What They Say:
Everyone knows that it’s a really bad idea to play the Kokkuri game by yourself. After all, when you start randomly summoning ancient spirits, you never know what kind of ghost or oni might show up, or how long you may be stuck with them.
Unfortunately, tiny Kohina does lots of things that are bad for her, including living on a diet of instant noodles. So when she decides to play the supernatural game alone, she’s incredibly lucky that she summons Kokkuri.
He may not be the most powerful fox spirit, but as soon as he sees the doll-like girl in a house filled with pasta, he knows that she needs a protector more than she needs a good scare. But fulfilling that goal is going to require more than just a Ramen Exorcism, because Kohina is a very strange little girl and it seems that Kokkuri isn’t the only mystical being who’s interested in her in Gugure! Kokkuri-san!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track only in its stereo form encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show is one that’s mostly dialogue based with some exaggerated moments of that with a mild bit of “action-ish” material. So it’s a fairly straightforward kind of design that the encoding captures well. The forward soundstage has its moments of directionality from time to time and there are some amusing bits where placement and depth are useful, but for the most part, it’s the kind of mix that’s not all that noticeable but is certainly serviceable and gets the job done without issue. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback as everything played through cleanly and clearly.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs in a nine/three format, giving it plenty of room as it’s a monolingual release. Animated by TMS Entertainment, the show has a solid enough look as it captures the design and style of the original manga itself as it’s not one going for big detail or realism in the backgrounds. The character animation gets more of the attention with some good design work and color quality that has some real pop along the way, but the transfer handles the various red hued scenes with the sunsets very well. The small moments of vibrancy and really nice and I definitely like how the character designs turned out as they’re fairly fluid when needed and have some good color quality and solidity to them.
The packaging design for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover goes for the familiar promotional image we got early on with the main cast standing alongside a massive ramen cup with Kohina standing atop it. There are some good key elements to show that are brought into this, including the outsized importance of the ramen, which has it ticking all the right boxes for what it needs to do. The detail is nice and the positioning is definitely fun across the board. The back cover goes for the blue and orange design well enough with some cute artwork along the top and some very small shots from the show within the main block where the breakdown of the premise is. The shots are pretty much negligible in influencing anyone over a purchase because of their size and the premise itself can be a little rough to read depending on the lighting with black on this shade of blue. The remainder is given over to the standard production and technical information, all of which is laid out clearly and accurately.
The menu design for this release is simple but cute and effective as we get different static images for each disc. The use of some very detailed backgrounds is nice change from the show itself, such as the first menu in the shop with all the groceries and food in the background contrasting with the simpler but more colorful character designs of the various spirits in their physical form. And naturally, Kohina stands out as well. The navigation is kept along the right side of the screen where we get a nicely stylized blocking system in a vertical form that breaks down the episodes by number and title with a mix of red and blue with a dash of purple because why the heck not. The layout is simple and easy to use and with no language submenus and nothing but the show itself on the first disc it has a very clean and almost elegant design about it that’s problem free.
The extras for this release are definitely fun as we get the original eleven bonus episodes that were created for the Japanese home video release. They average about three minutes and are largely done in the same manner as the show. These actually work better than the main show in some ways because the quick hit of humor and weirdness feels like it flows a whole lot better. In addition to these, we also get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Based on the manga series of the same name, Gugure! Kokkuri-san is a twelve episode anime series that aired in the fall 2014 season. Animated by TMS Entertainment, the series has a fair bit of material to work with as Midori Endo’s original work began in 2011 and now has nine volumes to its name, making it an ideal one-cour series. Animated by TMS Entertainment, the show works a very different design than most comedies these days do since it keeps things mostly narrow in its focus and especially with its cast. With really only four characters working throughout this with a few nods elsewhere from time to time, that allows the show to really dig into those characters but also loses some of the variety that comes from a larger supporting cast, locations, and situations. It’s a toss-up whether it works or not but I think it worked against the series.
