The Spring 2023 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Otaku Elf ?
Community score: 3.9
What is this?
Koito Koganei is a teenager who works as an attendant to the Takamimi Shrine. Rumors have it that a deity dwells within the shrine, but the actual resident is an immortal elf who found herself stuck on Earth some four hundred years ago. What's more, the elf is a total shut-in who won't go outside and has developed a taste for video games.
Otaku Elf is based on Akihiko Higuchi's Otaku Elf (Edomae Elf ) manga and streams on HIDIVE on Fridays.
How was the first episode?
Well, this sure was a pleasant little surprise. Going in with just the promo material, I figured I was in for a gimmicky gag series about yet another fantasy creature discovering the bewildering world of modern technology. I was prepared for endless scenes of “haha, elf lady get iPhone” level jokes. Instead, I got a remarkably charming and cozy dramedy that got some genuine laughs out of its gimmick while quickly transcending it with solid character writing.
Granted, in the beginning, there are a few jokes about Elda being obsessed with games and being an energy drink-chugging little couch gremlin. However, those are short, fast, and act as a springboard for developing her rapport with Koito. It also helps that, despite being a recluse who spends all day gaming, Elda isn't a selfish or entitled personality. She genuinely appreciates the offerings given to her, and the people giving them appreciate her in kind. It makes Elda quirky and a little inconvenient to work with, but nowhere near the kind of selfish sponge that the premise might bring to mind. In the same vein, Koito gives her grief for getting distracted from her deity duties but isn't a stone-faced taskmaster. She generally seems to give Elda the space she needs, and while the two have conflicting personalities, there's a clear friendship there that makes it all work.
I also really like the way the series treats its supernatural elements. Not only does everyone know about Elda, but there doesn't seem to be any façade about her being omnipotent. Instead, the community reveres her for her reassuring presence – an unchanging constant across the centuries who, even in a distant way, makes them feel more stable. Yet, at the same time, being a constant in an ever-changing world is part of why Elda secludes herself, choosing to isolate in a nest of distractions so as not to be crushed by the inexorable passage of time. Solid, clever character-building comes naturally from the world the series has built. Koito recognizing Elda's humanity (for lack of a better word) makes for a genuinely effective resolution to the premiere.
If anyone remembers the (now decade-old) series Gingitsune, this reminded me a lot of that. The cute, rounded art style makes the characters appreciably squishy while allowing for very expressive animation. The music and voice acting are soothing without being soporific, making the whole viewing experience pleasant. It's not knock-your-socks of drama or comedy, but it's a good time.
On the surface, the first episode of Otaku Elf appears to be a lighthearted comedy about the titular elf, Elda, who resides as the goddess of a Tokyo shrine, and her shrine maiden, Koito. It does all the things a good first episode should: introducing us to the characters, the setting, and the basic comedic conflict—i.e., that Elda is a nerdy shut-in leaching off the goodwill of the people in the area, and Koito is constantly exasperated with her over this.
But that's just the set dressing—it's not really what this episode is about. The deeper question in this episode is: Why have the people in the neighborhood deified Elda, even though she publicly admits to having no divine powers whatsoever? I mean, if her blessings are meaningless, why pray to her and give her offerings? Heck, why even give her the time of day if she does nothing but sponge off the community? This is the question that plagues Koito throughout the episode.
What Koito starts to learn is that Elda does give something back—something priceless (though Koito may be too young to understand the breadth of it). It stems from the fact that Elda is immortal. The elderly woman, who runs the local electronics store, says she likes Elda because her existence means that some things in this world never change. Elda is a lodestone of sorts for this woman's life. And she's right. When everything goes crazy and nothing makes sense, when you're wrecked by pain and turmoil, there is a comfort to be found in the fact that your god is not only there but also appreciates you—regardless of whether she has any divine powers or not.
There's even more to it than that. Elda isn't just immortal; she has a fantastic memory. While she doesn't go out much anymore, she still meets every child born in the area at least once and then proceeds to receive their offerings in the following decades. That means that even after you're long dead—and everyone who ever knew you is as well—Elda will still remember you and think of you fondly. This is a version of Beowulfian immortality. As long as your legend remains, you are never truly gone. You will always exist within her heart—it is easily something worthy of a lifetime of worship.
Honestly, I don't know if the following episodes can be (or should be expected to be) so philosophically profound. But I'm completely on board. I look forward to seeing more ways Elda gives meaning to other people's lives, and I am genuinely invested in seeing her connect more deeply with the people who worship her—you know, if Koito can get her out of the house for once.
Dammit, Spring Anime Season of 2023, I thought I already told you that we can't take any more of these delightfully sweet comedies! Do you have any idea how much insulin costs in this godforsaken healthcare system of ours? Are you trying to kill us with kindness over here? I just can't—
You know what? I can't stay mad at Anime, not when it's bringing perfect goddesses like Elda the Elf Goddess to the world. I wasn't expecting much from Otaku Elf. But, man—it was the perfect salve for this Preview Guide Writer's soul. It's got a warm and cozy color palette, attractive character designs, and strong storyboarding that helps smooth over its somewhat limited animation. Koito the Miko is a charming protagonist who brings empathy to her role, extending beyond her relationship with the titular shut-in. The running joke of Koito failing to impress her friends and acquaintances with her expensive and mature handbag is one of the funniest bits I've seen this week.
The only thing I don't get, though, is the show's seeming insistence that Elda's lifestyle is not the ideal existence that we should all strive for. We have a beautiful, tall lady of ancient prowess who spends her days drinking Red Bull, applying custom paint jobs to anime model kits, and playing with the Switch and her brand-new VR headset. She doesn't even have to go outside and interact with people that might make her feel weird about her ears or, Goddess forbid, do boring work. It's the perfect life, and I have no notes. Hopefully, Koito will realize this too and stop trying to pressure Elda into conforming to the expectations of her imperialist human culture.
In any case, I am looking forward to spending much more time this season with Elda and Koito. Hopefully, the miko and I will be able to learn some of the Goddess' ways and apply her code to my flawed morals and habits. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am off to buy a case of Red Bull and charter a flight to Edo, so that I may make an offering to a certain someone who also has a lot of anime to catch up on this week.
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