Shoujo – Comedy, fantasy, magical girl, romance
7 Volumes (complete)
Karin’s parents have passed away long ago, and now her beloved pet has died as well. Still in mourning, Karin is angered when a boy insults her but cheers up when she meets a kind girl. The pair turn out to be cousins looking for a “god”. In the midst of everything, Karin’s ring, an heirloom from her mother, suddenly emits a strange light…
Kamichama Karin is an unusual blend of both a typical magical girl story and an atypical one.
Kamichama Karin started off as a two-shot. Favorable reviews led it get a continuation. While this often happens, many authors tend to “reboot” the opening chapters before launching a full serialization. The first two chapters aren’t terrible — in fact, the final chapter proves everything comes full circle — but there are aspects that a more planned-out series would have changed. The art is definitely one of those. Koge-Donbo frequently draws (rather ugly) exaggerated SD characters, and Karin’s ring is literally just a circle.
Magical girl manga usually have items that real girls want to play with or wear, and the God Rings are just so uninspired. The story also swings between being a parody of a fighting magical girl series (“I am God!” is Karin’s transformation phrase) and being a more traditional one (mysterious past). Heck, the main antagonist constantly jumps between being an actual threat who could really injure and the series joke a la Team Rocket. Even the Karin’s sudden boost in her intelligence and skill levels from the opening chapter is never explained or heard about again.
But fast forward to the end of the introduction. The titular character, Karin, awakens the mysterious powers in her mother’s ring. After some strange incidents, she realizes she isn’t alone and sees her new friends Himeka and Kazune return home. While Karin’s newfound appreciation for the people around her made for a nice ending, it’s no surprise the story continued: what are the God Rings, and who is the guy after them? The actual serialization starts with the three reuniting and then the cousins inviting Karin to live with them as they start middle school. Karin soon learns she and Kazune need to protect Himeka while the eccentric student body president, Kirio, keeps targeting their transformation rings. Meanwhile, Karin develops a crush on a senpai (Kirika) who may have ulterior motives.
Again, a lot of this will seem straight out of the pages of Sailor Moon, Wedding Peach, and other such manga. Of course it does: as a parody, Kamichama Karin was heavily influenced by these stories. But the manga tries to put its own spin on the formula as the story continues. For instance, Karin only really fights against Kirio and a mysterious goddess, not a horde of one-time generals or random monsters. The battles are hardly important outside of Kazune’s reluctance to transform. (Plus the characters don’t even have to worry about keeping their god forms secret since they become invisible to regular people.) Kamichama Karin doesn’t waste a lot of time investigating random mysteries; instead it concentrates on the core group (and a few schoolmates). This allows the readers the opportunity to really get to know the main characters and helps keeps the manga’s charm level higher than it really should be. Kirika is conflicted about what to do, Karin and Kazune struggle with jealousy, and Himeka tries not to be useless. Eventually, a new student named Michiru transfers in, and he riles up both the situation about the God Rings as well as the romance.
While also treading down some familiar paths, the story also throws in a few curveballs. Some savvy readers might be able to figure out a couple of the twists before the reveals, but the series generally keeps everything a mystery until the end. In this aspect, Kamichama Karin is very addicting. It’s nice to read a manga where the secrets are not obvious or given a rushed explanation. However, the big reveal doesn’t really explain the why or the how, just the what. A lot of questions — most notably about schoolmate Yuuki and Karin’s past — are left unanswered here. On the bright side, I do like how Kamichama Karin incorporates both science and mythology. If you’re not a fan of either, don’t worry; Koge-Donbo just uses these as a base and any previous knowledge of these subjects are not necessary. The series isn’t deep.
