made her extremely difficult for me to stand.

Her friend Matsuri, the bossy girl who essentially runs the local shrine, is the remaining epitome of what I dislike about middle schoolers. Matsuri is bossy to a fault, always coming up with new schemes and never, ever changing her mind, no matter how ridiculous it is for Yurie to run for student council president just because Matsuri wants her to (!). Matsuri spends the entire show bossing her friends around, and I have no idea what they get out of it. I honestly can’t stand her, even when she gets some much-needed character development.

The third girl, Mitsue, is the calm one of the group, balancing out Matsuri’s ridiculous ideas (though still going along with them) and making the show bearable. Aside from that, there isn’t much development to Mitsue, unfortunately. The remaining cast consists of family members, the boy Yurie likes, and various gods Yurie meets. I found several of these characters, particularly the younger siblings, to be more interesting than the main girls and would’ve liked more time with them. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

I think there is a lot of misconception about slice-of-life and how it doesn’t have to accomplish anything. The writers should have sat down more and considered what the underlying goal was, and how to best get that across. Even if it’s as simple as being “moe”, that could still have been broadcasted better though the characters.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: The art style is like a breath of fresh air, allowing the audience to relax and soak in the charms of the series. The beautiful backgrounds speak more than anything about the world and time the girls live in, while their subtle body movements speak more about their personalities than the script and plot is able to account for. More than anything else, it is the art that “saves” Kamichu! from being a total failure. While I had a hard time connecting to the unfolding events, I could relate somewhat better due to the flow and pacing of the animation.

As for the character designs, the girls are quite timeless. They make it a bit easier to relate to visually, while also avoiding being too “tropish” or outlandish. This gives back a little credibility to their characters and their actions. However, that is all taken away by the wacky supporting cast which is filled with crazy cartoonish spirits that are a total mockery of the spirit world. These designs are just as foolish as their actions and the whole series’s premise. When you look to works like Mushishi and how it has carefully crafted spiritual entities, it is hard to take anything of Kamichu!’s caliber seriously in any way, shape, or form.

I have to agree that the supernatural elements could’ve been portrayed so much more organically so as to better fit with the rest of the story. I felt like Kamichu! wanted its spirits and gods to be childishly cute and relatable, but instead I just couldn’t take any of them seriously. Major visual backfire.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Kamichu!’s saving grace is its art, which is amazing for the time. The art style may look plain to newer anime fans, who are used to the hyper-detailed look of current anime where no eyelash is unaccounted for, but this show is actually quite beautiful. The simple character designs allow the animators to pour their attention into the smaller details, like characters’ minute body movements or more accurate lip flaps than I’m used to seeing in TV anime. On top of that, the backgrounds are highly detailed, heightening that sense of definite place I mentioned earlier.

The art style is somewhat plain, but I think that works in the show’s favor, adding to its laid-back feel. This isn’t a show that’s out to impress you with outlandish hair colors or crazy outfits…which might be what makes it so weird when the show goes off the deep end. Not one, but three dancing mascot characters? A bright-pink, tentacled martian with a bow on her head? Cartoonish gods for everything under the sun? Kamichu! pulls off its visual style well when it sticks to a simple art style for its human characters, as you can see in all of the main art, but everything supernatural in the show clashes with that aesthetic so hard it hurts. It might be an acquired taste, but I prefer anime like Kamisama Kiss or Natsume’s Book of Friends that still have weird-looking gods and spirits while keeping them from looking like cartoony caricatures.

OVERALL: I’m shocked this series had such good reviews. I looked at the premise of it and knew it wouldn’t be my thing, but gave it a shot after Crystal had pumped it up so much (based on reviews from respected people). For me the biggest thing is, this is just not one of my favorite genres. Taking away that bias, I still feel that this series failed to grab onto any real premise or goal. There are a lot of series that explore these same themes, but in better ways. Crystal gives a lot of good examples that, while I might not watch them, I can still agree they hold up as good references. I’d also like to add Mushishi as a stand up example of what spiritual slice-of-life series can live up to.

Now while I don’t like spiritual works, I do love pointless school girl club antics series, and have been known to watch some rather uneventful snoozers. Part of the success boils down to the cast, whether I can identify with them, or if I want to see them grow into maturity. These girls are hard to identify with and left me with no real desire to see them grow. Sure, youth isn’t always pretty, but they could have given us a bit more humor to help us swallow it.

OVERALL: At face value, Kamichu! looks like something I’d enjoy: cute girls, slow pacing, girl-turned-god conceit, and a general focus on Japanese mysticism. Unfortunately, it turned out to be like watching paint dry, especially as joke after joke failed to get a positive response from me. I had high hopes for this show, especially since it looked right up my alley, so I’m really disappointed by how much I disliked it. If the humor hadn’t been so out there (Fight Club with cats?!), I might’ve enjoyed it more, but there’s still the problem of the grating main characters. I’m sure someone might like Yurie, and the entire cast might be more likable in Japanese, but I made absolutely no connection with any of the main characters. If you’re looking for shows that are similar to this and don’t mind shoujo, please watch Natsume’s Book of Friends or Kamisama Kiss instead. Or, if you want a great healing anime, check out Aria (all three seasons of it!). But really, I can’t think of a reason for anyone to watch Kamichu! unless you enjoy juvenile humor in your healing anime. This show is such a jumbled mess that I have no idea how it received the reputation it has, and I advise others to stay far away from it.

Actually, there is even a better answer for juvenile humor–I’d suggest Polar Bear Cafe for a wacky, slightly-off humorous healing series.

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

Note: Sorry for the unexplained hiatus. This last month has been chaotically busy with finals, grading, sickness, traveling, etc. Our goal for this next year is to continue to post reviews every other week on Tuesdays, but there may be times where this becomes difficult to do. I, for one, am entering into the last two semesters of my graduate degree, hunkering down on my thesis research, and am beginning to teach higher-level courses that require more time. Crystal, on the other hand, is planning a major event, working, and trying to keep her kraken pup entertained (a feat that is not so easy as you can tell from the photo).

kraken pup

We will continue to do our best and communicate with you if there will be any changes. Thank you everyone who has kept with us, and here’s to a happy year of anime watching and reviewing.

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2 thoughts on “Kamichu!

  1. I doubt it would be enough to change either of your opinions but the spin-off KAMICHU! manga, which I’m not sure is entirely canon to the anime, does show the exact dream Yurie had where she became a god, although it’s as anti-climatic as you’d probably expect: Yurie confesses her love to Kenji, the calligraphy club member, who then paints a daruma mustache on her face, which makes her become a god somehow.

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