The premise of the series is simple enough in that we have a young girl named Kohina Ichimatsu that’s apparently living by herself these days. There’s no real reason given to this other than the setup itself as we see that she’s doing a peculiar job of it. She keeps herself clean, she attends school, and she seems to be doing fine with her health, but she’s got her quirks. She’s very quiet and solitary and her main focus is eating nothing by instant noodles. She also does her best to protect herself from others by calling herself a doll, which means others don’t try to become her friend and largely leave her alone. It’s exactly what she wants – for the most part – and people are willing to give it to her. With everyone not feeling the same way about how they want to live, a live and let live mentality toward someone like Kohina can work. But since we’re missing the context of how the situation came about and that she’s an elementary student, well, cause for concern.
What change enters Kohina’s life is when she plays the Kokkuri summoning game and that fox spirit shows up. Having watched her for some time, Kokkuri decides that he intends to become her guardian and take care of her because someone has to. There’s an undercurrent of material within the series about this because Kokkuri has the problem of being an immortal/god of sorts and human life goes by far too fast for them to become truly invested in when you get down to it. But he laments at one point that not attempting to become invested and connected means a lonely life because others of his kind aren’t exactly the most engaging of companions for a variety of reasons. So he wants to do this but there’s a cost to it in the grand scale. Kohina is one of those people that pushes him into doing it, though the cost here is certainly greater since she’s a real handful to deal with. But it’s these kinds of back and forth elements between them that make his investment worthwhile as it makes him feel alive and challenged in ways that others spirits simply can’t offer over the course of the boredom of immortality.
The dynamic between Kohina and Kokkuri is a lot of fun because she’s definitely an intense young child with few words to say but cutting ones when she does say it. With her particular character design and size it just gives it greater impact as well because there’s such an edge to it. This is well balanced by Kokkuri and his more outgoing ways to try and reach her, which is what makes the pair fun to watch. Kohina’s other quirk of being super into instant noodles is a big part of the show as she’s always eating them it seems and her quest for them, constant thoughts of them, and general love of them permeates everything. Seeing how Kokkuri and the others have to balance against that is definitely well played as it’s something that definitely fits for her age and what she may be struggling with in using them as a coping mechanism.
Along the way, the show adds two main supporting players with Inugami, a dog spirit that really loves Kohina and is completely subservient to her in many ways, which means she’s easily manipulated at times. We also get Shigaraki, the old tanuki spirit that drinks and smokes and is eternally poor because of bad life choices, causing him to try and crash. He’s the more enjoyable of the characters in a way because he’s so bad at things while trying to come out on top. When he tries to change his form to that of Kohina in order to fool Inugami at one point it’s priceless because it’s so shoddily done and obvious you can’t help but to laugh at it. Shiragaki’s not a deep or rich character but he breathes a little something different into the show with his usage that definitely helps it. With the other two trying to be so helpful in their own way with Kohina, his methods are a little different and he almost hits that curmudgeon note.
With some decent elements at play here, Gugure! Kokkuri-san is a show that I still struggled with a lot. Part of this is just the whole marathon aspect of it as I watched it over the course of a day (with many breaks in between). Comedy shows of any nature really need that so that it doesn’t get driven into the ground, but this show is almost a deadpan kind of series where it’s going for such specific style and intent that you really, really, have to connect with it for it to work. And while there were many gags that worked and interactions that did, the more that it went on the more that I felt like I was waiting for the right element to click for it to work for me. The humor is a little more subtle here in many ways and it requires going into it with a real sense of what that is for it to definitely fire on all cylinders. I loved all the stuff with Kohina and her noodles but a lot of the other gags just felt incomplete, like setups without a full or proper payoff.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san has a lot of neat ideas to it but it really just didn’t gel together in a way that felt complete and engaging. I could pick apart pieces from each episode that I liked and end up with probably half the episode that didn’t do a thing for me. Which is why I probably found the bonus shorts more engaging because it felt like that’s how the entire show should have been done. They could have had a year of shorts that were tighter and more engaging. The show works its style well and for those that it clicks with you’ll love it and really crave more since it’s not a standard kind of show in a lot of ways. Sentai put together a solid enough release here, though it’s no surprise it wasn’t dubbed, and with the inclusion of the bonus episodes, it definitely makes it worthwhile for fans.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, 11 Short Eps, Clean Opening and Closing Animations
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 12th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.