The Fall 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Kohina is a young girl who lives alone in a big house. One day, her idle games of spirit-summoning are answered, when the fox spirit Kokkuri-san appears at her window in response to her call. And so she locks the window and tells him to go away.
That's pretty much the premise of Gugure! Kokkuri-san - it's a gag comedy, where the emotional, self-important spirit Kokkuri is continuously trolled by the blank-faced, pragmatic Kohina. Kohina calls herself a “doll” and generally refuses to show any emotion, while Kokkuri is full of energy and conviction in spite of not being much better off. The contrast between the two is basically the entire point of the show - Kokkuri will attempt to either inspire or improve the life of Kohina, Kohina will cut him down to size with a straight man response, many laughs ensue. It's actually pretty damn good at this formula - the deadpan execution of gags like Kohina calling the cops on Kokkuri sells them far better than dramatic punchlines would, and Daisuke Ono (who played Handa in last season's Barakamon) really sells both Kokkuri's enthusiasm and his punching-bag nature.
Beyond the jokes, Gugure! Kokkuri-san's execution is also very solid, particularly for such a simple comedy. The painted backgrounds provide a lovely backdrop, and the show's visual framing is very good at portraying the inherent loneliness of Kohina's life. The divergence in character model styles for the cast is also a smart choice. Kokkuri's sultry, almost otome-game look perfectly fits his sense of self-importance, and the contrast between that and Kohina's blank-faced chibi look acts as a visual joke all by itself. And the fact that Kohina actually switches from a lonely-looking little girl to the “perfect doll” miniature version in Kokkuri's presence helps enable the show's final strength - its emotional core.
This first episode doesn't just establish the fun dynamic between these characters - it also establishes a real fundamental sadness in Kohina herself. In the last stretch of this episode, Kokkuri really does leave, and we see Kohina slowly fall apart in his absence. In spite of all the show's gags, this final attempt at dramatic affectation actually works quite well - though the show is funny, many of its gags are based in sad character truths. Though the show's last few moments seem to indicate it'll make its One Big Joke last by throwing in a variety of side characters, I think this show's real prospects will depend on how well it respects the sadness in both of these characters, and how that sadness brings them together.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: A girl becoming some combination of protected, helped, haunted, and/or served by a male fox or fox-like spirit has actually been a thing in anime for a little while now, and Kokkuri-san is merely the newest installment. The basic concept here is derived from a real divination game which caught on during the Meiji Restoration and is somewhat similar in function to Ouija boards in the West, down even to superstitions that sometimes things might be summoned that you don't intend if you are not careful. That is exactly what happens when young Kohina plays the game alone: the fox spirit Kokkuri actually does show – or tries to, for he promptly gets locked out by Kohina. When he is able to get in, Kokkuri discovered a girl who claims to actually be a doll, even a very advanced form of biotechnology, though Kokkuri suspects that she's really just making such a claim to cover for the fact that she is all alone. And indeed, that does seem to be the case, as no family ever returns to the old, beat-up house, she seems to have no friends, and she subsists on a diet of instant noodles, which horrifies Kokkuri to the point that he vows to cook for her. But Kokkuri also gradually shows that Kohina is not the only one who is alone here; he is something of a forgotten spirit himself, and so the two may ultimately be good for each other.
As warm-hearted and achingly sad as the above description sounds – and, indeed, there are moments when the first episode truly is both of those things – Kokkuri-san is, first and foremost, a comedy series composed primarily of short sketches which combine to form a loose narrative. A fair amount of the humor involves Kokkuri not being treated with any dignity or respect by Kohina (Kohina calls the police on him when he shows up wearing only a towel when she summons him once from the shower), but Kokkuri is also not entirely above messing with Kohina, and Kohina's reactions on those cases can be priceless; one scene is a Star Wars parody which uses a musical theme more reminiscent of Jaws in a moment where Kokkuri has truly and utterly pissed off Kokkuri, for instance. The mix works, and is bolstered by some interesting artistic touches and a neat-looking closer whose lyrics I dearly want to see subtitled, too.
