Category Archives: Kamichu

The Melancholy of Kyousuke Tsutsumi or the Difference Between Normal and Ordinary

Lately I read a book that told the story of ordinary people doing radical things. They are not unlike you and I, with exception of their earnest belief that they are here to change the world in their ordinary capacity.

The fact that you and your neighboring commuter are traveling to work does not separate him or her from any other person commuting to work in the car or seat also next to you. What is different is beyond the ordinary–traveling to work–from the normal–that someone can tell all about you just by your commute. After all, if you’re reading this blog odds are you’re some crazy ass anime fanboy nut compared to the average person within a 50 meter radius of you. It’s not something you can easily discern usually. Yet,the cling to normalcy is a complex of an entire identity. A normal person is just that, normal. An ordinary person, however, doesn’t have to be.

Granted the distinction between ordinary and normal is nonsensical semantically, but it does serve to highlight the difference between something commonly seen versus the institution of conformity.

Ponder the following scenarios:

  • In Suzumiya Haruhi no Uuutsu, a girl who is fascinated with modern fairy tales of aliens, time travelers and ESPers, actually finds them hidden in plain sight, conforming to not just normal behaviors but stereotypes of aliens, time travelers and ESPers. Craziness ensues when male lead enters into the picture as a stereotypical, jaded audience of these modern fairy tales.
  • In ef – a tale of memories, the high school film club presses onward to produce a quality production, aiming to win a prize at a film competition. The main cameraman is seen as a person with some skill in the shots he take, perhaps impressionist, perhaps postmodern, but nonetheless draw fans and set the cameraman’s films apart from the common crop. However, rather than to be characterized through such distinctive streaks, the film club wanted to produce a popular hit with a film that conforms (realist?) to people’s sense of what is ordinary but yet captures the spark the star cameraman gives to his subjects. They are aiming for the grand prize, not one set for special but different films.
  • In Honey & Clover, an art prodigy escapes into secondary education to blossom under the care of her uncle in a university. She befriends a group of ordinary youth in a similar place in life looking for direction, for love, and for themselves.
  • In Kimikiss Pure Rouge, a 16 year old boy finds romance along with his wingman, a 17 year old girl, with another boy. Oh, the boy’s good male friend also finds his sister’s new friend somewhat cute? There be karaoke and giggles.
  • In Kamichu, an ordinary middle schooler is a Shinto deity in the flesh.

It’s ordinary, yet somewhat extraordinary. It feels attainable, its lure just within our grasp. For me it’s irresistible (at least when it’s done right).

There’s a thin line between what’s ordinarily extraordinary and what is just normal. I’m not sure where the line is, but you can tell when it stops being ordinary either by being just plain out there, or being just … a normal anime.

Capturing the tension that exists in the abnormal ordinary is a key element of a compelling storytelling style. Perhaps the biggest problem for the ef anime right now is that it is too odd to be ordinary, even if it is rooted so.

Kamichu Is Really Good

Working on my “short” list of things to watch when I have the time, as recommended by others and reaffirmed by my own investigation and feelings, I’m nearly done with this ZOMG HOW CAN IT BE show. Yea, Kamichu, the high-production-value slice-of-life series from 2 summers ago.

If you read reviews like how this guy writes it, then this sort of show will probably get labeled as some kind of “little gem,” “nice find” or something flattering but not really deserving your full attention. And case in point; he hasn’t even “found out” about this show yet.

And it bothers me–not that he hasn’t, but so few people did generally. And it isn’t really off to say that Kamichu is a “little gem” or what have you. To translate it into specific, non-layman,  critic-language, the overall enjoyment value (as Star Crossed seems to do reviews around that perspective) of Kamichu is actually relatively low for the mainstream viewer. It is by no means a page turner; it is very much a show aimed at an older crowd who knows a thing or two about politics, history, and their heritage (as Japanese…and maybe other cultures too). The fact that it’s about a bunch of 8th graders in Hiroshima back in the 1980s isn’t going to hit home for most people.

But to call it a gem is injustice. It’s not even a “diamond in the rough” but just plain-o diamond. It is episodic–so automatically that’ll turn away probably half of the western anime fans who feed on serial discourse and plot-driven stories. It’s masterful. It’s cute. It’s just oozing with goodness (albeit also often mixed with some sort of awkward pitch at…some kind of nasty subcultural segment–lolicons, sisucons, even hardcore Japanese right-wingers?). It wins awards.

Strangely enough I remained unconvinced of all the things I just said, in a way, at least until last week. Well, if you asked me back in 2006 if Kamichu was any good, I wouldn’t hesitant to say yes. But it wasn’t compelling for me; I had seen just the first half of the series at the time and while I can recognize that Kamichu is that rare little gem, it isn’t anything that special to me. Heck, it’s a 2005 series that I had seen only half of by 2007. I didn’t feel the magic.

But after watching the episode about Miko and Shoukichi I was floored. If Asatte no Houko episode 8 did anything for you, then you’ll see that this episode of Kamichu is a reprise (well, Kamichu came first), but with sugar on top. They managed to express as much in your usual 22 minutes of late-night TV as a typical arthouse OAV could.

And perhaps “arthouse” is the right qualifier for Kamichu. It hasn’t transcended below the ceiling of common, everyday sensibilities in the way how Azumanga Daioh (or better yet, Yotsuba&) was able to translate its strange worldview in a way we all understand. It paints a picture of adolescence that is wrapped and coated by its slice-of-life tension (ie. not much) and all that ZOMG-She-Is-God nonsense that is a little bit “out there” to say the least. But for those of us who can see beyond that, Kamichu is a masterful reprise of a childhood to remember and the fun people had growing up. It’s just too bad most people are hung up with the details, like myself, to go far enough and see Kamichu for what it is. But hey, I eventually got past it. Thanks a lot to those people who did see it and push it like the mad good anime that it is!

It easily is one of the best anime anyone can buy right now in the US I think. If you call yourself a slice-of-life fan, well, add this to your “very short list” already!