Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sub.Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Makoto Saeki is the successor to the Saeki Shrine, where she lives with her widowed father. Because she is the heir born of the family line (as opposed to her father, who married in), she has The Sight, the ability to see the Heralds of the Gods who watch over the site. The Herald at Saeki Shrine is Gintaro, a large, gruff kitsune who has watched over Makoto since she was small. Together they help the people they care about, be it Makoto's friends, a lost Herald whose shrine was destroyed, or just each other.
Based on the manga of the same name by Sayori Ochiai, Gingitsune is the anime equivalent of snuggling under a favorite blanket in front of the fire – a soft, warm experience that doesn't try to be anything more than it is. Slice of life with a supernatural twist, the story follows fifteen-year-old Makoto Saeki, who lives at the shrine her family has run since the Edo period. When her mother died eleven years ago, Makoto became able to see the Heralds of the Gods who protect the shrine, an ability only true successors possess. Since her father, the current head priest, married into the Saeki family (even taking his wife's family name), he is unable to see the spirits, even after his wife's passing. For Makoto, the shrine's guardian kitsune, Gintarō, becomes something more than a friend; he's her ultimate support, a cross between a father and a best buddy. The story follows her interactions with Gintarō as she lives her everyday life as the daughter of a shrine and a high school student, creating an easy, calm story with very little at stake. It isn't boring by any means, but the lack of action or tension may make it too slow for some viewers.
The trajectory of the story is decidedly emotional. While Makoto rarely mentions it, we do know that it was only the loss of her mother that allowed her to see Gintarō at all, and that is just one of several small sadnesses underlying the story. Gintarō, we learn, used to have a companion Herald named Kinjiro, who simply left one day, and we are privy to the moments when both he and another kitsune die as foxes and transform into their present states, both very bittersweet scenes. There is also a theme of the passing of Makoto's family's way of life – at one point she meets a turtle Herald whose shrine has been destroyed in the name of progress, and two monkeys live in a shrine that was absorbed by a Buddhist temple, leaving them without a true heir to interact with. Likewise Gintarō remarks several times on the sadness of his long life, and both he and Haru (the other kitsune) know that they will live on long after their human friends are gone. Interestingly both handle this differently: Gin tries to maintain a certain distance from Makoto while Haru clings to Satoru as much as she can, desperation clear in her actions.
Satoru is an interesting character all on his own. Not coming into the story until fourth episode, he is the heir to a much larger shrine but has been forced into a male Cinderella role by his aunt, who took over his care when his grandfather died. She resents that he has been named heir over her own children, not understanding that he has The Sight, and eventually Satoru is taken in by the Saeki family. Like many victims of abuse, he is afraid to settle in, not believing that he will be welcomed despite Mr. Saeki's continued reassurances. Over the course of the remaining episodes we do see him grow increasingly comfortable, and by the time the series ends at episode twelve, his body language has changed to show that he feels much more like he belongs and his small, sudden bursts of laughter have grown more frequent. As the most consistent storyline in the show it succeeds in its realism and sweetness, making up for the fact that the rest of the show is much more scattered and lacks a solid plotline.
Satoru isn't the only character to feel believable, however; at many points we can easily see that Makoto and her friends are all fifteen-year-old girls, and the group of elementary school students who hang around the shrine also act their ages. There are a few odd notes, such as the obligatory “humorous” character in the form of the student council president and Makoto's friend Hiwako's crush on Mr. Saeki (and her own driver's crush on her), but by and large nothing feels terribly far-fetched. In fact, no character ever feels flat – they all have sides to them that you would not expect when they are first introduced, such as Yumi's abrasiveness turning out to just be casual manners. The animation does its best with what are very basic, almost dull, character designs for the people, faltering in both walking, which just looks generally off, and facial expressions. The Heralds all have very unique designs, and Gintarō's habit of speaking out of only one side of his mouth is an interesting detail. Each shrine or temple looks distinct and separate from the others and there is a trove of information about Shintoism lightly dispersed throughout the series, along with a faithful depiction of attendant rituals. It is worth mentioning that Sentai does not include any notes on terms,ceremonies, or beliefs, which would have been a useful inclusion. Generally we can figure things out through context clues, but a more solid explanation would have enhanced the show for Western viewers.
Gingitsune shares a mythology with its predecessor by almost exactly a year (anime-wise) Kamisama Kiss, and in fact even the Japanese word translated as “herald” is the same as in that series, shinshi. It takes a more down-to-earth approach and devotes more time to the realities of shrine life, but it still may appeal to a similar audience. With themes of bittersweet sadness, the falling importance of religion in everyday life, and helping others as best you can, Gingitsune is a charming gem of a show. It isn't action-packed or even particularly continuous in terms of plot, but it is warm and cozy and worth a visit to the Saeki Shrine.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Charming and sweet, characters are all more than their stereotypes. Gorgeous backgrounds and unique Herald designs. Interesting information and statements about shrines.
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