Kurashita Tsukimi is an eighteen-year-old jellyfish otaku who moved from her hometown to Tokyo in order to be an illustrator. She currently resides in communal woman-only housing with four other eccentric ladies, each with their own respective fandom etched in obscurity. They dub themselves "Amars" (translated "the Sisterhood" - akin to nunnery) and reside in an echo-chamber of sheltered fanaticism. This all deteriorates into a cycling whirlwind of madness when Tsukimi runs into a stylish beauty one night when trying to save one of her beloved jellyfish.
Turns out, the femme fatale who comes to her rescue is the illegitimate son of a famous politician! Life for the girls changes forever when the cross-dresser Kuranosuke steps foot into the woman-only establishment of Amamizu-kan.
Leave it to the Noitamina block to bring an old and crotchety anime fan out of her viewing rut. Kuragehime, hilarious otaku-comedy penned by Higashimura Akiko (also known for the equally-adorable manga series Himawari) does an excellent job at providing quirky and lovable characters, as well as an unpredictable narrative.
The story is clearly the tip of the iceberg for what serves as a 'starter' course for the manga series in its entirety. Such is to be expected for something with such a short run. The series is only eleven episodes, and fortunately, the producers of Kuragehime chose not to be overly ambitious with trying to jam as much plot and development into the episodes as possible. One of the more pleasant aspects of a shoujo/josei title such as this is that things realistically develop.
Unfortunately, it seemed that at times the romantic story lines took a back burner to demonstrating just how crazy the otaku female cast was, but such divergence from the main storyline was done successfully, since each of the portraits of the 'Sisterhood' were hilariously accurate.
While the story would most certainly appeal to the geek in all of us, there was plenty of stylish goodness for the more glamorous of anime-viewers. In addition to the main plot, there were about three sub-plots taking place at any given time which involved sex and blackmail (which also had its fair dosage of comedy), tragedy and loss (for both of the main characters), and fashion and fame (not so much glamor and glitter, JEM fans). If any of this sounds overly ambitious for an 11-episode series, don't fret, they weave together beautifully, even if the final episode leaves you wanting more.
Of course, the lively story lines wouldn't have meant a thing if it weren't for the colorful array of characters captivating our imaginations. The lead character Tsukimi is a meek and awkward heroine who is constantly thrown out of her element. Think Densha Otoko if you're not picturing it. The big difference between the two, however, is that Tsukimi blossoms out of her shell when confronted with her specialty - that is, jellyfish. Anyone who has passion for something will be able to relate to her in that regard. The moment someone asks you a question about the thing you love most, don't you ever lose yourself in the moment, and find yourself still going five minutes later? Such is the case with Tsukimi, and it's downright charming. An extra-special mention has to be made regarding Kana Hanazawa. I first heard her in Black Rock Shooter, and she's really a phenomenal addition to the seiyuu world. Her work as Tsukimi is burned into my memory as it was adorable, strong, and demure all at the same time. Her moments of lucid insanity as the Jellyfish Otaku really shone, and I get the feeling I'll be finding myself enjoying a great deal of her work in the near future.
The male lead, Kuranosuke, is an excellent character in and of itself. In most anime, cross-dressers are portrayed as being gay - dressing up as a girl to appeal to the straight man who'd never give them the time of day, otherwise. Additionally, they serve as supporting cast members or comedy relief. (Nuriko from Fushigi Yugi or Fisheye from Sailor Moon both pop into mind.) Kuranosuke, known as "Kurako" to the rest of the Sisterhood, is a complex and strong character who is every bit the awkward male as he is the stylish and sexy female. It's unclear what sort of relationship his current friendship with Tsukimi will develop into, but it's safe to say that he is a wonderful support for her, and enables her to bring her dream into reality in a whole new level.
The supporting cast is also phenomenal. The four NEETs of the Sisterhood - the traditional Japanese clothing and doll maniac, the oyaji fangirl, the densha otaku (train fanatic), and the Tales of Three Kingdoms devotee - are all insanely bizarre and yet enjoyable and friendly. Kuranosuke's brother Shu, along with his understated driver, Hanamori (who is a Mercedes-Benz otaku) were a delight every time they were on the screen (this may be due to their veteran seiyuu Suwabe Junichi and Koyasu Takehito, respectively). Even the 'antagonist' Inori - who uses her sexual cunning to manipulate men - was fully fleshed-out and enjoyable to watch in action.
One of the biggest treats in watching this series was to see loyalty to the mangaka style. This is the first I've seen of Higashimura Akiko's works in the animated form, and it really did look like her creation was breathed to life. The majority of the animation was acceptable - nothing crazy amazing, seeing as the story didn't call for any amazing feats of artistry. There were a few spots where it looked like their eyes were lazily drawn - which, for an eleven-episode series, strikes me as a little unacceptable. It's only eleven episodes, why would there be any shortage of in-betweeners?
It's been a long time since I've watched an anime series on a weekly basis, and it does tend to provide a different experience from watching something back-to-back. Luckily this series brought a full plate of tasty elements to provide a lot of staying-power in my mind. Kuragehime was the first series in over five years to bring me to the television (or in this case, computer) on a religious basis week after week. I'm beyond sad to see it go.
I can has manga licensed nao? Plz? A second season is also acceptable. — Melissa Sternenberg
Recommended Audience: Older teenagers and up, due to implied (falsefied) sexual situations and references to yaoi / other unhealthy fetishes.
Version(s) Viewed: Hulu.com, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (11/11)
Kuragehime © 2010 Kodansha / Higashimura Akiko / Kuragehime Production Committee
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