If you asked anyone what their favorite series from this season was you would get a wide selection of answers but Kill la Kill and Space Dandy will probably come up the most. On the other hand if you ask Kate she will say Kuroko’s Basketball because . . . well she is Kate. BUT if you ask what was the best NEW show of the season we would both pick an anime that is sadly overlooked. It is a wonderful mix of comedy and romance. A series based on a seinen manga with a shojo appeal. That show is Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha.
Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha is easy to dismiss as the “spirits and humans” story of the season to fill for a lack of a new season of Natsume’s Book of Friends or Mushishi but that is selling the show short. Konkon has an infectious joy that sets it apart from the pack. Unlike some other the other anime and manga in the genre that either go for a gentle melancholy or a soft warm glow like Kamichu! and Gingitsune this show goes for the laughs first and foremost. But at the same time there are some strong romantic undercurrents and well as solid friendships to bring it all together.
It is funny to use “nice” as a way to describe a show I want others to watch, but Inari Konkon Koi Iroha is nice. Nice like it wraps you up and makes you feel good while watching it. You might find yourself sighing in contentment while viewing the show even.
But that’s not to say niceness is the only quality the series has to offer. Inari Konkon Koi Iroha is a nice, hilarious, fun, and sweet story featuring wacky gods, new loves, and the bonds of friendship.
One day Inari Fushimi saves a fox from a river and is granted a wish by the local god of the area called Uka-no-Mitama-no-Kami. She inadvertently wishes to be someone else, a wish she soon ends up regretting. Uka cannot turn Inari back into her old form but she can grant Inari some of her own divine power to be able to shapeshift. This leads to Inari and Uka becoming friends and using the shapeshifting to help others (sometimes). But Uka granting Inari some of her power is hardly a consequence free decision.
Inari Fushimi is sort of Tohru Honda if she were really bad at being the kindly goddess who helps everyone fix their problems. Inari wants to be the cheerful girl who just knows the right words to sooth someone’s soul or steer them in the right direction. She is more like the friendly locomotive that smashes through a brick wall into a garden party where she was trying to deliver snacks. This gives her a cheerful pessimism and a more than a little bit of self loathing. In many ways Inari’s journey is learning how to help herself so she can better help others.
Alongside her are her two best friends Keiko and Chika. Keiko is a brash tomboy, who is an invincible dynamo, blunt and unstoppable. Chika on the other hand is a shy nerd to only seems to really talk to Keiko and Inari. Eventually Akemi Sumizome joins the group as well. At first she seems to be perfect: popular, beautiful, and smart. But Inari soon learns that Akemi is rather lonely and maybe just as bad at dealing with people as she is. Akemi is just awkwardly isolated in her own way.
In many ways Uka feels like a more mature version of Inari. She is clearly older and better at helping people but at the same time Uka’s clumsiness with people shows through and proves that she still has a lot to learn as well. Most of the time she is a gentle mentor to her young ward, calmly guiding her to being a better person, but we see Uka spaz out just as badly as Inari when she is in over her head. Also she is just as clueless as her human friend when to comes to love. Any dealings with Inari’s brother, Touka show that otome games have not taught her much about 3D boys. Inari gets more growth out of their bond but both of them improve together as well.
I will say one thing about this troupe of heroines, they distinctly have a range of body types. Akemi is of course your stereotypical petite pretty girl and Keiko is a handsome tomboy. Uka is a woman with a distinct amount of va-va-voom (no matter how much her normal outfit tries to hide that). On the other hand Inari and Chika are hardly perfect BMI princesses. Inari is always drawn to be rubenesque and Chika is distinctly chubby. Inari is not a member of the cast of Real Drive but at the same time she is far rounder than your typical heroine in a seinen series. It is an unusual tip of the hat towards realism and diversity that I think is worth pointing out. Mirei Yajima is no longer alone.
Inari’s quiet, but occasionally reckless, strength is the initial draw for the series. Inari first gains the power to transform into other people when she is feeling particularly down, but soon after she realizes her assumptions were wrong. From that point on, Inari harnesses the power of true friendship and uses her powers for good!
In a lot of ways, Inari Konkon Koi Iroha highlights our desires to be other people, believing they are better suited for a task than ourselves, while showing that you really had the power within yourself all along.
