Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Between the human and heavenly realms sits Konohanatei, a luxurious hot springs inn staffed by a group of lively young kitsune. Yuzu is the newest recruit to the staff, and while she always means well, her rural upbringing and innate innocence sometimes causes trouble for the pricklier members of the group, like her roommate Satsuki. But Yuzu's kindness and charm help her in her work with the inn's guests, as she, like all the rest, find that no matter who you are or where you come from, there's always a room for you at this inn between the worlds.
Konohana Kitan has the somewhat unusual honor of being based on not one, but two manga series of roughly the same name by Sakuya Amano. Originally running for two volumes in a yuri-centric anthology, the series was later rebooted in Comic Birz, a magazine that, while not averse to yuri titles, doesn't exclusively specialize in them. The result is that readers of Tokyopop's English edition of the latter series may be a little bit surprised by the emphasis in the anime, which does seek to blend the two titles but naturally ends up with a touch more emphasis on the yuri elements than the English-language books.
That, it should be noted, is not necessarily a bad thing. The specific relationship between boyish Natsume and beauty-conscious Ren is both sweet and interesting, and the episodes focused on them are a nice way for us to see Ren as more human (for lack of a better word) than she presents herself to others. All of the fox girls who work at Konohanatei have their own issues and reasons, and Ren's insecurities form a nice counterpoint to Satsuki's conflicted emotions about, well, everything and a more mature balance to Yuzu. That the two young women also appear to be in a committed relationship helps to set them apart from the other paired-off girls, whose friendships are much less settled and can be read as not being romantic if you prefer.
The true weight of the show, however, comes from the episodes where Yuzu interacts with the humans stopping by the inn. Although it isn't fully explored, the implication is that when humans are in a coma on the verge of death, their spirits come to stay at Konohanatei as they decide between living or dying. That there does appear to be a bit of freedom with that choice is interesting, although it clearly doesn't apply to the very old woman or the ghost of a girl who was bullied into suicide. But even in those cases the stay at the inn is used as a way to convince the spirit to move on, or perhaps to help it to do so, and that's where the strength of Yuzu as a character shines through. Although she can be at time annoyingly chirpy and naïve, those are precisely the traits needed to help the people stuck at the inn. Yuzu is a source of unwavering support for the guests, outwardly warmer than precise Satsuki or controlled Ren, and this puts in her a position to really listen when someone needs her to. This is best seen in the two stories about the suicidal teenage girls, which form a thematic arc that is both sad and beautiful. In the case of one girl, Yuzu's task is to convince her that she's worthwhile even though she was tormented to death, and although she is past the point of returning to life, she is capable of moving on. The lessons she learns there then help her when she encounters another girl on the verge of drowning, ultimately convincing her of the same thing, but this time with the chance at continuing her life. This is largely indicative of the way that Yuzu-centric episodes build on each other to grow her character – more than any of the other girls, Yuzu learns from each encounter and uses those lessons to help the next person, while cementing her future at Konohanatei.
Obviously this does occasionally make for some very bittersweet episodes, with the storyline about the old woman making clothing for her daughter who died in infancy being one of the most poignant. But these moments are balanced with sillier ones involving the girls gabbing in the baths or Sakura just being her apparently insane self, to say nothing of the turtle who attempts to bring the girls under the sea. Episodes focusing on Okiku, a cursed doll brought to the inn to be cleansed of her resentments, tend to be the best mix of the two styles, with Okiku's fear of Sakura and her mighty scissors offsetting her anger at the humans who rejected her as “creepy” and caused her to become cursed. Even when the stories are lighter, Konohana Kitan does a good job of pulling its themes like this through, ultimately focusing on the fact that everyone's interactions and words have consequences for someone else, whether that is inadvertent sibling resentment, insecurities about your appearance, or being uncertain of your own worth.
All of this can at times make the show drag if peaceful, slightly sad stories are not your thing, and the combination of very light yuri content and a contemplative iyashikei pace won't work for all viewers. There's also only really mild use of folkloric themes, so if you're looking for something more along the lines of Kamisama Kiss in terms of mythology, this also may not fit the bill. It is, however, exquisite to look at, particularly in its use of colors, which show real artistic flair and careful choices in order to emphasize both the mood of a given episode and the season in which it takes place. It also largely avoids the pitfalls of dubs featuring cute girl casts in that it isn't shrill, although Lindsay Seidel's Yuzu does veer very close to that line at times. (Monica Rial has a terrific turn as a young sakura spirit in episode two that's worth listening to even if you're watching the sub.) The animation is a bit more mixed, with fox ears and tails being underutilized, particularly in the first half of the series, but marked improvement in the second.
Konohana Kitan is a slightly sad, very sweet little series. It doesn't aspire to greatness, but merely to be the best it can with what it has to work with, much like its main heroine Yuzu. There's something to be said for that, and if you just want to bask in beautiful colors and relax with cute fox girls, try stopping by Konohanatei for a break from life.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Beautiful colors, unique combination of story elements works well
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