Backlog Busting – Kamisama Kiss

I’m not entirely sure why on a blog called “The Backloggers” it’s taken us a good five years or so to get a post series going about chipping away at our backlogs. Well, now we can’t say that we haven’t done it – this post marks the beginning of a series I’m dubbing “Backlog Busting,” where we, obviously, write about stuff on our backlog that we’ve recently knocked off the list (whether that means we completed it and loved it, ended up dropping it because it was surprisingly bad, or anything else in-between). As hilarious as it could have been to start this series out by talking about some hot garbage from deep in the backlog, I can pretty happily say that this post is about an absolute banger – Kamisama Kiss.

Gang, I love me a good shoujo romance series. Any variety of protagonist, any variety of love interest(s), any setting (primarily school stuff, though, if we’re being honest), and chances are, I can get down with it. However, I have to admit that as much as I do love the genre, sometimes the setup, characters, and everything else can get a little samey. That’s not to say that everything has to be wildly different from one another to be good, of course – I can be a strong proponent of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy when it comes to some aspects of genre conventions. But sometimes I just want something that’s a little different, you know?

Enter Kamisama Kiss – a show about high schooler Nanami Momozono being evicted from her home because of her father’s debts, unwittingly rescuing a god from a dog, becoming the new god of the previous god’s shrine, falling in love with the shrine’s fox-boy familiar Tomoe, doing god stuff, and, of course, going to high school. There’s a lot going on here.

It should be pretty obvious from the brief synopsis above that Kamisama Kiss is, just on the surface level alone, pretty different from the usual run of high school shoujo romance series. Sure, some incorporate supernatural elements into them, such as Fruits Basket or Vampire Knight, but few can say that they turn their young heroine into a literal deity. That being said, the most fascinating, delightful thing about Kamisama Kiss, I’m happy to report, is that the supernatural elements in and of themselves are not what make the show as spectacularly good as it is. It certainly helps facilitate some of the fantastic scenarios the show is able to put its cast into, for sure, but it’s not the real kicker. The genuine best parts of Kamisama Kiss are the overall characterization of the show’s entire cast, and the unfolding of the romantic relationship between Nanami and Tomoe in the two seasons we are blessed enough to have of this show. 

So here’s the thing – characters in shows that borrow many ideas from genre types and conventions are going to invariably have some degree of their characters also borrow from character archetypes. Is Nanami a sweet, sensitive, hotheaded doofus with an unbreakable spirit? Yessirree. Is Tomoe a sadistic, hot, absolute gremlin of a familiar who is actually deep down very protective of his liege (and definitely super not in love with her)? You bet your ass he is! Are they both completely oblivious of their own feelings for each other, and vice versa? Why, yes they– oop, GOTCHA. This is not that kind of show – these two are in love, and they know it. Or they at least both individually know that they’re genuinely in love with one another. 

Of course, getting to this point takes time for the both of them, and even by the end of the second season (third season never), they’re obviously processing those revelations in their own ways. But the fact that they are both quite sure of their feelings, and that there aren’t really any viable romantic rivals to speak of in the two seasons we have, makes the romantic dynamic of the show less of the usual “will they, won’t they / who will they, who won’t they” kind of dig, and more of a “how will they and when will they” kind of situation. Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the former, but man, is it refreshing to watch a shoujo romance where you aren’t sitting around for two seasons waiting for the romantic leads to, I dunno, touch pinky tips or something? I’m not going to spoil anything for y’all, because so much of the delight of this show is getting to see how Nanami and Tomoe’s relationship and approach to one another develops, but these folks touch, gang. Like, Nanami has to full on-the-lips kiss Tomoe to seal the contract between god and familiar (haha get it it’s the kamisama kiss damn dude). Physical touch plays an important role in the show and in the relationship between Nanami and Tomoe, whether it’s the blooming relationship between folks in love, the element of respect between a god and her yokai familiar, or the understanding touch of friends. There’s a lot of layers here, and they’re all just so good, so beautifully built up, and so worth every small bit of payoff you get watching along the way.

Yeah, so needless to say, the romance is great. Spicy stuff all around, and my god, I want more of it. But I would be remiss if I were to say that that’s the only truly great thing the show has going for it. A good romance is a lot of fun to watch, but it can still be insufferable if the characters have little to no development. No such thing here! As I said before, the characterization in this show is spectacular, and none is as solid as Nanami’s development over time. Character development is part and parcel of shoujo romance series, but many series see our characters develop over time because things happen to or around them – not necessarily that the characters are actively trying to change or do anything other than be in love. As has been my mantra this whole post, there’s nothing really wrong with a romance show that just wants to dabble in romance and not change the characters much beyond coming to understand themselves and their love interest a little more. But that’s not really what Kamisama Kiss does.

From the outset, Nanami is tossed into a pretty wild position – she’s the newly-minted land god of Mikage Shrine, and that comes with a lot of responsibilities, especially for a high schooler. She has to take on the requests of her parishioners, keep the shrine in excellent condition, expel dark entities, and all that fun stuff. Of course, having just become a god, and being a human, her supernatural powers are pretty decidedly weak, and her understanding of the supernatural world is lacking. But over the course of these two seasons, we see her grow and blossom into a magnificent god, whose power grows exponentially, along with the respect that she receives from (some of) her fellow gods. It’s just really refreshing to see a romance series like this where, yes, the romance does develop, but we also get to see our core heroine really grow into her own outside of any romantic context. I’ve also completely left out any real discussion of the excellent growth that Tomoe and even the cast of side characters undergo in the short span of 25 episodes, but wow, man, no character is wasted in this series, and if I went into talking about all of that, this post would be forever long.

I was very lucky in deciding to have Kamisama Kiss be the first series I decided to scratch off my backlog in a while. It’s heartfelt and funny with a delightful romance and cast of characters, and I blew through the show in a handful of days. If you’re looking for a good shoujo romance to watch, I would recommend this over anything else I’ve seen in recent memory – it’s absolutely no contest. Honestly, I daresay that this might be my favorite shoujo series to date. If you think that’s a bold take, give the show a watch and get back to me on that. I have some serious faith in this show, and I think you would do well to have some, too.

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