Series Review: Gugure! Kokkuri-san

Sugar and spice and everything not-so-nice.

Very mild spoilers (and all kinds of conflicted opinions) below the jump.

My love/hate relationship with Gugure! Kokkuri-san kicked off with love (premiere review), slid dangerously close to hate (rule of three review), and started to creep its way back to love again (midseason review). So where do we stand six episodes after that? Somewhere in the middle, I suppose, and stuck trying to review one of the more polarizing shows of the season.

When Kokkuri-san was good, it was damn good, balancing laugh-out-loud humor (some acidic, some clever, and some just plain silly) with surprisingly layered, psychologically complex characters and situations. Even Inugami-san, who was nearly a dealbreaker for me in the early going, managed to develop into someone pitiable, if not exactly sympathetic. I’ve been rewatching Utena recently and I found myself comparing Inugami-san to Saionji, as both series explore the connection between past abuse/trauma and present abusers, humanizing the individual without ever excusing their behavior (and make no mistake, Inugami-san is an antagonist as much as Saionji is, his more destructive behavior unwelcome and untolerated by the cast and creative team alike).

Which all points to one of the biggest positives in Kokkuri-san’s favor, which is that rather than just being a one-dimensional puff piece full of cute animals and “edgy” humor, the show actually tries to be about something – grief, abuse, loneliness, the effects these have on personal identity, and the desire/need for various human connections, whether they be of the filial, friend, or romantic variety. There are even some attempts (of varying success) to critique the way society treats women, demonstrated most notably in the episode where Kokkuri gets hit with a “curse” that switches a person’s sex, turning him into a woman, and he resents it largely because of the way people treat him (he’s hit on relentlessly, protected unnecessarily, and treated as if he’s too frail to even carry his own groceries). All of which is to say that there’s some intelligent writing behind this story, and a sense that the original mangaka (Endou Midori) wants to do more than just make us giggle.

Of course, this also makes the show’s glaring issues stand out all the more, because we can’t just roll our eyes and brush this off as someone dumb writing a dumb comedy. The ongoing explorations of gender roles are hit-and-miss, sometimes seeming like critiques (as noted above) while other times just functioning as irritating essentialism or cheap, “punching down” humor. There’s also an undercurrent of homophobia and transphobia that doesn’t appear often but is truly awful when it does.

Mostly, though, there’s just the sense that the author is trying too hard to be “shocking” or “dark,” particularly with some of the sexual humor (the pedophile Tengu, Shiragaki’s skirt-chasing, and just about everything with Inugami in the early episodes). Generally the other characters will condemn this behavior, which mitigates the damage to some extent, but it has the unfortunate effect of casting the “misbehaver” in a negative light, so that it’s difficult to like them even when they’re doing something positive (Shiragaki in particular suffers from this ripple effect). I constantly found myself spending 2.5 episodes loving the show and then the next 0.5 wanting to punch my TV screen – and then shifting right back to loving it at the drop of a hat.

So, having said all that, where do I stand with Kokkuri-san? Somewhere in the middle but leaning towards the positive, I think. As I said before, the bad stands out largely because the good is so good, and when the humor or emotional beats do hit the target, they hit it just about dead-center. That said, this is one of those shows that toes the line so closely (and sometimes jumps right across it) that everyone’s going to have a different reaction to it, and I certainly don’t blame anyone if they hate it for one of the reasons I listed above. (I also don’t blame you if you love the series, although I do hope you’ll at least consider the points I mentioned and acknowledge the areas where the series struggles or fails entirely.)

But in the end, for me, the good outweighs the bad, and the central relationship between Kohina and Kokkuri forms both an emotional and comedic through-line that keeps the series from failing entirely, even at its lowest points. And, push comes to shove, if Kokkuri-san got a second season, I’d be back to watch it. I suppose that’s the true mark of a successful series.

Series Grade: B-

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