I’m not trying to make Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha into something it isn’t. I recognize that this show isn’t – for example – Gingitsune, or even Natsume Yuujinchou. This is a conventionally plot-driven romance-oriented series with broad comedy that happens to have strong Shinto themes, not a slice-of-life or a philosophical musing. And I’m good with that – many shows that meet that description (with or without the Shinto themes) are on my list of favorite series.
That said, I really think this series is better when it steps off the gas a little and lets things play out at a pace where we can appreciate the subtler pleasures it offers. That’s a problem when a show only has ten episodes in which to tell its story, but for me it’s the main reason why this episode was so much better than last week’s rather breathless affair. In fact I’d go so far as to say this was the best episode of Inari, Konkon so far, and by a not inconsiderable margin. The fourth episode was when Gingitsune really closed the deal with me, stamping itself as something more than a pleasing distraction, rather a truly excellent series with its own story to tell and style to tell it in. And that may just have happened with Inari, Konkon this week.
The thing about this show is that it has so much natural charm and it’s so naturally cute that it’s more effective when it doesn’t try so hard to be cute and charming. Everything clicked this week, including seemingly minor scenes between the Fushimi siblings and their parents. I loved their reaction when Touka informed them of his suspicions about his sister (“Ha, ha – graduation can’t come soon enough!”) and the sequence where Inari’s mother strapped her tightly into her yukata. This was charming in an effortless sense – very natural and unforced, unlike some of the frantic efforts of last week.
Some will dismiss scenes like these as “slice-of-life” moments, but there’s nothing wrong with slice-of-life – and it happens to be a mode this series does quite well with. Very much in the same vein is Inari’s meetup with Sumizome, and their bonding over shoujo manga, and then Sumizone falling for Sanjou (while seeing her as a boy character from one of Inari’s manga) after she rescues Sumizome and Inari from Uka’s creeper brother Toshi. Likewise the way Marutamachi later becomes jealous when she picks up on this vibe – none of this is spelled out with dialogue, but it’s obvious to see. Again – very natural and unforced, and that much more convincing for it.
The meat of the episode is Inari’s interaction with Kouji at the Fushimi Inari (the Jinja, not the girl) Obon Matsuri. There’s nothing like a summer matsuri both for general atmosphere and romantic development, and this one delivers on both fronts. I’ve been to Fushimi Inari (the Jinja, not the… never mind) many times but never at night, and this episode really makes me long to see it like this (even if there was a lot of CGI of middling quality). Of equal importance is the fact that Inari and Kouji are a terrific on-screen couple, and while their relationship does flirt with being overly cute it’s never yet crossed the line. Yes, we’ve seen Inari’s flustered reaction when Kouji shows up at the festival many times in anime, but it was nicely handled (I quite liked it when she fretted about everything, got to “My face!” and sighed “There’s nothing I can do about that…”).
Likewise their time together is a joy to watch and again (there’s that word) natural. What I especially liked here is that there were no gimmicks or tricks or freak coincidences that set back the development – the two of them genuinely bonded and the spark of romance grew, and it was allowed to do so in a straightforward way. These were just baby steps – they’re middle-schoolers after all – but we don’t have to labor through endless foreshadowing and delaying tactics, wondering if their relationship will ever get off the ground. That was one of the better first dates in anime for a while, and refreshingly straightforward too.
The other element that’s clearly developing is the link between Uka and Touka. I couldn’t help but notice that just as Uka admitted she was a bit jealous of Inari and Kouji, Touka showed up. Uka even calls him a “friend” later, but it’s clear she feels more than simple friendship towards him. Here we see that constant theme of almost all Shinto fantasy – the painful gulf between the lifespan of spirits and that of humans – raised by Toshi. It’s a valid point used for nefarious purposes – his aims are clear, but he’s not wrong that it’s a huge barrier. I see some equating Touka and Toshi but beyond the obvious fact that both are strong-willed older brothers, as presented at least I see them quite differently. Toshi’s motivations are plain – he’s driven by self-interest and wants to possess his sister in every way. Touka, by contrast, has given us no strong reason to believe he’s anything except overly protective of his sister. And I think Uka’s clear regard for him supports the notion that his motives are honorable, even if his manner is sometimes off-putting. This is, in many ways, potentially an even more interesting relationship than that of the main pair – which for all its charm is basically an innocent first love. This is complicated, difficult and loaded with fascinating possibilities – and I hope we get to see some of them explored over the next six (damn it all) episodes.