Konohana Kitan Episode 11
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Konohana Kitan ?
One of Konohana Kitan's greatest strengths is how positively steeped it is in Japanese culture and myth. One of the chief reasons I fell in love with anime in the first place was the medium's unique position as a form of Japanese cultural expression that also happened to contain all of the explosions, giant robots, and Deep Themes™ I could ever hope to enjoy. While Konohana Kitan doesn't have much in the way of giant robots or explosions, it certainly does its best to use Japan's rich history and folklore to tell engaging and thought-provoking stories, and this week's episode is another example of how deftly Konohana Kitan can weave together tales that function both as easygoing cultural primers and heartstring-tugging parables about love and loss. That's right, this is another one of those “Grab the Tissues and Pretend There's Something in Your Eye While You Sob Quietly” episodes.
Well, the second story is, at least. The first tale of the night focuses more on the gods who frequent Konohanatei, and it ends up being more interesting than emotionally moving. The war god who visits Sakura provides some sweet moments, but they're too brief and infrequent to pack much of an emotional punch, and the other gods of entertainment that show up to hang out with a beautiful and mysterious “guest” are mostly just around for slapstick shenanigans and commentary on the current state of heavenly affairs. Apparently, a lot of the gods are up to their ears in free time these days, since the people living in the world of mortals only really bother to pay the gods any attention during the big holidays, like New Year's. While I can't deny being interested to learn about how the gods of yore interact with the modern-day world, the sequence itself doesn't add up to much more than Yuzu halfheartedly musing on how sad it is that the old gods aren't respected these days. Maybe this whole plotline works less for me because I'm a Westerner; if the gods that showed up this week were overt references to any real Japanese dieties, I certainly wouldn't have been able to tell, and Yuzu's cultural crisis is foreign enough to me that my perspective on it remains entirely academic. It isn't a bad story by any means; it simply didn't strike much of a chord in me.
To be fair, the gag that bridges the week's two segments is pretty hilarious. As it happens, the mysterious and beautiful figure that mystifies the girls this week is just Okami, the anthropomorphic matron of the Konohanatei, who has simply applied a little makeup for the occasion. The initial reveal of Okami's alternate form is funny enough on its own, but the real punchline comes at the beginning of the week's second story, where Okami shows the girls that a dab or two of powder is all it takes to transform her visage from a literal fox to a traditionally beautiful woman. Okami has a subtle sass about her that plays well with the younger girls' demeanor; I hope we get to see more of her as the season winds down.
The second story is also where the episode lands its most deliberate emotional gut punches, all stemming from a plot focusing on Okiku of all things. While the tiny little grouch has been the source of a few big laughs over the weeks, Okiku hasn't had much to do since her introduction back in episode 5. At first, it seems like this week is going back to the well of Okiku's lack of experience working with the girls, but her initial quest to find a playmate eventually leads to her finding the broken body of another doll lying in a sodden trash heap. As soon as Okiku starts questing after a friend who can help patch up Lily, the broken doll, the story's trajectory becomes fairly obvious, but I still found myself surprised at just how affecting it became.
For anyone who's watched Toy Story 2 a few too many times like I have, Lily's backstory plays out just like Jesse the Cowgirl's except with the inverse emotional reaction. Lily's cracks and chips are the result of being a lifelong companion to an excitable young girl, and though she did indeed end up thrown away once the girl grew old enough to pursue more mature interests, Lily doesn't view the end of her time with her friend with the same bitterness as Okiku regards her own abandonment. It's only natural to be thrown away, Lily explains, and as she continues to emphasize the beautiful power of simply being played with, both the sound and the world around Okiku fade as the audience watches the little doll's defenses being stripped away.
Though Lily's personal journey is fairly predictable, the episode tells her story with such empathy and care that it doesn't lose any of its power, and its affect on the surly Okiku is near devastating. By the time Lily moves on from the world of the spirits, it comes as a true relief to find that the girls in the Konohanatei really do want to play with their small friend, and Okiku is no longer going to take that friendship for granted. Akeno Watanabe has always done great work with the few lines she's been given, but the choked sobs with which she delivers her usual catchphrase (“My name isn't Okiku!”) make for some of the funniest and sweetest line deliveries of Konohana Kitan.
Thankfully, the show isn't so cruel as to abandon Lily to her lonely fate, and the episode ends with the cheesy but much-appreciated coda of her owner frantically recovering her from the trash, promising to buy her “best friend” a new dress to make up for being so neglected. That Konohana Kitan can so easily instill a sense of palpable pathos into a character that only showed up for half an episode is a testament to just how good the show is at pulling off its iyashikei mood. It's getting mighty chilly in my corner of the world as December begins to wane into the New Year, and a series as warm and goodhearted as this one has proven to be the perfect way to enjoy a cozy winter's evening.
Konohana Kitan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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