The Helpful Fox Senko-san
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
The Helpful Fox Senko-san ?
Bad days at work are a unique kind of drain on the soul. As we all settle into our employment, I think we develop a tolerance for the baseline level of crappiness we can expect from the daily annoyances of any particular job. It'd be nice if things weren't crappy, but we learn how to either deal with or ignore those issues, because that's what adulthood is all about. However, particularly bad days are an inevitability even in the best jobs, and once they start they can snowball into exactly the kind of inky black hopelessness that emanates from Nakano. Senko is able to sense this and deal with it via the best pampering she can deliver, but there's only so much any person (or demigod) can do without addressing the root cause.
Senko pulls out all the stops this episode, beginning with decorating Nakano's apartment to look like a small walk-in restaurant and encouraging him to play along with the foodie fantasy. It's a cute idea in line with the whole meta-roleplay premise of the anime itself, as Senko assumes a caretaker role for the audience as well as Nakano. She also takes out a plethora of booze for them to enjoy, and I'm genuinely surprised it took 11 episodes to see the two of them engage in some drunken revelry. There's nothing quite like unwinding with a drink after work, and all the better with a partner in crime. I got a nice little guffaw out of the anime not-so-gently reminding us (and Standards and Practices) that Senko is 800 years old and thus perfectly free to indulge in some libations. I also have to give props to Junichi Suwabe for his convincing drunk voice. Between this and voicing a farting kappa prince in Sarazanmai, he's been a voice acting polymath this season.
Nakano unfortunately goes in too hard on the sake and finds himself slurring and knocking things over. It's an easy trap to fall into when you haven't gone drinking in a while and have also had a particularly hard day. I really like this scene, however, not because Nakano starts acting like a lush, but because it shows him crying in an unequivocally sympathetic way. With his inhibitions loosened, he dwells again on getting reamed out by his boss, and soon defaults to his go-to excuse of other people having it harder than him. When Senko validates his feelings and encourages him to let them out, the disarmed Nakano slumps into a tearstained heap on the table. A unique cruelty of our society is that it forces us to sacrifice so much and then stigmatizes the kind of emotional venting that can help relieve us from that stress. “It's okay to cry” might seem like a trite and treacly message, but it bears repeating while people continue to bottle too much stress inside them as adults.
Surprisingly, Nakano isn't deathly hungover next time we see him (maybe we timeskipped past it), and instead he's on the precipice of some direly needed time off. His plans for relaxing and looking at the cherry blossoms with Senko are waylaid by a call from his mom, who asks him to come visit in not so many words. This separates him and Senko in a significant way for the first time since they started living together, and this seems to feed into Sora's portent about their time together ending. Ironically, it's getting away from Senko and coming back to his childhood home that jogs Nakano's memory of the time she helped him when he was lost and looking for his grandma. There's a bittersweetness to returning home, and The Helpful Fox Senko-san evokes that feeling with its command over its atmosphere. Scenes of Nakano playing with his parents' cats are interspersed with scenes of him visiting his grandmother's grave. When you're a working adult with a busy routine, it's easy for the months and years to get away from you, and only moments outside of that loop allow you to properly reflect on the passing of time.
This is a much more melancholic offering than The Helpful Fox Senko-san's usual fluffy delights, but the anime handles the tone shift with grace. I especially like the soft intrusion of a storm as Senko walks out of the apartment and disappears into the grey sheets of rain. Presumably, she's resigned herself to the belief that she hasn't been able to help Nakano, so she's bowing out as an acknowledgement of her failure. I'm confident that the finale will resolve this tension and reunite the two of them, but I'd actually respect the show more for following through with this separation. I know I've previously lauded the series for its comfort food aspect, but it'd be neat to have it directly address its own shortcomings in this way.
After all, nothing Senko can do for Nakano will fix the root of the problem, which is a system that runs its workers through the grinder. And no magic girl is going to fix the problem by swooping in to be anyone's live-in wife-mother. The real lesson the show should emphasize is that self-care begins with loving and respecting yourself enough to treat yourself kindly, and having the self-awareness and courage to seek out help when you need it. It's a hard lesson to learn, but Senko-san has done a good job showing just how beneficial these small acts of kindness toward yourself can be. Again, this is just a pipe dream of mine, but it's worth noting that even if it ends on a fluffy but forgettable note, Senko-san still has the seeds of some timely advice.
And if all you wanted out of this episode was a short scene of Sora feeding you, I respect that, and you should stick around after the end credits.
Steve does 100 push-ups, 100 crunches, 100 squats, runs 10km, and watches 1,000 hours of anime every day. You can read all about it on his Twitter.
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