Top 20 Anime of 2014 – #9. Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha

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#11. Denki-gai no Honya-san:
#10. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun:

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Possibly the most pleasant surprise of 2014, Inari Konkon was a show that I’d never heard of and did no research on, watched in one sitting, and was more than a little bit impressed by. I’m not a big fan of teenage romance shows or shoujo manga adaptations, so finding out that Inari Konkon was actually a seinen manga was simultaneously surprising, but also explained a lot.

Fushimi Inari is an ordinary middle school girl with an ordinary crush; but her relationship with a local shrine and the god that she didn’t know lived there puts her into an extraordinary condition, in which she finds herself with the power to transform into any other person of her choosing. The body switching power really ends up being just one small aspect of a character-driven melodrama, which is at times romantic, at times about the bonds of friendship, and at times about the problems that arise when gods and humans mingle together. In other words, there’s a lot going on in this show, and all of it is pretty interesting.

Inari herself is not an atypical protagonist, although her adorable mannerisms and superb vocal performance on the part of relative newcomer Oozora Naomi make her easy to like. Each of the characters was quick to have me rooting for them by the series midpoint, and the development which is meted out heavily in episodes four through six had me not only interested and engrossed in each of their personalities, but also in most of the potential romances springing up around all of them.

Beyond characterization, I think the biggest strength of this series is its sense of self-awareness towards teen romance tropes. It tipped me off initially with how Inari’s father is a shoujo manga artist, and with how most of the main characters are manga fans on some level; but the moment when everything clicked was when Sumizome revealed that she could detect Inari’s feelings towards her crush because the faces that she made when looking at him were the same ones that the girl in her favorite manga would make when looking at her crush.

Utilizing this self-awareness, Inari Konkon keeps itself from ever getting too melodramatic and heavy-handed, because it lets us know that we’re not necessarily meant to take each scenario as seriously as the main characters do. It’s like the show is taking a step back to look at these teenage girls and their problems from a more grown-up perspective, so that we don’t need to feel things as intensely as the characters do in order to connect with them. And I do think that a lot of people, especially a lot of young women, are likely to find something to connect with among the girls in this show. It’s surely worth mentioning that the woman who writes this manga has, in fact, written plenty of shoujo manga in the past and on the side.

In spite of that self-awareness though, there are times when the melodrama does become gripping because of how the powers of a goddess are tangled up in the mix. Inari’s teenaged problems often have more significant consequences for Uka-sama, the video game-obsessed goddess whose spiritual power resides inside of Inari, and since the pantheon of Japanese gods have a very different perspective with regards to the nature of humans and their emotions, they run into some pretty interesting difficulties when it comes to sorting out this situation.

Among the pleasant surprises in this series is how Uka-sama turns out to be one of the most interesting characters, and is almost as much of a protagonist as Inari, which keeps a lot of the often silly and mystical sub-plots surrounding the spirit realm interesting.

Production-wise, Inari Konkon is very pleasant to look at, with a relaxed color pallette, detailed backgrounds, and consistently well-done animation. More impressive than that though is the expert sense of pacing and directing, which allows the series to move deftly between a smorgasbord of different emotional tones. When Inari Konkon wants to be funny, the comedic timing is perfect and creatively directed, and when it wants to sell a memorable moment, it uses impeccable framing to do just that. It’s this aspect of it which makes the show feel so good to watch even before the characters have completely hooked you.

Unfortunately, Inari Konkon suffers one massive, perhaps even crippling flaw, in that it’s only ten episodes long. In spite of the original manga still running strong, with over eight volumes released, the anime adaptation still feels like it’s in the setup stages of the story by the time it’s over; and worse still, it doesn’t leave itself all that open to a sequel. The series rearranges different parts of the manga and presents its final episode as though the main plot has already been concluded, while leaving all of the many subplots freshly introduced in the previous episodes hanging open.

If the point of this anime adaptation was only to advertise the manga, then I guess it was a success, because it certainly made me want to go read it; but since the manga isn’t being released in the US, this means turning to slowly updating fan translations of a still-running series, which isn’t something I’m really up for. All of this is pretty frustrating, since I got so quickly invested in all of the characters only for the show to be over an hour later. As a result, this show falls a lot lower on the list than it probably would have been were it three times longer.

Nevertheless, I think it’s worth recommending, especially if you can see yourself picking up the manga afterwards. I think a lot of people will be interested to know that there is not only a heavier female character in this show who actually gets her own character arc, but also a girl who turns out to be a lesbian and pursues her own relationship, without the entire series being yuri-themed. If you’ve been waiting to see either of those things in an anime series, then Inari Konkon is definitely the show for you. You can watch the series legally for free on Hulu and Funimation, and a home video release has been announced for the US in 2015.

So, what did you think of Inari Konkon? Let me know in the comments below, and in case you missed them, check out my videos on #11, Denki-gai, and #10, Nozaki-kun, and stick around on my channel to see what my eighth-favorite anime of the year will be tomorrow!


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