Anyone who has watched anime for long enough appreciated the importance of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in the industry, regardless of how you feel about them. They set high standards with their production, seiyuus and stories. The question has always been posed – is it possible to create a Ghibli-like feel within a TV series? The notion sounds almost absurd when you consider that a Ghibli movie budget in recent times comes at around the $10 million mark, whereas a TV series gets about $120k per episode, equating to about $1.5 million for one season, on average. There are certainly plenty of TV titles made on much less.
Let me throw you another question. Is it possible for a person to suddenly gain the powers of a god/goddess and not abuse it, while also not being bland enough in the first place for it to be a non-issue? Light from Death Note let power go to his head and then some. Haruhi was effectively the goddess of her world (despite being none the wiser) but was hardly a glowing example. Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess was pretty soft and more of a harem device than a real goddess.
Well, it may surprise you that in 2005, there was a show made by Brains Base that did meet those criteria – Kamichu!, adapted from the manga by Mucho Besame. Middle-schooler Yurie seems like any other girl her age, until one day she is visited by spiritual deities and informed she is to become a god. Now it is important to note that Yurie doesn’t become a god of everything. In the world of Kamichu, there are millions of gods, reflecting a more Shinto-oriented approach to religion and the universe. Beaches, soba noodles, rain – you name it, it has a god to represent it. But in the opening moments of the show, it’s clear that Yurie doesn’t know what she is a god of. School friends that run the local shrine are keen to have Yurie act as a face to bring back favour to the shrine within the local coastal town. Throw in Ken, an aspiring writer around Yurie’s age who is somewhat cold and dense, being Yurie’s love interest – life becomes pretty hectic for young Yurie as she adjusts to become the centre of attention and taking her new powers in her stride, which is why I consider her precocious in a way, since Yurie takes this all in with rare maturity.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to compare Kamichu to some Ghibli titles in style, particularly Spirited Away. Rural setting, spirit entities living alongside people, a very relaxed mood with a young female protagonist as the lead character. But there are a few differences that allow Kamichu to retain its own identity. Yurie effectively carries the series by herself, the animation style falls somewhere halfway between Ghibli’s round, gentle style and the exaggerated cuteness of moe, but most of all it’s quite a pure story. It doesn’t have any of the continual preaching that sometimes hamper Miyazaki titles; there is no war/apocalypse. Yurie simply does what is needed when the need arises – from the quite bizarre to helping out a friend in need. Yurie’s humility and resilience are key to her appeal and form the basis for the show to draw from.
And I’m not kidding when I say Yurie carries the series. She is the only character with a good deal of air-time. Any secondary characters mainly serve as a source of motivation or direction whenever Yurie is struggling. To prevent the lack of character development becoming an issue, there is an emphasis on taking a very laid-back, parody-oriented approach to the whole scenario of Yurie being a god. Yurie’s little trio of assistants that appear from Episode 4 onwards make for good comic relief. One scene where Yurie talks down an entire platoon of soldiers into standing aside while she can barely contain her nerves is just priceless. It has been said numerous times that power corrupts all. Well, not everyone – Yurie is so pure of heart that she always strives to do the right thing and resolve a situation in the best interests of all parties concerned with minimal conflict. Another essential component is the animation – it’s gorgeous. There’s a rustic romance to the setting of Kamichu! with some degree of moe but not to the point it will leave your stomach in throes a few hours later. Singer Mako precisely conveys Yurie’s personality and is a standout seiyuu choice. The production quality is a rare example where you can say a restricted budget was well executed throughout the series. The opening and ending themes reflect the gentle, warm feel of summer that are prominent vibes throughout the series. In terms of aesthetics and Yurie’s ability to light up the screen, Kamichu! excels in those qualities.
However, those said qualities also impose restrictions which considerably limit where the show can go. The pace of the show is slow overall and some are slower than others – I did find myself struggling to keep focused during a couple of episodes. Very little changes by the end of the series and one really doesn’t get to learn much about the characters at all due to the episodic nature of the show. It would have been nice for an episode or two to show more about Yurie’s friends, maybe, to help build a connection to the cast beyond Yurie. In the case of Yurie, since she was simple to begin with and remains so, although she is more confident and self-reliant by the end. There is a strong focus on simple values like friendship and memories, which again impose their own restrictions and occasionally material seems a bit repetitive. It’s never made clear whether Yurie has a specific type of power/assignment, which ends up leaving a convenient way of Yurie being able to do anything under the sun. And every young male in the show is rather cold, which is somewhat perplexing. Yes, the focus of the series is more on the girls – no surprise for a series with some moe elements. But having the guys be almost glacial in nature doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. In a sense it’s almost the opposite characterisation of Natsume Yujinchou, which placed focus on males, bishounen qualities/art-style, rare appearances by females but similar content regarding spiritual entities and a relaxing mood.
All in all, Kamichu! was a series I felt fortunate to have been able to seen. It’s a charming series that chugs along at its own gentle pace, not being deceiving about what it’s going to offer you. Yurie is the star of the show and carries it from start to finish. One liking the show is reliant on liking Yurie but since she’s a well constructed character full stop, that should be possible for a lot of people. If you’re looking for a title that is cute without the sickly sweet aftershock, Kamichu! will probably fit the bill nicely. Don’t disregard it because it aired before the moe craze truly took off in 2006.
Overall Score: – 8/10
General Score: – 7-8.5/10
Essential viewing for: Those looking for a nice way to chill out in a light-hearted way
Don’t watch if: You live for explosions or moe overload
Kamichu! was licensed in the U.S. by Geneon and redistributed by Funimation, but that has recently expired in August. There is no indication of a likely re-license from Funimation.
Next in the ‘Precocious Girls’ series is a 2006 series that is perhaps less recognised than Kamichu, but is a real gem that is thankfully still licensed by Sentai Filmworks – Living for the Day After Tomorrow.