Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kamisama Dolls – Series Review

[HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_12.53_[2011.07.13_19.57.13] [HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_19.07_[2011.07.13_20.03.27] [HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_04.00_[2011.07.05_11.50.56]

Let’s end at the beginning – the Summer Preview post.  In that, I said that Kamisama Dolls was my pick for sleeper hit of the season.  I hadn’t read the manga, but I had a hunch based on both the look, the director (Seiji Kishi) and the studio (Brains Base) that this show would be something special.  Well, 13 episodes later I can honestly say it exceeded my expectations.

I mentioned this in my Natsume Yuujinchou review, but it’s been an amazing season for Brains Base.  It’s been a long time since any studio could claim to have three shows as good – and as different - as Natsume, KamiDolls and Mawaru Penguin Drum premiere in the same season.  As other studios like BONES and Production I.G. have seen their batting average decline in recent years, Brains Base may just have stepped up as the most reliable quality machine in the industry.  With the pedigree behind them it was a no-brainer that MPD and NY would be among the most talked-about shows of the Summer, but this series was a little bit of a mystery, coming in without a legendary director or an overwhelmingly popular brand name.  But boy, I’ll be damned if it wasn’t just maybe the best of the three.

KamiDolls evolved quite a bit over the course of its 13-episode run.  Initially I was impressed by it’s stylish OP and ED and flawless production, but a bit unsure whether it would be anything more than a very good superficial entertainment.  One of the great things about the show is that it succeeded on so many levels.  The screwball comedy co-existed right alongside intense drama and sometimes shocking violence, often in the same episode.  After a solid is unspectacular start, things just kept building with more and more intriguing characters and intricate layers of plot being added.  In terms of the latter, this is one of the best series in recent memory – it’s a truly interesting premise, impressive for the sheer detail and complexity it offers.  And it’s a premise that can be explored on so many different levels – politics, class warfare, romance, revenge, magic and mythology.  The show has so many faces it can show off, all of them interesting. I'm especially impressed at the subtlety the series displays when it comes to moral judgement. The line between villain and victim is always razor-thin and never quite clear, and there are no clear-cut sides taken - only degrees of right and wrong we've just begun to explore. We’re at the end of a thrillingly fast-paced cour and I feel as though we’ve barely scratched the surface.

I was especially caught up in many of the subplots that formed, a tribute both to the pacing and the strength of the characters.  The question of just what Karakami represents is a vital one at the heart of the story, with each of the characters reacting to it in  their own way.  Kyouhei fled, Aki seeks revenge, Koushioru seeks to change from within, Hirashiro wanted to “modernize” for his own benefit…  But the sense of wrongness about the place – what it is, how it treats it’s citizens and the secrets it holds – is the central drama of KamiDolls.  But there’s also real family drama, especially concerning Kirio and his estrangement from his blood siblings.  There are a ton of great comic moments, many surrounding Utao. 

Without question the signature episode of the series was episode 7 – the one that finally revealed some of the dark past that brought Kyouhei and Aki to where they are now.  It was a game-changer, one of the very best episodes of any anime this year.  The unflinching portrayal of the rigid class system of Karakami, the portrayal of the teacher Senou – who was Aki’s savior but also a deeply flawed woman whose actions led directly to Kyouhei’s collapse and ended his tenure as a seki – the jarring violence and finally the deep sadness made it clear that this series was more than a brilliant light entertainment.  It was a mature and difficult story that wasn’t afraid to go places most anime fear to tread.

As satisfying as the ending was, I can hardly remember a series that more obviously screams out for a second season.  We have so many threads to explore – the budding romance between Hibino and Kyouhei.  The emotional trauma that will surely come of Kyouhei re-taking command of Kukkuri.  The danger of Amateratsu, now under the control of the vile and cruel Hyuga elder.  The issue of Kirio – both his safety and welfare, and his emotional integration with his siblings.  Aki’s quest to “settle things” with Karakami Village. Mahiru’s whereabouts and frame of mind.  And that’s not even mentioning the Tokyo crowd – Kukko and her detective father are out there trying to figure out exactly what’s going on in Karakami, and you’d think there are far too many eyewitnesses in Tokyo to cover this up anymore.  My goodness – what an embarrassment of riches!  We really have barely scratched the surface.

So then the question of what happens now with the anime is certainly an interesting one.  Because the episodes were so content-heavy the anime has used up almost eight of the nine manga volumes to reach this point, so you’d think it might be a while before the manga got enough of a lead for the anime to pick up again.  Then there’s the matter of BD/DVD sales, which is still an open question.  They don’t look to be spectacular but it’s very early in the game – will they be good enough?  The “preview” at the end of the last episode certainly implies that Brains Base would like to follow up on the story.  Support the show however you can – buy the blu-rays, read the manga, do whatever you can to let the studio know that you want to see more.

