(Another repost from MyAnimeList for archiving purposes. We’re going to the way back machine…for a series I didn’t watch until last year. Science!)
So, as someone who wasn’t much more than casually involved in anime until around 2006, I have never truly gotten around to watching this one, which is odd, considering my likes. So I figure I will toss my hat from here, 2013 and ten years hence production (*Note: at the time of this writing.).
I came at this from the angle of someone who likes mystical and yuri romance. I haven’t ever been more than neutral towards mecha, not avoiding it, but not going out of my way either. I enjoyed this series immensely, but mostly as a character study (my preferred method of series). But a character cannot exist in a vacuum, so let’s get the bad stuff out of the way.
As has been mentioned, the villains in this series are rather bland, even distracting. At best, they exist to fuel the tension in the love triangle. More often than not, they are mood killers for a few nice character moments. As such the entire plot can feel bogged down by the quirky-sentai team of mech fighters. The meta plot on the whole is not much better, being repetitive episode to episode and poorly explained. A show like Madoka Magica gives just enough details about how the mechanics work so that, if you WANT to, you can fill in the blanks. Kannazuki no Miko is decidedly short of that standard, and the nature of the bad guys, how their mecha tie into their roles, and the powers of the priestesses are all vague and poorly developed (the latter only becomes clear at the very end). Look at it as a framing device for Chikane, anything more and you may be courting disappointment.
The animation is pretty good for the time, and holds up as “average” post-renaissance. It isn’t as hard lined and simplistic as the early 90s but neither does it have the flow of a modern eye. Point being, while you’ll note some still-frame panning and extensive dialogue padding (as its cheaper than animating), it probably won’t detract from your experience like some older shows can.
The formulaic first half of the series can be a bit of a chore, and is by far the slowest point in the entire series (ep 3-6). There is some “drama” about how the girls need to learn their true miko powers, some character development about how nice Chikane is to Himeko (because of her secret feelings) and some Himeko/Souma romance that gets interrupted by a mech arriving to crash their date. This pattern is repeated way too often.
But then you find out the game Kannazuki no Miko has been playing, and it wasn’t for a status-quo baddy fight.
Chikane emerges very quickly as the strong character, because this series really is about her struggle. She has tones of Ga Rei Zero’s Yomi to her, absolutely (or, is it vice-versa since this show came first?).
I personally love dark tones, and the notorious “Episode 8” did not disappoint. While the show warns you about the dark turns coming, it doesn’t really prepare you, the imagery is so layered and dialogue so heart-sinking, it makes a rewatch of the previous episodes rather enjoyable. The show lays out subtle hints, some lines of dialogue come off as downright disturbing post-reveal.
On paper Chikane’s struggle isn’t very complicated. She harbors feelings for a friend that seems oblivious that she wants things to go further, all while chasing a boy and seeking Chikane’s help (and, often, Chikane trying to make it work because she feels that will make Himeko happy). Her station in life makes loving a common girl a problem. Oh yeah, it’s lesbian, that’s right.
While that little wrench shouldn’t make this story as compelling as it does….well, it does. Chikane’s internal struggle is extremely relatable, particularly if you’ve BEEN on the end of harboring feelings for someone who really doesn’t get the hint that that IS an option available to her. And that’s really where the sadness about the Himeko/Chikane dynamic comes from: Himeko just never considers that she could be with a girl. It sounds so silly but it’s a truth in the world all too common. And I think that’s what elevated the love triangle into something I was invested in, when I normally loathe them: This love triangle was genuine, and quite honest with the audience. There was no handwaving. The series comes out and says very clearly “YES, Chikane is GAY for Himeko!” and at the same time “Yup, Himeko really likes Souma”.
As such, I found it very hard to blame Chikane for any of the actions she took on her path to darkness. If the world had been different, if it hadn’t placed so much baggage on her feelings, perhaps she could have had Himeko. Even though Chikane’s status as a “noble” (a very ill defined term in the anime. Probably just wealthy) is rather grey and ill defined, she does an excellent job of conveying that pressure in her words, and in how she’s designed. She seems perpetually sad, even when smiling. The looks she gives Souma are downright terrifying sometimes, and the end of her “date night” with Himeko made me giddy with how sad it was (Yes, I see terrible, awfully dark things and I squee). And those are the best villains, I feel. Chikane joins an incredibly short list of dark characters whom you genuinely can feel are “in the right” (relatively speaking). Did she need to go as far? No, probably not. Did she have to play nice with everyone though? Also not an option. She just got tired of getting pushed around. It’s a beautiful story of a young woman’s despair and everlasting love.
This in turn gives Himeko room to grow. She shoulders both of their responsibilities on her own and finally understands Chikane’s feelings. Which was nice, she didn’t have to -change- who she was, merely grow. And by the end she’s her own tolerable character (previously overshadowed by Chikane’s complexity). Souma, sadly, doesn’t really ever elevate beyond a nuisance to the plot as “generic selfless hero”.
And a small note: the music was divine and fit the series perfectly. Not a small task for a mystical-mecha-lesbian-romance. It was just beautiful, sad, and eclectic enough to blend.
In the end, how much you like this series really comes down to how much you like Chikane. As my score for “overall” and “enjoyment” show, I recognize there are some serious flaws here. But I love Chikane so much that I can’t help but wave all those faults away as necessary set pieces to give Chikane a stage to glow on. The only thing that drags the enjoyment down, was the awful first part of the series. And even then it was a burden worth bearing.