Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 26th 2008
Samataro Kamiyama is anything but an ordinary high school boy—his father is God, his childhood friend Tenko is an angel, and he's lived his entire life with divine intervention on his side! Lately, however, it seems that his parents' constant meddling with the universe to make everything go his way is doing more harm than good. Nowhere is that more evident than when Samataro falls for beautiful transfer student Kumiko, and Dad's attempts to bring get closer to her all end in embarrassment. Things only get worse when the rest of the family tries to help out, as Mom and two sisters end up causing even more chaos. Apparently being the Son of God isn't all it's cracked up to be...
What comes to mind when one mentions "religious themes"? Giant robots fighting over the end of the world where everything is named after Judeo-Christian terminology, maybe? Or vampire hunters in the employ of the Vatican? But what probably would not come to mind is a romantic comedy where the main gimmick involves a caricatured interpretation of the traditional monotheistic God-with-a-capital-G. Kamisama Kazoku definitely hits "only in Japan" levels of originality with that quirk, and it even nonchalantly plays the "Son of God" card without mentioning a certain carpenter from Galilee. But does it work as an actual romantic comedy? While it gets a lot of the little things right, it remains to be seen whether this story can rise above the genre's standards.
Volume 1 is quick to establish a simple formula for comedy: Samataro gets into a scrape, Dad reads his thoughts and waves an omnipotent finger, and madness ensues. When applied creatively, it leads to some wonderfully off-beat moments—a teacher suddenly going nuts, or an accident being miraculously averted. Add in Samataro's similarly powerful sisters, and more variations emerge, like the madcap outcomes of an "emotional roulette wheel." Yet that same formula can be eye-rollingly predictable as well, like when Samataro meets Kumiko after and she instantly decides to strip for him (and right away you can tell which demographic this series is geared toward).
Still, the quick pacing of the story helps to keep things moving; if one joke doesn't click, there's probably another decent one a few pages further. In between are some surprising moments of tenderness as well, as Samataro starts to develop feelings of love and longing, while Tenko finds herself fighting the pangs of jealousy. But these emotional explorations are just as lightweight as the quick-and-easy humor, adding up to a first volume that hasn't committed to a serious storyline yet. In fact, the most serious development is the one that comes in the final three pages of the book, and readers may find themselves trying to make the tough call of whether Volume 2 is worth picking up for this sudden turn of events, or if this is just cliffhanger trickery. After all, a proper school-romance storyline has to be built on more than just random acts of God...
Wherever things are headed next, though, the artwork manages to keep up with the story's changing tone. Bold, energetic movements and outgoing facial expressions dominate the comedy scenes, of which there are many; these often also involve an appealing-but-not-too-distracting level of fanservice. On the flip side, the images seem to almost slow down in time when it comes to moments of longing or jealousy—suddenly it goes from several minutes of action per page to just a few seconds of inward self-reflection, which shows a surprisingly good command of pacing. Clean lines and rectangular paneling also help to keep things highly readable. Yet for all these technical accomplishments, there isn't much visual creativity to be found—the character designs and backgrounds all lean toward the bland and mainstream, and the toning and texture create something of a flat, gray-on-white look.
As a school comedy, the dialogue is pretty light and easygoing throughout the book, and some of the best lines come from the characters taking jabs at each other. (The "convince Kumiko to come along to the pool" sequence is particularly well-timed.) However, the translation occasionally ends up with strange word choices and awkward turns of phrase; these little hiccups can be distracting at times. Sound effects are also handled in a haphazard manner, as some are deleted and replaced with English equivalents, while others are left as part of the artwork with translations placed nearby. A glossary of translation notes in the back is something of a half-hearted effort, with only four entries, but the story isn't too culture-dependent anyway.
It's probably just as well that Kamisama Kazoku doesn't dig too deep into the philosophical implications of being a deity; that's not something easily covered in manga, much less any other medium. Instead, the first volume spends most of its time on something with a greater chance of success: fun, lightweight bursts of comedy that just happen to involve the big man in the sky. A touch of romantic desire and conflict doesn't hurt, either. But doing the little things and doing them well is only the start; this series has yet to prove why its storyline is any better than the rest of the genre. So forget the big questions like the existence of a higher power and the meaning of life—the real thing you might want to ask yourself is, do you like wacky romantic school comedies enough to keep on reading?
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C+
+ Competent as a romance and a comedy, with an energetic sense of pacing and clean artwork.
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