This is an odd sort of show, the kind (always welcome) that doesn’t lend itself to easy characterization. More and more these days production committees want to churn out series that slot very nearly into demographic boxes, but it isn’t immediately obvious what box this show falls in – it reminds me of Inu x Boku SS in that way. Therefore it isn’t remotely surprising that both are published in Gangan Joker, nominally a shounen magazine but one that – as with most Gangan imprints – loves to blur demographic boundaries. If the Stalker numbers are to be believed Gugure! Kokkuri-san may do pretty decently (not great) on disk, and tellingly with a near 50-50 split between formats – always a good indicator of a show that’s finding both male and female audiences.
As with the last episode, this one wasn’t one of the outright funniest episodes of Gugure! Kokkuri-san, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective – or that it didn’t have some very good laughs. As with many a good anime comedy this one is flexing its depth more and more as it progresses, and I think Shigraki has had a lot to do with that. He’s been a welcome addition indeed, because his character is probably the most nuanced and difficult to pin down in the cast. His relationship with Kokkuri-san is also a big factor, which I’ll touch on more in a minute.
There’s no doubt that Kokkuri-san’s forced transition to female form has been played for comedy, but that’s only part of the story. In part, his plight has been portrayed pretty sensitively – it’s clear that Kokkuri-san has some genuine angst over this. And then there’s Shigaraki, with whom he clearly has a complicated relationship. Kokkuri-san goes at Shigaraki like he does at Inugami, but there’s clearly something much more here – these two have a history and it’s not unilaterally contentious. In fact I think it’s becoming clear that they were once (and maybe still are) what one might call friends – and not only that, but that Shigaraki may in fact be the only person that Kokkuri-san could call a friend.
As a result of that when Shigaraki seemingly decides to put the moves on Kokkuri-san seriously, it’s a little complicated. At the heart of his plan is a trip to an onsen resort (I also went to the onsen today – what a coinkey-dink), won via spending most of his allowance on lottery chances. Kokkuri-san accepts, on the (interesting) grounds that he and Shigaraki used to go on trips together all the time as part of their “Seniors Club”. But Kohina and Inugami are quick to call it a date, and Kokkuri-san only accepts when Shigaraki tells him there’s a curse-removing hot spring in the town they’d be visiting (seriously, Kitsune – you of all people are going to trust any tanuki, especially that tanuki?). Tama muscles her way into the group by forcing Inugami to come along in chibi form as the family pet, and the fun begins.
As you’d expect from a hot springs episode in this show, there’s a lot of good comedy here. Yamamoto-kun happens to be staying at the same ryokan (apparently even alien little boys blush when their crush shows up) and gets in some good E.T. moments. Shigaraki tries to peep in the women’s bath – a bath in which Inugami has joined the others in female form, expressly to put the moves on Kohina (yes, that’s creepy). And when Shigaraki finally agrees to help Kokkuri-san find the curse-removing bath, they find the likes of “Bath that removes curses turning you into a panda” before finally finding the right one. Except it has a disclaimer which Kokkuri-san doesn’t see until after she’s already immersed: “Does not work on older women”.
I won’t read too much into the gender politics of the interaction between these two old roommates (steadfastly spied on by Inugami and Kohina but not Tama, who’s content to purr in the bath), but it is interesting. Kokkuri-san’s frustration at the traditional gender boxes Japanese females are forced into is almost certainly a pointed commentary, and in Shigaraki’s tender advances there seems to be something like genuine romantic infatuation. The great thing with Shigaraki is that you can never tell where the shapeshifting stops and the real guy begins, though, which is why he’s so interesting.
When Shigaraki finally manages to kiss Kokkuri-san in a surprisingly tender moment, the true trolling nature of the Ichimatsu curse is revealed – it only reverses itself when the cursed engages in an intimate moment with a member of the opposite sex (damn, Kohina’s clan is seriously fucked up). The ending is classic Gugure! – comedy and seriousness hopelessly entangled, leaving us unsure where one starts and the other begins. That makes Shigaraki a sort of poster child for this series as a whole – charming and funny, sneaky, and very tough to figure out.