Kumamiko - Girl meets Bear
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Kumamiko - Girl meets Bear ?
Kumamiko has seen many ups and downs throughout its short run. It's a cute show with really bold and colorful artwork, so much so that it looked somewhat like a children's anime until the sex jokes arrived. In spite of that, it can be pretty mean-spirited in its comedy—which can still be funny, but also just be cruel. The characters are clearly defined and fun to watch, but the show has gone all over the map with their development. Still, based on the previous episode, I at least expected a satisfying ending. I couldn't have been more wrong.
To be fair, about three-quarters of this episode is fine. Yoshio and Hibiki go looking for Machi, who has run off yelling that she needs to go home. As they comb the city for her, Hibiki confronts Yoshio about putting the village's improvement above all else, including Machi's discomfort. Yoshio calls Natsu about it, who is already regretting his sudden confession to the village gods that he would rather Machi remain "unable to leave the village" so that they can stay together. He rushes to Sendai to help her, which results in some amusing incidents after he realizes what a mistake it is for a bear to come to the city—but things end up okay because people mistake him for a "very realistic" mascot character instead.
Yoshio and Hibiki's confrontation is the strongest part of the episode. I like that it spells out their respective positions so sympathetically. I had trouble understanding why Yoshio was so careless about Machi's discomfort, and the only solution I could come up with was that he was oblivious—which was addressed last week. Yoshio's response to Hibiki explains that better: the village really needs the publicity Machi would provide, she's been prepared for this well by everyone, and they're all counting on her. While Hibiki's argument that Machi is so clearly uncomfortable resonates more, she too sees enough of Yoshio's case that she relents, saying that Machi just needs to be given the right to choose what she wants to do. Machi hears all this and decides to re-enter the contest—just in the nick of time for her performance. Natsu makes it to the audience and cheers her on in the form of what looks like using his powers to make her believe she's at home. Or maybe that's all in Machi's mixed-up head. Either way, she manages to complete her performance just fine, and the audience applauds her. Of course, once she's snapped out of this illusion, she mistakes it for jeering and runs off.
All of this is fine and predictable. It's what happens after Machi arrives back in the village that leaves such a sour taste in my mouth. When Machi returns, she relates her fantasy that people were throwing rocks at her. Natsu and Yoshio, having been there, know that this isn't true, and are about to correct her…until she continues to say that she doesn't want to go to high school in the big city anymore. Everyone, especially Natsu, is so overjoyed by this that they don't seem to care at all about her psychological trauma. Hey, if it means she makes the right decision, is it really such a bad thing? the episode says. This gets worse in the credits scene, over a version of the ED with Machi and Natsu switching parts. This would be cute, if not for the sequence showing Machi devolving to even more ignorance of technology than we've ever seen before, with Natsu shrugging it off as "you don't have to know these things anymore!" They hug, and the episode ends.
Really? That's the conclusion we get to all the development and struggles that Machi has undergone over the course of this series? I know this is a comedy show, and often a very cutting one, but comedies should still have consistent character development. Kumamiko so often inserted scenes of genuine emotion between its gags, so it seemed to be building to an uplifting end. Sure, maybe it's "funny" that it subverted viewers' expectations so strongly, but it's also just lousy writing. Plus, it didn't entirely subvert viewers' expectations; I expected fully that Machi would end up deciding that she wanted to stay in the village. It confirmed the basic outline of the ending, but got the details so wrong that it felt lazy, uninspired, and unsatisfying.
There were ways the show could have handled Machi making that decision without making it feel like a step backwards. Machi could have decided that the city didn't quite match up to her expectations. She could have realized that she still has a long way to go before she's ready for city life, deciding to wait in the village for some time later. Best yet, she could have realized that even if people call her a "country bumpkin," there's nothing wrong with being one—and wherever she chooses to go, she can own her background. None of these are original endings, but they are honest ones. They remain consistent with Machi's character development, as well as the other characters' concern for her. It's just hard to buy that these people would be perfectly fine with Machi suffering from crippling social anxiety, to the point of being delusional, as long as she never leaves the village. Natsu was broken up earlier that he asked the gods not to make her ready to leave the village; now he's perfectly fine with this? Sometimes storytelling clichés are cliché for a reason; they're just what works for a particular type of story. Besides, it's not like Kumamiko's mocking sense of humor is anything new for anime.
This ending is also dishonest. Machi doesn't have to work on her social anxiety at all to live in the village? As someone who struggles with it myself, I've found the relative anonymity of city life a lot easier to navigate than the nosy, busybody atmosphere often found in smaller communities. We've seen repeatedly on the show how her neighbors regularly expect her to sacrifice her discomfort for whatever new trick they want her to perform, whether that's trying on their costumes or performing in a video while the entire village watches. She doesn't have to work on her lack of technology skills, either? Even long before she went to Sendai, Machi's ignorance of modern technology got her and her friends in trouble. Sure, technology is more omnipresent in a city, but you need some of those skills to survive modern life anywhere, even in a small backwoods town.
I found a lot to enjoy about Kumamiko over the course of its run, but it's hard not to feel like that was completely spoiled by its ending. Whatever I enjoyed so much about the show, Kumamiko ultimately had other plans; its purpose was to search for the most twisted gag it could in the end, implications and consequences be damned. The show wasn't made for me, however much it might have seemed like it was at other times. Maybe some people will enjoy this cutting ending twist, but to me it just seems like the writers don't care about their characters and the potential they had, and that could also be a good summation of the show as a whole. You could have had it so much better, Kumamiko. At least we got some cute bear gags out of it.
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