Spring 2016 is coming to a close, and with it ends a host of shows of varying degrees of quality. Since not all of us here at Anime Arcade (including myself) can bring you all of the shows that we chose to review due to unforeseen life events, we will most likely be covering our thoughts on the shows of the season on the podcast. However, I will endeavor to write out at least a few reviews for the season, as writing is something I rather enjoy doing. I’ll begin with a show that just recently wrapped up, and was my 2nd pick for this season…
This spring anime was created by Kinema Citrus and directed by Kiyoshi Matsuda. The license was picked up by Funimation, but thus far there hasn’t been an announcement on a dub for this show. Kuma Miko is listed as a comedy and a slice of life anime, which it lives up to in the various everyday scenarios that the heroine faces from episode to episode. Each episode follows a slowly progressing story, and the characters seem to take life one day at a time in their backwoods area of Japan. While it probably won’t be a major contender for top ten of this year, it was a cute story with some fairly excellent art.
Kuma Miko’s story centers around Machi Amayadori, a miko (shrine maiden) for a shrine in a remote village in the Tōhoku region. At here shrine resides Natsu, a talking bear who acts as the shrine deity and representative to the mountain spirits (gods, whatever). When Machi (14) announces to Natsu that she wants to go to school in the city, Natsu begins to worry as the young miko has never even set foot outside of the village. Her innate shyness and her inability to learn new technology make the bear fret about the prospects of the country girl in a big city. After some minor prodding though, Natsu acquiesces to Machi’s request and begins to try to teach her about the outside world. Thus begins Machi’s journey to learning more about the world with the help of Natsu and her fellow villagers.
Since this is a slice of life I am giving the story a little bit of a boost in the arm. Much of the time is spent watching Machi being presented with technology and aspects of city life, and then proceeding to watch her adorably fail at understanding them at all. We also see the fairly cute relationship between Natsu and Machi, as they are technically childhood friends, but Natsu matured much faster as a bear so he acts more like her guardian. Overall the story is okay until a certain point, but I’ll save the spoilers till later. Suffice to say that it’s not a story for every anime fan.
Visuals & Soundtrack
Visually Kuma Miko is very impressive for a slice of life anime. The character designs are great (even with Natsu), but where it really shines is in Machi. The amount of detail in her facial expressions was nice, and her wardrobe was excellently drawn. I particularly enjoyed her miko outfit that she wore for most of the show. The backgrounds were spectacular as well, with much of the art being of either rural backgrounds, or nature scenery. It seems the artist used quite a few pastel colors to great effect to pull off the light hearted feel of the show.
In terms of soundtrack Kuma Miko uses very down to earth melodies to give the feeling of a rural village in Japan. The music that plays when Machi does her miko dancing is soothing and calm, which I thought added quite a bit to the ambiance of the show. The Opening and Ending themes were fun, and really got you in the mood to watch more Kuma Miko. I enjoyed the opening so much I actually bought it!
There aren’t many issues that this show had going against it throughout its run. Opponents of the show may argue that nothing really got resolved from week-to-week, but this is commonplace for the slice of life genre. There was an odd out of place ecchi (perverted) moment in the first episode, but I think this was merely to draw in an audience. That moment was humorously explained away at the end of episode one anyway (go watch it, it’s great). However, that is not to say that Kuma Miko was 100% flawless…
The ending of the show very nearly ruined it for me. Towards the end Machi is entered (against her will) into an idol contest, and is driven into an anxiety ridden panic when she gets up on stage. When Natsu calls out from the crowd she is able to perform her miko routine for the audience, and you’re given the hope that she’s cured of her stage fright. Unfortunately this is not the case, and immediately after her dance Machi begins to hallucinate that that the crowd is jeering her and pelting her with rocks. So vivid is her hallucination that her mind kinda breaks. From here we witness Machi and Natsu’s tearful reunion where he promises she doesn’t have to think about or do anything “difficult” again. The show ends with Machi appearing mentally younger (dumber) than was previously, while eating sweets with Natsu.
I described this ending as the most adorably depressing ending I have ever witnessed in anime. I get the feeling that we were supposed to say “aww” and leave the show at that, but I couldn’t help but think they missed an opportunity to show much more character development. Why not have Nachi gain plot-convenient confidence that stayed with her, so she could develop into an independent young lady. I’m sure her and Natsu would stay in touch, and they could have showed the impact she had on her village revitalization project. As it stands we get a mind-broken Machi, stagnating in a village with a declining populace, who is being cared for by a bear who has (at best) 11 more years in him. Like I said, adorable but overall depressing. There’s also an unresolved romance subplot in the show featuring two other characters, but at this point in anime I’m so jaded with unresolved romance that I couldn’t be paid to care.
Despite the problems I had with the ending I still very much enjoyed this show. Watching it again in segments for this review, I recalled all the fun and hilarious moments in the show and it softened me a bit to the show. While I probably won’t get it on Blu-ray the minute it comes out, I’d be willing to throw down some money for this series once it goes on sale. If nothing else it’s a fun little slice of life anime to watch during your summer vacation… or when your boss isn’t looking at work.
TL;DR: Kuma Miko is a cute and fun slice of life show that will keep you entertained right up until the last episode. It’s visually stunning (for a slice of life), has a decent soundtrack, fun OP/ED songs, and a lovable heroine. While I didn’t particularly care for the ending, it wasn’t bad enough to make me regret watching the show. Give it a watch if you like cute, slice of life anime.
Recommended Audiences: I would say anyone, but there is one spot of ecchi in the first episode. After that though it’s a pretty clean show, so if you’re a parent just skip the latter half of the first episode and you should be golden.
Kuma Miko burns the house down with a rice cooker, but survives with a decent 3.5/5 HP
Watch it today on Funimation!