The Helpful Fox Senko-san
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 12 of
The Helpful Fox Senko-san ?
An uncharacteristic melancholy pervades the first half of The Helpful Fox Senko-san's finale. Senko is M.I.A., and Nakano is forced to confront the possibility of moving on without her. Meanwhile, Senko herself has doubts about the efficacy of her pampering and steels herself for a confrontation with Lady Sora. Are Nakano's halcyon days of fluff-touching finally over?
The answer is obviously “no". The whole thing ends up being a misunderstanding, because Senko never truly intended on leaving; she's just bad at phones, and Nakano returning to the city early just exacerbated his premonitions. Senko-san has never been about drama, so it makes sense to end on a breezy note, but it begs the question of why this brief tonal shift was necessary. Sure, Nakano has a renewed sense of how important Senko is to him, but he never took her for granted in the first place, and Senko has been a pretty static character from the get-go. There's no good narrative reason for this turn, except as an obligatory injection of conflict to spice up the season finale's tension, which is common practice in many slice-of-life shows. It just feels particularly out of place here, perhaps due to its anemic execution.
I'd be more lenient about this finale as an exercise in atmosphere if the show could actually keep up with its ambitions. Senko-san has never been comparable with Doga Kobo's more expressively-animated titles, and there's been a noticeable if understandable slip in quality during the past few weeks as the production struggled its way to the end. I won't harp on this, because it's an inevitability given the current bottomless glut of anime, but in a perfect world, I think some extra attention could have transformed Nakano's and Senko's melancholy into something more affecting. And to be fair, the second half of the episode evokes its mood better with the ethereal quality of the glowing cherry blossoms lighting up the night.
While Senko-san ends up quickly resolving back to its status quo, I actually prefer the things it doesn't resolve. Sora confirms Senko's worries that Nakano's dark aura will probably never disappear, and one way or another they will have to part ways eventually. It's a weirdly frank acknowledgement of mortality for a show that's supposed to be comfort food, yet even the desire for comfort food is often interrupted by the realities of life. Senko's resolve in the face of inevitable loss (a pain she's already dealt with) is uplifting, but there's also a gentle hedonism to it. If we're all doomed to be miserable for so much of our lives before we die, then why not indulge in some pampering along the way? It might not be a panacea, but at least it provides some respite from bad jobs and a mad world. Senko-san's main thematic thrust has been convincing its audience that they don't need a reason to practice self-care—it's just an intrinsically healthy thing to do—and this makes for a good point to emphasize in its finale.
Outside of Nakano having to wrestle with the potential of losing his fox-wife-mother, this is another unremarkable but passable half-hour of fluff from The Helpful Fox Senko-san. I want to draw special attention to Koenji's spot-on impersonations of both Senko and Shiro as a nice little moment of subdued comedy. I also liked seeing Senko cut loose and get a little tipsy. I mean, she still holds up amazingly for having downed two entire bottles of sake, but it's a moment that fills out her personality more. Probably one of the show's biggest shortcomings is that Senko was rarely allowed to break free from her role as a wish-fulfillment vehicle, so at least we get to see her being a booze hound (or more accurately, a booze fox). Immortal fox demigods can have vices too! She even immediately falls asleep like I do whenever I try to drink anymore. We ancient beings have to stick together.
The Helpful Fox Senko-san doesn't end with any last-minute surprises, which is fitting for the comfy niche it carved out for itself. Everything goes down pretty much like I expected, as we leave these characters on an inconclusive but happy note. Senko and Nakano's weird undefined relationship will continue as-is, because it works well enough for both of them. I've certainly had my quibbles about the anime, and I still couldn't recommend it without a hefty list of qualifiers, but in its best moments, I thought this was an interesting experiment in providing proxy intimacy for viewers. Granted, a lot of what it aspires to do may be better served by things like ASMR videos, going to therapy, and overthrowing your capitalist overlords. In the absence of those things, however, spending some quality time with a fluffy cartoon fox is pretty good too.
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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