The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide Kakuriyo
How would you rate episode 1 of
Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits- ?
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How was the first episode?
So far, spring is looking to be a good season for ghost and spirit themed series. Gegege no Kitarō was one of my favorite premieres of the season, and now Kakuriyo has come along and proved to be another pleasant, supernaturally-tinged surprise. I'm always a sucker for cheesy romance, and the “Spirited Away”-esque premise of a girl being whisked to a land of spirits and ogres to meet her would-be husband holds a lot of potential. I'm especially glad to have a protagonist that feels like an honest-to-goodness adult; she's in over her head when it comes to dealing with ogres and fox spirits, but she can still get by on her own and take a little charge of her destiny.
Of course, part of Kakuriyo's romantic fantasy involves being whisked away from normal life and confronted with an impossibly handsome suitor, one who handles his nuptial business deals with just enough forcefulness to get the point across without seeming too creepy for the first episode. Thankfully, Aoi has dealt with ayakashi her whole life, and her predictably tragic backstory has hardened her enough to firmly refuse Ōdanna's insistent proposal, even if it means becoming an indentured servant at his otherworldly inn. While I personally don't see the appeal in Odanna's particular character type, I know plenty of friends and anime fans that absolutely do, and I think the show is smart to frame Aoi's experience around her own desire to work off her grandfather's debt and earn her freedom, as any eventual romance she may find in Odanna's arms will be the result of her proactivity, and not some arbitrary forced chemistry between the two.
It also helps that the show provides an incredibly charming potential rival for Aoi's affections in Ginji, the nine-tailed fox spirit who easily steals the show in this premiere. Everything about Aoi and Ginji's interactions in this episode was absolute gold, appealing to a primal part of my brain that lives to see cute fox boys enjoying rice omelets. Given the nature of these kinds of shows, I'm fully expecting another dozen otherworldly bishi boys to show up and also fight for Aoi's attention, but my ship is set to sail right now: AoixGinji forever.
If Kakuriyo has any major shortcomings, it's that the inconsistent animation and overall aesthetic haven't sold me as much as the writing; I know not every story in this vein can be compared to Spirited Away or even Noragami, but there's just something about Kakuriyo's plainness that I find underwhelming. Thankfully, the charming leads and fun premise are just enough help Kakuriyo carve out the groove it needs to get the job done. If I'm not utterly inundated with new shows to keep up with this season, Kakuriyo is a series I'd be more than happy to stick with.
It feels like every season includes at least one title that blends slice of life pacing into a supernatural setting, and not without good reason. The spiritual elements open up plenty of opportunities for lush visuals and unique storylines, and a slow, measured pace allows a series to explore its fantasy world in detail. Kakuriyo takes things in a more romantic direction than some of its genre stablemates, and I think it's found a good overall balance in this first episode. The spirit realm setting certainly makes the initial narrative hook easier to swallow. I'm not sure I'd buy into this story if Aoi had just been whisked away by some rich hotel owner, but an oni with an inn full of ayakashi has an easier time skirting around the whole “kidnapping people is bad” issue.
As romantic heroines go, Aoi gets pretty high marks at the moment. She's able to look after herself and take initiative without making too big a deal about it. Rather than waiting for someone to save her or constantly shouting in other characters' faces, she's able to assess her situation and come up with a reasonable course of action. The fact that she's coming into the story with a solid understanding of how to deal with spirits is also interesting, as it allows her to stand on a more level playing field with her would-be husband. As long as the writing leaves Aoi enough room to make her own decisions, she should be an engaging protagonist.
I'm not as sure of how I feel about the oni innkeeper, but that uncertainty may well be intentional on the show's part. On the face of it, he seems intent on either marrying Aoi or eating her, and he's willing to resort to some pretty underhanded tricks to get what he wants. That should set him up as a clear antagonist, but it also seems like there's more to him than meets the eye. If there's a more complex backstory behind the debt and a more nuanced personality behind the “predatory tough guy” act, I can see the oni developing into a compelling anti-hero. Ginji the nine-tailed fox does a nice job of balancing out the oni with his more openly friendly personality, and again it seems like he's not quite what he appears to be. At the very least, he's withholding some information from Aoi, and I'm curious about what his part in the story will ultimately be.
