by Julietta Suzuki; adapted by Tomo Kimura
published by Viz; $9.99 US
I hadn’t realized that I had two series by Julietta Suzuki to enjoy — after catching up on Karakuri Odette, I’m now diving into her most recent work, Kamisama Kiss.
It’s a bit more complex in premise than Odette, although sharing the concepts of young women helping others while finding their own identity. In Kamisama Kiss, Nanami has no money and no place to live. Her deadbeat father has skipped town to avoid gambling debts, leaving her behind to fend for herself. When she rescues a stranger treed by a dog, he gives her his home: a shrine. It seems he’s a local deity who’s been avoiding his duties, and along with the location comes his powers and responsibilities.
The other shrine denizens aren’t happy about this. They include Tomoe, a fox spirit (shown on the cover), and two cute masked helpers. Nanami and Tomoe spat from their first meeting, as he resents the owner’s abandonment of them, forcing him to do all the work. When she appears and then rejects her new position, Tomoe finally leaves out of frustration.
While a bit more complex in character motivations, Kamisama Kiss has Suzuki’s excellent character designs. Nanami is adorable, even while suffering, and Tomoe is creepily attractive (and a convenient fantasy figure for girls who like supernatural crush objects). There are also some action and fight sequences, as when Nanami runs from her new home when first scared by the inhabitant ghosts. Plus, some of the spirits resemble monsters, which allows Suzuki to be playful with the design of the supporting cast. The catfish princess is something to be seen!
The characters are frequently shown as being other than nice, which is refreshing. They get angry or upset or depressed or outraged; the spirits are particularly changeable, emphasizing how their motivations and purposes may not be the same as those of humans (especially those out to eat Nanami!). Tomoe and Nanami have a talent for saying the wrong thing to each other, as she despises his desire to be lazy, now that he’s not solely responsible for the shrine, while he finds it amusing to watch her chased by his fellow spirits. She’s too stubborn to ask for his help, although she does manage to trick him back into his role supporting her while she comes to accept her new position and the abilities and responsibilities that come with it.
Her role includes taking visits from neighboring demons and spirits. Nanami tries to help them in spite of knowing so little about their world. Her choices are often everyday simple options, unlike the mystical approach her new friends are used to. Her good-hearted willingness to try gets her into difficult situations, but together, Tomoe and Nanami will work things through.
This series, in comparison to Karakuri Odette, is more traditionally shojo, with stronger hints that Nanami and Tomoe will end up a couple and a more conventional heroine. As a result, I like it a bit less, but fans of such yokai-based series as Natsume’s Book of Friends will likely enjoy Kamisama Kiss.
Viz’s adaptation doesn’t convert the many terms relating to the spiritual beings to English, so I found myself frequently flipping back to the helpful page of translations for the meanings of terms like “tochigami” or “kami” or “shinshi”. I’m not sure that’s the choice I would have made, to have kept those Japanese words in the text, but fans of “authenticity” will likely appreciate it. (The publisher provided a review copy.)