Secret Santa Review: Kamichu, a God at Heart

by eternal on December 25, 2009

[naruko hanaharu]

What does it mean to be a God?

For most people, this is a question that is rarely seriously pondered – and if it is, it’s probably through the lens of theology rather than Japanese cartoons.

Of course, Koji Masunari‘s Kamichu is no more about theology than Fate/stay night is about mythology. The background setting of religion is an interesting means of portraying a fairly simplistic and heartwarming coming-of-age tale, not unlike the works of a familiar studio. It follows the old magic-as-a-metaphor trope perfectly, using fantasy elements to illuminate the development of a very down-to-earth protagonist.

That said, I don’t believe the story contains any concrete themes or specific metaphors. Instead, it’s more of a general feeling, a vague message everyone understands but no one can describe. At the very least, despite its abstract plot and childish imagery, Kamichu will get you thinking.

The most obvious (and arguably most important) thing a person can say about this show is the fact that it’s imaginative. On the plus side, it’s creative; on the downside, it’s a stretch to believe. The viewer’s suspension of disbelief has to be completely put aside for it to work – treat it like a fable rather than a fantasy novel. Much like Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, logic is not a factor – the plot takes a back seat to the surreal aesthetics and the character development.

Looking at it that way, Kamichu is most certainly a story of growing up. Yurie is a plain middle school student, no matter how you look at it – she’s clumsy and she lacks confidence, she forgets her homework like all of us. Even with her powers as a God, she can’t solve the problems that really matter to her. Like any student, she fights through school life while struggling to figure herself out, except that in this case she has the whole world to worry about.

It bothers me slightly that I couldn’t identify any specific symbols or metaphors in the story, but there’s no doubt that Yurie’s magical powers aren’t to be taken seriously or literally. Instead, it’s as if her magic grows alongside her, incidentally helping her gain confidence and mature. Like in many anime, her lack of confidence is manifested in the object of her affection, who she can only idolize from afar, even after becoming a God. The magic is simply an extra push to help her along.

Looking at it that way, Kamichu starts to feel more like a magical girl show than anything else. Like the iconic Cardcaptor Sakura, the fantasy of being a magician and fighting evil is nothing more than a gentle force following along in the sidelines, watching as the heroine matures. Without spoiling, the last episode of CCS solidifies the concept of magic-as-a-metaphor in my mind, and the middle school God Yurie is no exception to the rule.

In conclusion, Kamichu is a pleasing slice-of-life, magical girl, coming-of-age hybrid that delves into the innocent troubles of youth. So long as you’re capable of viewing the story figuratively and not questioning the incompetence of the Japanese military and the ignorance of Yurie’s parents at their family cat’s ability to use chopsticks, this series will provide a warm adventure through the wilderness of the teenage heart that puts even Studio Ghibli to the test.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

kadian1364 December 25, 2009 at 11:59 am

Although it can be seen as a coming of show, one doesn’t need to use some deep allegorical approach to appreciate Kamichu’s charms. All that it asks is to check your cynicism at the door.


Hisui December 25, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Narutaki and I loved Kamichu despite Narutaki’s reluctance to watch anything that could be called a moe show. I think it is a great show for anyone to watch young or old and moe fan or not. It just a refreshing show that infuses everything with a feeling of joy. Plus I loved all the charaters. I really liked Matsuri and Narutaki loved Kenji. I think the whole series has an added layer of fun if you understand the Shinto worldview but it is still super fun without that info.

I really loved your review. You really brought out why someone would have a good time with Kamichu! I hope that we can work together on another project some day.

BTW I am glad you threw that picture of the Fight Club with cats parody episode otherwise Narutaki would have to scold you when he gets back from vacation.


ETERNAL December 28, 2009 at 6:48 pm

@ kadian1364: That’s true. Like a lot of magical girl/slice-of-life shows, the feel-good tone is really what keeps people watching. I think that’s why the story felt like a more general coming-of-age s’life rather than an allegory with specific metaphors and themes.

@ Hisui: I’m glad you liked the review! It was a very enjoyable show, and the whole Secret Santa project worked out quite well (for me at least). I’ll keep an eye out for whatever you guys plan next~


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