Kannagi wasn’t on my original list of “to watch” anime for the fall ’08 season, but once I saw how popular it became, I just had to see what all the fuss was about! XD So I spent the past few days of my winter break marathon-ing through the 13 episodes. And now that I’ve seen it all, I must admit that Kannagi is deserving of its popularity…
The first thing that struck me about Kannagi after watching just the first few episodes (besides the awesome opening, which I’ll get to later) was how “quiet” the series is, as in, little to no background music. Of course, most anime leave out background music in certain scenes to intensify drama or get a humorous joke across, but it seemed a lot more absent in Kannagi. Because of this, I found myself much more engrossed in the cinematography, scene transitions, and the characters’ subtle actions and facial expressions. This, together with A-1 Pictures’ noticeably flexible, spontaneous, and overall good quality animation, added a great deal to my enjoyment of the series.
Obviously, animation and sound alone can’t determine the quality of an anime without a good storyline and/or good characters. Probably most anime fans reading a short summary of Kannagi will think that it’s just another stereotypical harem or predictable slice-of-life romance/comedy series (despite being based on a shounen manga). That’s kind of the impression I first got when I read one of the original summaries of the series. But, as I’m sure many of us have seen, even if an anime runs on a stereotyped storyline, it can still excel if it performs that storyline well and provides characters, subplots, humor, and emotion with something refreshing and striking about them. And Kannagi definitely has these unique aspects that make its otherwise overused plot shine.
As I’ve mentioned, the easily flowing animation and lack of distracting background music helps make the series stand out, but another thing is its clever humor. What I’ve noticed in a lot of recent anime over the past few years is the increasing amount of hyperbolic and sometimes interrupting humor, with a lot of it coming from blatant physical gags, having the characters smack each other or yell loudly while being drawn all cartoonish looking, etc,. For some anime, this kind of humor works, but for a lot it doesn’t, and only results in being very out-of-place in an otherwise serious show. What’s refreshing about the humor in Kannagi, and other series like Lucky Star and Haruhi Suzumiya, is that most of it is subtle and relies more on the viewers’ knowledge about the characters and taking note of little hints in their words and actions rather than all the jokes and gags being spoon-fed to us with loud, disruptive scenes that interrupt the flow of the show. These particular anime also throw in references to other anime and otaku culture, which is always gratifying if you happen to have good knowledge of these things ^^ Just about all the humor in Kannagi is subtle like this, a couple of good examples being Tsugumi and Zange’s attempts to get Jin to sit next to them in the karaoke studio, and Nagi and Tsugumi’s embarrassment about their bust sizes. These humorous scenes never seem out of place with the flow of the show; anime like Kannagi, where the humorous and non-humorous scenes flow together almost perfectly rather than a stark contrast between the two, is definitely a plus in my book considering all the lame, obnoxious humor in a lot of anime nowadays.
Of course, the humor and other emotions in a series wouldn’t be effective without enjoyable characters to carry them out. Like most male-lead anime characters in a mostly female character-centered setting, I couldn’t find anything extremely unique or interesting about Jin, but he is definitely not unlikeable. Although nothing really stands out about him, he comes off as an overall decent guy, and his emotions and reactions are very believable for a boy of his age and in his situations. His uncertain feelings about Nagi and his admiration of Daitetsu are a couple of his more notable and sympathetic qualities. One thing I like about Jin is that he actually comes out and demands to know the answers to all the mysteries around him, as is apparent in episode 11 when he confronts Nagi with a string of questions about who she really is (and later, he asks Zange as well). This is quite unlike a lot of other lead anime characters I’ve seen in similar situations, who are not nearly as straight-forward about wanting to find out the exact details of what’s going on around them.
But although Jin is likable enough, as is typical of this kind of anime, he is out-shined by the series’ female lead Nagi. While Jin is the main protagonist, Nagi is the main focus of the series and just about all the conflict revolves around her. Since Nagi is given much of the attention, she stands out amongst the other characters because we get to see many sides of her personality; obviously her eccentric, strong-headed side when she’s with Jin, her cute, fun-loving side when she’s with the rest of the characters, her mysterious, gentle, caring side that comes with her “godlike” duty of protecting the people of Kannagi town, and of course, her internally conflicted and emotional side in the last few episodes. Fairly new seiyuu Haruka Tomatsu does an absolutely amazing job as Nagi (I especially loved the hilarious commercial jingle that Nagi sung at karaoke! XD) Her talent is another big factor in making Nagi such an entertaining character.
Tsugumi is also a sympathetic character because of her unrequited love for Jin. Obviously she is jealous of Jin’s relationship with Nagi and Zange, but she stays true to her meek personality and never allows herself to get angry or act with contempt towards any of them. She even questions herself from time to time about her hidden feelings of jealousy.
Though I don’t feel that Zange was given as much character development as Jin, Nagi, and Tsugumi, her additional crush on Jin gave rise to many more humorous situations and conflicts. The rest of the cast, just about all of which comprise the members of Jin’s art club, are enjoyable enough as well. Being primarily supporting characters, they don’t stand out too much; Shino, Takako, and Akiba are pretty much comic relief while Daitetsu helps Jin’s character development. But they still have enough unique quirks in their personalities to make them fun to watch.
In addition to good characters and a refreshing sense of humor, as I mentioned earlier, Kannagi has a fantastic opening that’s worth discussing. Anyone who watches the opening video without any knowledge of what the show is about will probably get a different idea about it. The opening shows a well animated and very realistic portrayal of Nagi singing the song on stage, while random scenes go by of her interacting with the other characters. However, the whole video gives the impression that she’s some kind of popular idol singer, and the other characters are helping her out, i.e, Jin appears to be her agent, Daitetsu takes photos of her, Shino helps her make up, etc,. To me, the opening seems like a parody of the show itself, poking fun at the fact that Nagi needs the praise and support of the people, just like an idol singer, but in her case it’s to enhance her “godly” powers.
In conclusion, Kannagi is a fun series with a noticeably unique feel to it, a refreshing sense of humor, and enjoyable characters. Although it’s mostly a romance/comedy series, it has aspects of Shintoism, otaku references, and other things to make it appealing to a wide range of viewers. It’s fairly light and comical for most of the episodes, but the dramatic and emotional finale episodes prove that the series knows how to effectively convey drama as well as comedy. Episode 13 leaves the series very much open to a sequel, with many remaining loose ends and unanswered questions. Since the manga is currently on hiatus but still ongoing, I don’t see why we shouldn’t look forward to more Kannagi ^_^