Gotta Have 'Em All: Kamisama Kiss

>> Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kamisama Kiss by Suzuki Julietta started out on my list as "Has a Certain Appeal". Then I ignored my list for a long time, meanwhile I found myself captivated by the series so it moves up in rank to "Gotta Have 'Em All." I'll be updating my list shortly.

Like many shoujo, it moves on the slow side, but it had aspects that appealed from the very beginning. I wasn't entranced but I was intrigued enough to keep reading.  Before I knew it, I loved it. It isn't just the charm and appeal of our outwardly cold main protagonist, Tomoe, though who wouldn't love a fox demon that's good-looking and capable? It isn't just the quirky premise or the mystique of an unfamiliar mythology (though I've always loved mythology and Japanese mythology is new to me). What really appeals is the relationship between Tomoe and the main character,  Momozono Nanami, a charming "normal" girl sucked into a surreal world, laden with heavy responsibilities and very very limited power. Her charm is augmented by the fact that she repeatedly fixes her own problems, not just through the intervention of her powerful familiar, not just due to her efforts to grow into her "god" powers, but due to her intelligence and her bright honest personality that snags her followers and allies along the way. 

Stories that empower women without just making them rescue-able eye candy and without trying to turn them into men appeal to me deeply. That she's such a fine person, honest but not without flaws, that her judgement isn't always true, but her heart is, that Tomoe (desperate never to fall for a human girl again) is inescapably drawn to her, all these things I find positively endearing.

Anime? Yes (subtitled) Volumes of manga: 18 (13 Eng) Status: Ongoing (but nearly complete in Japan, I think)

My rating: Gotta have 'em all

Age range: I wouldn't have a problem letting any teenager read this, but we all know I'm progressive.

Taboos and "warnings": Some sexual innuendo, some minor violence. If magic and the occult bother you, you won't like this, but I doubt you'd be frequenting my blog given my own tastes.

Premise: Nanami's no-account father has bolted, leaving her penniless and left with no place to live and unlikely to be able to stay in high school. As she contemplates her bleak future in the park, she rescues a terrified "man" from a stray dog and ends up telling the man her story. He (Mikage) tells her that he has a place nearby that he hasn't been using (had abandoned) and that she was welcome to take it over. Then he kisses her forehead, passing, unbeknownst to Nanami, his tochigami powers (tochigami is a "land-god" responsible for an area of land). Mikage had indeed abandoned his shrine for twenty years, leaving his familiar, a powerful yokai (a type of demon), to fulfill Mikage's duties as well as he could. The yokai, Tomoe, is somewhat irate already that he'd been abandoned so long. Finding a human girl of no particular distinction suddenly in charge adds insult to injury and he takes off to go back to his former wastrel ways, but is tricked and kissed by Nanami (who needs his helps on several different levels), thus become her familiar sort of against his will.

What works: Tomoe's apparent amorality and indifference to Nanami's plight (and to the master who abandoned him), make it pretty easy to accept him being effectively shanghaied in the beginning. By the time we find out he's a tsundere character (much nicer/responsible/caring than he wants anyone to know), it is already apparent that he needs purpose or he'll destroy himself. Her stealing him put the breaks on a self-destructive breakdown. He complains but is actually very responsible and quite protective and, very shortly, it becomes very clear that he genuinely cares about and even respects Nanami.

Over time, Tomoe has multiple opportunities to either escape or trade his inexperienced land-god for someone stronger or more experienced, but he never does and, on more than one occasion, goes out of his way to reinforce their pact. He is quite protective of Nanami and will put himself at risk on her behalf without much hesitation. Fortunately, he's a badass (yes, I like that) and his foxy appearance and cold demeanor add to his charm rather than detract. His overt jealousy as rivals show up (for Nanami's affection as potential rival familiars) comes across as sweet and awkward, especially given that he won't admit to any attachment. In the end, he is absolutely unable to stand in the way of her happiness.

But, more importantly, he is also completely incapable of stopping Nanami when she is set on a path. She is stubborn, intrepid, leaping rapidly where even Yokai would pause and the fact that she often extracts herself through her own efforts both frustrates and impresses him. Impresses me, as well. As much as I love protective men, even more, I love pairing them with capable, creative, self-sufficient women (it's a common theme in my own writing).

Nanami is honorable, empathetic, forthright, determined, smart, and patient. She is as hard on herself as anyone, but her kind and giving nature make her adorable and her tendency of putting herself at risk for the sake of others with no thought whatsoever to her own preservation make her pretty darn appealing as well, even if it scares the dickens out of Tomoe. Her ability to see through the BS makes her friends and allies even from individuals that should have been enemies.

In the end, it's her love (unabashed) for Tomoe that really makes this series sing. Tomoe is a complex character with a checkered and troubled past and Nanami's unraveling of that past is completely compelling, especially given her selflessness in how she does so.

It is amusing, but not laugh out loud funny. More cute and surprise amusing, situations that are charming and humorous.

Favorite character: Tomoe. Normally, this would be a hard call. Nanami is feisty and true, smart and generous and kind. She's a great protagonist. Tomoe is also smart and feisty, complicated and, underneath, giving and devoted. He is complex and his backstory is fascinating and adds considerably to our understanding and sympathy for him. And he is the one that grows the most. So, he likely had an edge on top character, but, at one point, he is changed into a little kid form of himself that is too cute for words (and he refuses to trade masters even though his life is at risk in this smaller form). That clinched it. Mikage, as the guy watching over all this who clearly has a plan in Nanami's and Tomoe's favor is pretty appealing, too.
Quotes (there aren't many because I didn't go through all thirteen volumes I have and because it's really the interaction that's amusing rather than one-liners):
Yokai: A mere human, a shabby girl becoming a tochigami. This shrine has sunk so low.
Tomoe: No, no, Nanami may not look it, but she's strong inside. Someday, she will be able to make the flowers bloom.

Nanami: (mentally) I couldn't help barging in and Tomoe told me not to. I couldn't stop myself when I saw the sword pointed at Tomoe. But, right now, I'm really scared . . . of Tomoe.

Himemiko: We met only once at Tatara Swamp ten years ago. He was an 8-year-old who looked very cute when he was crying.
Nanami: (mentally) Are all yokai sadists?

What I didn't like: Again, not much. The artwork is nice and effective but not outstanding or particularly noteworthy. Better than I could draw, of course.Things move slowly, especially at first, and it's always frustrating to draw out a romance where the characters are clearly attached to each other but still not making tremendous progress. Reading ahead of the published volumes, I can see what looks like a very satisfying end coming up, but there's no getting around that it dragged at times.

The anime: There is also a 13 episode anime available, subtitled rather than dubbed, but well worth the time to read/watch it. The same charm evident in the manga infuses the anime and I think it's quite well done with a tidy ending (which is not always so with animes that finish up before the manga is completed). It moves a little more swiftly than the manga.


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