Kuma Miko – 07

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Another Tuesday, another mediocre Kuma Miko: Machi cuts fire wood with an axe. Then she lights the kitchen on fire because her anxiety prevents her from using the rice cooker properly.

Then Yoshio has Natsu perform a ritual, except Yoshio’s granny didn’t leave instructions and no one actually knows what the ceremony is for or how to do it.

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Nothing of consequence happened this week but, unlike the average episode of Flying Witch, there’s nothing warm and comfortable about Kuma Miko. Mentally ill or not, Machi is an unpleasant character who’s self-fulfilling idiocy brings the misfortune in the most telegraphed, dull, way possible.

Meanwhile Yoshio is portrayed as a simpleton, just going through the motions and Natsu is shown as loving Machi, but not always able to express it without insulting her. And his love hasn’t really been returned by Machi these past few episodes, making the relationship (and Machi herself) less bearable.

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The verdict: the punchline is everyone has mental illness, obliviousness, and a nihilistic outlook for the aging people of the mountains. Old people are stupid, deaf, and the few offspring they’ve culturally trapped through bumpkin-ism are resentful about the meaningless and smallness of their lives, and they retaliate through lazy destruction and not taking their jobs seriously.

Being technically competent is not enough to save Kuma Miko from its dull, repetitive stagger off my review list. It’s not worth hating but the formula isn’t funny or charming enough to get me through the rest.

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Kuma Miko – 06

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This week Machi tried to go to a novelty bookstore but a self-hatred-fueled freakout rampage prevented her from doing so. She also met a boy, although that doesn’t appear to be relevant to the narrative.

Later, still gripped with terror/embarrassment/self-loathing, Machi freaks out at Natsu. But then she has a fever and Natsu feels bad about making her go to the bookstore. He tries to make her feel better by cooking a meal and taking the blame for her troubles. Eventually, after savagely beating him for a night, Machi feels better and goes to school.

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So… that was awful. Ignoring the complete lack of content, set backs to Machi’s arduously slow growth, and reliance on girl punches guy humor, episode six was simply dull. The lack of new situations was also emphasized by Machi being ‘saved’ by the boy on the escalator, only for the episode to drop him completely out of the narrative.

Hibiki existed only to name drop this week’s business for the show to visit; Yoshio existed only to move Machi from space to space and strike his ‘you got this’ pose; Machi existed only to hate herself, and Natsu only existed to flash us back to Machi being a nice caring girl when she was younger and for some bear slap-stick cooking mishaps.

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The verditc: abusive, childish, tantrumming and self hatred are not the strongest themes for comedy. Nor are they good anchors for ‘lite’ casual watching. If not for Natsu’s predictable but — yes — still adorable kitchen antics, this episode would be a total failure.

Good job show. If your goal was to make me not like Machi this week, you were very successful. Why you would want me to hate your protagonist though… uh… yeah why would you want that??

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Kuma Miko – 05

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Unwinding Kuma Miko’s narrative is a little harder than unwinding this week’s underlying theme: a person’s surface traits only obscures an opposite underlying reality.

Machi’s keen observation and ‘possessed’ knowledge obscures her lack of real work understanding, Natsu’s kindness masks a deep frustration with the ‘dumbness’  of people, Hibiki’s violent demeanor simply hides her bashful love, and Yoshio’s constant scheming is only a pretense for a deeply simple man with a deeply simple brain…

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What happened? The girls flaunted their new clothes, Hibiki’s motives for helping Machi were implied to be due to Yoshio asking, and that Hibiki has a strong love for Yoshio.

Also, a little boy was locked in a cave with Natsu to scare him straight and there was a lot of blushing. Honestly, nothing that really matters narratively beyond Hibiki liking Yoshio…

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Was it good? Sure! Kuma Miko’s blend of unexpected yet simple humor is as often comforting as it is truly funny. Natsu is incredibly likable, and his rare annoyance with everyone being so simple–even after he tries to explain things simply–is understandable.

