The Helpful Fox Senko-san
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
The Helpful Fox Senko-san ?
Shiro returns to Nakano's apartment this week for a fierce contest of minds—a battle waged on the harsh and honest playing field of the most timeless of sports: Smash. Nakano is apparently one for the classics, as he continues to practice in Super Fluff Bros. Melee rather than upgrade to Super Fluff Bros. Ultimate, but I suppose he's not alone in that regard. To her credit, Shiro picks up on the art of the up-smash pretty quickly for an immortal fox deity.
Yes, the first segment of this week's episode is all about video games, but it's more about what these games mean to people and their relationships than the games themselves. Nakano is in the middle of one of his apparently rare days off when Shiro decides to visit, and that shot of him refusing to get out of bed for as long as possible is 100% me on the weekends. I also tend to use games as a means to unwind after work or when I want to relax, but like Nakano I have neither the time nor the energy to play them like I used to. That's an inevitability of adulthood, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. I appreciate the free time I get to spend on games like Super Fluff Bros. Melee or Fluff of the Wild that much more. However, Nakano's quip about buying more games than he has time to play was a brutal attack on my Steam library.
Anyhow, the crux of this scene is the way it uses video games to develop the oddball familial unit Nakano has become part of. Shiro quickly slides into the role of a little sister with a competitive streak, using dirty tricks to win her matches against Nakano as leverage to win all the snacks for herself. I used to play Melee with my younger brothers all the time, and that silly level of competitiveness and smug superiority of the winner all struck true to my experiences. Meanwhile, Senko is in full mom mode, making snacks for both of her overgrown children and reflecting on her own bad experiences with video games. Despite Shiro's poor sportsmanship, this all makes for a warm atmosphere that stands in huge contrast to the drudgery of Nakano's previous life, defined solely by his grueling job. This episode doesn't aim to relax its audience as much as previous ones, but I like this simple yet direct reflection on how nice companionship can be. A family can be anything: even just a salaryman and his two patron fox goddesses.
The second half of the episode shifts the focus to Koenji with mixed results. I do like her place in the narrative as a similarly overworked foil to Nakano, because while heartless corporations are certainly the leading cause of employee burnout, people can also be their own worst bosses. Koenji juggles being both a college student and a manga artist, which she's clearly passionate about, but at the cost of her own health. She doesn't eat well, her room is littered with energy drink cans, and she's sleep-deprived enough to write off Shiro's appearances as hallucinations. I highly doubt Senko-san's tone will ever get this dark, but there are plenty of examples of high-profile manga artists working themselves to an early grave. I hope that Senko-san will be as adamant about Koenji taking care of herself as the anime is about Nakano. Senko herself takes pity on Koenji and apparently volunteers to cook and clean for her frazzled neighbor occasionally, which thankfully Koenji accepts. I'm less enthusiastic about Koenji's character writing falling back to lazy bits about Senko's perceived age and domestic situation with Nakano, including an utterance of “legal Lolita,” a phrase that makes me feel gross just typing it. Worse, it sees Koenji falling into the predatory lesbian stereotype, as she ruminates on her desire to pounce on Senko and have a “cute little girl wife” of her own. I like The Helpful Fox Senko-san more than I dislike it, but this kind of stuff makes it impossible for me to recommend to most audiences.
In the end, Koenji shows her appreciation by sending Senko off with a free maid costume, although not before taking an entire memory card's worth of pictures, which does call the magnanimity of her gesture into question. Senko decides to surprise Nakano with it, and Nakano immediately shuts the door on her with some of the best comedic timing the show has delivered so far. There's little point to this part of the episode outside of showing Senko in a maid outfit, and while Maid Day was last week, I can respect a belated celebration. Nakano ultimately admits that he prefers Senko not put on airs, so her regular outfit is fine, but I suspect his motivation is ruled by tail fluff accessibility rather than the innate goodness of his heart. Senko knows as much already, and that's why they make a good pair.
We're halfway through the season now, and The Helpful Fox Senko-san sadly continues to undermine the promise of its premise with cringy attempts at humor and flat character writing. The best version of this adaptation probably would have been a short anime focused more intently on crafting an atmosphere—something along the lines of the post-credits Super Senko-san Time segments. As it stands, the show's not bad by any stretch, but it's disappointing to look at Senko-san and imagine a version that manages to be both fluffier in its aesthetic and meatier in its writing.
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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