Arriving in Konohana-tei, a hotel in a world between the human world and the realm of the gods, to work as one of the hosts, fox girl Yuzu finds herself in the company of several other fox girls (and later one doll.) Being in a realm between worlds, the hotel itself sees visitors of all kinds; gods, spirits, lost souls... and more.
Stig: Konohana Kitan seemed like kind of a godsend (no pun intended) after shows like Gingitsune and (Otome Yokai) Zakuro popularizing the more human-like "monster girls", although it needs to be said that this show leans more towards Gingitsune rather than Zakuro, for one because it's a slice-of-life without a main villain and no main overarching story, but also because the characters tend to lean more towards the comedic side rather than the dramatical overtones of Zakuro.
Nicoletta: It wouldn’t have taken too much convincing to get me to watch this show, even if it hadn’t been on my radar when the season started. For one thing, I love “quiet” supernatural shows, particularly those that teach me something about Japanese mythology I might not have known about before. I wouldn’t be a card-carrying THEM hive-minder if I didn’t love me some Natsume Yuujinchou, and if this show is a bit more frenetic than that one as far as pacing goes, the bathhouse setting still gives it a relaxed, laid-back vibe that worked well for me. Not to mention, Konohana Kitan has yuri (it serialized in a yuri magazine, after all), and plenty of it; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t squeeing through most of this. I watched Konohana Kitan during a pretty rough time, when I was scrambling to finish my master’s thesis, and it was a show that did a lot to get me through that.
It's not that particularly original -- comparisons to Hanasaku Iroha are probably inevitable -- but slice of life shows are generally limited to things that actually can happen in real life, albeit with the supernatural angle spicing things up. At the same time, with this being a hotspring hotel, Konohana Kitan's flirtations with the supernatural gives the show a certain angle as its guests can be borrowed from quite a few aspects of Japanese culture; be that spiritual, religious or just general superstition. At times it can feel like an extended version of the montages of bathhouse scenes from Spirited Away; as Yubaba puts it (in the English dub), “a place for the spirits to cleanse themselves, to unwind”, whether that be just be soaking in a hot spring, or by venting one’s grievances to whatever fox girl might be around and willing to listen.
Stig: And this does help the show overcoming its somewhat disappointing core cast. You'd think a bunch of adorable fox girls would be a license to print free money, doubly so when it flirts with yuri angles much in the same way that a lot of MOE shows do, however intentional or not, but the residents of Konohana-tei are very formulaic. Yuzu is a sweet girl who seems to like everyone, but she's 30% dunce and 70% clumsy, and this is where the show had the good sense to give her an actual backstory half-episode, where we get to see a side of her people might not expect. But once she reaches Konohana-tei, she gets paired up with Satsuki, a dark-haired fox girl who is 0% smiles and 100% workaholic, and also comes with her own baggage, namely an inferiority complex over her sister. Natsume and Ren makes up our second yuri coupling, with Natsume being a boyish girl and Ren being the girliest girl to ever girl around on the hotel floor.
Nicoletta: I’d say I liked the cast a bit more than Stig did, though it’s possible that with the other aspects of the show working so well for me, I just felt more forgiving. I thought that Ren and Natsume made a pretty damned cute couple (they’re all-but-canon, bite me). As a lesbian I can definitely say that it’s a nice example of the neko/tachi dynamic you sometimes see in Japanese lesbian media (also see: Sailors Neptune and Uranus), and the whole “some girly lesbians like being around somebody who’s sort of protective and tomboyish, but who’s a girl” (I’m not super thrilled that the wikipedia article referred to Natsume as a “boyfriend” figure last I checked). I wasn’t necessarily always as interested in Yuzu, especially since I didn’t feel like the show developed her relationship with Satsuki as well as I’d hoped; since I haven’t read the manga, maybe that gets better later on, but I can’t really say. I do feel like Konohana Kitan skimmed over Satsuki’s inferiority complex (which Stig mentioned earlier) a little bit, to the point where it’s not really clear if the sister did anything to aggravate it outside of apparently just being Miss Perfect; then again, perhaps it’s something I shouldn’t complain about too much, given that the show might be better off without being carried away with drama.
Overall, though, I liked this show a lot as a sort of “girls running the place” show; Ren’s dislike of men might be extreme, but working in a service job and also being a pretty solid 10 on the Kinsey Scale, it’s not necessarily that surprising to me, and there’s a sense that the bathhouse is a safe place for girls like her. The couple of times when patrons do misbehave, the matron stomps her paw down faster than you can say “OUT” and the offenders are thrown right out the door. Overall it’s clear that the bathhouse will take any and all types, as long as you aren’t an asshole; there’s one scene depicting some of Ren’s “favorite customers” as a couple of trans-coded goddesses, and while I’m not 100% sure I was thrilled with the show leaning into stereotypes so hard, the fact that they’re welcome there and that they have some very queer staff members who dote on them still felt like a nice touch. You definitely get the sense that this is hard work, and that this isn’t as laid back as, say, the coffeeshop in GochiUsa, but it’s also clear that if you can (mostly) hold the line and do what you can, this place can feel like found family....and that’s an aspect I really enjoyed.