In the end, Kamisama Dolls may not have been the very best series when it came to any one element, but no other anime this year has done so many things so well.  This was just a pure, unadulterated blast in the timeless style so many classic anime over the years have displayed.  It was smart, it was sexy, it was incredibly exciting and emotionally involving and often hilariously funny.  Rather than try and be any one thing, this is a series that doesn’t limit itself whatsoever – it’s a big story with big ideas and big ambitions, and it isn’t afraid to do anything and go anywhere.  This show is what anime is all about – something you’d never see in any other medium.  Kamisama Dolls is why anime exists, and why I love it.

[HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 10 [720p].mkv_snapshot_11.31_[2011.09.06_20.22.09] [HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 10 [720p].mkv_snapshot_08.21_[2011.09.06_20.19.00] [HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 10 [720p].mkv_snapshot_21.26_[2011.09.06_20.32.28]
[HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_08.22_[2011.09.13_19.41.59] [HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 13 [720p].mkv_snapshot_12.10_[2011.09.27_20.12.30] [HorribleSubs] Kamisama Dolls - 13 [720p].mkv_snapshot_23.31_[2011.09.27_20.24.04]

13 comments:

  1. Kamisama Dolls is why anime exists - epic quote by GE.

    I agree too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow... are you saying you consider this the best anime of the year?

    I mean, I liked Kamisama Dolls, but I wouldn't put it that high.

    Still, it was a fun show for the most part, and deserving of the attention it received.

    ReplyDelete
  3. In agreement with Triple_R

    I would say the series deserve 7/10 (MAL standard) at the most (closure included).

    Sadly there might be a 2nd season, I heard rumors of how bad the sales for this season was and I was shocked, because this series has its good points in story and consistency.

    Maybe there was to much story crammed in a episode, I believe it could of push for few more episodes, instead of cramming.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Penguin drum was good? Were your weekly curses a bluff?
    Sadly, it is the other way around, Anime exists which is why Dolls exists. If it was the way you said it, we won't have painful to watch shows floating around.
    There have been some talk that the preview would lead to an anime original end as there is not enough material to portray that scene. I disagree, we all know 1. Kyuohei is awakening: Kukuri does not respond to Utao anymore
    2. Who the boss is
    3. We know they are probably gonna fight it out
    4. probably gonna have tons of smoke and debris flying around.
    Well, that explains that scene.
    OR maybe Brains just went up to the author and asked how the boss battle would play out or whether showing Kyouhei with blue eyes as he battles it out could be incorporated into the novel.
    Regardless, 3 cheers for this series! 8/10 on MAL for me

    ReplyDelete
  5. All the preview pictures are from the manga so is hardly a hint of anime original material.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Kamisama Dolls' my favorite anime of the summer by a large mile. The manga’s still ongoing so hopefully a second season is in the pipeline. Even without sufficient material from the manga, I can see the anime team coming up with a decent anime original ending since the settings and direction have been lined up pretty nicely.
    So gonna miss my weekly dose of Hibino fanservice…

    ReplyDelete
  7. @RRR - Where did I say it was the best of the year? Answer? Nowhere. It's outstanding and will be in my top 10 for sure, but no - not the best of the year.

    @deafvader - have you actually been reading my MPD posts? Doesn't seem like it! ;-) I probably say 5 nice things about it for every criticism. Does criticizing a show mean we don't like it?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Shame the show isn't selling well. Volume 1 did at best 3k its first week, which is not boding well for a sequel.

    ReplyDelete
  9. 3K isn't terrible though. And it seems Mahiru was a big otaku fave, so that might bode well for the later volumes.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Starting at under 3000 (and thats the top it could be, its quite possibly much lower) is not a good sign. Later volumes don't get boosts due to their events, such things elevate the sales of all the volumes, and since the first volume 99% of the time has the highest sales, don't go expecting much.

    We should know its actual sales tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Just to update in case people were interested, the actual sales numbers are available now:

    Source

    It did 1,437 BDs, and the DVDs did not rank at all, which means it sold less than a 1000 of them.

    So yeah. Dismal failure all around.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Got the wrong impression. My bad. :(
    @Fen: Guess Enzo would start blogging the manga once it catches up. (hope)

    ReplyDelete
  13. DV, I'd love to blog the KD manga but I've pretty much decided only to blog "real-time" with manga - scanlations that are almost up to date with the Japanese releases. KD has a long, long way to go to catch up...

    ReplyDelete