Konohana Kitan
Episode 5

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Konohana Kitan ?

Coming off last week's surprisingly affecting fairytale, the first few minutes of this episode seem to show Konohana Kitan taking a hard-left turn into a completely different genre: the horror story. Admittedly, the overly-grainy filter gives away the gag, but the sight of the incredibly creepy Japanese doll stalking the home of a terrified family is a little eerie. Putting our fox girls into a straight-up scary story could have made for the perfect Just-Barely-Missed-Halloween episode.

That being said, it works just as well when the whole setup is just an excuse to put that cranky haunted doll into the hands of the Konohanatei girls, who are literally too ridiculous to be scared. Despite ostensibly being brought in by a travelling priest who is trying to exorcise the doll's demonic spirit, our girls manage to get the job done in the most anime way of all, through the power of friendship. The poor creature is given the absurdly cutesy name of Okiku, subsequently dressed up and made over by Konohanatei's adorably enthusiastic crew. While the overly loud and frenetic humor didn't always land for me, the overall tone of the segment won me over eventually. Seeing Sakura gleefully brandish her scissors in a way that even managed to scare Okiku was a particular highlight. If anything, this episode helped cement just how comfortable Konohana Kitan has become with its fluid tone and warm cast of characters, effortlessly sliding from slice-of-life to heartfelt drama, and then back to madcap comedy without skipping a beat. For a show that's only been around for a handful of episodes, Konohana Kitan feels remarkably comfortable in its own skin, which makes for excellent feel-good entertainment.

The biggest surprise of the episode may have been that Okiku's story wasn't just a one-off adventure, but an introduction to Konohanatei's newest (and smallest) maid. The reformed Okiku is adorable for sure, and her small size provides ample opportunities for new brands of slapstick, especially when she teams up with Urinosuke. The only misstep with the second half of this episode would be the rather clumsy way it transitions from Okiku's orientation to Yuzu's story. The second act of the episode begins as a continuation of the first, and the script emphasizes Okiku's brash and naïve approach to her new job. The logical conclusion would be for Okiku's attitude to begin to slowly shift as she interacts with the hotel's guests more, but instead she literally passes the baton (or rather, the rice balls) to Yuzu, and the third act of the story transforms into something entirely unrelated to Okiku's character. There's nothing wrong with veering away from expected narrative patterns, but since Okiku disappears from the episode entirely after the halfway mark, it leaves that initial act two setup feeling awkwardly crammed between two separate stories.

This isn't too much of an issue, since that third segment works strongly as a standalone vignette, taking the show's visual direction down an unexpectedly effective path. For much of the episode's second act, I was distracted by the uncharacteristically muted color palette, as if the show's normally bright and fluid animation was being filtered through a muddy grey veil. It wasn't until Yuzu began walking past the lush blue flowers, carrying her own deeply red umbrella, that I caught on to the artistic impulses behind the palette swap. The spring rains have overstayed their welcome, and the oppressive grayness of the season is literally bleeding into Konohana Kitan's visuals. This would only be a mildly clever change-up in direction on its own, but the payoff that comes with Yuzu's story takes it to another level.

As a standalone bit, Yuzu's interactions with the obsessive weaver would be perfectly adequate storytelling, but when combined with the hypnotic animation of the weaving and the methodical camera work, the whole segment becomes something of a tone poem. Yuzu's earnest friendliness helps the weaver overcome her self-neglect and take more personal joy from her work, and the final reveal that she was weaving a rainbow all along is a perfectly gentle resolution that packs a visual punch, with the color of Konohana Kitan's world springing back to life at full force. Konohana Kitan demonstrates a subtle mastery over episodic slice-of-life storytelling with the way it expertly combines the mythic with the mundane in each story.

Somehow, in a season that's positively jam-packed with prestige titles and exciting action sagas, Konohana Kitan is working its way to the top of the autumn's rankings for me. It's so modest in its ambition that it's easy to overlook, but the series has managed to be remarkably successful with every new week that passes by. I don't imagine this will become some sort of breakout hit, but with any luck more people will realize just how sweet and fun this show is turning out to be.

Rating: B+

Konohana Kitan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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