Panning the Stream: Gugure! Kokkuri-san, Laughing Under the Clouds, JOKER

Good things come in small (and unexpected) packages.

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After writing yesterday’s somewhat discouraging premiere digest, I sat down to watch my final Sunday series, feeling like Fall was doing exactly what its name implied. Which, of course, was the moment when I turned on Gugure! Kokkuri-san (“Google it, Kokkuri-san!”) and found my first potential gold nugget of the season. There’s nothing like that giddy feeling of discovery to rejuvenate you for the long premiere week ahead.

Outside of that pleasant surprise, we have a series with a lot of (currently unrealized) potential and a standard but enjoyable kids’ show. Can Fall rise? Maybe so. Two Meet ‘n’ Greets and a quickie review below the jump.

Gugure! Kokkuri-san

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Studio: TMS Entertainment
Based On:
The four-panel manga series by Endo Midori
Streaming On:
Crunchyroll (USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America)

In a Sentence: While playing the Ouija board-style kokkuri divination game, self-proclaimed “human doll” Ichimatsu Kohina summons the spirit of Kokkuri-san into her home.

How was it? Funny, a little dark, and surprisingly sweet.

Overall
And here we have the first happy surprise of the Fall season! I have a soft spot for stories based on mythology/folklore (Japanese or otherwise), and this strange little comedy falls right into that category. I’m struggling to properly describe just what Kokkuri-san manages to do in this first episode, as it blends general silliness with a fair amount of dark comedy (which worked well for me outside of one brief, uncomfortable suicide joke), a splash of acerbic wit, and occasional, surprising emotional honesty.

Kohina (literally “child doll”) is a unique protagonist, a young girl (I’m guessing elementary school) claiming to be a “doll” who never “gets shaken” or “feels lonely.” At the start of the episode it’s unclear whether this is true or not, but by the end it becomes fairly clear that she’s really just an isolated little kid who’s created this story to help herself feel less alone. Into her life comes Kokkuri-san, a pretty-boy fox spirit with a mess of self-confidence issues who’s just as lonely as she is. What develops is a paternal (or maybe fraternal) relationship between two solitary souls that serves as the emotional core of the episode, making this more than just a goofy comedy.

Make no mistake, though: Kokkuri-san is, first and foremost, a comedy, and one with a fairly sharp sense of humor, too. Part of what makes Kohina so adorable is that she often isn’t adorable – her delivery is consistently, hilariously deadpan, she’s stubborn and throws sulking tantrums, and takes a lot of shots at Kokkuri-san’s insecurities. And yet for all of that I (like Kokkuri-san) just want to wrap her in a hug and cook her dinner. She’s not a stereotypical “cute girl” or “tsundere” or what have you – she’s just an odd, lonely little kid, and it’s a refreshing depiction to see. I laughed a lot and I “aww”d a little, too. In short (isn’t it a little late for that?), I enjoyed the hell out of this premiere, and I’m excited to see more.

Did it make the watchlist? I’m giving it the three-episode rule for sure. The plotless nature of four-panel manga means they’re very dependent on how much you enjoy hanging out with the cast. Some hold up really well over multiple episodes (Nozaki-kun, Working!!); some not so much (Kotoura-san). But if Kokkuri-san can maintain this blend of humor and heart, I see no reason not to keep it around.

Laughing Under the Clouds (Donten ni Warau)

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Studio: Dogakobo
Based On: The manga by Karakara Kemuri
Streaming On: Funimation (U.S./Canada) (listed as “Laughing Under the Clouds”)

In a Sentence: In a fantasy reimagining of early Meiji Japan (late 1860s), the three Kumoh brothers maintain their family shrine and aid in escorting convicts to the massive island prison, Gokumonjo.

How was it? I wanted to like it more than I did, but the concept has a lot of potential.

Overall
Laughing Under the Clouds (shorthand: “DnW,” after the Japanese title) is a decidedly mixed bag. On the one hand, it features an intriguing “historical fantasy” setting and drops a lot of hints about future, darker narrative events. On the other, none of the characters left much of an impression (except the youngest brother, who kinda annoyed me), and the premiere is weighed down by some uninspired attempts at humor and a “one-shot” story line that, quite frankly, bored me to the point of checking Twitter with about five minutes left in the episode.

That said, I’m giving this one a Meet ‘n’ Greet and at least one more chance, because there are enough elements outside of the episode itself to make me cautiously optimistic. The manga seems to be pretty well-regarded, and is listed as “finished” at 6 volumes, meaning that, at 2 episodes per volume (a brisk but not impossible pace), we could see a complete anime adaptation of the story. DnW is also being adapted by Dogakobo, who have done some good work in recent years (Nozaki-kun, Natsuyuki Rendezvous, and the sadly underrated Majestic Prince). They have a tendency to pick source material with a spark of originality in it, too, so I’m hopeful DnW will be the same.

Did it make the watchlist? It’s getting another episode, and will probably get a three-episode rule. I like the idea – now I just need to be sold on the characters.

Quickie Review

JOKER (Kaitou Joker)

Sort of the kids’ version of Lupin III. Vibrant and fun in a Saturday Morning Cartoon kind of way. I watched the entire premiere with a small, nostalgic smile on my face, but there’s not enough substance here to really warrant a full Meet ‘n’ Greet. I’m 12 years old at heart, so there’s a chance I’ll watch this one in my down time when I want something silly and predictable in my life, but I don’t expect to be blogging about it at any point.

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