I’ve been on the fence with Gingitsune, or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. But the thing is, there’s so much about this show that’s tailor-made for me that it was probably a pretty low bar that I set for it. Last week I said “It needs a little more going for it to be truly engaging and it’ll need to show me more if I’m going to blog it” and well, it did – I found this episode easily the best of the three so far, and more than enough to sign on the dotted line (especially given the preview).
If Miki Shinichirou was perfect casting as Gintarou, then the choice of Inoue Kazehiko as his AWOL partner-herald Kintarou amounts to beyond perfect. It can’t have been convenient for the producers – Japanese building codes forbid Miki-san and Inoue-san from being in the same studio, as the load-bearing walls can’t support the sheer weight of awesome. But I’m glad they made this call, because it’s truly incredibly to hear these two titans play off each other, albeit all too briefly. I hope we see more of Kintarou as the series progresses.
No question, it’s Miki as Gintarou who provides the heart and soul of Gingitsune, just as it was Inoue’s peerless work as Nyanko-sensei that was the core of Natsume Yuujinchou. Miki is truly great here playing the tsundere old fox – whereas Kintarou seems to have been a bit of a disillusioned idealist as Gods go, Gin is a classic big-hearted curmudgeon. It’s almost impossible not to see this series as a kind of “Natsume Yuujinchou lite” – it shares so much with that show thematically and spiritually, including the tangible sense of sadness it projects onto the lives of the spirits it portrays. Everything is dialed down a bit here – the writing isn’t as sharp, the art and animation not as gorgeous, the music not quite as memorable. But if you’re as enamored of the charms of Natsume Yuujinchou as I am, Gingitsune is mighty hard to resist.
I find another parallel in Gingitsune with that great series, which is that the episodes of NY that dealt with Natsume’s bittersweet connections to the youkai world almost invariably resonated more with me than the ones dealing with his human connections (though there are exceptions – often involving his step-parents, and the final episode of Shi, dealing with his father’s house). I was much more engaged with the story of the homeless Kame-Kami (Yamamoto Kanehira), displaced when his small shrine was demolished in the name of progress, than with either of the first two episodes that dealt with Makoto’s school friends.
Makoto takes it on herself to find the kindly old God a new home, which turns out to be a small Matsunoo Taisha altar at the local Shoubai Taisha. That’s the home of the two old lion-dogs Gintarou commiserated with in the first episode, Saimaru (Kusumi Naomi) and Utamaru (Ueda Youji) – though they call each other Righty and Lefty. Their conversation with Makoto is one of the best scenes of the series so far, loaded with the same evocative sadness that pervades Natsume Yuujinchou when it focuses on the loneliness of ageless spirits who choose to become close to humans. It also frames Gintarou and his relationship with Makoto better than anything else we’ve seen in Gingitsune so far, and proves the series is capable of emotional depth and subtlety when it’s at its best.
Next week promises to take the series in a new direction with the introduction of the character who’s probably second most prominent of all the humans in the OP, whose arrival should allow Gingitsune to expand its reach both on the human and youkai side of the story. I’m still expecting it to be mostly a slice-of-life that straddles the line between the two worlds, but within the context there are some highly engaging stories to be told if the series has the chops to pull it off. Based on this episode I’m feeling better than ever that it does.