Every season as a show that eclipses all the others in how much my esteem for it grows during its run, and this season it’s definitely this one. Part of it is that Gingitsune has legitimately gotten better and better, and I think it’s also that the quiet, gentle charms of this sort of series wear down your natural resistance over time. I’m at the point now where I’m not so sure that this series is that much of a “lite” version of Natsume Yuujinchou – it has a very powerful charm in its own right.
I think think there’s a Seinfeld quote for every occasion in life, and for Gingitsune it’s Jerry telling George “I could read the sports section if my hair was on fire.” That’s how this series is for me – it’s just incredibly easy to fall into and escape for 22 minutes every week. It never tries too hard, and it never needs to – Gingitsune has the confidence to let the writing speak for itself. It doesn’t feel the need to finish every thought for the audience’s benefit, because the slice-of-life scenarios and emotions it depicts are so universal that anyone will get the point. Watching a show this natural and effortless, it becomes easy to take for granted that such things as Shrine Heralds are a real and functioning part of our world.
Almost as soon as these characters have become a treasured part of our lives, they’re about to leave us – it’s the curse of one-cour series – but the Summer Cleansing Ceremony seems to be a good point to leave things. This was every family gathering from my youth transferred to what would have then seemed to me an impossibly exotic setting – proof, I think, that the ways we’re all alike are much more important than the ways we’re different. Gingitsune isn’t a series that lends itself to having its charms easily explained, but I think those amiably chaotic scenes around the Shrine either work for you or they don’t (I’ve been using that phrase a lot for this show).
I loved pretty much everything about the way this episode was staged, starting with the quick visit with Tatsuo and Gin (LOL) watching a samurai dorama together like a pair of old friends. I love how Gin always springs to Tatsuo’s defense whenever he thinks Makoto is being too hard on him – not that Makoto is ever really that hard on him (even if she doesn’t tell him she wants to be his bride any more). I also appreciated the way Tatsuo as usual displayed peerless parenting skills, telling Makoto she should do whatever she wants to do (not that Makoto has any real idea what that is), and the fact that it wasn’t played up into a syrupy emotional moment – these two just get each other, so there’s no need to make a fuss over it. The same is true when Makoto asks Gintarou about her mother (and he lets on that she married Tatsuo against the family’s wishes) – there’s no overselling here, it’s just two characters who know each other extremely well and feel no need for any pretense with each other.
Things start getting cheerfully frantic when Tatsuo is running late and the workmen for the festival preparations start showing up. I’ve never yet seen a show that can’t be made better by adding the superb Hirata Hiroaki to the cast, so the belated arrival of Tatsuo with childhood friend and former Priest Takami Yoshitomo is most welcome. Yoshitomo still helps out at matsuri times, but he’s retired as a Priest to open an izakaya, and he’s yet another character whose interactions with the others are completely authentic and unforced. This series already had a great cast and Hirata-san is his usual irresistible self here, as a slightly lecherous but good-hearted bro who clearly loves both his childhood pal and the girl who calls him “Oji-san”. Also joining the party is the itinerant chauffeur Yoshizumi, and another new face – Tatsuo’s big sister Etsuko (Tanaka Atsuko, another sterling veteran seiyuu), who takes the girls shopping and is immediately drafted into buying Makoto new panties. Through the fact that she recognizes Yoshizumi it’s revealed that she and Tatsuo are actually the scions of the local sake brewery (also a big contributor to Funabashi’s father’s political campaigns) and, more importantly, that Tatsuo voluntarily gave up inheriting the brewery in order to become a Priest.
There are all sorts of entertaining, subtle touches as the events of the day play out. Through everything Gin and Haru watch with a slightly bemused (Gin), puzzled (Haru) air as the humans go through their paces. Hiwako-chan continues to crush heavily on Tatsuo, who’s absolutely oblivious, and Satoru does his best to disappear into the greenery every time a stranger speaks to him. And then there’s the ritual itself – where everyone who passes through the giant wreath will be blessed with a thousand years of life. It’s not meant to be taken literally, Tatsuo reassures Yumi, but the symbolism is powerful. There’s a truly profound moment where Makoto and Satoru each meet the eyes of their Herald for a long moment, all of them thinking about the impermanence of human life and the loneliness of a Kami whose long life is a seemingly endless succession of farewells. We don’t know this because the show tells us – we know because it’s so well-written that we understand it without it needing to be said. If there’s any moment that exemplifies why this is such a quietly beautiful series, this is surely the one.