Reviewby Theron Martin,
Middle school student Kazuya Kagami barely has any memory of his mother, but he carries her obi (the broad belt for a kimono) around with him both as a memento and because he finds its smell comforting. The obi is far more than ordinary, however. When Kazuya finds himself in a life-or-death crisis, it reveals its true nature: it is a tsukumogami (an object which, through long use and human association, has gained sentience) which can manifest as a pointy-eared girl named Kiriha, who can manipulate the obi for both offensive and defensive purposes. Kiriha quickly proves to be a handful to deal with, but she also explains that supernatural things seem to happen around Kazuya because he attracts spiritual energy called malison. What Kiriha does not tell Kazuya is that his special trait was such a problem in the past that a seal was placed on him, one which also obscured his memory of having known Kiriha as a child. That doesn't prevent Kazuya from getting dragged into many supernatural incidents, ranging from dealing with a local goddess to hostile hair spirits to his whole school suddenly turning into a dating sim.
The debut of this 12 episode manga adaptation did not make much of an impression on me (or any of the other reviewers) during the Spring 2017 Preview Guide, and it did not receive enough support at that time to earn weekly episode reviews. However, it ultimately proved enduringly successful enough in Japan to earn a second season in the spring of 2020. Because of this, I decided to check out its recent rerelease on Blu-Ray (under Funimation's Essentials label) and see if I missed something in the series. I can now say that that the series isn't a major stand-out but is more deserving of attention than it got at the time it debuted. I can easily understand why it was successful enough for a sequel to be made.
Tsugumomo is essentially a harem series, though that label does not fit as comfortably as it does with more focused series of that type. That's partly because romancing Kazuya is not a focal point of the plot and the degree of true romantic interest that some of the prospective harem members have in Kazuya is nebulous. Without question classmate/childhood friend Chisato has a genuine crush on him, his big sister clearly has a Little Brother Complex (which he resolutely rejects), the local goddess Kukuri seems to be developing an interest, and one male character might have some interest as well. One character who appears late in the series might also factor in for the second season given what she is told in the final episode. However, things are much less certain with main girl Kiriha. She is absolutely possessive and protective of Kazuya, but that seems to be more her general nature towards her servant/master (which is which in the Kiriha/Kazuya relationship depends on viewpoint) than anything specific to Kazuya. At least at the point where the series ends, their relationship is a partnership more than anything romantic.
For most of the series the plot focuses primarily on Kazuya and/or Kiriha encountering and dealing with local gods and a variety of amasogi, which are tsukumogami which form suddenly as a result of intense emotional outbursts and so have a tendency to act without thought or conscience. Although this is a standard supernatural action scenario, the interesting twist here is that if an amasogi's source is not destroyed by the person responsible for the emotional outburst then there can be a curse-like backlash, often in line with the nature of the amasogi; for instance, one character who generates an amasogi in the form of an ultimate woman-attracting cologne winds up intensely smelling like garbage for a week. These scenarios can range from stupidly silly (the dating sim incident) to very serious (the one about the girl who committed suicide), and the quality of the writing and execution in them can vary just as dramatically. (The suicide incident is by far the best but not the only good one.) Mixed in with this are occasional references to Kazuya's past, though this ultimately proves to be a plot line much bigger than this series. In the last quarter a rival appears to challenge Kazuya's fledgling position as his region's Malison Cleaner (a person who works with a tsukumogami to deal with malison-related issues on behalf of a local god), and dealing with that becomes almost the entire focus of the last three episodes.
With a plot that mostly isn't anything special, the series' appeal hinges on three factors. One is Kiriha herself. Though she can be sensitive and doesn't hesitate to protect and support Kazuya in both action-oriented and emotional crises, she is more commonly a temperamental devil of a girl, with an arrogant spirit, a mean streak that can border on sadism, and not a hint of shyness when it comes to sexual matters. Regardless of what level of physical maturity she has when assuming humanoid form (she appears as a child, a teenager, and a full-grown adult at various different points depending on how much of an energy reserve she has), a wicked, fang-toothed grin is one of her most common expressions. The second factor is how Kiriha functions in obi form. She – or the person she designates as her servant/master – can manipulate the obi for a surprisingly diverse and effective array of attacks and defenses, including shaping the obi (or projections of it) as a wall, a hammer, or a drill, or even just smacking foes at range in a tentacle-like fashion. This is far less corny, and far more fascinating, to watch in execution than it may sound, especially when Kazuya has to get creative in the challenge match against the other Malison Cleaner, and it results in some remarkably robust action sequences.
The third attracting factor is the fan service, though the nature of some of it could just as easily be a detracting factor. It isn't always present – some episodes have none at all – but when it is, it can range from being as mild as gratuitous panty shots to as bold as defined nudity and strongly-implied ejaculations; messing with Kazuya's manhood is, in fact, a regular feature, to the point that he's the victim rather than the perpetrator in most cases. The series gets dodgier about lolicon content, and this could be a big turn-off for some. The completely-uncensored Japanese version (which this isn't - see comments below about the U.S. releases) even includes some underaged nudity with the work-around that the character is actually much older but in a younger form, and the bulk of one episode is devoted to Kiriha and the local goddess in child forms having to deal with another local goddess who even advertises on a wall scroll that she's all about little girls. If that kind of content isn't your thing then just skip to the end of the episode when they start playing the Concentration game and you won't miss anything of value.
While not a top-level series on production merits, the series fares well enough in that respect. Director/writer Ryōichi Kuraya and his Zero-G team have produced animation that is remarkably consistent on quality control, even when sliding into alternative art styles for humor bits, and capably supports action scenes which can, at times, be very lively and intense. Even the CG support used in the more complicated movements of the obi is not glaringly obvious. Kiriha is unquestionably the visual star among character designs, though the sumptuous depictions of the local goddess when she is in full dress and mask also impress; by comparison, Kazuya and most other cast members beyond the tall, hugely-endowed familiar of the local goddess are more anime-typical. Background art is nothing special, but monster designs and other special effects can make more of an impact.
The real star of the production, though, is the musical score. The very busy Yasuharu Takanashi (this was one of seven titles that he did music for in 2017) liberally mixes together classical Japanese instrumentation with more modern instrumental and synthesized numbers for a musical score which can deftly slide between light-hearted moments and vastly heavier ones. It works especially well in the darker, more poignant, and most intense action moments. The energetic opener and more sedate closer also make for a good pair.
The initial Blu-Ray release of the series by Funimation raised a bit of a stink because it used a mix of censored and uncensored footage, and the Essentials rerelease does not seem to have corrected that. Funimation's claim has always been that they released what they got, and at least some of the content is wholly uncensored, but this isn't the most complete representation of what was in the Japanese BD releases. (Frankly, in a couple of cases I think that's for the better.) Extras are limited to clean opener and closer, but the release does include a competent English dub, with Sarah Weidenheft (Charmy in Black Clover, Tohru in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid) doing a fine job in the key role of Kiriha. Interestingly, one male character who cross-dresses at one point is voice by an actress (albeit one known for voicing boys), while other male roles get actors instead.
If you're at least tolerant of fan service then Tsugumomo is worth a look, especially with the new season coming up. Its strongest parts are more than good enough to balance out its weaker and/or less agreeable ones.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Musical score, episode about suicide victim, surprisingly robust action
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