Do you like naked lesbian fox girls? Then you’ve come to the right place. And you know what? That’s a bit of a shame. Anime series like Konohana Kitan can so easily get written off as fanservice trash for pervs, and that’s a deeply unfair judgement on what is actually a fascinating, spiritual series.
What attracted me to this series was not the naked lesbian fox girls (honest) but the similarity of the premise to Spirited Away. That’s because both of them are rooted in the Shinto faith. In Konohana Kitan there are at least three different plains of existence: the mortal world, and world of the afterlife and the gods, and the places that connect the two together. In that gap between mortal and heavenly exists Konohanatei, a spa hotel that receives visitors from the mortal and heavenly plains. Working there are a group of fox girls, and much of the series is told from the perspective of their newest recruit, Yuzu.
The series has its origins in a manga that was serialised in a yuri magazine, “yuri” being the term for manga or anime with a lesbian theme. Some of that crosses over into the anime, with a couple of very gentle romances, although it is all very innocent and there is not much character development in that direction. Instead the series focuses on a new story each week, sometimes two per episode. This tends to be about the latest visitor to the hotel.
The direction of travel of a lot of the visitors tends to be those who need to pass from the mortal world to the afterlife, so there are some very poignant moments. There are also those who have arrived in Konohanatei by chance or accident, and gods visiting occasionally as well on special occasions. Generally each story is wrapped up by the end of the episode, but there are a couple that have an impact on the whole series. The most important of these is the introduction of sentient doll Okiku who ends up joining the staff as a regular character, and it’s actually the best storyline of the whole series.
At first it’s played for scares, very briefly. You’ve probably seen films like Annabelle (and there are also some great live action Japanese examples of the genre), and Okiku is that kind of a character, neglected by her owners and bearing a grudge. The fox girls almost immediately burst the bubble of her power to inspire fear. That simply won’t work in Konohanatei, and instead they set about dressing her up and doing her hair, and finally she has a place she belongs. That’s a big theme of the series, finding where you belong, and Yuzu in particular follows a path from newbie staff member to somebody who can call Konohanatei her home. The final episode goes all timey wimey, exploring the origins of Konohanatei itself, and it’s enormously clever.
The further we get through the series the less fanservice there is. Most of the early episodes have scenes where the fox girls are bathing together at the end of the day, which I suppose is perfectly justified by the spa hotel setting, and it’s not especially gratuitous compared to some anime fanservice episodes. But as the series progresses it seems like there is perhaps so much confidence in the quality of the stories being told that the necessity for fanservice to boost popularity is diminished, and these scenes become far rarer.
Despite some very compelling storylines and a great cast of characters, I found it difficult to quite connect emotionally to Konohana Kitan in the way that I have for many other anime series. I think that comes down to the story-of-the-week format. There is limited character development throughout the series, with the attraction between Natsume and Ren static throughout, and the same applies to Yuzu and Satsuki after the first couple of episodes. Apart from Yuzu feeling like Konohanatei is her home by the end of the series, all the characters are basically where they started. There’s not really a progression, and that’s something that could do with being addressed if there’s ever a second series. But because Konohana Kitan drops the ball on character development across its 12 episodes, I suspect we’re unlikely to be revisiting Konohanatei any time soon. Nonetheless, I would be very happy to be proved wrong about that.
I’ll leave you with the trailer for the DVD release. I have only seen the subtitled version, so I’m very tempted to buy this to enjoy the dubbed version. It might just be worth revisiting Konohanatei after all… RP