Lonely Uka feels a powerful bond with Inari, a champion to her friends. It is quite clear that Uka hasn’t had anyone on her side for a very long time. She is a high-ranking God being pushed to marry, which is why she simply runs away when possible. But Uka isn’t the only weirdo in her family, we subsequently meet her tough mother, yankee father, and (ugh) sister-obsessed brother.
Speaking of brothers, Inari has an older one named Touka. He is a guy living in a bit of a fantasy world, his hobbies include writing overly dramatic fiction and playing video games. From the first episode, I suspected that he could see Uka and this was quickly proven right. He is distrustful of Uka even before he learns that she has transferred some of her power to Inari. He has an unexpected charm to him which gets highlighted as he interacts with Uka more.
There are ups and downs as Inari becomes more accustomed to transformation; we see it taking a toll on Uka. While Inari only has the best intentions in mind, ultimately we are on pins and needles as the ending drew near. Would we be treated to a melancholy or happy ending? The answer is . . . both.
Inari Konkon Koi Iroha is a balance of uplifting moments that are just a touch sad.
Centering a romantic comedy around a klutzy dingus can be tricky. Failure and embarrassment have the strong power of Schadenfreude to tickle the funny bone. But if your romantic lead is too incompetent it is hard to root for them. At the same time if they are hyper competent then they lose their underdog edge. At that point you usually have to bring in underhanded rivals who tend to have the show go in a darker direction. You have to make the protagonist goofy enough to be lovable comedic but competent enough that you still want to see them be with the object of their affection. As much as I love the series Tsukamoto Tenma from School Rumble is the classic example of what happens when you make your main character a bit too dull. While she has her fans she is easily the most hated character in the series as well.
Inari Konkon Koi Iroha thankfully avoids this by having Inari slowly grow as the series goes on. When the series starts it is clear that she has a distinct case of the butterfingers both physically and emotionally which often gets in the way of her wanting to help others or get what she wants. As the series goes on that clumsy nature of hers stays constant but we see her confidence and skill increase as she helps people when working with Uka. She might mess up as per usual but her recovery time improves as well as her maturity when dealing with her mistakes.
But this is not all character growth and hard lessons. When Inari is running around as someone else and trying to right what once went wrong she is hilariously brilliant. It remind me of what I like best about the body swapping comedy of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches. That is high praise in deed.
Also anytime Uka is geeking out she is a delightful mixture of comedy gold as well a loveable charm. We all wish we could be that charming when indulging in our shameful hobbies.
Speaking of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches I feel you can’t overlook a very important key to the success in Inari Konkon Koi Iroha: the wonderful reactions. Too crazy and it ruins the punchline but too subdued and the comedy has no bite. Artists like Rumiko Takahashi, Kenjiro Hata, and Miki Yoshikawa all know this. In a live action comedy a skilled actor will use their body language (or lack there of) to sell a joke as much as anything else. In a comic or cartoon the character’s physicality has to do that as well. Inari’s ever changing face sells many jokes that might otherwise fall flat. Even when transformed you know who she is because of how she reacts.
Timing is everything in comedy and Inari Konkon Koi Iroha has it. It is able to weave heartfelt moments in with the over reactions, quips, and slapstick moments perfectly. There is comedy gold in this series which is going overlooked.
I nearly lose it every time I think about the first episode in which Inari accidentally pantses her crush during gym while she is trying to shoot a basketball. Yeah, that is funny, but the part that pushes me over the edge is when in the background, after she has done this deeply embarrassing thing, the ball does go in the basket.
The hilarious situations Inari finds herself in from time to time are many times embarrassing, but she never comes off as a pathetic character despite her rash actions or clumsiness.
Plenty of comedy comes from Uka herself, a confessed lover of 2D boys, who spends her days idly playing dating sims. It never seems to get old as the show turns to Uka during hilarious and outlandish dialogue trumpets out of her games. Equal otaku hilarity ensues with Touka’s imagination. At one point he even tries to tell his parents that Inari has powers to which they laugh hysterically and chide him.
It is a wonderful feeling to have a romantic comedy were you are rooting for all the couples to come together. All too often there are some pairings you love, some you are neutral on, and others who you mostly ignore so you can continue to watch the show. The pairings here feel very natural without feeling like someone just decided that they should exist.
