by Amy McNulty,
Imagine you shut off the lights, say "Bloody Mary" into a mirror three times, and then a blood-soaked specter actually appears. Instead of her scaring the bejeebus out of you, you take one look at the ghost, shut the bathroom door and go back to chanting into the mirror. This is how Gugure! Kokkuri-san begins, except that instead of the Western divination spirit of Bloody Mary in a bathroom, we have the Japanese fox spirit Kokkuri-san in a Shinto temple. Instead of you, we have the adorable, emotionless, self-proclaimed "doll," Kohina Ichimatsu.
Kokkuri-san is a Meiji-era game similar to the Ouija board, in that multiple people ask a spirit a question and expect an answer via an object's movement on a board. For reasons unknown, elementary schooler Kohina lives alone and seems to have no friends, so she's playing the game on her own. Despite this, it works, and an actual fox spirit in the form of a (bishōnen) man appears. Subsequent episodes introduce new spirit roommate characters. Inugami, the spirit of a cursed dog who fluctuates between a male and female form, wants to marry Kohina. Shigaraki, a drunken middle-aged tanuki spirit, makes a brief appearance at the end of episode 3.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san has a touch of that creepy loli vibe to it, largely thanks to Inugami, but this is a purely humorous take on the idea. (Kohina knows to call the police when a strange older man is interested in her.) However, the relationship between Kohina and Kokkuri is innocuous enough. Kokkuri acts strictly like a mother figure or older brother, and Kohina herself is never fetishized. If anything, thanks to her adorable chibi face, her deadpan delivery and her lack of reaction, she comes across as an unintentionally cute doll that people (or animal spirits) want to cuddle more than the needy "oniichan" moe trope. It helps that the spirits turn into adorable animals, too, making the show adorable all around without dipping too uncomfortably into fetish territory.
That said, this series will completely rub some viewers the wrong way. If your personal threshold for tastelessness lands somewhere well below "a grown man/woman loving an elementary schooler is a crime," spirit world explanations and dog forms thrown into the mix notwithstanding, then you'll find this type of humor more offensive than funny. Inugami's obsession with Kohina isn't the only example of off-color humor, either. While Gugure! Kokkuri-san hasn't yet reached Family Guy-levels of crudeness, jokes revolve around topics such as sex, gender, stalking, child abduction, alcoholism and divorce.
There's plenty of humor in the vein of the classic Looney Tunes, too. Angry at a fox spirit? Poke two fingers into his eyes until blood spurts out. Can't stand a dog spirit? Hit her with a frying pan while dodging the bullets she sends flying at you. It's not quite to Itchy & Scratchy parody levels of grotesqueness, but it's very close. Madcap violence—and the many absurd "I can't believe they just did that!" moments the show offers—makes me laugh, so it works for me. If Looney Tunes makes you snooze and Itchy & Scratchy makes you want to puke though, you may not agree.
The designs in this series are charming and work well with a pleasing color palette that changes slightly to set the spirit world mood apart when appropriate. I'm particularly fond of the director's (or perhaps the original mangaka's) choices to do an opposite take on chibi. Kohina is almost always chibi, but when things get serious—though never too serious—she takes on a more traditional anime look. In other words, she looks "normal" about as often as the typical comedy might show its main character in chibi form. It's actually a bit jarring at first to reconcile the two designs, but it works, adding extra punch to the bits of drama and complementing Kohina's eccentric characterization.
Comedies based on four-panel manga have a tendency to toss joke after joke at the viewer without a break, which only works if every joke is a hit. The jokes aren't obtrusive in Gugure! Kokkuri-san, as they're paced a little further apart, never outstaying their welcome. Even better, they're almost all hits and no misses. Comedy fans will adore this series, and there's a little something extra for fans of all things kawaii and bishōnen as well.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for nearly two decades.
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