Following up a blockbuster is always a daunting task, and Kamisama Dolls was always going to have a tough time keeping the momentum after last week’s masterpiece of emotional intensity. But this is always a show with a trick or two up its sleeve, and that ability to surprise at will served it very well here.
Nothing had me anticipating what happened in episode 7, but from the beginning this series has had a tendency to do everything just a little differently. Like the ED sequence – the music starting while the last scene of the episode is playing out, and the inclusion of scenes from the completed episode and the upcoming one underneath the ED animation sequence. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s stylish and unusual. And while it didn’t try to match the intensity of last week, episode 8 ended up being something quite different than it first appeared and quite significant and revealing about the characters and the story.
With the setting returned to Tokyo, when Hibino’s father told the kids of his friend’s new guesthouse on the ocean, it looked as if we were going for a total breather of an episode – some ecchi, some comedy, and an overall small scope. Well, it didn’t turn out that way. You should never make assumptions about what the second half of a KamiDolls ep will be like based on the first, but even before the eyecatch things took a few unexpected turns here. A typhoon moved in, robbing Utao of her first ever beach experience and putting the lives of both the innkeeper and Hibino at risk. Was it really Utao who acted quickly and saved Hibino from the windblown sign, or was it Kyouhei stepping in briefly once again? Whatever, there were no beach hijinks or ping pong battles here as the usual beach episode cliché was turned on its ear. Hell, it was only a beach half-episode – and not even that, truth be told.
With things back in Tokyo, the second half of the episode was a complete tonal shift from the first – a KamiDolls specialty. What looks like a simple trifle – Utao’s first trip to a big-city library – ends up being a confrontation with Aki. At first it’s merely a verbal sparring between he and Hibino, filled with unsettling subtext (hints that she may be developing a crush on him, perhaps), which develops into a veiled threat against Kyouhei. Kyouhei’s silent self-admission that he gave up being a Seki because he was afraid he might one day do what Aki did was revealing enough, but Aki takes it a step further by telling Hibino that Kyouhei has a terrible darkness inside him, just as he does. In any case, he has a complete fixation on Kyouhei, to the point where I’m wondering if a potential love triangle may revolved around not Hibino but Kyouhei himself. That’s a huge leap on my part, but the feelings between Aki and Kyouhei are deep and incredibly complicated, and I don’t think we know anywhere near all the details of what’s really going on between them emotionally. When Utao arrived to find Aki threatening Hibino with Kuramitsuha the verbal scuffle turns into a physical battle, which Hibino insists they move to the park. Good idea, but the big city is obviously no place for Kekkashi.
While all this is going on a quiet but deceptively intense conversation is taking place between Kyouhei and Shingo at the suddenly empty – apparently all Shingo’s customers are lolicons and breast otaku – café. Shingo is an important figure, though he hasn’t been used much so far – after all, he took the path twenty years ago that Kyouhei is trying to take now, more or less. His statement that the village “is a nice place, if you’re visiting” reminded me of how I felt about a former home town I fled, and his realization that he was never really able to leave had to fill Kyouhei with dread. I think Kyouhei knew it anyway, though – “Some things you only realize by talking about them” and all – and the reality that he’s still a prisoner of the village is weighing on him heavily. Hints of future developments are sown in the final moments, as Kukko’s father Kyousuke appears to be creeping closer to the truth, having arrived at the café to stakeout, and Kouchirou has brought Kirio to Tokyo – perhaps to continue the Aki hunt.
I think the effect of the near-continuous shifts of tone and style is to leave the viewer unsure of where they stand with KamiDolls, and for my money that’s a good thing. It’s a series that’s always reinventing itself and I find that fascinating. Was Aki’s statement that the Kekkashi have a human heart inside them literal or figurative? What are Kouchirou’s plans for Kirio, whom it appears from the episode intro that he tried to bring closer to his sister without success? There’s always something being revealed, but that reveal inevitably opens the door to more questions. At this moment there are a great many moving parts and it’s not at all clear how they’re going to fit together, but I somehow suspect they will – there’s a lot of wit and intelligence behind this adaptation. Rather than being random I get the feeling that all these mood swings are deftly planned out and building towards something larger.