The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Well, this was a blast from the past. Based on a manga initially started in 2007, Tsugumomo's first two episodes feel like… well, like an adaptation of a manga or light novel from 2007. Featuring a violent-tempered magical girlfriend, a generally bland male lead, and an assortment of “classic” harem gags, the show could easily slot in after Shakugan no Shana or something similar. It was nostalgic, in a way. It also wasn't terribly good.
The show doesn't waste our time, at least. We're quickly introduced to our lead Kazuha and his obi-spirit accomplice Kiriha, and the first episode offers a solid mix of fantasy action and romcom pratfalls. The action scenes in particular actually impressed me; the show demonstrated some very reasonable animation chops for Kiriha's big fight with a possessed wig, and the direction was fairly active even when it was depicting very generic material. The second episode unfortunately cuts back on the animation a lot, which brings the show's visual deficiencies to the forefront - underwhelming character designs, ugly backgrounds, and a generally bland color palette.
On the writing front, Tsugumomo is really just a competent but not terribly interesting articulation of a very well-worn genre template. “Mild-mannered male lead runs into fantastical girl and they split their time between fantasy adventures and harem shenanigans” is one of anime's most reliable staples, and nothing here really rises above that genre frame. There are panty-peeks and shrieks of “pervert!” and scenes of walking in on girls in the bath, and all the characters stick to pretty traditional archetypes. If there's one thing working in the show's favor, it's that it knows how these stories are told. Both of the show's available episodes execute on focused premises with polish and precision, meaning that Tsugumomo still provides functional romcom entertainment.
“Functional romcom entertainment” seems like it covers the show pretty well. Tsugumomo is cliche, but it knows how to execute those cliches. There's nothing that helps the show stand out, but also nothing that drags it down. I wouldn't recommend it, but it's a competent articulation of what it is trying to be.
I guess it shouldn't surprise me anymore since the internet has led to a world where pop culture is firmly "post-trends," but it's still always weird to see these occasional anime pop up that seem as if they were plucked out of time and delivered to a fandom that may not even recognize them anymore. (When I say "post-trends," I mean trends still exist but you can even avoid the biggest things like Star Wars if you cultivate your circles well enough, so mainstream "culture" has become more homogeneous than ever before but subcultures have become far less homogeneous, and even these formerly "niche interests" now thrive on the attention of hundreds to thousands of fans, anyway this is a rabbit trail.)
Sorry, there's just not much to say about Tsugumomo. Premise-wise, this is an ecchi harem romcom ripped straight from the mid-2000s, in that weird twilight period when these shows were getting raunchier than they'd been in the '90s to better serve the interests of the otaku market, but hadn't yet gone full-tilt into eroge adaptations and the industry-shattering advent of moe. It plays those notes to the absolute letter, so if you find those kinds of characters and plots to be funny or sexy, Tsugumomo has your number. For the rest of us who have moved on, there's not really anything special to recommend here.
At least there wouldn't be if Tsugumomo didn't inexplicably have some of the best action choreography I've seen in an otherwise shruggily animated harem comedy. Because the story revolves around possessed objects wreaking ghostly havoc on our world, Tsugumomo has slightly more of a battle and mystery-solving bent to its core of high school girls trying to get into a milquetoast high school boy's pants. While not good enough to work as an action series on its own merits, these fight scenes are executed pretty well, featuring some creative storyboarding and better animation than the rest of the show.
So yeah, give Tsugumomo a shot if that combo seems intriguing to you, but otherwise, this cliche-ridden romcom probably should've come out a decade ago if it wanted to hold anybody's attention.
Did I go back in time? It's rare that a series has such a dated feel when it was created in this still-new century, but Tsugumomo is so firmly rooted in the sensibilities of 2007 that I expected to have homework to do when I finished watching it. It's not that it makes references to the year it was first published as a manga, but rather that harem anime has moved on from the point the series is at – this really feels like a return to earlier days, from the characters' personalities to the level of “funny” violence. It's kind of an odd experience to be watching it streaming, honestly.