While Inari and Tanbabashi’s relationship is fairly standard you feel like they are both working towards a relationship as opposed to it falling into their laps. Also they know each other enough that it makes sense that they would be able to develop an attraction to each other but separated enough that you are not wondering why they have not just started dating already.
Also if you’re any kind of nerd worth their salt your probably going to instantly fall in love with Uka and Touka falling in love. They are not every otaku couple but many a nerdy partnership seeing a good deal of their relationship in those two. Plus as we all know the couple that games together stays together. Such is the power of the Woo.
I did find it interesting that jealousy plays a big part in the series. While shojo and josei series delve into the green-eyed monster in great detail it mostly just gets paid lip service in shonen and seinen. Bad characters are usually defined by their jealousy and brought down by it until they (if ever) overcome it. Or it is just played off for laughs and either dealt with in a small arc or as a trait in sad side characters. But in Inari Konkon Koi Iroha it is an emotion that everyone in the show deals with. It sparks the story in the first place and we see it present in everyone from the purest of souls down to Uka’s detestable brother. No one in the cast is going to take a knife and threaten anyone else but it is nice to see characters dealing with some of the uglier aspects of love without becoming unlikable in the process.
I was also surprised that have never leaned on one old joke with Uka. The standard trope is that the character obsessed with dating sims will always use what they have learned in-game on their potential romantic partner. I mean that is the whole premise around The World God Only Knows. But overall she approaches her courting of Touka like any normal person would. It is clear that the world of romantic (and erotic) visual novels are an idealized fantasy world that is fun to retreat to but not the real world. It is refreshing to see an otaku character who is shown having this sense of where their hobby begins and ends. It is also worth noting that by the same token the fantasy obsessed Touka treats Uka more by the rules of Shinto practices than by the rules of his crazy fantasy novels.
Inari Konkon Koi Iroha has couples for everyone, and they aren’t a bunch of messy love octagons either. Honestly I can’t imagine you’d have to choose who to root for because they are all just so good and satisfying. All my love and all my ships go to this show this season!
Few people in real life can narrow down the second when they fell in love with someone, but ah, fiction! There is a look that comes over Touka’s face where you know that he just fell in love with Uka; when the dam breaks and he feels it full force.
Uka and Touka are an otaku couple, of course we are rooting for them! It is hard to express how much joy I find in watching these two slowly get closer over the course of the series.
Inari’s crush Tanbabashi kinda falls into the fantasy boyfriend category. He is good at sports, popular, kind, helpful, and a great big brother. His flawlessness never comes off as something we are supposed to swoon over however. He is a good guy, someone you can imagine having your first crush on, and that simplicity works here.
Inari and Tanbabashi’s budding love story is the sweet, nice, compliment to Uka and Touka’s rather wacky path. Tanbabashi also has the “light bulb moment” about his love, after which he is more self-conscious around Inari.
To top it all off is the unexpected developing story of Akemi who Inari initially believes to be a rival for Tanbabashi. I’m so grateful they squashed that love triangle idea early on. Instead we get to see Akemi falling for Keiko, Inari’s childhood friend. We aren’t sure of Keiko’s feelings on the matter, but I can only hope it is in the cards.
With Akemi, it is three out of three for showing that magical look on a character’s face when they fall for someone.
If anything the show’s only major crime is being produced before they can get the full ending of the source material. All my favorite comedies have done this recently. The Devil Is a Part-Timer! and Binbougami ga! did this in spades. Heck they never even really got to Nadeshiko Adenokouji in Binbougami ga. When Daily Lives of High School Boys ended it did not matter that there was more manga to adapt. While I don’t know anyone who would object to second season there are no hurt feelings over where they choose to leave off. But in a comedy with a strong backbone of narrative like Inari Konkon Koi Iroha you clearly need to start reading the source material to find out how it all wraps up. In Japan this is no big deal because you can just run down to the local bookstore and get the newest volume. That is 80% of the reason most of these anime are made in the first place. But comedy manga always seems to be a harder sell in English.
Still there is hope. I mean the Crunchyroll Manga page has both And Yet the Town Moves and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches. Maybe a little more love for the anime will see positive returns for everyone in the future.
Part magical girl show, part rom-com series, part ghost story Inari Konkon Koi Iroha is so nice. Not exactly the most visually stunning work of the season, but you’ll have little trouble overlooking that flaw.
Oh, please won’t someone license the manga?