The balance of personalities between the two main leads also speaks to Kakuriyo's overall depiction of its spirit realm. It's not just one thing or another, but rather manages to evoke multiple feelings at the same time. It's simultaneously welcoming and menacing, beautiful to behold and yet clearly full of danger for an unwary human. As long as the series can walk that fine line between its contrasting elements, I'm willing to follow it. That's a difficult juggling act to maintain over the course of the season, though, and any missteps could easily take it into either bland or uncomfortable territory. For now, I'm cautiously optimistic about this one.
Falling somewhere between Kamisama Kiss and Spirited Away, Kakuriyo's first episode sets the stage for both a charming romance and an interesting ayakashi narrative. Heroine Aoi is no stranger to adversity or standing up for what she wants, which makes her a more engaging romance protagonist than she might otherwise have been – age notwithstanding, the template for such characters skews pretty firmly toward “passive.” But having had to stand up for herself from a young age when her mother abandoned her for her ability to see spirits, Aoi was then raised by her grandfather, who taught her how best to interact with ayakashi. This has left her confident in her knowledge of them, to the point where when she first sees her unnamed oni fiancé, her first thought is “do not engage.” Perhaps sensing this, he relies on trickery to bring her to the hotel for spirits that he runs, at which point she surprises him by continuing to firmly refuse his hand and find work instead – Mr. Oni says that she's affianced to him because of her grandfather's debt, so she figures she'll just pay it off another way instead.
Seeing Aoi and her erstwhile fiancé constantly outwit each other in this first episode bodes well for their future relationship. He's learning that she's not going to be easily manipulated, and she's able to feel self-reliant in a situation that could otherwise threaten to overwhelm her. He seems to be counting on this, actually – he first tricks her by saying he's hungry, then tries to bribe her with a hairpin and a spa treatment, before attempting to scare her by taking away his protection, possibly hoping to see her crumble and fall into his arms. When she doesn't, he's not so much angry as confused by her behavior, something that Ginji, the nine-tailed fox spirit, indicates when he tells Aoi about him. Ginji also seems to imply that the whole debt-repayment story is a lie. That makes sense, given both Aoi's early encounter with an ayakashi who saved her life after her mother left her in their empty home and the fact that her grandfather was so caring of her. Presumably Mr. Oni was the ayakashi in question, and Aoi's grandfather in no way owes a debt but instead engaged Aoi to the ayakashi in an effort to see her taken care of after his death. Old-fashioned and patronizing? Yes, but well within the realm of both the romance genre and the time in which Grandpa was raised.
The visuals of the series are also well done. Although the animation and character designs aren't standouts, the backgrounds have a wonderful whimsy to them – the scene of wooden ships sailing through the night sky is enchanting, and the scene where Aoi follows the arrows to her future home-cooking restaurant carry an air of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The characters who stood out to me most in terms of design are the No-Face Women – they have no faces, just blank flesh ovals. What makes them creepy is that their utter otherwise-normalcy is offset by that one missing feature. Likewise, the little kappa with the ball shells are pretty basic except for one striking detail, their decorative turtle shells. I would seriously put figures of those on my shelf.
If you're partial to ayakashi romance as a genre like I am, you're probably already planning to check this out. But even if it isn't your genre, this looks like a fun romantic fantasy with a heroine who knows how to stand up for herself, so it's worth giving a try.
When I first read the concept for this series, my first thought was that this was going to be Spirited Away for adults. Seeing the first episode only reaffirmed that expectation. It's definitely not the same scenario, since this story has a more pronounced romantic leaning, but there are enough parallels for understandable comparison.