Other than the sense that this is displaced in time, there isn't much about Tsugumomo that's memorable. The milquetoast protagonist, Kazuya, has been carrying around his dead mother's obi (kimono sash), which has existed long enough, and been loved enough, for it to have turned into a tsukumogami, a type of yokai that was once an object but has gained life. (You may have seen them previously in Hell Girl and Inu x Boku SS.) Kazuya's is Kiriha, and she's an odd combination of formal and crass. Of course, she's not the only girl in Kazuya's life – there's also Chisato, his childhood friend, and his older sister, who seems to have an unhealthy fixation on her little brother. And naturally there's a random girl who has a crush on him, just like Chisato does. Both crushes lead to what I'm hoping will not be an ongoing plotline: their unrequited (and unconfessed) feelings cause mini-tsukumogami known as amasogi to be born. All the amasogi know is that Kazuya has disappointed their creators, so they attack him, which means that Kiriha has to save him in both episodes.
Using the exact same plot device in both of the currently available episodes is definitely a warning sign, and one that doesn't speak highly of the show's creativity. While there are definitely moments, from the book mecha that Chisato unknowingly conjures up to the dance-like moves of Kiriha during the first episode's battle, which I loved, otherwise this is very cut and paste, from the “she's my cousin” excuse to the big sister wanting to get in the bath with Kazuya to his hormonally-charged male friends. There are also a lot of “jokes” about Kiriha inappropriately touching Kazuya's penis or kicking him in the crotch repeatedly, which feels a bit too mean to be funny.
On the bright side, it really makes no bones about what kind of show it is, so unless there's a major plot twist coming, you can tell within the first ten minutes if this is a keeper for you or not. Tsugumomo knows who its audience is – for its sake, let's hope that it didn't leave them behind in 2007.
Tsukumogami involve the once-popular Japanese belief that tools can manifest a spirit after a hundred years of use. Since there is historical precedence for haunted kimonos, and kimonos can be passed down through generations as family heirlooms (much like wedding dresses sometimes are in the West), the idea of an obi manifesting a spirit from use over time is a logical extension. Mix that in with the widespread notion that objects can become imbued with maliciousness under the right circumstances and add in a dose of general Japanese spiritualism and you have the basis for this series.
This could have been an interesting series based purely on that had it taken a Ghost Stories type of approach with a fair dose of nostalgia mixed in for the way the obi maintains Kazuya's connection to his mother – and the latter is definitely present. However, the creators were apparently either not intent on producing something so humble or else had a more otaku-specific audience in mind. As a result we get mostly-mild fan service antics, a sister who's a little too keen on taking a bath with her brother, and jokes about main character Kazuya's dick. We also have the standard abusive tsundere type associating with Kazuya, although in this case the poor sap has two to contend with: the typical version is the childhood friend, while the less typical is obi spirit Kiriha, who has a more mischievous bent when it comes to prurient matters but will spaz out to abusive levels if her status as being above a mere yokai is disputed.
I don't mind the fan service angle, but the double-tsundere thing will kill my interest in this series if it keeps up. Worse, the Next Episode preview for episode 3 suggests that the local goddess may also prove to be rather contrary. (I'm getting the impression that the short girl shown in the opener is actually the goddess and the full-grown woman is something like Kiriha.) Unless the male protagonist really does deserve it (see Tomoki in Heaven's Lost Property), having multiple female characters beat on him just turns the situation into an exercise in masochism, and not in a funny way. Still, the production values are pretty good, including some animation in the obi/wig fight in the first episode that's far more ambitious than what many action-oriented series attempt, and the way Kiriha uses the nature of an obi in her attacks surprisingly doesn't at all come off as ridiculous. As a result I can't be entirely negative about these first two episodes despite the direction that things seem to be going.
