Kamisama Dolls Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 300 minutes approx.
Idol worship is a subject that lends itself to many possibilities on the creative scope, from the cult of celebrity to the fantasy genre, and if anyone knows about both it is the Japanese. The idols in this case happen to be large wooden figures called Kakashi controlled by the minds of chosen individuals known as Sekis, normally found in a small mountain village of Karakami.
Tired of the strict restraints of the village and the pressures of being a Seki, Kyohei Kuga moves to Tokyo to start a new life. After a night out with another ex-villager, Hibino Shiba, Kyohei discovers a bloody corpse in a lift. Kyohei’s younger sister Utao arrives with her Kakashi named Kukuri, formerly under Kyohei control, revealing the culprit to be Aki and his Kakashi Kuremitsuha, who had escaped from the village prison. Kyohei vows to help Utao learn how to control Kukuri, which necessitates a return the village where dark secrets are uncovered.
Kamisama Dolls is an adaptation of the manga by Hajime Yamamura that finished its run in 2013 after six years, which may explain why this series is something of a hodge podge of ideas and half-baked plotlines instead of the overarching drama the first episode promises. If we can count on one thing from anime it is that a good idea can be ruined by maladroit handling and succumbing to lazy conventions and cheap shortcuts to patch up the holes.
There is plenty of action to be found in this series and some fun humour but the latter is employed rather ham fistedly, creating many awkward tonal shifts and something of a schizophrenic narrative. Of course it doesn’t help that the plots flit between the central issue of Aki and his murderous spree and silly harem comedy involving Kyohei and co. on a whim, sandwiched in the middle of which is a very dark and unpleasant flashback episode explaining the genesis of Aki’s sociopathic behaviour.
Truth be told this is one of the stronger episodes in this set, atypical of the others that surround it, covering some sensitive topics in revealing the history of Aki and Kyohei. It revolves around a teacher at the village school who is blackmailed by the local thug, Kuremitsuha’s original Seki who believes he is untouchable, but is saved by both Aki and Kyohei. While Kyohei’s was being noble, Aki and the teacher get into a relationship that the thug finds out about and plots his revenge.
This is the most in depth look at any character’s past – including Kyohei’s – but feels wasted as Aki only appears infrequently throughout these thirteen episodes. Suffering a similar fate of flimsy fleshing out is Utao, who initially comes across as an independent young girl but quickly slides into the annoying little sister with a brother complex trope when her jealousy erupts after seeing him together with Hibino. Then in a poorly explained piece of exposition, an Utao look-a-like shows up, turning out to be her identical twin brother that she never knew she had – and neither did Kyohei!
The siblings move in with Hibino and her father leading to the usual array of awkward comedy missteps beholden to the harem genre, from the inadvertent bathroom intrusions to misunderstood sleeping arrangements. While Utao’s unhealthy adoration of her elder brother comes and goes, Hibino is firmly set in her cookie cutter damsel in distress fan service role, her unfeasibly large upper body a subject of humour and uncomfortable sexual attention, at one point even being described simply as “the girl with the big tits” to instant recognition.
But it doesn’t end there as in episode ten ANOTHER character from the village arrives, the snooty and bratty Seki named Mahiru Hyūga who is in love with Kyohei following an incident in the past which is recapped in a second flashback episode. Not only is it absurdly late to bring in a fresh character so late in the show’s run but Mahiru adds virtually nothing of value to the overall plot aside from another Kakashi to marvel at.
The Kakashi are a curiosity as they are meant to be wooden gods who choose their Seki, but it must be some divinely blessed wood since it is able to stretch, expand, retract, fire lasers and modify its arms to form hands or different weapons. It’s also ridiculously durable yet it doesn’t splinter whenever it takes a direct hit or gets damaged. The designs vary but stick to the uniform template of a single eye set it a huge spherical head on a thick shaft like torso. However it is difficult to take Kukuri seriously after seeing its puppet version in the episode previews, arguably a hilarious highlight of this series.
Artwork and animation courtesy of studio Brain’s Base is adequate, peaking during the battle scenes which are fairly spectacular but not always overwhelming. Character designs are quite unremarkable too yet carry a slight hint of trying something different from the norm, more noticeable in the female cast. But as the characters themselves are rather flat and switch between gravity and levity with too much frequency they fail to leave much of an impression.
Ultimately we have another example of how being a slave to clichéd templates and a surfeit of ideas leads to an unfocused narrative. When adhering to the main story, which makes up roughly five or six of the thirteen episodes, the potential for something interesting as a unique riff on the teenage mecha pilot concept shines through; it is the extraneous distractions of the ever expanding and undeveloped cast, puerile comedy sub plots and other nonsense which ruins this particular broth.
There are worse series than Kamisama Dolls and while mildly entertaining, its biggest crime is a lack of focus on its central premise. A sequel is hinted in the final episode but has yet to surface. I think that speaks volumes.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0
Disc 2 Only:
Rating – ** ½
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