Some series are love at first sight, some more of a slow build. It’s definitely been the latter for me with Gingitsune, which started out with a couple of episodes which only mildly engaged me. But this was a show I really wanted to like, both because it’s relevant to my interests and because it obviously has a lot of heart. It started to close the deal with the third episode, easily the best to that point, but the event I’ve had circled on the calendar was due to happen this week – and it had the desired effect.
As far as those first two eps go, they were quite pleasant in their way but the margin for error with pure slice-of-life is pretty thin with me. I didn’t much care about any of the plot developments and there was a bit too much Tamayrura-like cute-girls-being-cute and universal positivity to them. Last week’s ep took the show to the spirit world for its inspiration, with strong results – it had a wistful, bittersweet quality to it that raised Gingitsune’s game to another level. And now the arrival of Kamio Satoru (Ono Kenshou) makes the human side of the equation far more interesting that it was before (and this episode also featured the strongest visuals so far).
I’ve called this series “Natsume Yuujinchou Lite”, and that was before the arrival on the scene of the orphaned teenaged boy who can see youkai. Those comparisons will only increase now, though I think if anything Satoru points up the differences between the two series as much as the similarities. The back-story is that he lost his parents in an accident, and lived with his Grandfather at the familial Inari Shrine until the old man died. That meant Satoru inherited the sight far too young – just as Makoto did, though his situation is more grave. His guardians and foster siblings (like most of Natsume’s) aren’t especially kind to him, and the situation seems to have spiralled out of control until Tatsuo’s old Master (the connection isn’t clear yet) asks him to take the boy in.
There are certainly echoes of Natsume there, but Satoru reacts to the rough hand life has dealt him quite differently – he’s become angry and isolated, maniacal about kendo and pretty anti-social. That frames his situation in quite a different way, and while it initially looked as if his appearance was going to be played in a light-hearted manner surrounding Makoto’s unease with a boy moving in, it takes on a much darker tone. Satoru has brought the Kamio Herald, Haru (Fujimura Ayumi), which is a problem for many reasons. Without its Herald, the Kamio Shrine will go to seed – something Satoru knows full well – but the little Fox Herald (I’m not sure if it’s a boy or girl) is dedicated to him more than the Shrine itself.
This, for me, is exactly what Gingitsune needed – not only does this help balance the cast, but more importantly it injects a much-needed jolt of acidity into the very sweet flavor palette. There’s nothing trivial about Satoru’s problems and he’s a genuinely difficult person, for good reasons. It’s clear his prickly nature is both a defense mechanism to avoid getting too close to anyone and a practical effort to do the right thing – he’s mean to Haru because he wants Haru to go back to Kamio, placing the fate of the Shrine above his own happiness. Haru
him her itself is a difficult little spirit, a bit of a brat – for though Haru is old by human standards at 80, for a Kami that’s a baby. This places Gintarou is a rough position, because he’s not really supposed to have an outside fox at his Shrine to begin with, and the role of the irritable but wise elder spirit suits him to a “T”.
There’s a considerable irony here in that Fujimura Ayumi also happens to have played none other than Takeshi Natsume – the young version that we saw in various flashbacks over the course of Natsume Yuujinchou. I really wonder when I see casting like this whether the producers are having a laugh with us or what, and to have Satoru’s familiar played by Natsume is indeed a strange sort of synergy. It’s also notable to see Ono Kenshou join the cast – he was superb in Ghost Hound as a youngster but hasn’t been much heard from since until he reappeared last year in KuroBas and Magi. I like Ono a lot when he has a character with a little emotional volatility, and he’s very good here in a role that demands a good deal of emotional conviction. I like where Gingitsune is and I like where it might be headed even more – I think the series has leveled-up in a big way and the best is yet to come.