Kamisama Dolls – 08 review

The one thing you can learn from this picture is that even the creators of this series can’t take Utao seriously as a character.

After the dramatic revelations of last week how the tragic life of Sensei actually did involve more dark secrets than tragic innocence this week goes back to the series usual mix of Slice-Of-Life and action. This episode covers the exciting adventures of an inn-owner who doesn’t prepare himself for an arriving typhoon and Aki trying to tell the naive pair of Hibino and Utao that Kakashi actually aren’t fluffy teddy-bears.

Summary:

The episode starts with Koushirou trying to reconcile Kirio with Utao but it fails since Kirio just walked away mocking Utao. Later back in Tokyo Kyohei, Hibino and Utao take the chance to go to the beach as offered by Murata, a friend of Hibino’s father. Arriving there Utao’s dreams of enjoying her stay at the beach are squished by a typhoon. In the following night as the typhoon gets worse Utao has to use Kukuri to save Murata and Hibino. The next day is sunny and Hibino and Utao go to the beach while Kyohei and others tries to repair the damage of the typhoon.
Again in Tokyo Hibino takes the lent books of her father back to the city library. As Utao hears about how big the city library is in contrast to the one in Karakami Village she’s excited to see the city-library. As Kyohei comes back Hibino’s father finds out that he has forgotten to give Hibino one of his lent books. Kyohei takes then over for Utao who takes that book then to city library so that she can see that place. As Utao leaves so do all the customers since they apparently only come to see Utao or Hibino and Kyohei and Hibino’s father talk about Karakami Village. They both realize that they can’t cut their connection to that place and even if they’ve left behind their life in that village it’ll come back eventually to haunt their life.
At the library Hibino meets Aki by chance and they end up talking about Kyohei and Sensei. As Aki threatens Hibino Utao arrives and catches Aki’s Kakashi off-guard. They then go to a nearby park to finish the fight between Aki and Utao. Later then in the park Aki says that Utao’s control over Kukuri has gotten better and the fight between the two Kakashis seems to be at a stalemate with Utao having a slight advantage. While fighting Utao and Aki discuss the purpose of the Kakashi. Aki thinks that the Kakashi are only tools of destruction and murder but Utao argues that by saying that the Kakashi are there to protect people. But the discussion is cut short by Aki winning and he leaves without damaging Kukuri in a permanent way or hurting either Hibino or Utao.
Back at home Hibino and Utao are in despair because of Aki’s vicious opinions about many things and the scene ends with Utao asking Kyohei in tears whether Kakashi are really evil because they have human hearts. Kyohei consoles her by saying that since they have human hearts they are only what Utao wants them to be.

It’s always nice to see anime-characters taking a hard stance on matters of sexual harassment even if said characters are just little kids…

Review:

This episode was rather good in comparison to that melodramatic mess of last week. And it slowly becomes clear what Aki and Kyohei motivates as characters and the finale could get really good if the episode tries to deliver on the promises of the dialogue of the second half of this episode.
What the second half really showed and that far better than the last episode was showing through the dialogue what it wanted to say instead of this sledgehammer-drama from last week. Especially good was how the episode tied the first half to the second half by showing that Utao’s actions with Kukuri during the typhoon were a direct example of what Aki and Utao were talking about. Even if it may not be a masterpiece of subtlety it showed that Utao didn’t defend her view out of blind conviction but by having experienced that the Kakashi can indeed do good instead of only evil as Aki thinks. Of course when I said that it lacked subtlety I meant that like that it’s already obvious what the series wants to say in the end and who’s good and who’s bad in this discussion which doesn’t leave much room for any “moral shades of grey”-tropes.
While the plot-structure ultimately may have been good this episode was plagued by really abrupt scene-transitions. It didn’t seem to me like the series has done this before but here there were things like when Kyohei sends Utao and Hibino to the beach and in the next scene you see Hibino standing in front of her father taking his books from the library. There’s no comment about what happened between these scenes or how much time has passed. It’s the baffling sort of change of scene that may work easily on a bookpage when you can easily mark stuff like that as “End of chapter…” or “Chapter whatever”. But on the page this is easier to take than an abrupt change of scenes on the screen.

“Murata had heard from Hibino’s father that Utao had the strangest smile one can imagine but it wasn’t until that moment that he believed him. And to be honest, he actually thought her smile to be rather creepy than just strange.

