Kumamiko - Girl meets Bear
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Kumamiko - Girl meets Bear ?
Kumamiko usually comprises of two different stories, split into halves by the commercial break. It's that sort of structure that makes viewers wonder if it isn't more suited to the length of a short series, instead of a full-length anime. This week, in episode 9, the show finally justifies its length with a story that needs the full 22 minutes. While it still has a sort of division around the commercial break, they work as two acts of the same story, rather than separate ones, and "Commercial" is stronger for that cohesion.
This week involves the village putting together a commercial to show the rest of the world why they should visit Kumade Village. I've talked before about how Kumamiko fits into the "quirky small-town comedy" genre, and an episode where the townies get to appear on TV is one of its most fun staples. In watching the villagers try to play themselves up for TV, we usually get a showcase of how incredibly weird and insular they are. There's also typically some powerful interest in the village who gets to remake the project in their own image—more on that later.
The episode begins with the villagers suggesting what makes their village unique. They mostly talk about their good food, like nameko, potatoes, and apples. This isn't really a reason to travel out to the boonies, but what else does Kumade have to recommend itself? Unfortunately, the elephant in the room—the talking bear—can't go in the commercial, because it's a "village secret." Luckily, Hibiki suggests that Machi could go in the video. Luckily for them, not for her, because of course she's nervous about this. The other characters reassure her about it, but honestly, I don't think this tough love, just-do-it-anyway approach is working to help her get over her social anxiety. Still, she is pretty much the only distinctive thing about the village that they can show, so it's better for the town that she's in it.
The commercial's director is an old man named Usui, fresh from the hospital (but with his dialysis bag in tow) to live out his childhood dream of being a director. He provides lots of goofy gags by taking the project way too seriously; Natsu suggests that he's trying to be like Akira Kurosawa. The plan involves Machi jumping into a hot spring in a bathing suit—which is odd, since part of Hibiki's plan was for her to wear traditional miko clothes, because city people might not see that normally. This is not only dropped for the actual commercial, but never addressed by any other characters for the rest of the episode. Oh well. The commercial filming becomes a good time for all in attendance, as they vigorously compete for the honor of getting one line to present the nameko, potatoes, or apples. After a series of goofy auditions (Yoshio's mom wins a part for her great "impression of a potato") and a last-minute suggestion that they do it in song when Usui is unimpressed, it's a go.
Unfortunately, in order to secure funding for the commercial, Yoshio had to make a promise to Old Lady Tokuyama, one of the wealthiest people in the village, for some alterations. We see him adding it, but don't see what it is until the commercial airs and he watches it along with the rest of the village. Viewers know it's coming though, as we saw Yoshio receive her funding "on one condition." That condition turns out to be allowing her granddaughter to sing in the commercial, advertising Tokuyama's Clocks and Glasses shop. Hibiki is upset that it advertises her shop more than the village, and Usui roars "This isn't my work!!!!" before collapsing. Thankfully, everyone else enjoys it anyway, even the people who were cut! They're just so excited to have their village on TV, getting even a small chance of being spotted in the crowd. And in my opinion, Tokuyama's additions probably work better as a way to truly promote tourism to the village. No one's going to visit just for a vaguely-better version of some food item they can easily get in the city, but to visit an unusual shop? That might actually bring new faces to Kumade.
"Commercial" might be one of Kumamiko's strongest episodes yet. It plays off a familiar formula that we've seen smaller versions of already in the series, but it makes the idea its own. It manages to do this without reveling in the show's more uncomfortable varieties of humor, so it leaves the viewer feeling happy. The overall impression is something not only more cohesive than usual, but fresh, a real achievement nine episodes into a gag anime.
Kumamiko - Girl meets Bear is currently streaming on Funimation.
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