Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Jul 15th 2011
Nanami and Tomoe are invited to Himemiko's shrine under the pond for tea. After observing them together, Himemiko makes some comments about Nanami's feelings for her shinshi, something both she and Tomoe aren't eager to acknowledge. Later, having missed too many days at school, Nanami convinces Tomoe to let her go more regularly. He says fine – if he gets to go with her. This turns out to be a good plan, because when she goes without him, her kindly instincts and divine knowledge get her into trouble with a snake...
One of the highlights of this series is definitely the visuals. Suzuki's characters have distinct, interesting designs that emphasize their supernatural characteristics, but without being caricatures. Himemiko the catfish spirit is a particularly good example of this. Even in her human disguise, she has huge, wide eyes, a tiny pursed mouth, and just overall gives the feeling of “fish.” Her attendants, with their fin-sleeved kimono and small fins in their hair, also have a unique sensibility to them that many background characters do not. The same goes for Kotetsu and Onikiri, the oniki-warashi of Nanami's shrine: both are recognizably the same type of creature, but they are by no means identical. Later we meet two oniki-warashi of another shrine, and while they look like each other, they are also immediately identifiable as kasa-obake, or umbrella demons. They aren't exactly the one-legged drooling creatures usually pictured, but Suzuki still makes it clear what type of spirit they represent.
Suzuki's art, overall, has made a giant leap forward since Karakuri Odette, her other English translated series. While the bones are the same, there is a busyness here that she was not capable of, or confident enough to pull off. Again, this is best seen in the character designs and clothing. When Himemiko dresses Nanami in one of her kimono, Nanami starts to look like the catfish because of how Himemiko did her lipstick. Snake spirit Mizuki has a lazy, dangerous quality to his iconography, and of course Tomoe is unbearably elegant. While backgrounds are scarce, her people are compelling enough that the lack doesn't really stand out. The basics of this were present in Karakuri Odette, but Suzuki has really come into her own.
There are three distinct stories within this volume, which is a bit cramped, but works relatively well. First is the visit with Himemiko, which serves mostly to advance the romantic subplot. With Tomoe's loud declarations that he will never get involved with a human woman and Himemiko's perspicacious observations about Nanami, this single chapter has a more classic shoujo feel. Nothing is really resolved, however, so it has the flavor of a delicious hint rather than a descent into sappiness. Tomoe gets plenty of time to consider his feelings in the next section, when snake spirit Mizuki makes an appearance. Suzuki doesn't waste space with exposition, though – Tomoe's thoughts are rarely solidified into speech, with him instead making veiled statements like “I never thought I would panic like this.” Clearly Tomoe is not really ready to admit anything, but he does give the reader enough to keep her going. Romance hasn't gotten off the ground enough to be said to be in the air, but it may be on the runway, starting to taxi off.
In some ways this volume has definite undertones of Kanako Sakurakoji's Black Bird, though without the sexual aspects. Nanami, however, proves to be a much stronger heroine than Sakurakoji's Misao, never giving in to her distress and actively attempting to come to her own rescue. It is unlikely that this similarity is deliberate, but shoujo readers who are fed up with Black Bird may find solace here. The middle chapters of this volume do a lot to develop Nanami as a strong heroine who can take care of herself but who also knows when to ask for help. Perhaps the best way to phrase it is that Nanami, despite being a tochigami, is a very human girl.
That is one of the issues that this series has had all along, however – the contradiction between goddess and girl. Tomoe frets about Nanami needing basic human necessities and being more fragile than most tochigami, but shouldn't her position as a goddess grant her some sort of immunity? Does being a tochigami simply mean that she can use magic? This is a nagging question that detracts from the story, although not enough to warrant putting it down all together; it's a world building issue that Suzuki should have laid out more clearly to her readers.
The final story in this volume also strains credibility a bit – when Nanami falls ill, Tomoe disguises himself as her and goes to school in her place. No one seems to notice that her personality is drastically different or that her breasts are significantly larger. Why does Tomoe feel the need to make this modification? Suzuki could have given us a single line answering this question, much as she could have provided more explanation about Nanami's goddesshood. But despite these glitches and the crowded content of this volume, Kamisama Kiss remains greater than the sum of its parts and an entertaining, attractive read. One hopes that Julietta Suzuki's third series will see an English translation, because this is a lady worth reading.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Distinct, attractive characters, a strong heroine, and a romance that's starting to take off without eating the story.
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