As often the case in a manga targeting young girls, Karin is a below-average student in both academics and sports. She does know some karate and is prone to punching Kazune out (as you can see in the above image). She is not as cheerful or optimistic as many typical Nakayoshi heroines. Like a lot of middle school girls, Karin can get depressed easily and then hyped up. She can be extreme and eccentric, but that’s part of the crazed comedy aspect of the manga. Kazune’s main quirk, his fear of bugs, also falls into this category. His personality is pretty unusual for a male lead: he’s always going on about how women are useless, scaredy-cats, annoying, etc. Karin often (rightfully) calls him a chauvinist; she doesn’t stand for his “leave-it-to-the-men” attitude. Despite this, it’s obvious to readers who Kazune is interested in, but the relationship between him and Himeka adds a curious wrinkle to the situation. Koge-Donbo admits the Karasuma siblings end up switching personalities by the end, and I like Kirio better as an spacecase-slash-idiot and Kirika as the blunt, sarcastic one. The transfer student, Michiru, pushes the story forward due to his intense respect for Kazune’s father and interest in Kazune himself. Meanwhile, one new character at the very end really adds nothing to the story outside of a Ranma 1/2‘s Ryoga-like joke of where she always gets lost.
Koge-Donbo is a moe artist. That’s pretty indisputable. If you’ve never read one of her works before, her style may seem a little jarring. Think of her style as a cross between Fujiwara’s (of Inu x Boku SS) and Tanemura’s (of Phantom Thief Jeanne). Characters’ eyes are large, crossdressing abounds, and characters are often seen with animal ears. She also throwns in a bit of fanservice like the aforementioned crossdressing and also a lot of romantic fluff. Lots of moe and comedy, just like Koge-Donbo is known for. Kamichama Karin was the author’s first work targeting girls, so the pages are brighter than her boy-oriented works. The art goes full-on exaggerated in the funny scenes with dot eyes, SD proportions, and >_< like expressions. When characters are angry, they will rage. Meanwhile, in the serious and romantic scenes, the artwork is beautiful. Karin’s goddess dress, for instance, is gorgeous despite Koge-Donbo’s struggle to keep the tiara size consistent. While Michiru is also supposed to be a bishounen, Kazune really is the one who does a good job of making readers’ hearts throb with his bright smile and soft expressions. I actually do like Tokyopop’s cutesy chibi covers better than most of the Japanese volume covers (a lot of weird closeups), but I wish the Japanese volumes’ covers were added on the back or an insert or something.
Honorifics are used. Kirio’s nickname of “Meganekko” is given as “Mr. Glasses Man”. It actually comes off as much nicer than the often-used “Four Eyes”. His nickname for her rotates between “Amateur Goddess”, “Greenhorn Goddess”, and one or two more I probably forget. Nike’s speech pattern (using -nya in words and shii/da shii at the ends of sentences) is adapted as repeated letters, usually vowels. A few translation errors are made, including one that suddenly makes it seem that there’s a younger brother. Karin’s “I am God” is kept, but her attack is occasionally changed from “God Thunder” to “Goddess Thunder”. Kazune’s fan club is called the “Kazune-Z”, which is supposed to be pronounced like “Kazunes” and not “Kazune + the letter z”. The adaptation tends to elaborate and make things sometimes sound harsher than the original Japanese.
Despite its story flaws, if you’re a fan of the 90s magical girl manga, then you’ll enjoy Kamichama Karin. It’s not an epic save-the-world adventure, but it’s charming. That’s really the only reason to read it. The story may have gaps and the art may rely too much on comedy, but the target audience is not going to care because Kamichama Karin is cute. Look elsewhere if you want something moving, dramatic, mature… anything but a cute magical girl fantasy.
Del Rey licensed the sequel Kamichama Karin Chu while Broccoli released the spin-off Kon Kon Kokon. The characters also appear in the unavailable-in-English manga Doki Doki! Tama-tan. Koge-Donbo also released a crossover Kamisama Karin x Vocaloid doujinshi called Kazune Miku Bon. The anime adaptation of Kamichama Karin has not been licensed. Tokyopop released Koge-Donbo’s Pita Ten manga while several companies have brought over various Di Gi Charat books.
Fun fact: the voice of Kotarou in Pita-Ten also did Kazune for Kamichama Karin. That’s exactly how I kept hearing Kazune before an anime was announced. This ended up being my first correct voice casting prediction. I also guessed Ishida as Michiru. Nailed it.