Have their been many anime over the years as criminally underappreciated – or at least under-acknowledged – as Kamisama Hajimemashita? I can’t think of a lot. I’ve discussed the possible reasons at length already – the ease with which it goes about it’s business and the lack of push-button pandering, for starters – but it continues to fascinate me. There seems no question based on comments and ratings that the people who do watch this show like it a lot, but there don’t seem to be all that many of them – and even the ones that do don’t talk about it very much.
I know one thing for sure – this is a beautiful series in both the literal and figurative sense. The amount of screencaps I pull every week is just ridiculous – the editing process is brutal. But the emotions at play here are pretty beautiful too. TMS Entertainment has been on a pretty good run of late, coming off Gugure! Kokkuri-san last season – and this series definitely fills the same role in Winter. It’s the quietly brilliant character-driven comedy that has one foot in the mundane world and one in the divine, and likewise straddles the divide between madcap humor and melancholy.
There seems to be a growing consensus that this second season has thus far surpassed the first, and as much as I enjoyed the 2012 series I’m starting to agree. The ante has been upped here – the story has much more heft to it and the emotional palette is darker and more complex. Has some of the whimsy been lost in the process? Perhaps, but I think this is simply a case of Suzuki-sensei’s story growing and evolving. And Kamisama Hajimemashita still has the ability to pull big laughs out of its hat at the drop of a- well… hat.
One thing I believe most would find appealing about this series is that it actually allows the drama between the two leads to progress. Nanami has made her feelings for Tomoe known both to us and to him, and now we see Tomoe trying to come to grips with his own feelings for her. The episode starts with him imprisoned by Okuninushi for using his lucky mallet to turn himself into a youkai, and of course having given up his familiar status Tomoe is theoretically free of any attachments to Nanami.. It doesn’t work that way of course – Tomoe says himself that he’s “consumed” by her – and it’s Mizuki of all beings who points out the obvious to the imprisoned Tomoe (wooden bars are no obstacle to a snake).
Mizuki’s role here is very interesting – rather than focus on the expected repercussions by Tomoe for his failing to protect Nanami, we see Mizuki forcefully intervening on behalf of his mistress’ happiness. He knows the state of play, and he can’t be happy about it – but he loves his life at Nanami’s side anyway, and he’s willing to fight for it. One of the funniest moments of the episode comes when he hypothetically asks the now-pardoned Tomoe why foxes have no understanding of consequences, than says “It’s not about you – it’s about a friend of mine.” And later, he again hypothetically asks Tomoe “What’s it like to be such an idiot? I really want to know what it feels like.”
The dynamic between Tomoe and Nanami continues to be a fascinating one to watch play out. Tomoe really is an expression of the way the so-called tsundere character can be used in a positive way. We know exactly why he treats Nanami the way he does – the pain that’s caused him to be this way – yet while we feel for him, it still hurts to see him be so cruel to the girl who’s so kind to him. The gap between these two is deep and wide on so many levels – even something as innocent as inadvertently suggesting a three-way with Tomoe and Mizuki sets off a violent reaction. Nanami may be a Kami, but she’s still a child even in paltry human terms. She unhesitatingly starts to undress in front of Tomoe, and when Tomoe “plays rough” in a manner an ageless youkai female would likely find amusing, Nanami completely freaks out.
The crowing jewel of all this is the conversation between Nanami and Mikage, where the latter effectively spills the beans about why he’s left – he’s trying to wean Tomoe off of his dependence on him (and in effect, onto Nanami). But he tells her much more, too – about why it is that youkai with hearts unchanging for centuries are so reticent to fall in love with humans whose hearts change in a- well… heartbeat, as they desperately try and cram as much emotional connection into their firefly lives as possible. It’s the depth of Mikage and Tomoe’s love for each other that’s most powerful here, really – and while what Mikage is doing by trying to push Tomoe and Nanami together could be seen as cruel, in a way, it’s hard to see it as anything but honestly and kindly-intentioned. It’s a fascinating web this story has woven, and it grows more and more tangled with each passing episode.