And another thing this series still hasn’t learned: humour. It’s bad, really bad. I can only sigh when this series tries to be funny but becomes so unnatural and awkward in its presentation that the scenes just aren’t funny. And especially Utao suffers from this bad humour because this series really likes to show her how she acts all cute and dumb without any real personality behind it. Hibino as character hasn’t got any development either and she’s still the same bland personality she was from the start. It might help if her father might spill the beans how he has raised her without her mother. Her father whines too much anyway, he’s only a passive bystander for all the crap that’s happening lately around his place. It’s not like his past has come back to haunt him, he isn’t the main-character. He wasn’t even there when the “Sensei”-thing happened.
Also in retrospect this episode didn’t really show the necessity of last week’s flashback. Although that flashback did explain what happened to Sensei and how it involved Kyohei and Sensei but it didn’t seem to mean anything for this series. Aki and Kyohei still had to explain their reasons for the events of that flashback and the few remarks in this episode told more about those characters than the whole story of that flashback did. It seems like this flashback was more about Sensei than Aki or Kyohei but Sensei is just a past to this series and her importance with her role in the flashback completely exaggerated, I think. Sensei shouldn’t have been the most important factor in that flashback, her influence on Aki and Kyohei was but the creators went instead for the tragic tale of Sensei and the details of her fate are just a sidestory to the mainstory of this series. With that her fate was just extra information but nothing necessary to know.

There are a lot of good ideas in this episode but somehow these are constantly used in a flawed manner that decreases them to a simplified state of an obvious duality between good and evil and characters that are right when they are good and misguided and wrong when they are evil. But a rather good second half and a thought-through plotstructure make this episode a good development for the series to set the stage for the finale.

Episode-Rating: 7,5/10

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on August 24, 2011, in Anime, Kamisama Dolls, Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m surprised you did not mention the ping-pong nature of this show (severe mood whiplash) and Utao’s attitude towards dolls. In one scene, she is rescuing people with her doll and in the next she is crying about how dolls are always used for destruction. When she started crying into Kyouhei’s chest at the end of the episode I just didn’t care because she shouldn’t need Kyouhei to tell her that dolls are not inherently murder machines. It was supposed to be a heartwarming scene where Kyouhei says “Don’t listen to the bad man, you’re still a good person right?” but it was him affirming what is already obvious. Utao has saved countless people already and somehow Aki’s comments shake her to the core. Should she even consider someone as ax crazy as Aki’s opinion seriously? Her attitude might be justifiable if there was a lot of collateral damage, and people died as a result of her battles, but that never happens. Not once. All the doll related deaths are just Aki murdering people independently.

    Another point of the episode and others, which bugs me, is the protagonists’ casual interactions with Aki. He is a crazy sociopath who has already mentioned his desire to kill Hibino but I guess that makes a fine conversation buddy. The sane thing to do rather than gingerly probe the serial killer for cryptic answers, just ask Kyouhei… about everything. Ask what the viewer wants to ask “Why is Aki so obsessed with you?”

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    • @Ren:
      “I’m surprised you did not mention the ping-pong nature of this show”
      Well, I’ve tried to settle for the mood in this episode and hoped that the following episode would go on with. That simply after the flashback the series would go single-mindedly towards the finale.
      “Utao has saved countless people already and somehow Aki’s comments shake her to the core.”
      As I’d hoped watching this episode was that this would be the main-theme, showing Aki that the Kakashi aren’t inherently evil and that Utao can’t respond to Aki, well… she is dumb after all. I don’t think this series wants her rather to be meek and embarrassed in such a situation than being resolute (that’s something saved for the finale). Utao is a rather obnoxious character because of her incompetence and I’ve heard that this episode actually follows another fight between Kirio and Utao where she could prove that she isn’t entirely useless. Instead we’ve got this fast diplomatic finish of this week’s episode which is rather anti-climatic.

      “Another point of the episode and others, which bugs me, is the protagonists’ casual interactions with Aki.”
      I think the series wants the audience to sympathize with Aki à la “Oh, so he had his reasons for murdering a dozen people, well, he isn’t so bad after all then…”. It’s the same thing like with Sensei: The series take this trope of “nasty realism” by a more psychology-oriented characterization but the plot doesn’t want to admit that using this tropes means that there’s no good and evil anymore, morality becomes a big grey zone of uncertainty and subjectivity. But with notions like the Kakashi actually being good and the Hyuga-Clan being the “big mean guy with an evil plan”, this series still clings to this conventional notions of good and evil. And bringing this together creates this absurd situations where character like Aki that is neither good nor evil is seemingly treated like good or bad depending on the point of view this series takes when it’s in a period where it clings to the good-evil-concept.

