by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Konohana Kitan ?
Don't let the title of this week's episode fool you; “Konohanatei Horror Stories” may take place on a dark and spooky night, and it may revolve around a ghost haunting the halls of Konohanatei, but this episode plants its feet squarely in the territory of what Konohana Kitan does best: telling madcap stories of silly romantic shenanigans while wearing its unbearably earnest heart on its sleeve. While this story doesn't hit the emotional highs of the series fourth episode (which has only gotten better in hindsight), “Konohanatei Ghost Stories” still showcases Konohana Kitan's knack for delivering some of the most heartwarming and enjoyable entertainment of the season.
Eschewing the two-stories-in-one pattern that many past episodes have taken, this week we get more of a story-within-a-story structure, with the overarching narrative of Konohanatei's spectral visitor nesting flashbacks to Yuzu's upbringing throughout. While saving almost all of Yuzu's story for the latter third of the episode felt slightly lopsided, it does make sense that the episode might want to separate the story's goofy (and surprisingly steamy!) first half from the more straightforwardly emotional second. Ultimately, all of the non-flashback stuff involving the shapeshifting ghost is just an excuse to get the different girls of Konohanatei in a position to bond and flirt with one another, which is a treat in and of itself.
As far as yuri themes are concerned, Konohana Kitan has mostly played its cast's feelings for laughs or left them as strong subtext. This week, all of that repressed sexual tension comes bubbling to the surface, especially between Ren and Natsume. Frankly, they've been a de-facto couple since episode three, but Ren's encounter with the Not-Natsume ghost gives her feelings for her tomboyish counterpart an explicitly romantic edge. Not only does she come dangerously close to making out with Natsume's incorporeal imposter, she becomes mad with jealousy when she sees Natsume accidentally embracing Satsuki a few minutes later. Ren's bickering with Natsume has always framed them as more of a sitcom couple, but it's nice to see the show make no bones about Ren really having the hots for Natsume too. Satsuki also gets some funny moments when she grasps for Yuzu's hand and later collapses on her in the dark of the hotel halls, and while it's less overtly romantic than what Ren is up to, Kiri's casual observation of their “cuddling” makes it clear that everyone in Konohanatei knows exactly where Satsuki and Yuzu are headed.
Not only does the episode's first half delight my inner shipper, it's also just a lot of fun to watch. Between the romance and the consistently funny use of the ghost gags (Kiri is awfully comfortable with stripping down her spectral double), “Konohanatei Horror Stories” is pure sugary entertainment. By the time we get to Yuzu's equally endearing origin story, the shift in direction is a welcome and unobtrusive change of pace, slowing down on the gags in order to give the show's ostensible heroine a much-needed moment in the spotlight. With all of the supernatural happenings going on over the past few weeks, Yuzu has more-or-less blended into the ensemble, despite being the most in need of some character development. Seeing how she was adopted as a feral kitsune by the tenderhearted Bikuni doesn't necessarily make for the most original backstory in the world, but it's so damned cute that I can easily overlook its familiarity. More important than the diabetes-inducing adorableness of Baby Yuzu is the fact that her somewhat cliched klutzy naivete is complemented by how she learned her work ethic from a desire to not be abandoned by her adoptive mother. This is another fairly traditional story beat, but Konohana Kitan has proven that it can elevate its familiar elements with strong writing and direction, making its clichés feel cozy and comfortable with graceful execution.
Speaking of execution, I remain impressed with how well Konohana Kitan is able to neatly wrap up its standalone stories in each episode, while still developing its main characters' personal journeys. The hotel's haunting spirit is revealed to be the same one from the episode's opening ghost story, and she is literally soothed by Yuzu's overwhelming cuteness, which thankfully saves Yuzu from being dragged along down to the underworld. That a character from a one-off ghost story got to have her own satisfying emotional arc in an episode that was already packed full of great jokes and character interactions is proof positive of Konohana Kitan's sharp and economical storytelling. With so many excellent episodes under its belt already, Konohana Kitan is shaping up to be a stealth contender as one of the best series of the season.
Konohana Kitan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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