Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 13th 2012
Inu X Boku Secret Service
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Ririchiyo Shirakiin is rich, one-half demon, and terrible at making friends. A hard childhood left her with a terrible habit of pushing away those who try to get close, usually with a well-placed verbal jab. She has come to Maison Ayakashi, home to the rich and supernaturally-gifted, to rectify that problem. Instead she ends up with another problem: Miketsukami, her new bodyguard. Miketsukami claims to know her, though she has no recollection of him, is maniacally devoted and servile, and makes Ririchiyo very uncomfortable. Now she has to deal with unfamiliar feelings on top of trying to make friends and conquer her social ineptitude. Good job, dog boy.
You want to like Inu x Boku. Romantic comedies aimed at anyone other than hormone-addled teen guys are fairly rare after all. And it is a pleasant little confection all told. Unfortunately it's never anything more. It's an insubstantial wisp of a show, a lightly atmospheric diversion that gives you nothing to hold onto, no matter where you try to grab on.
The first place you try to grab on is quite naturally Ririchiyo and Miketsukami's romance. It has its advantages, first among them its sheer perversity. There's a lot to be said for a pairing that matches a verbally abusive, emotionally fragile girl with a wholly subservient man. It's just too bad nothing much comes of it. Even if the series was interested in exploring its unhealthy undertones, it spends so little time progressing its romance that it'd never get to them anyway. By episode six Ririchiyo has only just realized that her feelings for Miketsukami might be romantic. She actually thinks there's a better chance that they're carnal, but she does entertain the idea. Not that it'd do much good if she did realize it. The sad truth is that she has no chemistry with Miketsukami. The series tries so hard to make him perfect—strong, protective, understanding, considerate, slavishly devoted, and just a little dangerous—that there's no room left over for a personality. It's much easier to root for Ririchiyo to hook up with the adorable tanuki boy who moves in later, or even the twisted older guys that keep showing up—anyone whose color can match her own. The scenes that should crackle with romantic tension fizzle, and those that should ache with longing just kind sit there, taking up space.
So there goes the romance. Poof. Nothing to hold onto there. The next handhold to present itself is supernatural intrigue. Intrigue is pretty much written into the premise. You'd think half-demon one-percenters couldn't go out without stepping in a steaming pile of it. You'd be wrong. The series spends about as much time exploring the threats and intricacies of Ririchiyo's world as it does advancing her relationship with Miketsukami. We are told that it's dangerous for her to go out at night, and that pure-blooded demons are out to get her and her kind, but never why. The demons themselves don't seem to pose any kind of organized threat, perhaps because they're totally mindless, and no one else seems to be doing any scheming—unless you count plans for a surprise party. Whenever a credible threat does arise, it generally turns out to be either a false alarm or ridiculously easy to neutralize. There is no problem in Inu x Boku that can't be resolved in a single episode, and usually by thwacking something with a sword.
So what is the show doing with all of that time that it isn't spending on romance and intrigue? Remember that surprise party? Most of the show is Ririchiyo going to school, attending parties, and meeting New People. The highlight of her day might be a nefarious scheme to spring a party, a signature-collecting game, or a cooking class. Thrilling. Most of it is light and lightly humorous, which is what qualifies the series as a pleasant diversion. It prefers easygoing character humor to big gags or outrageous antics, which voids the risk of stridency or irritation but comes at the cost of any laughs bigger than a warm chuckle. Now, don't underestimate warm chuckles: collect enough of them and an episode can be considerable fun. Still, it isn't a strategy that lends itself to towering comedic success. And when the character that we're meant to chuckle at is, say, a hideous creep, the strategy doesn't work at all. Since each episode tends to center on a single character, that's a serious problem. If the character is, say, a hideous creep (just hypothetically mind you), then the whole episode tanks.
If you discount Ririchiyo and Miketsukami's relationship, the thread tying all those thrilling tales of stationary-shopping and school-going together is Ririchiyo's quest to open up to others. It's that thread that comes closest to being a genuine hook. Ririchiyo is exceedingly easy to like. She's a nice girl with a poisonous bark but no bite; a lonely child whose hard-earned emotional defense mechanisms are now interfering with her search for happiness. It takes a hard man not to soften towards her. We root for her to make friends and be understood, and hard; much the way we should root for her to get together with Miketsukami, but don't. The sad glimpses we catch of her loveless childhood are the closest the series gets to actually moving us, and it is only when her trauma crosses paths with her relationship with Miketsukami that the latter becomes interesting.
Of course, part of the reason Ririchiyo is so winning is because she is knock-dead gorgeous. With her luminous purple eyes, long ribbons of black hair, and slender girlish physique, she is an unceasing delight to look at. Her demon transformation, which mainly involves sprouting cute ram's horns, only makes her more adorable. She carries her fan-service scenes (most of them involving the oversized man's shirt she uses as pajamas) with class and considerable sex appeal. She isn't alone in her visual appeal. Characters are the series' visual focus. Watanuki the tanuki and Ririchiyo's girl friend Karuta are so cute you want to gobble them up, and Miketsukami's clean masculine beauty is sure to win him his share of female fans.
Background artistry is pretty nondescript in comparison, sometimes low on texture but mostly just low on distinguishing characteristics. The series knows how to use it though. It uses lighting and space most effectively, evoking supernatural potentialities or deep loneliness with little more than slanting moonlight or an open room. Kotaro Nakagawa's unusually simple and sensitive score nicely complements the quiet atmospherics, adding to the sense that the series is more stylistically accomplished than it is narratively.
Which is pretty much the series' problem in a nutshell. It is consistently more fun to look at than to watch, easier to sink into visually than to immerse oneself in emotionally. It is great if you need something to pass the time between series that matter, but pretty shaky when standing on its own merits.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Excellent character designs; good grasp of atmosphere; loveable lead; pleasant and painless.
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