Kamisama Dolls 01-08: Hands down, my favourite anime of this season
Also, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
A quick recap: Kamisama Dolls is the story of people born with the power to bond with, and control, powerful wooden constructs. These people are known as Seki, and their wooden mecha are the Kakashi. Only certain people born in a remote village have this ability, and the village keeps their power a closely guarded secret. The story is set in motion when a former Seki leaves the village, causing an imprisoned childhood friend to break free and pursue him to the city.
My initial impression was distinctly negative – because fellow blogger defrayal led me to begin watching from episode 4, in the middle of an action scene. I inferred that the whole anime was simply another action mecha derivative and didn’t consider watching it until boredom overtook me weeks later.
As it turns out, you can’t have mecha in an anime without some form of action, but thankfully these moments are few and only occur when truly necessary. But I was pleasantly surprised when I realized just how deep the story went. This isn’t simply a matter of kids with mecha bashing the sparks out of each other.
Because at its core, Kamisama Dolls is about power, how power corrupts, and how people deal with it.
One past episode just showed how deep that corruption went when the villagers all but worshipped one of their Seki, letting him get away with pretty much anything and ostracising the victim. There was one line in particular – “even if you’re a Seki, if you hurt someone in broad daylight…” Is that supposed to imply that Seki can murder as long as it’s not in the open?
And in the most recent episode, one character had an interesting take on the Kakashi – that all they can do is to murder and destroy, because they have humans controlling them.
At that point, I recalled an earlier episode in which the Kakashi were depicted in a flashback as helping the village with construction work. Right there, Aki’s statement is proven false. Or is it?
What he was driving at is the idea that given such power, it is only a matter of time before the Seki are corrupted by it. First they use the Kakashi for trivial activities, then outright intimidation, and before they know it, they’re on their way to senseless violence.
The scary thing is, he’s kind of right.
Because the person that came to mind when I was writing the above sentences wasn’t Aki, the villain protagonist/anti-hero, but Utao, the plucky kid sister who is filled with both innocence and determination.
She was the one who used her Kakashi when she couldn’t use the bus, then she began summoning it right off the bat whenever there’s an enemy, and eventually she’s more than eager to use violence to subdue her opponents.
Those situations are taken somewhat out of context, to be sure, but the point stands that it demonstrates a disturbing over-reliance on the Kakashi.
I like it. The fundamental question is not one-sided. Usually the abuses of power are solely from the antagonists, setting the scene for a self-righteous reactionary justified abuse of power by the heroes. This time, it’s the innocent girl who escalates first, responding to verbal provocation with disproportionate force. It makes you wonder: if a pure-hearted young girl can be so easily corrupted, how can anyone else be trusted?
On a larger scale, I’m also wondering why the village hasn’t revealed their existence to the world. Are they afraid that their secrets would be shared with the world, and so selfishly want to be the only holders of the power? Or are they simply biding their time and marshalling their strength? Why are they nurturing Seki when they don’t seem to do anything with them?
Hopefully this particular question will be answered, or at least acknowledged and partially addressed.
Another strong point about Kamisama Dolls is the cast.
Everyone behaves like they really are human beings. When they act rationally, they do not act as if they were supercomputers. When they act irrationally, they do not act as though they were 5-year olds. In short, they do not act as if their only purpose was to forward the plot.
As a rule, I don’t watch mecha anime, so I wouldn’t know too much about the genre – but this is the first story I’ve seen where the protagonist’s rejection of his abilities is short and sweet.
There’s no whining about how he can’t control it properly, no angsting about ‘wanting to be normal’. In a crisis, Kyouhei demonstrated his abilities, used them well, and simply gave up his powers because he recognized a darkness within him. He may have given up too easily, but he certainly didn’t spend episodes regretting or dwelling on it and simply moved on with his life.
But the best example would be Hibino. Introduced to the Kakashi, there was obviously some initial shock, but it faded quickly and she adapted to it. There was no inhuman facial distortion, no hypersonic screaming, no wild flailing to suggest that she was caught in an electric fence.
Another worth mentioning would be the general populace, specifically when they reacted to the Kakashi battling in the city. I felt that it was very well played. People taking footage on their mobile phones, gawking but not completely ignorant for their own safety. I especially like how it took a moment for the shock to set in – no one can logically process even a simple hypothesis such as “aliens” so quickly while the mind is still going “what is that?” and “omg explosions”.
It’s not perfect, mind you – there’s still the stubborn fanservice-ish/relationship-building moments where people go out of character, but moments are also very rare and far between.
Still, I am rather tired of male protagonists happily slamming bathroom doors wide open, or implausibly tripping and sprawling over the love interests, among other things. These plot devices are either painfully obvious or illogical – and they’re stale on top of that.
You might notice that I do not mention the blatant staring when the bathroom door is open. That’s because most guys would probably make the most of it. I honestly wish I could do the same, but the one time in my life I had a chance, I didn’t.
At least the responses to these aren’t as exaggerated. More props to Hibino for simply shutting herself in her room rather than going Narusegawa on Kyouhei.
I must say that personally, much of the appeal is from the Shinto references. I’ve always liked stories that deal with the supernatural and its place in the modern world. The Shinto approach to spirits lends itself well to such depictions, because the spirits are usually not all that powerful, they have their own lives to lead, and they tend to be as fallible as human beings.
It is interesting that the Kakashi are regarded as ‘gods’, or greater spirits, and the Seki talk to them, even though they’re merely wooden automatons. They do not seem capable of independent action, and are no more alive than a car is.
In light of Aki’s thesis that the Kakashi are as flawed as their human controllers, it could be posited that in the Kamisama Dolls universe, the Shinto spirits are so human-like because they’ve all been Kakashi controlled by humans.
The Hyuuga clan has an extremely powerful Kakashi named Amaterasu. In Shintoism, Amaterasu is one of the principal deities. And while I know nothing on the mythology other than the fluff from videogames, I always considered Amaterasu to be one of the most powerful, matched only by her brother Susano-o.
It would not be a stretch to imagine that in the Kamisama Dolls universe, the myth sprung up around the Kakashi, rather than the other way around. I don’t expect the author to have considered this aspect of it, but it would make for another interesting deconstruction of Japanese culture.
In summation, Kamisama Dolls hits all my spots. A deconstruction of the supernatural, dramatic, mildly slice-of-life, action not for action’s sake, and a beyond superficial examination of power’s influence on the human psyche.
I do note that there doesn’t seem to be one overarching plot as of yet. But if I were to guess, I would imagine it to be the Kakashi finding their place in the modern world.
Leading up to that would be Kyousuke’s and Kuuko’s investigations, Aki’s revenge and Kyouhei’s coming to terms with his power. Then on a lesser note, Utao’s training, Kirio’s and Utao’s reconciliation.
With 5 episodes left, there’s still more than enough time to ruin the whole anime, while various reviewers have expressed concern that it’s insufficient for a satisfactory conclusion. I’d have to agree. Amaterasu was introduced rather late, and seems like something that would be more suited as a teaser.
Which is why I’m hoping that in episode 13, Kyouhei will step up to the plate, become a Seki once again and defeat Aki, ending the season neatly.
Then I can look forward to a season 2 where we see what the Hyuuga plan to do with Amaterasu. Or is that too much to hope for?