Kuma Miko is ultimately harder to deep critique beyond that point. It’s a good slice of life and characterization with gentle humor and blush-blush yuck-yuck gentle romance. Sure, it wouldn’t be much without the weird central characters and a talking bear, but even then, it would be completely watchable.

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Kuma Miko – 04

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I never expected Kuma Miko to carry last week’s costumes over to a second episode and, coupled with the village ceremonies, the village men chatting about the costumes they preferred, and watching Machi and Natsu eat sushi together, the first act is a master class in slice-of-life as world-building.

It was slow, comfortable, almost joke-free but still enjoyable. The fact Machi gets more character designs and the in-show world responds to it is a nice play on anime convention.

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Then the second act comes out of nowhere and introduces Yoshi’s childhood friend Hibiki and goes off on a tangent about the Shimomura clothing retailer. Hibiki aside, the Shimomura segment is a lot like last season’s Dagashi Kashi, as I have no context for this company and have no idea why the writers felt a possessed Machi rambling off factoids about this company would be funny or even interesting.

Because Hibiki is introduced to us abruptly, and Machi is wearing her ‘flashback’ school clothes AND because we’d seen flashbacks in the first act, I initially though the entire scene WAS a flashback. Put it all together and the second half is a confusing mess.

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Last week I called out Kuma Miko for being overly safe and relying on it’s central relationship’s quirkiness for all it’s humor. I’m not sure that is still true this week, with the introduction of Hibiki and Machi’s relationship.

However, the second act is so random and disconnected from the show that playing it safe may be all Kuma Miko is able to do? Definitely watchable, strange, but not really ‘good’ as an alternative.

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Kuma Miko – 03

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Kuma Miko is a remarkable safe, enjoyable comedy that relies on the goofiness of its setting and central relationship for most of its humor. Previous episodes have hung close to Machi’s urge to leave her small rural nest and her challenge she must overcome to do so.

This week took an unexpectedly interesting look at how heritage itself must face the modern world. The result was clever, even if it wasn’t any funnier or more dramatic than before.

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In the opening act, Machi notices she’s gained a weight and attempts to co-opt ritual dance into exercise – complete with gym-coach style one-two-one-two dance music.

Natsu finds this a little sacrilegious at first but eventually bumps it up a notch further with a bear-based DJ session…that results in angering the mountain gods and bringing the rain.

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In the second act, the towns people have made 4 summer-style costumes for Machi to wear at the shrine. Machi is initially very excited by the prospect of seeing a new take on Ainu tradition, but quickly learns the costumes are all embarrassing to wear and make minimal nods to tradition.

The second costume in particular includes bear ears and a tail…

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What stood out: the bear clubbing session was fun and it added nuance and supportive nature to Natsu’s character. Some of the animations of Machi moving around on the floor were also above average. The throw away gag about learning the history of electricity at the open was also entertaining.

Over all, Kuma Miko is a low 8 but still an 8. It isn’t remarkable in many ways, as it generally plays it safe, but the humor and core relationship has a good hook.

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Kuma Miko – 02

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Kuma Miko demonstrates this week that it’s prepared to go to some pretty far-flung lengths for the sake of comedy, including a conspicuous amount of Uniqlo exposure. Machi remains firm in her desire to move to the city, but Natsu still doesn’t think she’s ready.

She literally grapples Natsu and then turns on the waterworks, and Natsu relents, drawing up on ink and paper the next trial to determine her readiness for life outside the village. It’s totally out-of-left-field trial, too:

“Buy a HEATTECH item from Uniqlo.”

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Just go to a store and buy an item from a particular line. Sounds simple, right; especially with two days to work with? HA! Little did I know how epic an adventure was about to unfold. It’s a long way from the village to the nearest Uniqlo, and the bridge out of the village is out, so Machi has to wait a whole day to even leave.

