Review

by Theron Martin,

Kumamiko

Sub.BD/DVD - The Complete Series

Synopsis:
Kumamiko Sub BD/DVD
The people of Kumade in Tohoku have an ages-old association with bears, to the point that some believe there are villagers descended from them. Whether that's true or not, they do have their secret divine representative Natsu, a talking bear who possesses human intellect. He grew up alongside Machi, a girl who serves as the miko for the local mountain shrine, as her closest and only friend. Now 14, Machi has become dissatisfied with this isolated rural life and wants to move to a big city for high school. Natsu tries to discourage her because he doesn't think she can handle it (among other obvious reasons). She's never been far from the village, possesses a startling lack of acumen for modern technology, and has little to no experience with things that most teenagers would take for granted like going to a mall. Her older cousin and his female friend help Natsu push her into new experiences, but is Machi really cut out to live anywhere other than this cozy mountain town?
Review:

In recent years, there have been a spate of anime comedies and slice-of-life emphasizing rural life in Japan. This manga adaptation from the Spring 2016 season squarely falls into that category. It's also a forerunner to the more recent Sakura Quest in its focus on rural village revitalization project, though in this case that's more of a backdrop plot. The real story revolves around a country girl and her inseparable bear companion.

As much as that might sound like a sweet little tale, this is a more gag-focused comedy in nature – or at least it tries to be. Though it can have the atmosphere of those laid-back stories ruminating on rural life, where occasionally a joke will happen, Kumamiko aims more actively for humor most of the time. To be sure, the series absolutely has its funny moments; the episode where the village is filming a commercial to promote itself is easily the best on this front, but there are solid jokes scattered throughout the series overall, in addition to the always-amusing running joke about how Natsu the bear is much more worldly than his human friend. However, the show is largely not as funny as it tries to be. A lot of the humor just doesn't work, and a few jokes push into uncomfortable territory. For instance, Machi's cousin Yoshio often has to be violently reminded that a 25-year old man trying to forcefully strip a middle school-aged girl is not appropriate, even if he has no sexual intent in the matter. (Machi is just recalcitrant about changing outfits for her job as a miko.)

Though Natsu is arguably the more interesting character, Machi stands at the heart of both the successes and the failures of this series. A goodly amount of the show's humor involves the conflict between her desire to go to a city high school and the fact that she's more “country bumpkin” to the core than she can handle. Not only does she not understand high-tech items like smartphones or the Internet, she has trouble even with lower-tech items (one funny vignette focuses on her disastrous experience with an electric rice cooker), and she thinks nothing of cutting wood every day to fire her old-fashioned stove. Though she wonders at things like department stores, major retailers, and even an urban cityscape, she also has a pronounced fear of being looked down on for being a country hick. This comes across as typical “fish out of water” humor at first, but as the series progresses, it starts to resemble an acute social anxiety disorder, to the point where she even perceives a crowd as throwing rocks at her to drive her off when they are actually cheering her kagura performance. By the end of the series, her situation is pitiable rather than funny in the slightest.

That contributes mightily to the series' biggest problem: its ending. It's not a very surprising spoiler that Machi does indeed decide to stay in the village with Natsu rather than go the city for high school, since the series does nothing but reinforce that she's not fit for even small-town life, much less big-city life. However, she comes to that decision through outright panic, and Natsu, who'd begun to suppress his desire to keep living with her in favor of respecting her desires, makes a complete 180 to resume coddling her harder than before. In other words, her decision to remain in the village is more a personal weakness that won out than a choice on her part. All of that feels mean-spirited, as if Machi is doomed to be helpless forever, and that doesn't sit well with the audience.

The technical merits of the series, courtesy of Kinema Citrus and EMT Squared, are nothing special but good enough for the series' goals. Though there are some picturesque backgrounds, the real strength of the series' look is in its character designs. Machi may be cute, whether in her school uniform or her miko outfits, but the visual diversity in the supporting cast of adult villagers is where the series really shines. Yoshio's childhood friend Hibiko, who perpetually has the look of a female delinquent, also stands out because she has much smaller eyes than you would expect for her character type. Natsu, on the other hand, looks like any other bear, even if he's one who reads and uses a tablet. Animation quality is adequate but nothing special, and the farthest any graphic content goes is showing Machi in her undies on a couple occasions.

The musical score is also pretty typical, relying partly on traditional Japanese instrumentation in its assortment of lighthearted and colloquially-flavored numbers, though it is quite effective. The opener is also nothing special, but closer “Kumamiko Dancing,” sung by the two lead seiyuu, is easily one of the catchiest credits themes to come along in recent years. I highly recommend checking it out even if you decide not to watch the series as a whole. And while I don't normally comment on Japanese dub performances, the effort of Hiroki Yasumoto (Germany in the Hetalia franchise, Agil in SAO) as Natsu deserves mention. It's a more nuanced performance than you'd expect from a talking bear, with a delivery style that makes Natsu sound distinct but not too weird, and the heavier edge in his singing voice is impressive.

Funimation is offering the entire series in a standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, but they apparently don't expect much from the title because they have opted not to dub it. They have, however, included two quality OVA episodes which total a half-hour of running time. The first, “Day of the First Snow,” flashes back several years to the time when Natsu stopped hibernating so that he could be with young Machi through the winter, and it's one of the series' best entries in terms of storytelling. The second, “Natchan's Shocking Debut,” provides a look at a skipped-over part of the last episode, where Natsu gets mistaken for being a mascot character and winds up mirroring some of Machi's travails in the idol contest. It contains some of the series' funniest moments. Also present are clean versions of the opener and closer.

In general, Kumamiko works best when it's emphasizing Machi's day-to-day life with Natsu, as the two of them have an undeniably sweet and comfortable relationship. It's just not funny enough, exciting enough, or cloyingly cute enough to deserve much attention otherwise, paling in comparison to rural-focused competitors like No-Rin and Silver Spoon.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B

+ OVA episodes, character designs, can be quite funny at times
Mean-spirited ending, some mildly disturbing content, not consistently funny

Director: Kiyoshi Matsuda
Storyboard:
Shinya Iino
Yasuhiro Irie
Masayuki Kojima
Kiyoshi Matsuda
Episode Director:
Setsumu Doukawa
Shinya Iino
Hiroshi Ikehata
Jun'ichi Kitamura
Kazuomi Koga
Toshihiro Maeya
Kiyoshi Matsuda
Hitoyuki Matsui
Toshikatsu Tokoro
Unit Director: Kiyoshi Matsuda
Original creator: Masume Yoshimoto
Character Design: Hiroyuki Saida
Chief Animation Director:
Hiroyuki Saida
Risa Suzuki
Animation Director:
Kae Anzai
Ryuichi Baba
Ryōsuke Habu
Naru Homura
Mariko Ito
Nobuyuki Itō
Masako Itou
Hitoshi Kamata
Eiji Kaneda
Jun'ichi Kitamura
Nozomu Kuwashima
Duk Ho Lee
Akiko Matsuo
Taihei Nagai
Aya Nasuno
Raku Nishikimi
Mihoko Ogawa
Hiroyuki Saida
Ayako Satou
Keizō Shimizu
Mari Shirakawa
Risa Suzuki
Eri Tokugawa
Keiichi Tsunoda
Miyako Yatsu
Producer:
Keisuke Arai
Aya Iizuka
Kentarō Takemoto
Shinpei Yamashita

Full encyclopedia details about
Kuma Miko: Girl Meets Bear (TV)

Release information about
Kumamiko - The Complete Series (Sub.DVD)

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