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 is suitable for the title considering that it is only available in Japanese subtitled Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps. You are not overwhelmed by the studio’s need to cover dialogue with unnecessary music – they allow the characters to speak for themselves amid the silence of the Ichimatsu house. But at the same time, this lack of any background noise keeps what is used to a bare minimum, almost as if to accentuate Kohina’s lack of personality; and when it is needed, the accompaniments are brief and simple confined to a single instrument, but in themselves are quirky in the selection such as a pipe organ. However since the environments are not that varied: staying within the house, neighborhood and school, there is not much variety in the sound effects and are used only to accent comical moments. At times it is depressing, but as the series progresses and Kohina’s social interaction increases, the melodies increase in like manner.
However, even with these sacrifices, the series still has its moments within the themes of the show. The high energy J-Pop opening dance theme Welcome!! DISCO Kemokemoke is performed by Daisuke Ono, Takahiro Sakurai and Joji Nakata – the seiyus of Kokkuri, Inugami and Shigaraki respectively, with their characters prancing around a hysterical disco dance club; this nonsensical song encapsulates Kokkuri trying to make himself sound like the ideal guardian, while at the same time the others are pointing out that all the traits he treasures are actually unimpressive when compared to their own. Then to close the series all within Kohina’s unique friendships, the warm and endearing ending theme is This Merry-Go-Round Song, performed by Suemitsu Atsushi; it speaks to Kohina about while she is an unemotional person, it is not necessary to remember what happened but just keep the warm feelings inside. The song is made all the more effective by scrolling a comforting picture of each of the character with Kohina while it plays, reflecting on the times she spends with her companions.
This series is broken down into three disks spanning the breadth of twelve episodes, encoded in standard MPEG-1/2 DVD media format and 720×480 anamorphic resolution. The 16×9 aspect ratio playback is very welcoming for the panoramic views of the Ichimatsu house, illuminated by sunlight streaming through the windows and the and other interior luminary sources. However, the overall sense of the series is very gloomy, almost as if it is reflecting Kohina’s stunted emotional growth. While they do use beautiful watercolor influenced sunset and sunrise backgrounds amid a traditional Japanese style home, you cannot but be overwhelmed by the dinginess she brings to a room.
And then we run into the other problem of this series, the limited atmosphere. Since our main character is so emotionally isolated and does not attempt to make any friends, the scenery is restricted to her home, school and the immediate neighborhood. Therefore, there is not much change in the background – the only thing which changes are the cast and their interaction with the location. It is almost as if you are on a soundstage in which the studio has a very limited budget, so they try to save money by using the same backdrops. But as with anytime when this type of ignorance is attempted, you tend to ignore the redundant and concentrate more on the actors. While this might work for something like a play, it sadly also prevails for this show. Although they may try to change the terrain near the end of the anime, by then it is too late to improve the mood since we are set in how we see the characters.
Sentai Filmworks used a creative way to expose the viewer to the show by encompassing as much information into the front cover and overwhelming us with the nuances of this singular portrait. You cannot but laugh seeing Kohina standing on top of a giant cup of noodles, holding high over her head a ten yen coin, glowing in celestial glory, which started the whole escapade. Her chibi doll form is the compilation of a restricted world, with the Kokkuri-san board highlighting a night sky. Then to introduce us to her animal companions, the illustration has each surrounding the cup, grinning mischievously in their human form and their shadow casting a different shape in the foreground – their true form exposed for all to see.
However, while a truer depiction for the anime is shown on the cover, the imagery silk screened on the disks is a bit misleading. The overall mood for this show is one of an isolated girl who does not really open up until Kokkuri-san appears in her house; and once the rest of the gang begin to insinuate themselves into her life, the strangeness of the show really begins to blossom, turning her once boring existence into one of constant jokes. But, what does this strange comedy have anything to do with the picnic checkerboard that Sentai decided to use for the disks’ backgrounds? I can understand having each character’s portrait on the DVDs, but why use this out of place scenery when they could have chosen something much more appropriate? To be quite honest, looking at that brightness is painful considering the bleakness of the show.
While the same decoration which Sentai used for the silk screened disks is also used in this menu, somehow it feels a little more appropriate for this format, but not by much. At first the eye focuses on a soft background image of Kohina and one of her friends in daily life, but then is it visually assaulted by that same obnoxiously bright checkerboard foreground. This choice for the prominent accent is once again painful to see since the theme for the anime is her isolation, which you see from the gently silent nature of that calm illustration. All of the busyness of that pattern overrides anything set up from that imagery, and then to compound that affront by using the same bright color scheme for listing the episode names within such a small area does not help matters.
Finally, as if this optical confrontation wasn’t bad enough, we have to once again put up with Sentai’s repeated flaw in this area by the first minute repetition of the upbeat theme Welcome!! DISCO Kemokemoke echoing in the background; though this may have been done to get the viewer ready for the show with its energizing J-pop beat, it quickly gets tiresome once it restarts at the end of the cycle. Sentai should have given us an option to turn off the music, but they might not anticipated the viewer to spend much time in this area by driving us away with this endless, if however charming cacophony.