Kazuya Kagami is hot stuff. Don't be fooled by his generic appearance and lack of any discerning hobbies, this guy winning over male classmates, female classmates, supernatural entities, and his own sister. Viewers will wrap up the second episode knowing scant little about Kazuya as a person besides that his mom is dead, academically he's unremarkable, and he's uncircumcised.
I guess we can give the last one to the show's credit. I have never before sat through a discussion where a girl offered to pull back a guy's foreskin and wash his dick for him. Two points for originality? Because everything else here is the 1990s-2000s style harem romance where most the humor rests on the male character getting slapped around for a perceived sexual transgression. Apparently when Kazuya isn't capturing hearts, he's getting pummeled by his childhood friend for not doing his homework, grabbing her chests, peeking at her underwear, and every other by the books offense the show decided to dig up out of the anime archives.
When Tsugumomo isn't being a stereotypical romantic comedy, it's working at being an action show. Kazuya's contract with a supernatural girlfriend means an increase in everyday encounters with yokai and sentient objects. He first runs into a possessed, lustful wig that is acting in accordance with nameless boy who is romantically obsessed with Kazuya. The boy also wears a girls' school uniform. I'm not sure what is up with anime this season and its fixation on questionable cross-dressing. Armed Girls Machivellism started it with male students forced into “feminine” roles and make-up, there's a blonde character in Twin Angels BREAK whose cross-dressing seems like a randomly introduced factoid, and then there's Tsugumomo's nameless, maliciously gay crossdresser. I don't having an explanation why, but it's not particularly good look.
Tsugumomo is filling that niche for audiences that miss the romcoms from 10 years ago in the same fashion as last year's Pandora in the Crimson Shell. Tune in to see Kazuya get whacked a lot with a fan, punched sky high, walk in on a girl in the bath, get spooned in his sleep, and get emasculated for being “hooded”. Eventually more female characters will be introduced, upping the potential for jealousy and more punches. Expect exactly zero stakes in the plot or humor department, but maybe some decent fanservice whenever it doesn't lead to further character abuse.
While watching the first two episodes of Tsugumomo, I was tempted to check my calendar just to make sure I was still in 2017. This series feels like it could have been released five or ten years ago. It adheres almost absurdly close to the old harem comedy format, with a wishy-washy guy meeting a supernatural babe who has some kind of connection to his past. I'd normally say they don't make 'em like this any more, but apparently they still do.
That dated feeling is most evident in the characters. Forget all the comically lazy or impossibly clever protagonists of recent years, because Kazuya is bland and useless in a way that harkens back to the wishy-washy harem leads of yore. He has three friends at school, all of whom fall into the usual roles. His two male buddies are a nerd and a wannabe playboy, while the bespectacled class rep is his childhood friend. (And yes, of course she hits Kazuya on the head with a paper fan whenever he does something stupid.) I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but that's all there is to it; they really are that faithful to the old clichés.
As the designated magical girlfriend, it's not surprising that Kiriha is the only character with any real charisma at this point. She has a slightly unusual mix of personality traits, blending old-world sensibilities with a raunchy sense of humor and a violent temper. As the only character with any sort of initiative, she's also the driving force behind the story at this point. I wouldn't exactly call her a compelling heroine, but at least she's not fawning over Kazuya like he's the greatest human being in history. Her fighting style is also kind of neat, and it kind of reminds me of some of the “paper master” techniques from Read or Die. The production values in general aren't exactly stellar, but they do seem to pick up a bit whenever she beats up an evil spirit.
If you're looking for fanservice and bawdy comedy, Tsugumomo looks like it might have enough nudity and dick jokes to fit the bill. It honestly seems like a mildly entertaining genre piece, but it's definitely a dated one. If you can accept that it's several years behind current trends and go in with low expectations, you could conceivably have a good time. Of course, that's pretty faint praise, so don't worry about missing anything amazing if you just skip it completely.
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