I was initially interested in Kamichu! because I heard people describing it as Spirited Away the TV series. That is some pretty high praise so it had a lot to live up to. When I went to Anime Expo I randomly saw the end of episode three and all of four while waiting for a panel to begin. While I really enjoyed it, I will admit to forgetting about it. When I saw it on a Geneon clearance sale later I picked it up. And then I promptly threw it on my unwatched anime pile. I dug it out when Narutaki and I agreed we should review something that was not a robot show. We were pleasantly rewarded for our efforts. This is a well done comedy for the whole family. It is just a warm series that has comedy, romance, and a dash of nostalgia with a fun supernatural twist.
I was initially interested in Kamichu! because Hisui came over and basically told me what she did in that first paragraph. Spirited Away is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films (as I am sure it is many others’) so anything that even remotely resembles it, I’d need to check out. It also looked very cute. The show ended up being equal parts magical, funny, and charming. It has a lighter than air quality to it making Kamichu! easy to enjoy. While we stay earthbound (mostly) the show transports you to its setting and integrates you into its life. And it certainly has the ability to entertain the young as well as the old.
One day Yurie Hitotsubashi discovers she has become a local god. No explanation is ever really given. It is just an accepted but rare thing that happens in the Kamichu! world. She still goes to junior high and still has all the problems of a normal young girl. She just so happens to also see spirits and travel to the spirit world. She must learn to be a goddess while granting wishes and fulling other duties befitting a god while still attending classes. She will be helping the spirit of the Battleship Yamato find its way back home on one occasion and the next she will be running for class president. Still as much as trouble as being a middle school goddess is, her main problem is trying to get the spacey Kenji Ninomiya from the calligraphy club to realize that she exists.
This show could be described as slice-of-life but since it generally didn’t feel like that. One of the things about slice-of-life that has always been a turn off to me is the lack of forward motion. Plus while there isn’t an overall plot per se, there are small plot points that progress or are accomplished in each episode. Maybe it is also the supernatural aspects that make it more than just the daily lives of these characters. And thrown in the mix are some very sweet little romances.
There is no real overarching storyline so what drives this show is solely the characters. Thankfully the cast is very amusing and they are able to hold on to your attention. Yurie is a unassuming junior high school student. She is shy but kind and gentle. She is not a great student and sort of a lazy sleepy head. She can be passionate just not towards her studies. She does not seem the obvious choice to be a god. However, Yurie tackles her new found responsibility seriously and tries her best to answer the prayers sent to her. She is often backed up by her two friends Matsuri Saegusa and Mitsue Shijo. Matsuri reminded me of a more benevolent Nabiki from Ranma 1/2. Matsuri and her sister are in charge of the family shrine after their father decides to stop being a priest to pursue farming. This leads to Matsuri always scheming up way to raise money. The moment Matsuri finds out that Yurie has become a god she spends every moment she can using Yurie new found powers for various endeavors. While she is always looking out for her friends and family, she is also not above using them to further her plans. Mitsue on the other hand is sort of the mom of the group. She tends to be the person that gives advice and keeps them in check as best she can. She also has the misfortune of constantly being possessed by any and all gods that need to talk to people when Yurie is around.
One thing that strikes me when watching a show that is really good is the ability to enjoy every character on the screen. The three musketeers each bring something different to the mix. While Yurie seems the least likely person to be chosen for a God, her good heart makes her perfect for helping people. While she is certainly reluctant about her role, she is willing to go to great lengths to aid those who need it. Yurie helps everyone from aliens to the prime minister! And do not be fooled, her power is indeed great, though it does tucker her out for days on end when used in excess. Flanking her shy nature are Mitsue and Matsuri both of which add a sense of balance to the group. If Mitsue is the calm caretaker, then Matsuri is the carefree schemer. Afterall, one of the first things Matsuri does is set up a corner where the God will listen to your problems. And she is often trying to make money for her family’s shrine. Whilst Mitsue ever watchful makes sure things don’t go too wrong, sometimes while being possessed by the nearest spirit. However, they both care for and treat Yurie as a precious family member. The bonds of friendship in this show are equally heart-warming and laugh inducing. It is easily a story that could continue on as the girls continue to grow and change.
