神様はじめました (Kami-sama Hajimemashita)
Shoujo – Comedy, drama, fantasy, reverse harem, romance, supernatural
25 Volumes (complete)
High school student Nanami suddenly finds herself broke and alone. Lost and homeless, she ends up saving a stranger who offers her a home. With no place else to go, she arrives only to discover his house is actually a shrine — being run by a man with fox ears?!
I first was introduced to Kamisama Kiss the way I am so often convinced to start a series: it was on sale. It was only later that I heard the manga being described as “the shoujo Inuyasha“. And that description is eerily accurate for many of this series’ opening volumes: a normal girl meets an animal-eared lad with light-colored hair who takes an instant dislike to the often-fiery heroine.
Both Nanami and Kagome end up controlling their love interests with the power of words, forcing Tomoe and Inuyasha to follow their commands. The heroines are both treated as deities, but they also juggle their old, normal school life with exams and friends.
Even when we get beyond the first few volumes, the parallels continue: dog-boy and fox-boy both have past relationships that complicate the situation, and one of the major players in the story is a decidedly non-human being in a human’s body. And, of course, time travel is involved! Because you can’t have an Inuyasha-inspired tale without time travel.
Before I dive further into the story, an aside: the final volume is available in two versions, a standard (book-only) edition and a “limited” edition. The deluxe version retails for twice as much ($19.99 versus $9.99), but the difference becomes much more minimal if you buy it on Amazon or elsewhere where the difference is under half that. The premium version comes with different cover art and an extra hardcover book that includes several color pages of the various cover and splash page images and a mini-interview with the author. There is also a bonus chapter that expands on the ending. It doesn’t really add much that isn’t already known, but it does provide a richer picture of the characters’ futures. Plus while the images can be rather tiny, they are pretty. Yes, it’s technically the cost of a whole other VIZ manga volume, but if you’ve invested so much time into Kamisama Kiss, there’s no reason not to get the mini-fanbook. The only disappointing thing is that it uses the Japanese 25.5 fanbook cover instead of the original, more romantic Volume 25 art featured on the regular edition. Tomoe side-eyeing Nanami suspiciously doesn’t exactly scream, “Thank you for following us for all these years!”, you know?
In the first chapter, Nanami is about to live on the streets when she saves a strange man. He gives her his home, and there she meets the fox Tomoe, the head assistant and caretaker of the shrine. The two butt heads (as often the case in these types of stories), but Nanami eventually takes over the shrine as its deity and gets to command Tomoe to boot.
Much of the early focus is about the heroine trying to adjust to the world of spirits and gods, meeting various beings along the way. Most of these tales are fairly light, with plenty of comedy and a lot of heart. Nanami tries to get Mikage Shrine to not be known as the neighborhood spooky place, and she even discovers her favorite idol is not who he says he is. Tomoe is often strict and quick-tempered, and his enormous powers are only held in check by Nanami’s verbal commands. (Ever see a fox-boy shake hands with a fish or a fireball chasing after an ostrich? You will in Kamisama Kiss.) Of course, then the story starts to shift as Nanami falls in love with Tomoe. He bluntly rejects her feelings, but he continues to support her as his master. Because, as he says…
Of course, you can probably guess this doesn’t remain the case for the whole story.
This is obviously a fairly short synopsis of a long manga, but you get the general idea. Kamisama Kiss is one of those rare modern shoujo hits popular enough to get a second season of the anime, and FUNimation also made this their first shoujo series to get a deluxe edition. It’s really no wonder why: besides the Inuyasha connections, Kamisama Kiss also feels much like Fruits Basket with a wide range of transforming pretty boys, a scholastically-challenged heroine, a cast of characters who adore her, and a dark-haired antagonist who has a complicated relationship with the hero. It’s no coincidence that the director of Fruits Basket (who also did We Were There/Bokura ga Ita, Kodocha: Sana’s Stage, and other shoujo manga adaptations) also directed Kamisama Kiss. And no matter if you’re a big Fruits Basket or Inuyasha fan or not, there are certainly aspects that appeal to a wide range of readers and watchers.
So what does Kamisama Kiss do well?
First, the antagonist, the mysterious Kirihito. He’s not like most villains in manga, neither someone who was born evil nor someone who veered off the right path. Readers get to see a deeper side of him rather early, so there’s no sudden, instantaneous change in his personality. Even his development isn’t solely dependent on Nanami. By the end, I really wanted a spin-off starring him because he makes the story far more interesting.
A major twist is also cleverly hidden right from the beginning. This makes for a satisfying reread when you spot a couple of seemingly small details and realize they’re connected to a major event in the story. I wouldn’t say I’ll discover something new each time I read Kamisama Kiss, but it’s enough that the manga inspires you to go back and see if there are any other clues.
