Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
When the Mizuchi clan's Hashirame sees something troubling in her forecasting, she conspires to lure her grandchildren Noboru and Toru Takagami to the clan's headquarters. Though neither is aware of it, their mother was the clan's priestess and Toru, having inherited her tasty power, is now the target of an army of hungry yokai. The brothers take this in with surprising equanimity. So too do they take in stride their grandma's insistence that they seek the assistance of the Mizuchi's guardian deity, the powerful fox yokai Tenko Kugen. That their Mizuchi bodyguard is a spell-slinging young priestess named Ko is no problem. Seeing Kugen (Ku to her friends) thrash a snake yokai in a frightening display of magic and cunning doesn't stop the pair from inviting her, and Ko, to come live with them. After all, it's better than ungratefully sealing her inside a rock again, which is what Grandma wants. The effect of a gluttonous fox and a butterfingered priestess (oh, the china!) on the family budget, on the other hand, gives them pause. Mysterious are the ways of man.
Our Home's Fox Deity has one of those premises that give jaded anime fans heartburn. An everyday teen (that would be Noboru) finds out he's not so everyday and is bonded with a magical girl who then moves in with him. That pang you feel in your chest is your gorge rising. The wonder of Fox Deity is that it somehow makes that premise not just painless, but thoroughly pleasant.
The series' poor initial impression comes mostly from its first episode. There's little hint within its introductory confines that Fox Deity will be anything but pseudo-romantic supernatural twaddle. It does all the usual drudge work: introduce the über-nice hero; explain his connection to the curvaceous magical heroine; throw in another female stereotype—Ko, the blunt inexpressive girl—just for fun. An undistinguished magical battle follows and the episode ends with the guy and the two girls heading back to the city to live under the same roof. The urge to watch the next episode is not acute. About the only thing the series can claim in the way of promise at this point is an unusual level of attention to the details of traditional Japanese magic and Ku's domineering personality (and avowed asexuality).
The first hint that something is interesting in dullsville is the episode's post-credits coda, where a glimpse of an actual sense of humor can be caught. The show goes on to distinguish itself in a lot of dumb, little, yet strangely important ways. Noboru, it turns out, isn't really the main character. At least, not alone. He shares the throne with Ku and, most importantly, Toru. Noboru doesn't live alone, as countless romantic heroes do, but with his amusingly even-keeled dad. Ku's avowed asexuality turns out to be quite real. While for the purposes of clarity she's been assigned the female pronoun, Ku is equally comfortable in male or female guise, and equally comfortable seducing policemen or flocks of teen girls. The focus on eleven-year-old Toru, the presence of a chaperone, and Ku's absolute disinterest in matters of the heart effectively banish romance from Fox Deity's bag o' ambitions. The only romance going on in Fox Deity is inside the too-active imagination of Noboru's wannabe girlfriend Misaki, who incidentally is the closest thing Noboru has to a real romantic interest.
It may seem a small thing to remove the romance from a cohabiting-with-hot-girls premise, but in addition to simply being a refreshing change of pace, the series' disinterest in romantic bonds also frees it up to focus on infinitely more interesting family bonds. The trust and respect Noboru, Toru and their father have for each other suffuses the episodic tales of attacking yokai. Ku's fierce protectiveness of the brothers grows until it is almost frightening, reaching perhaps its peak when she torches a local god rather than allow Toru to come to harm. In the meantime Noboru works to acclimate Ko to the informal ease of the Takagami house while Toru takes to Ku like a motherless child to a potential surrogate.
The fruits of those bonds can be very sweet, as when a Noboru-influenced Ko begins an adorably halting friendship with Misaki, and the light they throw on Ku's character even recasts some of the first episode's events in a more interesting light. Their real achievement, however, is the warm and often amusing dynamic of the Takagami household. Ko's appealing awkwardness, Ku's capriciousness, Noboru's well-meaning worries, Toru's unprejudiced acceptance, their father's smiling sangfroid, the regard they all have for each other—it all makes for a highly appealing home, a place that, if you can't live in, you can at least enjoy visiting. The series is smart enough to recognize that, and treats its potentially bombastic magical-action plots with a calmness that befits the easygoing nature of the Takagamis and leaves plenty of time to spend in their company.
Now, no one will ever mistake Fox Deity for great anime. The characters are simple, and too often defined by their central quirks. Toru's much-remarked intelligence lapses conveniently whenever an excuse is needed to get him in supernatural trouble. Ku's personality can get abrasive, particularly when she starts throwing "I want ice cream! Now!" tantrums. The action sequences are frequent, but feel obligatory. They're generally pretty cheap, with shortcuts aplenty and little attention paid to impact, excitement, or the all-important coolness factor. Often they're exceedingly silly (magical Whack-a-Mole anyone?) and are even more frequently peripheral to the plot (which usually revolves around something like getting a part-time job or harassing Noboru at school).
But even if it isn't great, it is enjoyable. The fights usually have interesting strategic turns and occasionally allow Ku's beastly nature to burst from beneath her bishojo looks. Light-comedy veteran Yoshiaki Iwasaki rarely overplays the characters' quirks, letting them surface unexpectedly for knowing chuckles. He knows exactly how to animate Ko's impossibly cute habit of using hand signals and sound effects when her vocabulary fails her, and how to wring more laughs out of Misaki's internal tsukkomi/boke routine than should really be possible. He makes good comedic, and occasionally empathetic, use of both the charmingly light score and the equally charming character designs. Fox Deity may be little more than a diversion—Iwasaki directs little else—but it's a well-made diversion.
NIS America's release follows their now-familiar pattern: twelve episodes across two discs in a gorgeous box with a gorgeous hardcover booklet. Yeah, the large box will have to sit on top of your DVD shelves, and yes there's no dub, but suck it up—you won't find packaging this beautiful anywhere outside of Nozomi Entertainment. The booklet, by the way, is less comprehensive than those for Toradora! but it makes up for it with a wealth of promotional art.
There is plenty of room left for Our Home's Fox Deity to fail disastrously. All manner of badness could befall it in the next twelve episodes. It isn't good enough to fully dismiss the possibility that it'll make a dunderheaded move like having Ku fall in love or Noboru take a stab at big drama. It is good enough to make finding out if it will a priority, however.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Light, innocuous, and surprisingly fun; incredibly cute when the mood takes it; Ko.
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