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Based on a manga series by Hajime Yamamura, the anime adaptation of Kamisama Dolls is a mixed bag of a series. It is filled with fantastic animation and plenty of dark ideas, but also has quite a bit of misguided comedy.
Kyohei Kuga is a young man who moves to Tokyo to go to university and escape his dark past in his old village. But he is unable to move on: his younger sister Utao comes to the city with her kakashi – Kukuri, a powerful wooden “god” she can control with her mind. Even worse, the crazed killer Aki escapes from prison and goes to the Japanese capital to confront his old friend. Kyohei is forced to teach his sister about how to use Kukuri and protect the woman he fancies, Hibino, from Aki and other factions from the village.
Kamisama Dolls is an action packed series that has plenty of dark drama as Kyohei battles his own personal demons. The animation for the series is fantastic, the action is fast and fluid, as the wooden creations fight in Tokyo; the kakashis use energy blasts, blades and are able to fly, dodge and teleport. The violence that is shown is bloody and visceral without being overly gory, being able to make an impact and not being there to simply shock. The watercolor backgrounds for the cityscapes and the mountains are detailed and fantastic to look at. One really beautiful moment was showing an attack in episode 7 where the background is red with black silhouette as one character finally rages against his enemies. Due to some of the comedy aspects, there were some simplistic animation choices, usually related to Utao where she would get shock lines over her head when embarrassed or when she grit her teeth.
Kamisama Dolls has a likeable set of characters with Kyohei being at the heart of it. He is a decent young man who is trying to be a good brother, suffers embarrassment easily and harbors many demons with events in his past that he is struggling to deal with as well as having a fractious relationship with his father. One emotionally driven moment is when Kyohei allows his anger to boil over and starts punching a wall until his knuckles bleed.
Utao is a more impulsive character, quick to anger and more of a comic relief character. But she is a young girl who is learning her skills controlling Kukuri, which improves as the series progresses. However Hibino suffers from being a character used to causing Kyohei embarrassment as he accidently sees her in compromising positions. She has huge breasts that if a real woman had them she would have serious posture problems. The sexual content just undermines the more dramatic elements.
Aki was a creepy creation, having psychopathic smile on his face and having small pupils. He is a hateful character as he taunts Kyohei, but as the series reveals more about the past between the pair, he becomes a more sympathetic character, an anti-hero type. Episode 7 was when the change happened, being a very somber episode, having no opening music and using a different song for the closing title as the past is relived.
As well as the conflict between Kyohei and Aki, and Kyohei trying to train his younger sister, Kamisama Dolls sets out a wider conflict between two different clans at war with each other – the Kugas and the Hyugas. The Kugas are the supposed good clan and the Hyugas the evil ones, but the rivalry only seems to matter in the village. In Tokyo the rivalry between the clans is meaningless, while the series does show a balance, recognizing that there are jerks in the Kugas and there are sympathetic characters in the Hyugas. Kyohei respects Koshiro, the heir to the Hyuga clan; he is made out to be a likeable man with a protective side and sees how pointless the feuding is.
The village itself is very isolated, with an unpaved road being the only way in and out. It is an old-fashioned place, women wear traditional dress and people live in a classist system. A massive contrast to the modern metropolis of Tokyo where the culture is radically different and people tend to be very shocked when wooden robots fight with blades and energy beams.
As a dark drama and an action series, Kamisama Dolls is mostly successful, but story wise it does suffer because the main villains are not introduced until the ninth episode. They just appear out of nowhere, there is no setup and very little reason or explanation for why they are acting the why there are. The sexual humor at the expense of Hibino has already been mentioned as in episode 12 she nearly becomes the victim of rape and her savior gets to perv over her after the rescue mission. It is best to watch the series in Japanese.
Kamisama Dolls is an entertaining series with great development and action even if it suffers from some bad comedy. It is in need of a second series because many plotlines are deliberately left open. But the series was originally broadcast in 2011 in Japan and it looks unlikely we would get the needed second series.