One of the themes of the story appears to be to appreciate your mortality, that because life ends, life is beautiful. And yet I feel like it was undermining its own lesson. It’s hard to try to dance around the subject, but I’ll try. Couple A basically says they want to spend their lives as humans, even though everyone celebrates their relationship. Couple B faces much more resistance, and there isn’t any discussion of living as humans. In fact, while the story spends a lot of time on Couple B, the author basically skips the ultimate resolution. There is plenty of questions on how their relationship would work, but I don’t understand why it wouldn’t work. Especially since Suzuki teases a Couple C that could also cross species. Why did Couple A choose to leave many of their loved ones behind? Only to eventually return, it seems like?
I also liked early Nanami best. In the opening chapter, for instance, she feels angry that Tomoe appears to be disrespecting his shrine, and she forceably kisses him so that she can be saved (and not have to beg for his cooperation). After realizing she loves Tomoe, she just focuses on him so much. I missed meeting new ayakashi or Nanami’s attempts to raise the status of Mikage Shrine. Instead, it’s all Tomoe, Tomoe, Tomoe. Even when she finally does something besides chase after Tomoe, it’s usually something so that she can live with Tomoe. Lots of shoujo manga lose their lightheartedness and become more romance-focused, but they also usually wait until the end to get the couple together.
Along those same lines, the manga also has some significant down times. Part of this is the heavy Nanami-Tomoe focus I mentioned above. If you love some of the craziness of the early chapters, that is all but abandoned for rescue missions and discussions of what to do in the future. In addition, some characters are kicked to the curb. Nanami has a monkey to support her duties, and yet he disappears for the last third or so of the story. She also makes two friends at school, but it appears that one friend’s only purpose in the story is to boost the number of Nanami’s friends from one to two. When the story goes dull, it can go dull. Some series don’t lend itself well to being marathoned, but I actually found myself enjoying it better when I could read several volumes at once versus ending on a note where not a lot happened or some of my favorite characters were MIA.
I mentioned before I liked early Nanami better. Well, maybe not so much art-wise. As you can see from the first image and the cover, the characters are flatter, skinnier, and have more elongated faces. Compare Nanami and Tomoe to the cover of the final volume up above. Definitely a significant art shift.
While Tomoe is designed to be a beautiful fox, I do like how not every ayakashi is drawn as a a beautiful person who just looks like they’re wearing an animal cosplay accessory. Himemiko is clearly a catfish, and another character gains a significant amount of weight, but they are still loved by the people closest to them. Of course, the lesson of “it’s what’s inside that counts” is somewhat lessened a bit by the fact almost all the males are attractive, whether they’re a part of Nanami’s harem or not. I guess you could at least argue most of the gods and ayakashi are personifications of the beauty of the natural world, so that explains their divine appearance.
The scenes involving celebrations and gatherings are not doubt the artistic highlights of the manga. Again, look at Nanami on the Kamistravaganza cover. What a beautiful kimono and hairstyle. Too bad Mikage Shrine is on the poor, unpopular side, as we don’t get to see an ornately dressed Nanami too often. The comedic touches are well-placed, and the various plot plants are often brilliantly hidden in plain sight.
Honorifics are generally used for the deities and related figures, but not anyone else. So it’s “Nanami-sama”, but never “Ami-chan”. Obviously, as stated in the title, “kami” and other related words are kept in Japanese. For kami in particular, I imagine it’s because VIZ Media wanted to minimize the implications of being God or that there are multiple Gods. Of course, this also separates the Japanese gods from mythological gods of Greek and Roman history, so that was a bonus I’m sure Accent marks are used as well, and Japanese translation notes are included at the end of each volume. It probably can be a little confusing with terms like “tochigami’, “toshigami”, etc. all being swung around.
The various puns and notes about names are not included. Himemiko’s title in English is “Himemiko of the Swamp”. In other words, Nura no Himemiko. On a sticker, the English version shows she’s using Nurano Himemiko as her human name. Kurama also uses KURAMA (in English) as his stage name, the romaji version of his family name of 鞍馬.
One panel uses “Amy” which I assume was supposed to be “Ami”. Another important line I believe is incorrect: the ending line in Volume 13 makes sense as Tomoe’s line, but since it’s “your life partner” instead of “my life partner”, VIZ has it like two different people are speaking in the bubbles. It doesn’t break the story, but I don’t know why two people would be using the same special speech font.
I wouldn’t be surprised if VIZ Media decided to do a box set or an omnibus of Kamisama Kiss. This will bring down the cost of owning the series down quite a bit, removing a significant barrier for a lot of manga readers. Otherwise, Kamisama Kiss almost needs a filler guide to help divide the volumes into essential, pretty good, and bloated space. Almost all fans will enjoy the series, but the slow parts and some unsatisfying side couple resolutions help drag it down from being a solid A series into the B range.
TOKYOPOP released the author’s Karakuri Odette.
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