Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anime Review: Kannazuki no Miko

Kannazuki no Miko is not only a benchmark yuri title, it's one of the most hotly contested in its genre. It is the first yuri-centric series in which the main couple gets a happy ending together (in this case, the chance to "fall in love all over again"), but it isn't without its blemishes.

For the two people reading this blog who don't know, Kannazuki no Miko is about Kurusugawa Himeko, an average, guileless high school girl who has the two biggest stars in her school, rich ojousama Himemiya Chikane and childhood friend Oogami Souma, madly in love with her. On the 16th birthday that Chikane and Himeko share, one of the eight mecha-piloting followers of the evil god Orochi (in this case, a sexy "nun" in an itty-bitty outfit named Sister Miyako) attacks them because they're the reincarnations of the Sun and Moon priestesses who must serve the god of swords, Ame no Murakumo, and seal away Orochi- until Orochi breaks the seal and they have to put him away again.

Souma finds out that he's one of the Orochi (later, his long lost brother turns out to be one also- dun dun dun), but he rejects his fate and vows to protect Himeko. I still think that KnM has one of the best first episode endings ever- I love how the entire love triangle could have been resolved right then and there if Souma had looked down.

After Sister Miyako destroys Himeko's dorm, Himeko moves into Chikane's mansion, to the absolute delight of Chikane and the consternation of her lovestruck maid/childhood friend Otoha. (Not to mention Chikane's fans at school.) Chikane and Himeko keep trying to summon Murakumo, more Orochi followers attack (all of them more silly than threatening- catgirl nurse? Bored mangaka? Dull, muscleheaded thug? Snooty pop idol? Etc), Souma saves Himeko (and sometimes Chikane) again and again using his mech, Chikane despairs at having less power than Souma to protect Himeko, and Himeko doesn't have a freaking clue.

Where Souma is very open about his feelings but has limited contact with Himeko (i.e. they don't live/bathe/eat meals everyday together), Chikane keeps her feelings under a tight lid while constantly being around Himeko- even encouraging Himeko to go on dates with Souma. She's a pressure boiler waiting to explode, which Sister Miyako exploits after Chikane learns what happened in her and Himeko's previous incarnations. In episode 8, after Himeko buys coordinating pendants for her and Chikane, Chikane reveals that she is an Orochi a horribly gut-wrenching scene.

I understand that Chikane needed to make Himeko hate her, but there had to be another way to make the story work. If she had, for example, fallen down the stairs and broken one of her arms, then what would she have done?

This series manages to have a happy ending, if you watch past the ending credits.

Every reviewer is influenced by their past experiences when approaching any title. There is no such thing as an objective review. I have more of a bias towards KnM than most people.

Kannazuki no Miko is the series that made me a yuri fan. When I was a high school sophomore, the administration at the Catholic high school I attended told the students that we shouldn't join social networks because they were immoral, so I signed up for Myspace. While browsing AMVs on Myspace one day, I clicked on one that showed two miko standing in a field of yellow flowers. I looked up the show and began watching it on YouTube. It was addictive. I couldn't stop until I finished it, and by the end, I was happily crying over the ending. Kannazuki no Miko was described as a "yuri" title, so I started watching more shows recommended as yuri. KnM, Strawberry Panic (which I started watching about 10 episodes into its broadcast), Yamibou, Gokujou Seitokai, and Marimite were the shows that I cut my yuri fan teeth on, and Kannazuki no Miko, Strawberry Panic, and Marimite were "security blanket" shows when I was hyperventilating over what my sexual orientation must be.

How much do I enjoy KnM now?

Even though I knew what would happen, this series still tied my stomach in knots. All three of the lead characters torture themselves over their feelings and whether or not their feelings are requited, to varying extents. It's the worst for Chikane, who evokes the most pathos until episode 8, although Himeko and Souma have their own sad stories to make them sympathetic.

Unlike most KnM fans, I welcomed the Orochi and their silly mechs ("MEGATON KNUCKLE!!!") because they broke up the tense, emotionally fraught atmosphere. There are other humorous elements, like Himeko being a fan of Orochi villain Reiko-sensei's manga and Otoha's passive-aggressive behavior towards Himeko. I always especially like it when Himeko's roommate Mako rattles off the list of Chikane's suitors in the first episode.

Kannazuki no Miko is packed with anime stereotypes. The story set-up is pretty typical. Souma is the mech-piloting hero who saves the damsel in distress, Himeko, while a plethora of stereotypical villains attack under the leadership of a cackling baddie bent on destroying the world. The damsel in distress's (female) friend is in love with her, but she goes bananas, does something awful, and joins the Big Bad. Given this set-up and the year that KnM aired in, right on the coattails of Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito, there wasn't much cause to expect a yuri ending. But expectations were subverted. I just really wish that it had been done without rape. (Or after that, Himeko asking Chikane what she did wrong. Pissed me off.) Even before episode 8, Chikane's self-loathing, closeted angst is distressing, as well as the knowledge of what would happen in episode 8. I was still moved by the ending, especially when Chikane broke down and cried and when Himeko swore to find her no matter what she looked like in her next incarnation, as well as Himeko knowing that she needed to find "someone" after Chikane was erased from her memory. The epilogue was sweet also.

The fantasy window-dressing is pretty half-baked, but I like how it draws on Japanese legends. Orochi is based on the eight-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi who was slain by the storm god Susanoo after he was expelled from heaven. Ame no Murakumo is based on a sword that Susanoo found inside Yamata no Orochi's body after killing him. The title "Kannazuki no Miko" is a pun based on the lore associated with the tenth month of the traditional Japanese lunar calendar, when the gods are supposed to gather at Izumo Taisha. ("Kannazuki no Miko" can be translated as "Priestesses of the Godless Moon" or "Priestesses of the Godless Month.")

