Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens

Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens is a 13 episode series based on the manga by Eri Takenashi. The 13 episodes don't really finish the story that the manga continues on, but I'm not aware of another season being produced, so that's probably all there is. It aired in the fall 2008 season in Japan. The show is directed by Yutaka Yamamoto, the same man who was sacked after directing the first four episodes of Lucky Star for Kyoto Animation (there are a couple of humorous references to this within the show). Kannagi is from A-1 Pictures Inc. and Aniplex.

Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens is a comedy about high school student Jin Mikuriya. Jin, as a member of his school's art club, has been working on a wood sculpture of a shrine maiden, in the image of a mysterious female spirit he saw near a sacred tree as a child (he's used the trunk of the same sacred tree to make the sculpture). However before he manages to transport the statue, a teenage girl pops out from inside. She claims to be a goddess named Nagi, a goddess of the earth. With no other place to go, Nagi claims Jin's residence as her own and pretends to be a long lost half-sister as a cover so that she can freely move about and exorcise impurities from the area.

Things become a little more complicated when Tsugumi Aoba, Jin's childhood friend and acting guardian while his father is away, becomes aware (and jealous) of Nagi's presence. And things get even more out of control when Nagi's sister and fellow goddess Zange appears. As goddesses, the two girls compete to gain the idolization of the people in the town (and also Jin's personal affections) so that they can survive in a time when their believers have become few. They form fan clubs at school, work in a maid cafe, and other various things. But while Nagi's host is the statue carved from the body of her sacred tree, Zange's tree still stands, and Nagi soon learns that her sister has done something terrible and possessed a human girl's body.

For some reason, Nagi is unsure why she has manifested, why impurities are forming in the world and why they take on the form of insects. She suffers occasional lapses in her memory, and she also doesn't remember her first encounter with Jin years ago. It's almost as if the goddess in her is a split personality, because when it takes over her she blacks out and forgets what happened. Most of the story just follows the characters through their lives, as Nagi explores the world of the humans, Zange tries to outshine her sister's existence, and Tsugumi struggles with her feelings for Jin. The other members of Jin's art club - the bizarre (and often perverted) Takako, the enigmatic Shino, the obsessive otaku Akiba, and the very large (in terms of height and muscular build) and quiet Daitetsu - are usually involved in some fashion.

There are lots of things the story never gets to or just doesn't use. Nagi mentions that without believers she'll decay and disappear, but there's never any danger of this within the series. Tsugumi and Jin's relationship doesn't really go anywhere; there's some stuff about his past hinted at that involves her but it's not really explained. Jin and Nagi's relationship just starts progressing when the series comes to a halt. We know that Zange has taken over the body of a human girl (a girl who happens to have a crush on Jin), but she doesn't seem to be evil in any way (other than by antagonizing her sister). In fact, most of who Zange is and what she's really doing isn't touched on at all. You'll likely have to read the manga for that, which is unfortunate, because the anime is immensely more entertaining (not that the manga is bad, but you can obviously do a lot more with animation, and the show takes advantage of this). This isn't to say that the anime is in some way incomplete or disjointed or something. Yes, you feel that there are many things that don't get touched on, and that there are things left unanswered, etc. But make no mistake, the show is good. It's adorably animated (is that possible?), colorful, hilarious. You're definitely going to get a level of entertainment you won't get from the manga. Great animation and fantastic voice acting make this a show to love. It does get a little weird at the end; the first 11 episodes are hilarious from beginning to end (except the end of 11, which starts to feel a little like Evangelion), but the final two take on a more serious tone, and it's a little drab. Well, that's a bad term, because it still remains a good show, you're just not laughing every couple of minutes anymore. It ends with a good punch of hilarity though.

Image: Zange, Tsugumi, Nagi, with Jin in the back.


Yu Yu Hakusho Season 1 Box Set

This show is one of my guilty pleasures. It doesn't really have anything amazing going for it. In fact it's horribly cheesy, really looks its age, and comes from one of the genres of anime that I tend to hate. But it's so cheesy, and so ridiculous, and it's fantastic. It's a good show to watch when I just want to giggle a little at the jokes, or the absurdity of the situations in the story. The series succeeds at this, for me, exceptionally well. Also, when I first started watching it, I was crushing on Kurama (but don't tell anyone).

The season one box set released by FUNimation contains the first 28 episodes (out of 112) of the series on four discs, in a thin pack. The cases are clear with reversible covers (both sides are nice). There are some weird, amateur packaging mistakes. The episodes listed on the cases (as per each disc) don't match what's actually on the discs. All 28 episodes are still there, but each disc is off by one episode. Or, I should say, each disc has an extra episode more than what is listed, so they don't match up. It's not a problem for me, but it is kind of a strange mistake. I was also disappointed to notice that, while the first disc contains both dub-titles and subtitles (the second might have as well, I can't recall), the others only contained the subtitle track. Again, it's not a problem; it's the proper track anyway. Just, again, it seems a little strange and inconsistent. Regardless..... DVD extras include some helpful character profiles, textless songs and trailers. I do wish they had gone ahead and only put the first 25 or 26 episodes on there, because that concludes a story line. Episodes 27 and 28 start a new storyline that continues into the second season of the show. Of course, that means, if you want to see the rest you'll buy the next one, but it's a bit annoying all the same. Still, it's hard to complain about 28 episodes on 4 discs.

So here's the scoop:
Yusuke Urameshi is a fairly stereotypical high school delinquent. He skips school, gets into countless fights (and typically wipes the floor with everyone), mouths off to teachers, etc. One day while walking home from school, he performs the unexpected selfless act of saving a small child from being hit by a car, and it causes his death. Because of this rather uncharacteristic act of self-sacrifice, the Spirit World decides to give Yusuke a second chance at life - but with the condition that he must be a Spirit Detective on Earth.

The series then follows Yusuke with new found spiritual powers as he works together with his rival and classmate Kuwabara, an intellectually dense but spiritually powerful fighter, to track down rogue demons and humans posing a threat to the Spirit World (and to Earth of course). Along the way he meets up with the thief Kurama, a demon hiding out in a human body; and the mysterious Hiei, who uses a mystical third eye to augment his powers and skills with the sword. They all work under the guidance of Koenma, the son of the ruler of the spirit world, a strange looking toddler with a pacifier constantly in his mouth; and alongside the cheerful Botan, a cute looking death god.

The show is a fighting series at its core. Complete with training tournaments, battle tournaments, plenty of one on one fights and group battles, etc. But the story that's in there is good, and the characters are very likable...and there's only a handful of them, really, which is refreshing. Keiko, Urameshi's childhood friend (and eventual love interest), tags along with Yusuke when she's not somehow drawing the trouble to herself as well. Yukina, Hiei's sister and Kuwabara's love interest, an ice apparition. Shizuru, Kuwabara's older sister, who also has some spiritual sensibilities. And Genkai, an elderly martial arts master, and Yusuke's mentor.

FUNimation does a good job with the dubbing. I do think they dumb down the dialog a little bit, but it's not an issue because...well, we are dealing with delinquents here. It works fine, and it's hilarious. The voices are so cheesy, but they fit so well. The adorable Sean Teague is fantastic as Koenma, Justin Cook is a hilarious Yusuke, and Christopher Sabat is delightful as Kuwabara.

Image: Kurama, Hiei, Yusuke, Kuwabara, and Koenma (in adult form).