When she does, she finds her bike has been taken by her uncle for the day, so she has to borrow her cousin’s infamous bike, which…is not a good bike. It’s too big for Machi, and very heavy too, due to a completely unnecessary mini leather armchair for a seat and an animal carrier in back.

Seriously, I felt uncomfortable watching her ride the thing. Things seemed to be going okay at first, but I was tense when Machi started descending a hill a bit too fast; sure enough, the brakes fail and she’s out of control!

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After briefly getting air, a la E.T., Machi bails out, and the bike smashes against a tree trunk into dozens of pieces. She lands awkwardly and gets several bruises and scratches, but is otherwise okay physically.

But mentally? She can’t help but crumple into a ball and call for her Natsu to help her, like the dependent Machi of yore. Natsu seems to get the message that his ward is in trouble, Lassie-style…but it turns out his back is itchy and he needs to rub it on a tree trunk.

With Natsu not coming, Machi rights the leather chair, has a seat, and simply takes a moment, before slapping her thighs and re-committing herself to completing this task, even if she has to walk through the dangerous mountain woods to reach the Uniqlo.

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Fortuitously, she comes upon the stream where Yoshio is fishin with a completely toasted Matsu, whose booze breath, demeanor and constant mocking Machi is forced to put up with as Yoshio drives them to the Uniqlo, where she successfully buys here HEATTECH item (a t-shirt…not a heater).

Before piling back in the car, she finally loses her cool, beats Matsu with her bag, and punches Yoshio in the gut for making her endure so much BS (Yoshio, of course, being the owner of that ridiculous bike). It’s righteous payback for everything she’s endured up to that point.

She returns to Natsu not any surer of her ability to take care of herself, having had to rely on a ride from Yoshio—even though Natsu always assumed she’d get a ride from him anyway. Machi basically made the task far harder than it needed to be.

But as she says, all’s well that ends well: with her revealing her chic new HEATTECH top she dons defiantly beneath her miko garb; naturally, the “S S S S S” sticker still affixed. She’s one step closer to gaining the bear’s permission to move out.

Before credits, Yoshio goes to the garage to find his stupid bike missing, and the episode cuts to the spot in the forest where Machi regained her resolve—where the stately leather armchair still sits, bathed in golden light. An absurd, surreal sight if I ever saw one!

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Kuma Miko – 01 (First Impressions)

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I like a good balance of complicated (Mayoiga) and uncomplicated shows on my list, and Kuma Miko certainly fits the latter. You’ve got your bear, your girl, and your tiny sleepy village she wants to leave for the big city to attend school. The “Girl” in Girl Meets Bear doesn’t actually meet the bear; she’s always known the bear since she was a tyke; he’s her guardian.

So when the two meet in the forest in the cold open, it’s set up like some kind of hazardous clash about to befall the poor unsuspecting girl, but like Hobbes in Calvin & Hobbes, the bear is simply putting on an act in welcoming his companion home.

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Machi, a 14-year-old shrine maiden (Miko) has outgrown her paltry, unstimulating surroundings. She longs for road signs, cell reception, and 24-hour convenience stores. Natsu, her bear guardian, is cognizant of the fact his baby bird wants and needs to spread her wings, but isn’t hapy about it, so sets up a quiz designed to confound Machi on urban matters.

How Natsu got information about Suica cards and the OIOI sign is beside the point, and adds to the slightly surreal comedy of an anthropomorphic bear sparring with a teenage girl on the matter of independence.

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The second half introduces us to Machi’s civil servant cousin Yoshio, who deems his three nine-year-old charges old enough to hear the true story of Kumade village’s relationship with bears. It involves a bear, a broad, and the birds and bees. Suffice it to say, the bears in Kumade are tame and can speak like humans, as per a long-standing agreement.