The supporting cast is just as great as the main cast. Yurie parents easily accept her being a goddess and are quickly supportive in their own odd way. Her little brother, Shoukichi is a little more freaked out by his sisters sudden divinity but hesitantly accepts it except when it truly gets bizarre. At Matsuri’s shrine we have her little sister Miko who is a quite appropriately a miko. She has the ability to see spirits unlike her sister and develops an adorable relationship with Shoukichi. The god of the family shire Yashima-sama often acts as guide to Yurie although he dreams of being a rock & roll god . . . literally. Yurie’s love interest is the spacey Kenji of the calligraphy club. Since he is the only member of the club he lost his club room and practices by himself on the roof. Yurie is heads over heels in love with him but he is almost totally unaware that she exists. In his defense Kenji is generally unaware that most things outside his general purview. Still he is a very sweet guy if generally oblivious. Yurie also gets three assistants to help her with her work as a goddess. Ino, Shika, Chou are a boar, deer, and butterfly respectively and usually start various episodes giving her a request for help that someone has given her. The generally act as her goofy personal assistants but they always do their best to help her with her jobs.
I was just as invested in the side characters as anyone else in the series. Matsuri’s little sister Miko and Yurie’s little brother Shoukichi were quite cute in their own ways. Miko is the real secret behind the shrine because she is the only one able to see spirits and while she is quiet, she has a strong sense of self. Shoukicki hides his soft heart behind his sour attitude and sharp observations. And then the show topped these two off with a budding romance. I wouldn’t hesitate to say these two ended us being my favorite characters despite their short amounts of screentime. Indeed they aren’t the only ones that leave a lasting impression. The free-spirited, soft-spoken God Yashima becomes of sort of mentor to Yurie. Kenji, Yurie’s mega-crush, can be a bit of a dolt but it is done in such a way to make it lovable. His transition to slowly noticing Yurie is funny but natural. Then there are the many and abundant spirits who appear including many that just hang out the town. Some fun ones are: the giant shark who sits fishing all day, the tiny samurai who rides a dog, the God who takes over Yurie’s cat, and Yurie’s three little helpers. These last three add another layer of cute to the series. They are often bringing Yurie messages from the spirit world and also causing a little mischief. And let us not forget the memorable (and random) episode that has cats parodying Fight Club!
Kamichu! has a very Shinto worldview. There are gods all around and in everything from spiritual things like shrines to horribly mundane things like laser disks. The average person has no idea they are there but the spiritual world and the material world constantly influence each other even if one is unaware of the other. After Yurie becomes a goddess she can see spirits and gods all the time and even travel to the spirit world. Her friends with a few exceptions cannot see spirits but she can make charms to let them see spirit for short amounts of time. The spirits in Kamichu! are a very diverse lot and extremely colorful. We have everything from extremely traditional Japanese spirits to the spirits of everyday objects. There are also some twist on the traditional like the fact that Benten and the other Seven Lucky Gods are an extremely popular band in the spirit world. But overall the spirits give the world flavor. We always see the same three spirits fishing on the docks by the ferry that Yurie takes to school or the tofu spirit the hangs around the tofu shop. Many of them will add something to certain episodes but other times they will be nothing more than local color.
One thing that stood out to me after just one episode was the production quality. Overall the details bring a lot of life into this show. Kamichu! has the feeling of nostalgia in a not quite modern but not quite old world setting. I also have a great love of openings that don’t just place text over the animation but actually design it into the artwork. And both the opening and ending songs were good enough to almost not skip.
The series itself has a pretty high budget from what I can tell. Everything is bright, cheery, and warm which definitely enhances the over feel. All the characters designs are quite pleasing. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on why I found Matsuri Saegusa quite attractive. The real place that Kamichu! shines is in the background shots. I would go as far as to say it has background pornography. There are long loving scenes of the town that Yurie lives in and give the town as much character as any of the main characters. I don’t remember the background music at all but the opening and closing songs are very well done and catchy.
So it turns out Kamichu! isn’t really that much like Spirited Away but that didn’t end up mattering one bit. What is did take from the Ghibli films is a quality of whimsy and charm found in the characters and the settings. The show does have a couple of odd-man-out episodes along the way, but the overall feeling is one of satisfaction. Kamichu! delivers a show that has a blend of nostalgia, magic, cuteness, and fun making it an enjoyable package for just about anyone.
You always here people asking what anime should people show little kids in hopes of getting them into anime. The Studio Ghibli films always come up but then people want a series. I would throw Kamichu! on the list of good series for the whole family to watch. The stories are simple and cute but leave you with a warm feeling when you finish them. There is nothing objectionable in the series concerning sex or violence and the characters are just as relatable to children as they are to adults. There is a distinctly Japanese feel to some of the subject matter but none of the stories are inherently inaccessible to a Western audience. Kamichu! is an uplifting series that will never fail to bring a smile to your face.