The character designs are appealing, even though the actual animation for them isn't very good. The soundtrack supports the show well, and it's pretty to listen to. (I usually don't pay attention to background music.) The voice acting is noteworthy for Noto Mamiko as Reiko-sensei and Ueda Kana as pop idol Corona, as well as Kawasumi Ayako's silky smooth performance as Chikane. (Which made me go doki-doki enough in high school to buy Kawasumi's "Primary" CD when I was studying abroad in Japan.)

Sentimental Value: A
Angst: A
Art: B-
Overall: B-

Edit: Added two sentences to the end of the third to last paragraph about the ending of the series.


Sheldor said...

KnM was my first yuri too. Aoi Hana was the title that got me into yuri but it was only up to episode 3 at the time so the honours go to KnM.

Unfortunately KnM suffers from being overhyped and overrated and for that reason it does receive a lot of (just) criticism. Personally, I can see KnM is very flawed but part of me just doesn’t care. I had SO much fun watching it back then, it is as addictive as you say. Things like the rape seriously bothered me and I found 95% of the characters paper thin but when you’re watching a yuri series with one of the best - arguably best - yuri confessions then part of me thinks you just gotta pick your battles lol. It was my first so I know I’m very forgiving but it’ll always keep very fond memories of watching the series.

Also the ED is epic.

I loved this review!

Katherine said...

Glad you enjoyed the review! ^^

Yes- the rape is a rusty nail stuck in the foot of this series, but I still liked the emotional confession and the crazy ending. (And the other good bits earlier, like the kaiawase beach scene and Chikane and Himeko's tea parties in the school's secret rose garden- which I always think must be a metaphor of some kind when Chikane tells Himeko to meet her there. lol) This review was tricky because I have some great memories associated with KnM (and I identified with Chikane's angsty feelings some years ago- not such great memories, but important), but I saw more cracks while watching it this time around. (I understand why people love it but I didn't love re-watching it.) I agree that it's been over-rated (partly because of when it aired and because it's been a yuri gateway for a lot of people), but I have never shown a clip of this series at my yuri panels without the people who haven't seen it being mighty intrigued. :-) (Just saying.)

And yes- the ED is win.

Duskren said...

Ahh I'm sure that was everyone's first yuri. I wasn't really sure what it was until I saw the end of the first ep and I was like..."Girls kissing? What is this anime of goodness that came upon my lap??" Even fought with my bro about it too. Ahh the good ol' days...

@Sheldor It's KOTOKO...come on, of course its gonna be epic. (personal opinion) The opening was pretty badass fact *goes and listens to it on her winamp*

@Kat I'm sure you know the rape part is worse in the manga. Made me cringe just reading it...made me cry watching it. Poor Himeko and Chikane. Also I enjoyed your review as well. I think it started alot of yuri stereotypes as well. I dunno... I hardly see alot of the butch-femme in yuri (personal opinion) however, they make it work with the softer tone feminine woman to the stronger, cooler one. Eh if it works, it works...

I feel kinda bad for Souma, he was actually a pretty solid guy. However, his emotions clouded his judgment a lot of the time which I thought was his which, Himeko was his strength as well as his biggest weakness...

That aside, I should have a Yuri week...Look what you did Kat! ( ^~)b

Anonymous said...

@katherine-chan-I love your review ..KNM is my first yuri too XD,i don't like strawberry panic though..i was wondering if you could translate himegami no miko for us?

Katherine said...

@Duskren- I have read the KnM manga. *shudder* ^_^; Even at the height of my KnM-love, I didn't think that it was good. lol

I credit the anime's superiority to Uetake Sumio, who was in charge of the series composition and the script for most of the episodes. (He's writing the Himegami no Miko web novel while Kaishaku churns out more Amnesian and, in doing so, is showing that he can write Kaishaku's characters better than Kaishaku yet again.)

You should read Yamagishi Ryouko's Shiroi Heya no Futari. The characters in it are the spiritual predecessors of Chikane and Himeko. And in Honey & Honey, Takeuchi Sachiko makes some interesting commentary about cool, "onee-sama"-type women falling under the "tachi" category of the neko/tachi dynamic- I remembered it when when you mentioned the soft, feminine/strong, cool dynamic between Himeko and Chikane.

@Anon- Kongetsume is posting translations of Himegami. Lethe has also has chapter summaries from farther ahead in the story on her blog.

Just to clarify- KnM wasn't the first yuri I ever saw, but it was the first title that I recognized as "yuri."

My very first encounter with yuri was Haruka and Michiru in the English language Sailor Moon manga that I bought in elementary school. Thanks to the manga (and my avid trawling of Sailor Moon fan sites) I knew Haruka and Michiru were an item when they were presented as "cousins" in the English dub of the third season. In the 6th grade, a friend in my school's anime club lent me her fansubbed tapes for the last few episodes of SM Stars, which had some Haruka x Michiru, and I rented the first four dubbed episodes of Utena from Blockbuster. A girl in the anime club also had the dubbed Utena movie on VHS, and all of the girls in the club passed it around and watched it. (A friend and I even made up a fan dance for our school's talent show that we choreographed to "Toki ni Ai ha." ^__^)

When I discovered KnM years later, the yuri grabbed my attention much more, and that's when I began watching shows specifically for their yuri content. (So, KnM was the first yuri series that I watched all the way through- like Sheldor-, without any stupid editing.)