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.