Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 18th 2007
DVD 4 - Holiday Confessions
Yurie's life continues on, as stunningly normal as ever (as normal as a middle-school girl god can be). Christmas, it turns out, is a lonely time for Japanese gods (especially those without boyfriends) since everyone is too busy fueling the capitalist system to visit shrines and such. Matsuri has other ideas however, and who could be better suited to snaking Christmas out from under ol' St. Nick than the world's most ambitious middle-school shrine maiden? Hot on the heels of Christmas is New Year's, the busiest time for Japanese deities everywhere, and then it's Valentine's day, the most important holiday for young gods in love. Can Yurie finally capture clueless calligrapher Kenji's heart? Can Matsuri really defeat Christmas? And how do you turn on a television without getting out from under your kotatsu? Only god knows.
Ever get tired of loud, boorish, charmless exercises in lowest-common denominator pandering? Ever wonder where all of that charm went? The answer is Kamichu!. People just love to bandy about words like "charming" and "warm" when talking about their favorite family entertainment or the latest sapfest, diluting their impact when something truly deserving of such epithets comes along. But Kamichu! defies all other descriptors, simply begging to be called warm and charming. So warm and charming it is.
It begins and ends with the characters; an assortment of detailed personages whose idiosyncracities, insecurities and desires makes them not only the type of people you can imagine meeting on the street, but also the kind of people that you'd like to meet. When the entire school gets behind Yurie's romance, we understand, because we too want to cheer our hapless heroine on. We may not fully understand Matsuri's anti-Christmas sentiments, but that doesn't stop us from wanting her to succeed. They are interesting without ever lapsing into outrageousness or caricature. Their lives proceed unhurried, reassuring in their magical mundanity. In a triumph of magical realism, even the swarms of fantastic creatures that crowd the town's streets seem positively normal, making this volume even more relaxing than those that came before. Magic takes a back seat to just living life and the weirdness never enters head-scratching territory as it has in the past (remember Tyler Meowden and the bubblegum-squid Martian?); the final episodes seem content to simply chronicle their protagonists' (slightly unusual) lives. Heck, one entire episode is devoted entirely to Yurie lounging about under a kotatsu. What was the last show you ever saw that in?
Of course what those holding off until now really want to know from a final volume review is: how does it end? Tying up every loose end and providing neat closure to every relationship would be a betrayal of the series' clear-eyed slice-of-life structure (a slice is a slice because it isn't complete, you see), yet the conclusion is as deeply satisfying as it is open-ended. Only certified churls will be able to complete this volume without an ear-to-ear grin plastered on their faces.
Director Koji Masunari re-teams with many of the staff-members he used on R.O.D. the TV, so it's no surprise that Kamichu! achieves a similar level of quality. Scriptwriter Hideyuki Kurata abandons the narrative fireworks of the second half of R.O.D. in favor a more muted, subtle approach, coaxing emotions from the audience rather than wringing it from them. Character designer Taraku Uon moves further away from the slick sexuality of the Please! series, cleaving closer to reality for Kamichu!'s cast. Yurie is almost potato-faced, Mitsue is exactly the kind of girl that would usually be a background character, and Matsuri is believably pretty. Miko is adorable, as is Shokichi, but neither is blindingly so. The entirely unnatural spirits that populate the town provide a cartoonish contrast to the more realistic humans. The town itself is marvelously detailed: full of crumbling steps, buildings just shabby enough to have character, cracked sidewalks, a suitably world-weary shrine, and lots of trees and sunshine; a veritable fount of small-town charm. As befits the show's more personal tone, the animation's greatest strengths (as strong as it is overall) are in its understanding of the physics of human movement (crawling, squirming, walking, biking, and running) and an eye for faces that emphasizes expressiveness over glass-doll good looks. Characters may not win any beauty pageants, but you will always know what they're feeling.
One of the few major staff members to be rotated out, R.O.D.'s Taku Iwasaki is traded in for Blood: The Last Vampire's Yoshihiro Ike, whose subdued classical instrumental score blends so perfectly into the show's rhythm that its virtually invisible, while simultaneously being key to the success of that very same rhythm. It's the kind of score that would make a perfect late-night lullaby. The clever opening (one of the few openings to defy any form of text replacement, making Geneon's decision to simply subtitle it a necessity) is accompanied by the same pleasant pop tune as the previous twelve episodes, and the peppy closer remains unchanged.
This dub should win Geneon and New Generation Pictures some sort of award for fidelity. Everything—performances, casting, scripting—manages to capture perfectly the original's quiet charm. So close are the two that it takes some time to even notice that the languages have been switched. And yet, thanks to some unobtrusive creative liberties and the actors' ability to nail the essence of their characters without resorting to imitation, the dub never feels slavish. With both language tracks on equal footing, sub fans and dub fans can go straight for their preferences without fear of missing anything.
The only extra of note, even if it doesn't at first appear so, is the production gallery; not for the pretty pictures so much as the cast and crew commentaries attached to them. And, as usual, the last slides are more of Production Designer okama's explanations of the private lives and preferences of various supernatural creatures.
Few anime are as adept at washing away a day's worries, bulldozing pressure, and inducing a state of complete relaxation—without allowing their entertainment value to flag—as Kamichu! is. You may not be able to buy tranquility in a bottle, but it does come in shiny little discs. Four of them to be exact.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ A satisfying conclusion that serves up everything that made the previous episodes great fun, minus the Martians and street-fighting cats.
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