I think it should be said up-front, Gingitsune is not a show for cynics. At least, it’s not for cynics who don’t welcome the opportunity to check their cynicism at the door once in a while and bask in the warmth of a show like this. Gingitsune is more idealistic than it’s cousin Natsume Yuujinchou (which in-turn was more idealistic than Gingitsune’s second-cousin, Mushishi) – this is a story where kindness and respect for all living things are both a means to a better end and an end in their own right. There’s pain here, certainly enough acidity to keep the series from becoming cloyingly sweet – but the heart of Gingitsune is clearly in the camp of optimism and nobility. And there’s not a thing wrong with that.
I was certainly laying my hopes on the arrival of Satoru and Haru (turns out she is a girl, by-the-way) to elevate Gingitsune from a pleasant diversion into something truly meaningful, but it’s safe to say the change has been even more dramatic than I hoped. The difference in gravity and emotional heft is profound to say the least, like one of those before/after diet ads that are always too good to be true. I think it’s possible that Satoru’s harsh back-story – and the parallels with Makoto, limited though they are – may end up giving her storyline more depth, but even if it doesn’t the mere presence of this new thread has made the entire tapestry far more compelling.
Among the many things I liked about this episode was the symmetry of how Haru’s story led into the present day. Through a flashback to 80 years into the past, we see a sad event – a young fox following its mother across the road is hit by a car and killed. A young man named Seigo happens to be riding by on his bicycle and after a futile trip to the vet (or more likely, the town doctor), decides to give the fox a proper memorial at his Shrine. This boy is Satoru’s great-grandfather, and it turns out that this small act of compassion causes the fox cub to be reborn as a Herald after her spirit follows Satoru into the Shrine.
The salient point of all this is, it’s this small spirit that winds up giving comfort and compassion to Satoru, three generations later, after he’s lost his parents and grandfather and inherited the sight. This is a very Buddhist take on paying it forward, and it’s central to the perspective of Gingitsune and what it represents. Small acts of compassion are their own reward, and they make the Universe a better place – and by doing so, improve the lot of everyone who resides in it. Idealistic? Heck yes – but that’s Karma. Buddhist compassion and the Shinto reverence for nature are intrinsically linked in Japan, and I suspect it’s the fact that they’re so much under threat in the current society that makes stories like this one resonate with Japanese readers and viewers.
The other standout for me in this episode is Tatsuo, Makoto’s father. It’s been a good year for Dads in anime, and Tatsuo is a great example of the quiet hero here. He doesn’t have the sight, he’s not the true inheritor of the Shrine, but he has the compassion and the decency to always try and do what’s right. In taking Satoru in even temporarily he’s displaying it, but in his unassuming way he makes sure Satoru knows that this isn’t a duty, it’s a privilege – and that the boy can always look on Saeki Shrine as a refuge. It’s a refuge he needs, with the barely masked resentment of his Aunt having driven him away from his own Shrine (at 1200 years old clearly one of considerable importance). This also means leaving behind Otomatsu, the old Herald who stayed when Satoru and Haru left. I suspect that when all is said and done, Satoru will come around to wanting to claim his family inheritance and become the 76th Priest of the Shrine (sadly he should have been 77th, but tragedy prevented that) but that can wait for a few years into the future.
In the present, the drama plays out as a result of Satoru stubbornly wanting to do what he sees as the right thing even if that means even more personal unhappiness, and that means pushing Haru to go back without him. It’s a given that the tsundere old Gintarou will get involved at some point, but he takes his time. What Gin wants, clearly, is for Satoru to come to him himself and ask for help, because Satoru is the one who needs to decide what he really wants to do in this situation. Haru is indeed “in too deep for a Herald” as Gin says – she’s bonded more with the human than with the Shrine itself, and of course the lives of Heralds and humans being what they are, this will mean an unhappy end for her eventually. But the nature of Haru’s existence – how she came to be a Herald in the first place – seems to me to bind her more closely to the family than to the place (I think this explains why Satoru can almost see her, even before he’s supposed to have inherited the sight), so her loyalty to Satoru seems like the most natural thing in the world.
Of course, truth be told, I would have happily sat through the episode just to hear Miki Shinichirou do his Kanemoto Hisako impression and it would have been worth it. But happily it delivered the goods all-around, giving us an unapologetically sentimental conclusion that was earned by the events leading up to it. It’s impossible not to be reminded of Natsume Yuujinchou because the emotional pull on me is very similar, but Gingitsune has its own identity that’s distinct from that or any other series. Happily though what it shares with Natsume is highly appealing, not least a great seiyuu delivering a bravura performance at the heart of the series. Gintarou certainly isn’t a new type of character but he’s somewhat different from what we’ve seen before – he seems to see the world from a larger perspective, perfectly (if perhaps precariously) balanced between his connections to the humans who can perceive him and his timeless connection to the land. That’s a very strong basis around which to build a story, and right now this was is working for me on all levels.