The Winter 2014 Anime Preview Guide Inari Kon Kon
Jan 15th 2014
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Review: Middle schooler Inari has always struggled with having the same name as the local shrine, but that also brings benefits that she initially isn't aware about. She regards herself as a clumsy wreck of a person, despite her close friends’ efforts to reassure her, and a miserable failure interacting with love interest Tanbabashi (she accidentally pulls his shorts down!) doesn't help. Seeing him apparently confessing to the much prettier Sumizome drives her to seek solace at the Inari shrine, where she encounters and is led by a pair of spirit foxes to see Uka, the goddess of the shrine, who awards her a wish for her long-term friendship towards the shrine. When her wish to become Sumizome shows her that a change of appearance alone isn't going to make a difference, Uka helps her fine-tune the wish: she will now be able to take on any human form she wishes and gain a spirit fox familiar, too.
Spiritually sensitive individuals are commonplace in anime, as are supernatural elements in romantic series, but this one takes at least a mildly different tack on the ordinary elements. It does have its goofy aspects (Uka gets caught playing what appears to be an otome game), but it plays more serious than most of these kind of series do, and the course of the first episode suggests that Inari's transformations into other people might be exercises in self-discovery. That Inari's brother can also apparently see the goddess, and looks at her disapprovingly at one point, also has interesting possibilities.
The technical and artistic aspects do not look like they will be a problem, as character designs are well-done and not entirely generic and the rendition of the Inari shrine (which appears to be based on the actual Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, the country's primary Inari shrine) is impressive. And it certainly does not fail at what it does. Still, whether or not Inari Kon Kon is doing enough to distinguish itself in a crowded field remains in question.
Inari Kon Kon is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
Review: Big drama, intense emotions; these are not Inari’s currency. It's a romantic comedy as bright and sweet as its protagonist, and considerably less prone to angst. It deals in warmth and kindness, in happy magic and positive messaging. Not your thing? Then go right on by. Sound like a slice of marshmallowy-soft heaven? Well, you still may want to be cautious. Inari is indeed sweet and soft, but it's also kind of bland.
The blandness is a direct result of the show's pivotal romance. Inari, our hapless heroine, is clumsy and awkward and kind—an average girl with a good heart and a lot of shortcomings that get her into various kinds of trouble. Her love interest is Tanbabashi, who is cute and athletic and good-natured and popular with everyone. Ugh. First of all, he's exactly the kind of perfect, kindly boy who sucks all of the spice and life out of any romance unfortunate enough to have him. Secondly, this is a desperately overworked romantic pattern: ordinary girl crushes on (and probably gets) the most popular guy in class. Why can't characters like Inari look for guys who are as odd and colorful and, yes, unpopular as they are?
At any rate, Tanbabashi makes you thankful for the others around Inari. Like tough but loving tomboy Keiko or, more crucially, the generally awesome Uka-no-Mitama-no-Kami—the goddess who befriends Inari (after Inari saves her familiar) and ultimately grants her the power to transform into other people. Keiko owns the show's sweetest moments—cheering Inari up after a setback and later betraying the depth of her affection by attacking Tanbabashi for slighting Inari—and Uka its funniest (for a goddess, she sure loves dating sims). There's an itch that a mild, good-hearted character comedy like this scratches, and while Inari may not have the grace and imagination of, say, Gingitsune, it scratches well enough.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Inari is the kind of cute and clumsy middle school girl shoujo is made of – she's adorable, she has high spirits, and she simply cannot do anything without tripping and pulling her crush's pants down. She is also beloved of the goddess who lives in a local Inari shrine, but not because of her name; Uka-sama likes Inari because she has always loved the shrine, and for that reason, along with the fact that Inari saved one of Uka's familiars, she is willing to grant Inari one wish. Inari wants to become the girl she thinks her crush likes, and when that doesn't work out, Uka gives her the ability to change into any other human she so desires.
Inari Kon Kon, as Funimation has abbreviated Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha., really gives me an older shoujo vibe. Mostly it reminds me of Megumi Mizusawa's 1990-94 manga Hime-chan no Ribon in that Inari becomes a magical girl who can use her power to look like someone else, but there's just a charm and basic sweetness here that really hearkens to the kind of shoujo that flourished in the 1990s, with an emphasis on the heroine learning something about herself rather than singlemindedly searching for romance. Inari herself almost seems to comment on it when she tries to come up with a transformation gesture and spell, and the result is more Pastel Yumi than Daybreak Illusion. This is not to say that Inari Kon Kon is a throwback show. Inari and her friends attend a modern middle school, use cellphones, and one of her two pals clearly has a thing for moe. (It is subtitled as “pwecious” when she says the word aloud.) Everyone thinks Inari's a little weird for liking shrines so much, and her brother clearly sees something more sinister in the whole thing – in fact, the last scene shows us that supernatural talents may just run in the family, which could make big brother an interesting foil to his sister. He and tough friend Keiko have the most potential to develop into characters who go beyond their initial character types, as does Tanbabashi, the boy Inari likes. His reactions after she accidentally strips him in gym class feel very real, showing his utter embarrassment and inability to handle it well, which feels like about how a nice middle school boy would act in the given situation.
The backgrounds in this show are absolutely gorgeous, with rich forests, beautiful torii winding up to the shrine, and a feeling that there are bigger things in the show's world than its characters. Uka's foxes are also very well done, with little squiggly tips to their tales to denote foxfire and, in the case of the mini-fox Inari gets as a familiar, a little leaf, perhaps indicative of her transformation powers. They're slinky and elegant and their contrast with Uka's use of them (clipboard, otome game) is pretty funny.
All in all, Inari Kon Kon is fun and charming. The simple sweetness of this first episode pulls you in and feels like shoujo comfort food. It could devolve as Inari starts playing with her new powers – who wants to bet she's going to turn into Tanbabashi and try to play the big game for him? - but it could also remain just a nice story with a pleasant message about being yourself. I'm willing to watch more and find out.
Inari Kon Kon is available streaming on Funimation.com.
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