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  2. When I said “mood whiplash” I also meant just within the episodes. The episode might go from slice-of-life to moe to fanservice to action to incest joke to drama, in record time. You also mentioned the awkward scene transitions where you start from point A and get to point C next scene.

    When I look at Utao’s character, I don’t think of her as dumb. I think the clumsiness is just to crank of the moe fanservice and less to do with the integrity of her character. I mean, you wouldn’t describe Kyouhei as clumsy but he has a knack for tripping and falling into Hibino’s boobs. Utao can be adorable and has her funny moments but her stupid mistakes are a tired joke by this point. Kyouhei as an accidental pervert is also such a cliche trope I don’t even roll my eyes anymore.

    I’m not sure why Hibino is even a character. It’s not like she has a strong connection to the other characters. Her investigation skills are also lacking but then we wouldn’t have an anime if she asked Kyouhei for the complete truth, now would we. At least she isn’t being used for a damsel in distress. Really, the only characters of any importance in the series are the Seki’s and Kyouhei. Everyone else just exists for the setting or for fluff. Hibino, her friend, her father and her friend’s father are not important. The Hyuuga and Kuga families are not important (as characters). The family that fixes dolls is not important. The teacher is only mildly important, and just has influencing a part of Aki’s psyche.

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    • “When I said “mood whiplash” I also meant just within the episodes. The episode might go from slice-of-life to moe to fanservice to action to incest joke to drama, in record time. You also mentioned the awkward scene transitions where you start from point A and get to point C next scene.”
      Hmm, what did you think about the 9th episode then? Of course Kamisama Dolls hasn’t that great of a plot-structure to begin with but the only time where it was really a “mood-whiplash” as you describe it was this episode in my opinion.

      “is also such a cliche trope I don’t even roll my eyes anymore.”
      Of course, it’s a cliché but I think it is a bad way of storytelling to just randomly insert cliché-moments because of how silly the characters would look like if you ignore that the story just followed a stereotype at this point. And giving a character too much of such cliché-moments like they do it in the case of Utao just makes her character kinda one-dimensional and that makes her then dumb in my eyes especially when it’s a cliché of the clumsy and moe-silly kind. Forcing clichés upon characters is plot-convenience anyway because most of the times it doesn’t have anything to do with the characterization (like Kyohei having clumsy moments again and again that lead to these embarrassing scenes although these fanservice-scenes ignored one wouldn’t characterize him as clumsy) or the plot for that matter because the moment just seems random and without any narrative consequence.

      “I’m not sure why Hibino is even a character.”
      Hmm, I think, she has two purposes: One is that she pushes dramatic exposition by knowing completely nothing about what’s going on and is therefore on the same level as the audience which makes her questions about the plot also the questions of the audience and with that as Hibino gets to know the setting the audience also gets to know the setting (well, at least I think that was partly her purpose, it’s not like Kamisama Dolls was very smart using her for that part since she isn’t a real kind of investigative character) and the other purpose of her is of course to get a romantic subplot within the story and have a love-interest for one of the main-characters. They didn’t do much with that besides making it obvious where the whole thing will go and having a few useless fanservice-moments which weren’t very subtle and good character-moments obviously.

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      • “Hmm, what did you think about the 9th episode then? Of course Kamisama Dolls hasn’t that great of a plot-structure to begin with but the only time where it was really a “mood-whiplash” as you describe it was this episode in my opinion.”
        I haven’t watched episode 9 yet but episode 1 (probably others as well) really stood out. Here is a quote concerning mood whiplash from the TV Tropes article for Kamisama Dolls.

        “Seems like a slice of life show about a college student having his first romance. Let’s watch the awkward flirt — whoa, dead bodies in the elevator. Okay, let’s forget that for a moment and go back to flirting. Scary robot. Cute little sister. Epic battle. Panty shot. Epic battle. Incest joke. Epic battle. Mysterious conspiracy. And back to flirting. And that’s just episode 1”

        Maybe this is a symptom of shonen anime where the writers feel the need to insert random elements of comedy to ruin their action/drama (I’m looking at you Bleach and Full Metal Alchemist!) but the villains in Kamisama dolls are not the least bit hammy, and are usually quite insidious, so we end up having awkwardly inserted comedy/fanservice via Utao acting like a dope. It doesn’t happen all the time, and the fights between dolls are dynamic but when it does, it’s rather jarring.

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