While the first episode is almost entirely a two character study, it does offer at least brief appearances by other characters who will presumably play major supporting roles in future episodes, including a schoolmate of Kohina, an apparent dog spirit, and a wandering priest. If they can be integrated smoothly into the dynamic that the series has already established then this one has some potential as a mild, sweet comedy effort.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
I decided I really liked Gugure! Kokkuri-san when its lead little girl, having accidentally summoned a ghost, calmly called the cops on her unwanted house-spirit. Then he actually got lowered into a squad car and taken into custody for several hours before pathetically drifting back. 4-koma comedy series like this basically live and die by their miss-to-hit ratio, and if you like a little sugar in your snark, this show's hit ratio is impressive. It's all dry humor from the five-year old girl host, balanced by horrified overreaction from her paternal yet pathetic fox-spirit roommate, all wrapped up in a burrito of cuteness, which is clearly the most important goal of the whole show: being cute, cute, cute (without being saccharine.)
It's impossible to list every uniquely adorable aspect of this first episode, but I can attempt a shortlist. The little girl, Kohina, delivers every precociously hysterical line in a squeaky monotone identical to the "villager voices" of Animal Crossing. (She is clearly just a very confused little girl, but claims to be a robot of pure logic with no emotions.) Her unwanted ghost friend at first decides to haunt her because he's entering his ghost-mid-life-crisis (muttering "I don't want to die alone" to himself a lot,) but quickly becomes concerned for her well-being when he realizes she eats sodium-heavy junk food for every meal. This leads to some extremely silly, yet heartwarming scenes of a ghost shouting "THREE MEALS A DAY, WITH AT LEAST FIFTY INGREDIENTS" and making the stone-faced little Kohina repeat it while he toils over a hot stove. There's also a bishounen dog spirit in a tailored suit who sits in a cardboard box, dreaming of someday finding his perfect match and passing the days of waiting by howling at the moon.
By episode's end, it's clear that this is a "the characters are mostly one joke" show like many anime comedies, but that one joke is so great and they do so many hilarious things with it in twenty minutes, it's impossible not to at least recommend for a test drive. (This is thanks largely to the all-star seiyuu cast of Daisuke Ono, Jouji Nakata, and Takahiro Sakurai killing the material with their comical baritones, although you only hear Nakata in the ending theme as of yet.) If pure slapdash comedy isn't your thing, it's also clear in this episode that there is a softer, more dramatic side underlying the madness that will explore why Kohina is "emotionless," as a scene with her crying alone proves she is not.
To top it all off, the next episode preview is a "fluff of the week" spotlight that's literally just live-action footage of a cute, poofy kitty from a cat cafe. There's not really any context for this apart from the whole "animal spirits as bishounen companions" premise, which is a huge stretch, but it made me happy. It's still early, but this is definitely the comedy of the season so far. Even when it's not laugh-out-loud funny, (though it often is,) it's polished, sharply directed, and hopelessly precious. Also, it ends with a Saturday Night Fever parody, for whatever that's worth to you.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Gosh, there sure are a lot of cute characters in this show. There's Kohina, a little bitty girl who thinks she's a little bitty doll and so doesn't have emotions or need to eat nutritious food. There's Kokkuri-san himself, who looks like a sweeter and less-imposing Tomoe from Kamisama Kiss with a gigantic bell around his neck. And there's, uh...well, okay, the dog spirit in a cardboard box looking for his master isn't all that cute, but the joke kind of is.
And that's about what Gugure! Kokkuri-san has going for it.
Clearly based on a four-panel manga, this episode is subdivided many times over as it rehashes the same basic joke: Kohina is an elementary school student living by herself. She has no friends and wants none. One day she summons Kokkuri-san, a fox spirit, by playing the Japanese equivalent of Ouija by herself. Once he sees that she's all alone eating instant noodles for every meal, he decides to stay and take care of her. She says no thanks. He gets beat up. The end. (Actually, the end entails a very strange “Saturday Night Fever” parody, which may be the funniest part of the episode.) There's not a lot of reasons for the show to be so divided since the same basic plot makes up each segment, and the end result is a show that wants to be cute and funny and just isn't quite getting there. The art is quite attractive when it comes to the adult men, though, and a lot of attention has gone into the backgrounds as well, so if the plot isn't always interesting, at least looking at the images is. Also on the plus side, Daisuke Ono is terrific as Kokkuri-san, making much more of the character than he might otherwise be, and Ryou Hirohashi (Aria's Alice Carroll) does a very good job as the mostly dead-pan Kohina. If you're a big fan of either of them, it may be worth watching this episode, but otherwise this is relegated to the “not quite cute enough” pile. It's nice enough, but honestly? This is a series that could very easily have been three minutes and been much more successful.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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