Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 27th 2009
Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens
Art student Jin Mikuriya is sensitive to the presence of spirits and has childhood friend Tsugumi looking out for him while his father is working abroad, but otherwise he's a normal high school boy. Life gets vastly more complicated, however, when a figurine he carves out of wood from a chopped-down sacred tree comes to life as a cute, petite-figured girl with long blue hair, one who introduces herself as Nagi and claims to be the Kannagi region's local goddess. Naturally she winds up cohabitating with Jin (under the guise of being his long-lost half-sister to deflect any impression of impropriety) and, after watching a magical girl show on TV, decides to use a magical girl-styled wand to exorcise bug-shaped impurities which have started to pop up since her tree got cut down, though her power has waned so much that she needs Jin's help to do it. To solve that problem she decides to become the region's idol to generate the kind of worship necessary to rejuvenate her power, and starts by making popular guest appearances at Jin's school. Her more curvaceous sister (of a sort) Zange has similar ambitions, however, with the ultimate goal of upstaging Nagi; she even goes as far as to try to disgrace Nagi and entice Jin away, the latter of which, of course, doesn't sit well with Tsugumi. Ah, the tragedy of being caught between so many girls. . .
In its first half Kannagi seems intent on treading a difficult path: that of attempting to appeal to broader audiences while still pandering to the hard-core otaku who are its target audience. It does so by playing to the tastes of said otaku and yet restraining itself just enough from the full exploitation of otaku proclivities so as to avoid turning off other potential viewers. That Bandai Entertainment opted to license it is a testament to at least a partial success, and this was a popular series in Japanese otaku circles. The unusually abrupt (and unadvertised) subtitle-only nature of the American release suggests a lack of confidence that the series does have a market beyond the hard-core otaku crowd, however, and its cuteness factor may only go so far in the face of common otakucentric clichés .
Its potential appeal to otaku should be obvious given the various common tropes it exploits. Although not exactly a harem series, its early episodes do give somewhat of a harem feel as Jin gradually finds himself surrounded by a bevy of cute girls all vying for his attention, albeit each is doing so for conspicuously different reasons: Tsugumi is secretly in love with him, Nagi needs his help more than she cares to admit, and Zange wants to screw over her sister by taking away that help. The main trio of girls also represents something for every taste in terms of both appearance and personality: Nagi is the willowy, flat-chested one with the attitude; Tsugumi of the medium-sized breasts is the responsible and relationship-timid “good girl” type; and Zange is the amply-curved seductress/con artist with a hidden Major Issue. Naturally a cooking challenge of questionable merit arises as one point, as do various hijinks involving undergarments (shades of Chobits, anyone?), cosplay, and aspirations to become teen idols, and naturally the supporting cast, which mostly consists of Jin's fellow art club members, are a colorfully quirky lot which (of course) includes a hard-core otaku who tries to deny that he is but has a habit of rambling on into lengthy discourses about All Things Otaku. The way he can be switched on and off can be amusing, though.
What the series does not do, however, is heavily emphasize its fan service. Though breast size becomes an issue on multiple occasions and Zange's come-ons can become a little heated, the series generally seems more concerned with focusing on the cuteness of its female leads than their sexiness. While the series does sometimes wallow in lame self-aware references (when is some anime series going to take a cue from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and do this cleverly?), it nearly as often pulls off more meritorious anime references, such as having Nagi pattern her exorcisms off of magical girl behavior. And while the cattiness between Nagi and Zange is hardly unusual, it does have a bit more of an edge to it than such rivalries in these kinds of series normally have. Perhaps most importantly, the series is genuinely funny at times, although Nagi's penchant for weak puns does not translate well.
The series most distinguishes itself in its underlying premise. The focus on hunting down impurities which the series seems to have in the first couple of episodes quickly fades, but the notion of Nagi as a goddess who is gradually losing her powers and needs to find a way to rejuvenate them does not. The way she starts to do it – by becoming an idol so she can draw power from an adoration akin to worship – is not entirely original, as certain elements of that can be found in the mid-'90s OVA series Key the Metal Idol, but it does provide a fresher twist on the much-explored and much-parodied realm of Japan's peculiar brand of idolatry, especially once Nagi starts gaining seemingly random powers because of it. The notion of two goddesses-turned-idols dueling over worship market share is also inherently amusing.
The animation and artistic production come courtesy of A-1 Pictures, Inc., a relatively recent wholly-owned subsidiary of music production giant Aniplex (who, not surprisingly, produced the musical score). The quality of their effort is not on quite on the level of the top current studio productions, as a certain degree of roughness can too often be spotted in their character renderings, but they do at least offer crisp background art and fare well enough on the designs themselves. Nagi's cute, lithe look crosses a go-go dancer with a magical girl and certainly stands out in a crowded field of anime girls, while Zange is appropriately attractive in her nun-themed cosplay and Tsugumi gives off a suitable (if more generic) “childhood friend” vibe. Supporting cast members have more typical looks and Jin, naturally, looks like every other harem series male lead his age. The animation shows off best in the fully-animated music-video-styled opener but is otherwise unremarkable.
Opening theme “motto☆Hade ni ne!” is, as might be expected, a stereotypical upbeat idol singer song, while closer “Musuhi no Toki” strikes a more soulful tone. Both are sung by Haruka Tomatsu, an up-and-coming seiyuu and singer who has also performed several other recent anime themes and major roles and here gives voice to Nagi. The soundtrack in between provides efficient and unobtrusive support to the action, whether in comedic or lightly serious moments.
Although Bandai Entertainment has licensed the series for both DVD release and streaming video access, it will not be dubbed. Instead, the thirteen regular episodes and one OVA episode are being offered up on a pair of sub-only DVDs. Some of the early episodes can also be seen on ANN's own video feed on a two-a-week progressive release schedule. The first DVD release also includes textless versions of the opener and closer for Extras in addition to seven episodes offered at a retail price only somewhat higher than a typical anime DVD.
Kannagi isn't a great series, but it is cute enough and funny enough, and has enough otaku-favoring traits, that it can carry a certain appeal for less cynically-minded souls. It has just enough substance to avoid being completely shallow but is, for the most part, a light diversion.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Sometimes quite funny, effective musical score, generally cute.
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