In this case, the heroine is probably around 20 years old, and the inn's operator is a dashingly handsome bishonen ogre, which adds a more mature element of romance to the equation, as does the “young master” who can transform into a nine-tailed fox but normally has a human form with fox ears. This provides the standard combination of standoffish and more charming potential love interests, with a scene at the end of the episode implying that a more roguish one is waiting in the wings. There's another layer of innuendo present in comments about the heroine getting eaten if she's not careful. (The source novels are targeted at a female demographic, and its manga adaptation runs in a josei magazine.)
Differences aside, the real similarities to Spirited Away come from the lovingly-detailed town around the inn, the clientele of all supernatural beings, and the heroine's need to find a place at the inn without being bound too tightly to its master. The offense incurred by Chihiro's parents instead becomes the debt incurred by Aoi's grandfather, so the two heroines share the fate of being plagued by the actions of their relatives. Aoi gets denied work in the baths, but it looks like she'll be operating a little restaurant to serve omurice to ayakashi.
I was a little surprised to find out that this was a GONZO series, since this doesn't seem like the kind of thing that they would normally do. Still, the technical merits are solid, and Yoshiko Okuda, who makes her directorial debut with this title, handles the pacing and plotting well. The fox guy seems to know more than he's saying about the significance behind Aoi eating ayakashi food as a youngster, which adds an extra element of mystery to the story. Overall, this one is off to a solid if unexceptional start.
Kakuriyo's first episode tries to do a whole lot of things, and I'd say it does almost all of them quite well. There are some clear main appeals to this show, but if “a girl is swept away to work and find love at a spirit world inn” sounds appealing to you, there's likely something here you'll enjoy. From its lovely scenery to its slice of life charms and otome-ready bad boy romance, Kakuriyo starts off its season determined to please.
Kakuriyo's setup is a pretty obvious mix of standard variables. Our heroine Aoi Tsubaki has always been isolated by her ability to see “ayakashi,” which are basically just spirits and monsters of all kinds, so she has learned to take care of herself. However, when she runs into a mysterious dark-haired spirit on a shrine's steps, she ultimately finds herself stolen away to the spirit world, where she's informed that her grandfather's debts mean she'll now be forced to marry the innkeeper of the Tenjin-ya inn. Aoi is rightfully upset about this turn of events and resolves to pay off the debt in her own way, through working in the spirit world.
Kakuriyo's most immediate appeal is its portrayal of that spirit world. From the adorable kappas of its opening segment onward, Kakuriyo successfully evokes a balance of menace, mystery, charm, and wonder, making Aoi's exploration of her new world a reward unto itself. The show's animation gets a little rough at times, but its layouts are often evocative, and the opening theme (directed by Casshern Sins' Shigeyasu Yamauchi) is a kaleidoscopic wonder. There is an inherent appeal to exploring the mundane mechanics of innkeeping in a fantastical location, and so far Kakuriyo is nailing that aspect.
Kakuriyo's second obvious appeal is as a romance, but its material there is more suspect. Aoi's initial conversations with her new employer/fiance play out entirely in a “I want to possess you” predatory space that I have a hard time finding romantic. There's clearly an appeal to dudes who want to eat you almost as much as they want to love you, but that appeal misses me entirely, so my most positive takeaway from this episode's character drama was Aoi's consistent demonstrations of personal strength. Romances in this space often suffer from wet blanket heroines, but Aoi is driven, confident, and sensible, making it fun to watch her push off her new oni suitor.
Kakuriyo's final appeal is its success as a low-key restaurant drama, something I didn't expect until the episode's final moments dabbled in some light food-porn. This material seems to combine the strengths of the first two, playing off Aoi's strength as a character to set her as the centerpoint of a cafe located off the side of Tenjin-ya. Mixing the appeal of slice of life, fantasy, romance, and even food shows, this final scene felt like Kakuriyo's hard sell, clearly demonstrating the diverse pleasures of the show to come. So far, Kakuriyo feels confident, well-executed, and generally engaging. I give it a solid recommendation.
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