Director: Toshiya Shinohara, Series Composition: Michiko Yokote
Voice Actors: Saori Hayami, Kouki Uchiyama, Jun Fukuyama, Kaito Ishikawa, Rie Kugimiya, Akira Ishida, Kazuhiko Inoue
Studio: P.A. Works
My last First Impression for Spring 2013 post rambles on about my one supernatural mystery anime of the season which is based on a series of light novels by Noriko Ogiwara. I reported about this for AUKN over Christmas in 2011 and was rather intrigued by the use of Shinto mythology.
The story starts at Tamakura shrine deep in the Kumano Mountains. It is a sacred and beautiful place and a World Heritage site in real life.
Who resides at this peaceful place? Izumiko Suzuhara, a 15-year-old girl who has been raised at the shrine for nearly all of her life.
Her father works in America while her mother, who she has not seen in many years, is somewhere in Tokyo. She is under the care of her grandparents who work at the shrine, and her guardian Yukimasa Sagara, a man who is close to her mother. Izumiko is something of an oddity at school due to the sheltered nature of her life which has left her behind modern styles and technology. She is also the focal point of spiritual energy.
She is on the verge of a momentous change since she will be leaving her small town to attend Houjou Academy in Tokyo, a place where students from all over Japan and the world at large with supernatural abilities have gathered so they can be tested for their powers and then whittled down so that the person with the greatest power can be given special privileges.
What supernatural ability does Izumiko have?
Like her mother, she is a shrine maiden who has the ability to be the spirit vessel for an ancient goddess with great power.
Her guardian Yukimasa Sagara has placed his son Miyuki as her servant.
Miyuki is not too happy about this. Miyuki hates his father and doesn’t want to listen to his orders. He isn’t too fond of Izumiko who he views as too weak.
However during a supernatural encounter on a school trip a mysterious entity known as a Himegami reveals to Miyuki the true potential of Izumiko. She will be the last representative (yorishiro) of the Himegami goddess and he will be a guardian (yamabushi).
Because of this shared fate and the importance Izumiko now has the two become close and so they stick together as they meet the new students at Houjou Academy, some of whom are determined to come top of class and get the privileges given to those with the most power.
In a season full of action, drama, and comedy I was hoping for something different, something along the lines of Another, a series that took its time and allowed me to indulge in watching some world building. Red Data Girl is definitely similar because it is a slow-burn tale placing the supernatural in a realistic arena. Six episodes in and there is a mounting supernatural atmosphere with a central mystery that is slowly unravelling. Nothing I find scary, just sinister and it is thanks to the anime being atmospheric and its use of Shinto Mythology which means that it has some new, unfamiliar ground where everything is a surprise.
We come into this situation in media res. Much like Izumiko, we are thrust into a new world of goddesses and spirits and we gradually learn about her circumstances, why she was kept isolated, who everybody is in relation to her and different aspects of Shinto mythology.
Izumiko is, at first, a rather wet protagonist to follow. She is softly-spoken, prone to crying whenever anybody or anything challenges her and despite flashes of rebelliousness she is mostly docile. It is very believable for someone isolated from society to react in such ways but making someone so passive engaging for an audience is a hard thing to pull off. Thankfully the voice acting and her character design makes her sympathetic.
Izumiko is voiced by Saori Hayami who has a beautiful voice which radiates innocence but when the Himegami possesses Izumiko it takes on a harder edge. Izumiko’s character design also suggests innocence. I mean, who could hate a girl with glasses and a face that reveals her emotions so easily, especially when those emotions show how uncertain she is?
Anyway when the narrative finally gets going at the end of episode 3 it is clear that the wider world Izumiko exists in and the characters she engages with show that Izumiko has a lot of scope to grow. The fact that a Goddess deems her worthy to possess and there are other students at Houjou Academy who can summon spirits and golems means that supernatural situations will increase. I don’t expect explosions peppering town and energy blasts tossed around like confetti (leave that to shounen battle anime like Blue Exorcist) but I do expect more intrigue and intelligence. Okay, I do expect some fighting. Tengu have made an appearance! Anyway part of the reason I expect that is the supporting cast.
There are a lot of characters and they are interesting enough that, even when Izumiko doesn’t catch and hold our attention, they will. Miyuki is chief among them. He’s the angry young-man of the show.
Although he seems set up to be Izumiko’s love-interest he burns with hostility for her due to her meekness and was quite a bully when they first met as children. When I first saw him in action I felt that he verbalised the audience’s feelings for Izumiko’s passivity.
His journey into taking responsibility for Izumiko’s protection is believablly done and not contrived. It is a hard journey that has seen him have to reconstruct his identity after coming to terms with his weakness and her strength and he has resisted all the way but he has come to something of a begrudging acceptance.
Actually I quite like the chemistry between the two which makes the anime fun to watch. There are moments when his callousness emerges and he and Izumiko seem like an unhappily married couple arguing and doing their best to ignore each other lest they end up trying to kill each other.
The characterisation is sharp in this regard. The behaviour physical differences between the two are stark. She is physically small, runs out of breath easily and she shivers whenever danger approaches while he is taller and stouter and faces trouble. When the two are united, all sorts of emotions are released. Deep down his feelings are in flux and he is protective of her.
You know they are going to be together in the end, it just has to happen. As one character points out “in times gone by mountain monks and shrine maidens would marry”. Gosh, I feel like a girl writing something like that… Something violent is needed for balance…
Thank you Mikasa from Attack on Titan… Anyway…
The presentation is very good. The backgrounds and settings create a great atmosphere. The tale is spun out around real world locations in different parts of Japan so there is are urban and countryside locations and they are very pretty, colourful and highly detailed. Take a look at these shots.
There is one problem. Using a slow pace for the full tale to be revealed is great if there are 24 episodes but there aren’t. There are 12 and the narrative shuffles along introducing many plot points and characters which means that a satisfying narrative resolution is going to be difficult to accomplish without a sequel. That written, I’m still watching it because I like Izumiko and the visuals. I find that it is a very easy anime to watch and while I do have misgivings about its length I am fully committed to watching it all the way to the end.
There. Done. Ramble over. Back to Japanese film reviews next week. Here’s the OP and ED. The opening theme is rather dull but I do like the end one.