Stig: Nico liked Ren just fine, but I had a bit of a bigger problem with her, partially because she ruffled the feathers of some of my character pet peeves. She's mostly a nice and responsible girl, but she can be surprisingly rude towards her friends, and even violent towards people for reasons of jealousy or insecurity, only mitigated by the fact that she's among the smaller of the girls there. She's far from the worst character in the long lineup of "female leads where I wished the (possibly) male lead would pick someone else" -- I mean... just ask me about Love Hina -- but she is a good deal more abrasive than the other girls in the show. Even the "boyish" one, who is really more energetic and doesn't really dwell too much on matters of the fashion industry. Still, she's young, so I'm cutting her some slack, although when your cast consists of fox spirits which can live for a very, very long time, "young" is a pretty nebulous term. If I sound a bit complain-y about this, then it's because her antics stand out more in a show like this compared to a slapstick comedy, much like a certain character from Amanchu did. The fact that the subjects for her ire aren't male, despite her supposed dislike of them, doesn't really lessen my opinions about her attitude in any way either.
Among the remaining characters, there's Kiri, Sakura and Okami, as well as Okiku, a cursed doll that were more or less adopted by Konohana-tei. Kiri is kind of a troll, and often the funniest part of the show, because she really knows how to push the other girls' buttons, particularly with teasing Satsuki in a gentle fashion...sometimes, wound-up workaholics do really need that. Sakura is a little fox girl -- sort of like this show's Renge, except somewhat more menacing, at least to some people....or dolls, as Okiku soon finds out (we can’t imagine that being a sentient doll and being around a girl with an obsession with “dressing people up” is the most fun thing). And Okami is basically the chief hostess of the hotspring hotel, and the only girl who goes full-out wolf girl rather than just "human girl with wolf ears and tail". They don't feature as frequently as the others, though they do get their share of character development as well. Okami gets plenty of credit for running the bathhouse as well as she does and keeping her staff happy without making them feel ashamed for their quirks.
Although we disagreed as to whether the cast held up the show well or not, we definitely didn't disagree that the show's storytelling chops were pretty damned strong. Each episode are self-contained, granted, but despite a few attempts at largely comical episodes, most of the stories centered around various aspects of Japanese culture and mythology feels not only solid, but gives the audience a sense of wonder about the guests and what they are looking for when they come to Konohana-tei. A particularly nice example can be found in one of the last episodes, where Sakura gets a visit from her "regular customer", which -- we won't spoil it for you -- turned out to carry an almost wistfully sad undertone for a situation that could be considered as one that "worked out for the best", all things considered. But even the first episode eased us into a rather comfortable story arc where a rather unusual man imparted some words of wisdom for Satsuki.
It's also good that the show has it in itself to surprise. While you could say it leans a bit too hard on coincidences at times, the conclusion of a story about a petulant young boy and an angrier, middle-aged man was one neither of us saw coming (and it’s pretty damned adorable in the end), and even some of the others, while signaling their intentions pretty hard, turned out a bit differently than one would expect. (Stig: The last episode was another episode that worried me, because I had already read an episode review for it, and feared the show would go all out Mary Sue with Yuzu, but while it ended like I read it would, it did not end like I worried it would.)
It also helps that the art of the show is lovely. The characters do look nice, and the animation is pretty on-the-ball most of the time, if not all of it. A lot of the show takes place in the hotspring/hotel itself, but you'll still get the chance to look at some incredibly nice scenery from forests or fields nearby, be that a field of grass or an autumn vista. You have the “cute foxgirls” with the main cast, but you do see a lot of different spirits, including some non-humanoid ones, and so you get the whole “spirit watching” aspect you get with seeing the variety of spirits you see in Natsume or Spirited Away. And yes, there being hotsprings nearby also means naked fox girls, but the show doesn’t really ever get carried away with fanservice. The most openly "sexual" the show got was during half of one of the episodes, where Ren wakes up one morning to find an egg attached to her stomach, with a wide selection of pregnancy jokes to go with it. How well the comedy works for you is going to depend on how much you find wild accusations and insane jumping to conclusions funny as a comedy shtick (in fairness, most of the cast are teenagers). Between that, and Yuzu being a klutz and Sakura being a terror with scissors, Konohana Kitan doesn't really do comedy all that well, partially because it ties in with the somewhat lackluster characterisation of our main cast.
Stig: I honestly enjoyed Konohana Kitan. It's just hard to not sound a bit negative when you can have a show this sweet and serene, yet still bogged down with flaws that could have been avoided with... actually, with its writers putting as much thought into their main cast as they did the guests who stay at Konohana-tei. Still, with episodes working as well as they did, I can definitely live with that and its too-frequent comedy duds purely by strength of its incredibly inviting atmosphere; there is a place on my shelf alongside Gingitsune for Konohana Kitan.
Nicoletta: Interestingly, even though I’d say I probably liked this show a bit more than Stig, when I was working on his initial draft of the review I didn’t find that I had much to change or add, outside of me (generally) liking the cast more. Some of the slapstick humor stands out kind of awkwardly, and the show can go off the rails when it tries too hard to be dramatic. I think for me, the “found family” aspect resonated pretty strongly, and I think this show came along at a time in my life where I needed a show about a bunch of fox girls (including some pretty obviously queer ones) running a bathhouse together to take my mind off work. As ridiculous as this might sound, I finished a lot of the episodes thinking something along the lines of, “damn, this would be a nice place to traipse off to for a few weeks once my thesis is done”. If that’s my takeaway, then I can’t complain too much.
A sweet show that doesn't suffer too hard from simplistic characterisation and subjective comedy misses. Come for the weather, stay for the heartwarming segments. — Stig Høgset and Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Comedy slapstick and casual nudity in the bath. Shouldn't offend in any context, really.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs only.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Konohana Kitan © 2017 AMANO SAKUYA GENTOSHA COMICS/Konohana Kitan COMMITTEE.
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