The extras for this collection are worthy of some redemption once you get past the same annoyingly loud menu decoration as used in the Main. While Sentai may have included the standard clean opening and closing animations plus trailers for their other properties, the real treasure for this area are the eleven shorts included in the set. Although they are only about three minutes apiece, the expanse of these omake equivalently allows us to watch more of Kohina and cohorts’ antics within the span of two regular episodes. And this is helpful in understanding some of the background jokes in the show since they concentrate on individuals more than the show as a whole.
However, as in the previous menu, the first minute of the closing theme This Merry-Go-Round Song still floats in the background. Although I can fathom the appropriateness for the main, why put it in a side section when all of their other shows have silence? While the melody is pleasing enough, I still don’t understand why put it in a place where most will only spend a few seconds before making a choice – seems like a waste of a wonderfully soothing tune.
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Kohina appears to be a normal elementary school student, however there is one major difference: she lives by herself, all alone. While she does not consider her life empty due to the ghosts which haunt her house, the small girl does occupy her time playing the game Kokkuri-san (the closest equivalent in Western terms would be a ouija board). However one night while entertaining herself, with shimenawa barriers and candles lighting the room in an appropriately spooky manner, something answers her call. At first, Kohina ignores the gentle voice, thinking it as some random phantom attempting to disturb her ritual. But as those same inflections become more persistent, a strange middle aged man with long silver hair and dressed in a white kimono appears outside the window. Thinking him just an annoying intruder, the young lady waves him away by locking the window; but once he cracks the glass to open the lock, this once charming person becomes himself displeased at Kohina’s constant chanting. He introduces himself as Kokkuri-san, the fox spirit which she has been trying to summon.
The pair exchange barbs as one tries to best the other, both stating that they did wish or want to see such an infuriating person this night. However, this all comes to an abrupt end once a curiously eerie sound echoes from a back room, causing Kohina to leave in haste. It is her kitchen timer, notifying the child that her cup ramen is ready and thus, it is dinner time. Alarmed by the girl’s nonchalant manner of slurping down her filling junk food meal, Kokkuri recalls the conversation they had in the other room – Kohina considers herself a doll. This little girl has been living alone for so long that no longer considers herself human … she is nothing but an empty shell without a heart. Her reasoning is simple: dolls do not get scared nor can they be emotional and at the same time, they also do not need friends. However once he understood her guiding precept, his immediate concern was to change her life by possessing the child. It would be his sole mission to turn Kohina into a fully functioning person, one who could make friends and also thrive off something aside from her beloved cup noodles. This revelation stunned the unfeeling doll. And once two spirits named Inugami and Shigaraki decide to join this dysfunctional family, she keeps asking herself: Why did she have to play that stupid game?
Gugure! Kokkuri-san may have seemed like a sentimental premise in which spirits enlighten an unemotional girl how to live a truly fulfilling life, but somewhere this anime lost its way. The manga by Midori Endo was originally composed of short strip comics which rarely were over four panels, so why did they decide to lengthen these ideas into something as involved as a show? Through this theme the studio is able to compose an interesting opening sequence within the first episodes, but after the main characters are introduced, you begin to quickly lose interest. The show immediately starts to feel like a owarai, or Japanese variety show composed of comedy skits or acts. You have the straight man Kokkuri-san, Inugami is a perverted dog spirit who wants to spend the rest of his/her (can change sex at will) with Kohina by marrying her and then Shigaraki – the drunk tanuki who wants to keep his NEET lifestyle no matter who has to suffer. What a mismatched cast this show has become.
This series also leaves so many questions unanswered, even though they do hint as to revealing the reasons, nothing is ever resolved. The most important mystery should have been: How does an elementary school student become left behind in a house? You would think this idea would have been justified near the beginning, also Kokkuri’s reason for staying by Kohina’s side, but as before there is no clear explanation. More than likely the reasoning to this major plot hole would have shown us why she also considers herself a doll, but the series was more interested in creating awkward situations, laughable side jokes and more puzzles than anything else. And while they addressed the fox spirit wanting to humanize his new ward, the main theme seems more wanting to make her smile than improving her general condition.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san started off as an charming series with pleasing characters, but there is really nothing which connects the viewer with the show or the cast. An almost non-existent plot, forced situations and recycled jokes plus an underlying theme which seems never approached or near accomplishment forces the audience to labor through the anime. Although the ending episodes are sincerely heartwarming and do serve to break Kohina out of her shell, they come too late to save anything. But if you do want a quick laugh and don’t mind watching the same acts about special edition noodles, then you might be able to sit long enough to gain that smile. However be warned: this show is tolerable, but only in small servings … just like cup ramen!
Features: Clean Opening & Closing Animations, 11 Short Episodes, Sentai Trailers
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: C+
Menu Grade: D+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 12th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Review Equipment: Sharp LC-42LB261U 42” LED HDTV and Sony BDPS3200 Blu-ray player