Reviewby Carlo Santos,
DVD 2: Power of Love
Middle-school student Yurie Hitotsubashi is quickly learning that being a god doesn't make life any easier—in fact, it stresses her out so much that she gets sick! Lucky for her that Matsuri and Miko, the two sisters who work at a local shrine, know some good get-well charms. Being a god also means solving people's love problems, but things get troublesome when one of Yurie's clients turns out to have a crush on the same guy that Yurie likes. After that it's time for summer vacation, which means a trip to the beach and rekindling old family memories with a little help from the seashore gods. Lastly, Yurie discovers a secret world of cats when her pet Tama gets involved in a feud between local cats and the townspeople.
The magic of Kamichu! is not to be found in Yurie's acts of divinity, or the mystical worlds that she discovers, or even her almost-stifling cuteness. It's in the people, the places and the emotions that illuminate this day-to-day story of small-town life. First love and summer vacation are not things to be bashed into submission with magic spells and comedic gags, but life experiences as seen through the eyes of a girl-turned-god. With its warm colors and gentle mood, the world of Kamichu! is one that fills you with nostalgia—not necessarily for a certain time or place, but for the feelings that the show evokes: a time of lazy summer afternoons, of schoolyard ups and downs, and the hope that, if there's a divine force out there, it'll make everything okay.
Sometimes, though, even divine forces have to take a day off. The illness episode is pretty slow going, most easily summarized as "Yurie lies in bed a lot." Although weak at first, this storyline picks up toward the end with a sharp creative flourish—a soaring out-of-body experience. The next episode puts school life in the spotlight as Yurie's feelings for classmate Kenji are tested; the finale manages a twinge of heartbreak that few romance series have ever accomplished. But just in case that was starting to put you to sleep, the other two episodes show more vitality, indulging in the playful mysticism that is the show's trademark. Yurie pays a visit to the always-entertaining land of the gods in between excursions to the beach, and the cat episode is pure whimsy at its best (even if it does borrow heavily from Ghibli once again). But hey, you can't go wrong with a feline aggressor named Tyler Nyurden.
If these episodes showcase what makes the series great, they also reveal its faults: sometimes it's so preoccupied with simply "being there," enjoying the scenery and all, that the plot barely moves. Yurie doesn't grow much as a character either, apart from a few life lessons easily summarized in one or two lines of dialogue. And once again, there's that one episode that's a little too strange (talking bipedal cats?) and deviates from what the show does best—sweet, slightly enchanted vignettes of small-town life. Still, these shortcomings don't detract from the incredible feel-good vibe that pours out of each scene and the gentle humor laced throughout. There isn't much anime left these days that can do honest sentiment without turning into schmaltz, and this is one that pulls it off.
That these positive feelings are rendered with such great visual style is just icing on the cake. The artwork of Kamichu! is practically a travel brochure for the town of Onomichi, with old-time houses and buildings sprinkled among vibrant hills and a scenic shoreline. The characters are instantly appealing as well, from the charm of the minor gods like Tofu, Poverty and Team Shiawase, to the grandeur of Yurie in her official god outfit. Even the temptations of fanservice cannot sway the creative vision of the series—the girls go to the beach in modest one-piece swimsuits, and their body types actually make anatomical sense. (Big boobs? Big everything else, too.) Meanwhile, the animation doesn't quite match up to the flair of the earliest episodes, but there are still many signs of top-notch work, from small, subtle movements to flashes of virtuosity. Yurie's out-of-body experience in Episode 5 and the high-spirited "catfight" in Episode 8 (can you say Shoryuken?) are two such scenes that reach the level of the best animated features out there.
The music in the series is still as solid as ever, and the folksy opening and lively ending songs show no signs of getting old. The music score is at its best when carrying the deep emotions of each character; sometimes Yurie and a friend can just look at each other and the feelings become clear through wistful guitar picking or a woodwind solo. Otherworldly adventures are handled creatively as well: traditional processional music accompanies Yurie's trip to the land of the gods, and the catfight battle theme manages to blend Fighting Spirit with the prevailing slice-of-life mood.
Honest voice acting and a well-written script are the highlights of the English dub, which shows the cast really starting to get comfortable in their roles. Megan Harvey's Yurie is as charming and childlike as ever, but it's Erika Weinstein who gets to deliver some of the best lines as pragmatic Mitsue—just watch her exchange with Yurie when she's telling love fortunes. Don't forget about the male roles either: you can't get much better than Johnny Yong Bosch voicing the absent-minded love interest Kenji. The dub script alters certain lines as needed, but most of them actually improve on the subtitles, clearing up phrases and idioms to make better sense in English.
Although the DVD includes only one special feature—a production gallery—it's an extensive one, with character sketches, promotional art, and profiles on the minor gods. Some character portraits also include commentary from the voice actors, both Japanese and English. The DVD case features some goodies too, including a reversible cover and a bonus pencilboard.
Not everyone can claim to have grown up in a seaside town. And not everyone has rose-colored memories of middle-school summers, hanging out with friends and whiling away the hours. Even so, Kamichu! transports us to a place where those memories do exist, a world so vividly painted that it might as well be real. (And it is real—look up Onomichi next time you plan a trip to Japan.) The feelings of the people who live there are real too, subtle shades of hope and longing, love and heartbreak, and maybe the sheer wonder of learning that your housecat has been practicing martial arts. Looking for ditzy girls flashing their panties and making idiots of themselves? They have plenty of other shows for that. Looking for gentle reflections on the trials of growing up? Then check this one out.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A
+ Still the feel-good sleeper hit of the year, with some very sweet slices of life.
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