Gingitsune continues to prove itself to be supremely adept at presenting the pure slice-of-life format in many different permutations. In a sense this episode is to the endless schoolgirl kuuki-kei series clogging our screens as Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou was to K-On!, albeit with a bit less (though by no means an absence of) satire. Admittedly it was only one episode, but that’s about as much as you’re likely to see of a male-oriented pure atmosphere series in this day and age.
What Gingitsune makes clear is that the problem isn’t with kuuki-kei – the problem is that these days there’s too much of it that isn’t especially well-written, and too little variety in the genre. It isn’t just a question of too much a good thing – though there is an element of that – but also too much that isn’t all that good. This series is a marvel of balanced tone, quiet self-confidence and dry wit, with just the right element of fantasy to give it a slightly exotic air.
Gingitsune proved with an episode focused on Hiwako – and ever more, the man who drives her around all day – that it can go very deep into the cast and still be entertaining. This episode was much safer ground, because Satoru is probably the most interesting of the human characters – his story is the darkest and has the most pathos – and while any episode that has a minimal presence by the Heralds is diminished by their absence, it wasn’t so noticeable here as in the Hiwako episode. And there was just enough of Gin and his sharp and knowing gaze to make his presence felt, even if he wasn’t saying much.
Satoru is a very serious kid – you can practically already see the worry-lines he’s going to have from struggling to hold his emotions in-check all the time. We get a glance of what his school life is like, and as you’d expect he’s fairly lonely – he’s the new guy who’s good enough at kendo to make the starting lineup, and the girls are swooning over him (in fact they’ve nicknamed him “Ouji”, a moniker he’d gladly do without). This is a very bad combination when it comes to other guys, and predictably there’s a healthy amount of resentment – especially from fellow Kendo Club member Kosugi Nanami (Yoshino Hiroyuki). Fortunately Satoru finds a mentor in the nick of time, the club captain Kinugawa Taisuke (Ono Yuuki – which now gives Gingitsune two Onos, two Sekis, and two Tomokazus).
This was another episode that I found very reminiscent of Natsume Yuujinchou, this time when it focused on Natsume deepening his connections in the human world. There’s no need to oversell the point here and Gingitsune doesn’t, but when you’re an adolescent there’s simply no substitute for having friends your own age and gender – it almost doesn’t matter whether you’re having fun at the time (and clearly, Satoru isn’t especially enjoying things like the arcade and Kinugawa’s boisterous tofu shop family) because it’s simply the act of spending time with those people that fills some kind of primal need in all of us, and eventually those kinds of things start to become fun after all. Kinugawa is an excellent addition – he’s very realistic, a slightly goofy but good-hearted sempai who’s smarter than he likes to let on. The interaction between he and Satoru is very natural (as most of the interactions in this show are), and when the bakayarou Seishirou (a childhood pal of Kinugawa) joins them things get agreeably goofy (“It doesn’t matter if you’re the Prince – I’m the King!”) for both Satoru and the audience.
This series always seems to boil down to the “it either works for you or it doesn’t” thing for me, which is why it can be hard to pin down just why it’s as charming as it is. One thing I can definitely say I like about Gingitsune is that it doesn’t always feel the need to finish every emotional sentence. In conversational Japanese many sentences just sort of stop in the middle, because it’s clear to the listener what the meaning is – “…” may be the most common “word” in spoken Japanese. Too many of these types of series (I’m sorry Satou Junichi, but you’re guilty as charged) seem to need to hammer the emotional point home till the audience is bleeding from both ears, but Gingitsune doesn’t feel the need to connect the dots – it trusts the audience to read the moment (a perfect example: when all the kids are musing about their futures) and understand the emotions behind it. That only works if a show is emotionally honest, but this is one of the most emotionally honest series of the year for me. A true quiet gem, and a shining example of what slice-of-life can be when presented with restraint and sensitivity.