Beyond the absurd places the depraved mind of a nine-year-old boy takes such things (especially when he meets Machi and Natsu), it’s kinda cool to think that in some isolated village somewhere people and bears can coexist and converse with one another, only it’s a secret so there’s no outside proof. I also like how kids are also duly impressed with Machi’s status as Miko, even if she can’t wait to be rid of it and living in the city.

Kuma Miko is a fun, quirky, uncomplicated little show with a neat little comic duo in Machi and Natsu (voiced by Chad!), a picturesque rural setting, and very dope and catchy OP and ED. Worth a look!

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Working!!! 3 – 04

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This week, something that in hindsight seems obvious became evident: the title Working!! doesn’t just refer to a bunch of quirky people working in a restaurant. That’s just the setting. It can also be about those quirky people working things out with one another, like Yachiyo and Satou, or Inami and Takanashi.

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After their drinking date, Yachiyo is consumed with the meaning of Satou’s sudden, warm, but cryptic hug. She knows she didn’t dislike it and wouldn’t be opposed to more of it, but has no idea why Satou did it.

When she confronts him in the kitchen, he tells her to figure it out for herself, while the best she manages to relay to him is that the thought of being friends with him makes her gloomy, without clarifying that she doesn’t want to be JUST friends.

Yachiyo is so distracted she’s making mistakes in her work, but thankfully the episode doesn’t make that a practical excuse for her to give up on Satou. Working!! is also about the characters helping out one of their own when they’re in some kind of trouble or acting strangely, as Yachiyo is.

To that end, Popura, the second-most senior server after Yachiyo, makes it work, picking up the slack and delegating all of the work Yachiyo is forgetting to do to everyone else, with each task optimized for the worker’s unique talents and quirks.

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Meanwhile, Kyouko’s underling Mitsuki shows up to drill Satou on his knowledge of Yachiyo, only to learn he knows a lot more about Kyouko since Yachiyo has classically always talked about her in front of him, and because he likes her, he doesn’t just take a fake interest; he retains the information, no matter how inane. Mitsuki thinks this means he loves Kyouko, but it really means he loves Yachiyo.

When Kyouko finds out about Yachiyo’s predicament, she solves it in the most direct, Shirafuji Kyouko Way possible: locking the two would-be lovebirds in the supply closet.

And it actually works! Yachiyo finds she can talk with Satou normally while they’re busy working, and they get on the same page about wanting to continue to act and talk normally. Yachiyo then tries to slip in her desire for Satou to take her out again sometime, but in her rush to make a dramatic exit, she forgets the door is locked.

Still, in that stockroom, these two took a little more stock in what they mean to one another, and while their future doesn’t look easy, it still looks bright.

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The rest of the episode is devoted to a relationship that hasn’t gotten much play this season, and indeed seems to have regressed: that of Takanashi and Inami. The former starts to notice how cute Inami is (now that she’s punching men, and him, a lot less), even though this goes against his obsession with tiny, cute things.

He strains to explain these feelings—maybe it’s Inami’s tiny bust affecting him?—but he can’t quite accept what Kirio says (loudly and obnoxiously): that the reason he’s had eyes for Inami lately is that he’s in love with her. Her, a mature woman far older than he likes.

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As Popura and Kyouko helped Yachiyo out with her problem, Yamada is trying to help Inami out, putting her “on the market” by constantly approaching Takanashi with methods that only intensify his feelings. His bizarre reactions discourage Inami, but she eventually gets it out of him that she’s been giving him a “good vibe”, but he isn’t able to confess he finds her “slightly, barely, blink-and-you-miss-it cute.”

He then takes up his paternal platitudes about her getting over her hatred of men and living happily ever after with the man she loves. Inami is understandably hurt that Takanashi clearly intends to eliminate himself from any equation involving her, if only due to his stupid self-imposed standards. For that Inami punches him and tears up, but her “punch” is only a delicate tap on his chest that lingers there.

She apologizes and runs off, indicating she (and Yamada) still have work to do. But I’m confident that like Yachiyo and Satou, Takanashi and Inami will somehow make it work.

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