Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Kamichama Karin Chu
Karin Hanazono's life changed forever when she got a magical transformation ring that gave her the powers of a god. And now there are three guys in her life with similar powers—moody Kazune, high-strung Jin, and easygoing Michiru—plus an adorable little boy named Suzune, who happens to be Karin and Kazune's child from the future! Together, they must eliminate the deadly "Chaos Seeds" and find out who is trying to sow evil in the world. Kazune visits Suzune's era in hopes of understanding the situation, but what he finds there only makes him even moodier than usual. Between that fateful time-trip and Jin's continued romantic advances, can Karin heal the growing rift between her and Kazune, or are they doomed by what he knows of the future?
Few plot devices are quite as dynamic as time travel: all it takes is one leap to open up the door to numerous twists, paradoxes, and new modes of storytelling. In the case of Kamichama Karin Chu, it finally provides a framework of where the storyline is headed, which is surely an improvement on the Chaos-Seed-of-the-week (or month, rather) format of earlier chapters. At the same time, romantic tensions continue to grow between Karin and her boys, providing the necessary element of character drama that fills in the gaps between the action. So why, then, does this series continue to fall flat? Maybe it's because it continues to settle for "good enough" ... which really isn't good enough in a genre where everything's already been done.
Right from the first chapter, this one jumps into cliché territory: it's Christmas time and Karin wants to have a good time with Kazune. Chapters like these are what stop the fantasy element from developing; instead of learning more about the conflict that lays ahead, we get stuck with seasonal romantic fluff (although at least it ends with a pretty convincing kiss). The next chapter is more poignant in tone, with Kazune disappearing into the future and Karin sorely missing him, but then along comes Jin with his slick little attempts to win over Karin. This leads to some mildly entertaining comedy (plus learning more about Jin's home life), but a more pressing question arises: are we doing a magical-girl series or revolving-door romance? Sure, it's always important to develop character relationships, but having the lead girl spend all this time with the members of her personal harem is causing the story to lose its sense of purpose.
Then just past the halfway mark comes the ultimate clunker: a hot-springs trip. Seriously, has Koge-Donbo had a single original thought at all while working on this series? However, in a pleasantly surprising turn of events, the much-overdone setting leads to some long-awaited major developments—Kazune explains what he saw in the future, the bad guys show up and reveal their latest evil creation, and a new form of magic evolves between Karin and Kazune. Hey, this is almost starting to sound like a good magical girl series! Even more encouragingly, the last few scenes reveal a plot point that raises the drama level to new heights. At the same time, however, it's the kind of plot point that third-rate authors pull out as a last-resort cliffhanger—"You won't believe what happens to so-and-so in the future!" So this could be a dramatic improvement ... or a downturn into even more predictable fantasy drivel.
No matter where this story is headed, though, one thing remains true about the art: it's dangerously cute and surprisingly creative in its sense of character design. Most readers are already familiar with the characters' elaborate god transformations, but what may surprise them are the convincing civilian outfits as well—Karin and Kazune on their winter date, Jin's everyday street clothes, even the variety of casual wear during the hot springs stay. But the artistic highlights are the action scenes, where sparkling effects, frilly costumes and strong dramatic angles make all of Karin's magic spells a delight to watch. Unfortunately, the one major battle in this volume ends far too quickly, and in fact that's a criticism that applies to the series as a whole: poor pacing and a tendency to rush each scene. Of course, it doesn't help either that Koge-Donbo's fancy style leads to frequent messes of screentones and bug-eyes. She does manage to turn out a few decent scenes—mostly when the panels open up and allow more room for each image—but more often it looks exactly like the kind of fluff one has come to expect from the genre.
Also falling into the fluff category is the dialogue, which typically involves Karin pining wistfully for Kazune or Jin, or maybe wailing loudly when she gets teased. There is nothing particularly eloquent about any of this, and even the discussions of magical theory sound like the ramblings of an amateur fantasy writer—seriously, things like "Chaos Seeds" and "Love Evolution" sound like things that go in a first draft. The use of sound effects is fairly simple as well, and while translations are placed next to each of them, it's easy to miss among the busy artwork. A fanart gallery and some 4-panel strips come as bonuses, and the usual cultural glossary sits in the back of this volume (although the story doesn't need a whole lot of explanation anyway).
So what's there to be found in this volume that makes it an improvement over its predecessors? Well, the story starts making sense now that we know about future events (which is actually an interesting twist from stories that become clearer after explaining past events), the tension between Karin and friends continues to develop, and the art is as intensely cute as ever. But the sum of these parts never quite adds up, and these chapters end up looking like a patchwork of poorly executed story fragments: a time travel event, a hot springs episode, more enemies and more powers, and the lead heroine spending more time on dates than actually saving the world from evil. If this is supposed to be a magical fantasy about the future of our world, it doesn't look like a very bright one.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ Finally finds some sense of direction as a time-traveling jaunt to the future reveals more about the situation at hand.