19 December 2014

12 Days of Anime: Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha.

Early this year, there was a little series about a girl named Fushimi Inari, a curious and generous kami named Uka-no-mitama (also known as Inari), and the girl's wish to change - to love - and be loved.
It was called "Inari Kon Kon Koi Iroha", a title very loosely rendered as "Inari, Transform - the Alphabet of Love" (my own render, not official), which was a bit of a long title. Funimation in their simulcast shortened it to "Inari Kon Kon", but subtitled it into English and made the videos accessible via streaming on their website.

So I watched it.
The best way to describe it is as a Shinto magical girl series: the girl Inari has long had a fondness for the local shrine she grew up near. And one day, she's having a bad day - the boy she has a crush on doesn't notice her, her friends don't seem to understand  - and she sees a little fox-pup in danger. She rescues the fox-pup, not thinking much of it, but the fox-pup turns out to be a divine messenger - the messenger of Uka-no-mitama, a kami of fortune and harvest known better as Inari. In thanks, the kami grants some of her own power to the girl, the girl Inari, the girl can transform into any human shape she wants - whether it's the girl next door, a classmate of hers, or a businesswoman. But also due to the kami giving some of her power, the girl and the kami are linked - and the rest of the kami don't quite approve or know what to make of things. It was a generous gesture on the kami Uka-no-mitama's part, but what does it mean for the girl Inari - or Uka-no-mitama - or the other kami? Let alone the relationships they have with each other and with their friends? And will Uka-no-mitama, captivated by the human world, have a friend?
Turned out this series was airing right when Kill La Kill was finishing, so it provided a wonderful break from the over-the-top bloody nature of Kill la Kill; it's sweet, and seeing Uka-no-mitama being captivated by things like video games and how humans live gets a bit adorable. 

But as someone who likes hearing about spins on folklore, this was a series that I was immediately attached to: not only is it, like Eccentric Family in 2013, a series that examines humans and kami and yokai, but in this case it examines the beloved kami of Inari and re-imagines key kami like Amaterasu as well. To what end, other than a story? Who knows. When this was coming out, just like with Kill la Kill, there were some shakeups with the secrecy bills in Japanese politics, as well as the far-right nationalistic contingent in Japan; right now, there has been a snap election called, with very little change aside from the notably interesting fact that the Japan Communism Party now has enough seats in the Diet to submit bills. Is Japan reaching back to its old stories and re-imagining where they fit? Who knows.

As for me personally when I watched it... well, I like Inari. And Charles, god bless him, made time for us to sit down and watch some of it in between analysis of Kill la Kill when I told him about it offhandedly. It felt like the magic you read about Christmas being like, the fuzzy warm feeling of familiarity mixed with imagination: the elf is in a different place, or the cookies are baked a bit differently, or your favorite blanket and hot cocoa (with a book, of course) seems like a great way to spend an evening, or seeing your favorite coffee shop do their seasonal lattes again. It felt like coming back to something I've loved since I was little, even though in the case of Inari Konkon and many of those holiday associations, I never really experienced them in the first place. It's a nostalgia and hope and it's strange to try and unravel it, so I don't. I didn't even want to analyze this anime much, I just wanted to sit and enjoy the little personal dramas of the characters as winter eased back into spring. Like the girl Inari, I too have felt not at home in my own body; like the kami Uka-no-mitama here, I too have wanted to do good things for others, only to wonder about my own happiness.

Under the title "Inari Kon Kon", this is available via Funimation here: http://www.funimation.com/shows/inari-kon-kon/videos

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