Kamichu opens with a very low-key bang, with a conversation over lunch between junior high school student Yurie and her best friend:
"Mitsue, I became a god."
“A god of what?”
“I don’t know yet. I just became one last night.”
The joy of this show isn’t in the plot, which is barely there. Equal parts Yurie’s attempts to figure out what kind of a god she is and Yurie’s attempts to get a little notice from her classmate Kenji, the plot is really just an excuse to walk through a world just a little bit different from ours. What drives the show is the lush artwork and the attention to detail throughout. Every object in Yurie’s town has a patron spirit, and their designs show family resemblances and body types appropriate to their responsibilities. The scenery lovingly recreates the the town of Onomichi and serves as a gorgeous backdrop for a charming slice of life story that has its supernatural side almost as an afterthought. Much of the show’s charm lies in the little diversions it takes along the way. The conversation among the gods of Laserdisc, VHD, and Select-O-Vision in Episode 2 is an excellent example: it gives a peek into the lives of the gods, pushes the episode’s plot along, and ties Kamichu’s universe closer to ours by showing that they share a little bit of history.
The episodes wander along with no immediate connections. Yurie gathers friends and supporters, encounters aliens and spirits, and slowly gains experience with her power, but it’s only in retrospect that you see her growth. As encounters accumulate, Mitsue’s repeated complaint that “Nothing interesting ever happens to me” evolves from an expression of boredom into a prayer for a return to a quieter time. In the end, Yurie’s relationship with Kenji has progressed and she has some sense of her powers, but that’s almost beside the point. This is one case where the point is the journey, not the destination.
Several reviewers have drawn parallels to Miyazaki’s films, and there’s some truth there. Certainly the art could almost be mistaken for something from Studio Ghibli, and there parallels in the town’s casual acceptance of Yurie as a god and the way science and magic are intermingled. But that’s superficial, and similar comparisons could be drawn to many other shows (Mushishi and Natsume Yuujinchou spring to mind immediately). Kamichu is, in the end, its own reality. Take a little vacation, follow where it leads, and watch for the little side trips.
One final note: In preparing this review, I checked Amazon to see Kamichu was still available. It is, surprisingly enough for a show released back in 2006 by a company that’s no longer in business. But much to my surprise, the box set sells for upwards of $250 new. I suspect you’re paying for the seller’s storage costs to keep the boxes intact over the last 7 years. I’d strongly suggest that you go for a used copy or single discs. If you’re interested, try this link. (Full disclosure: this is an Amazon Affiliate link. If you click through this link to Amazon and then buy anything, I get a small cut of the cost.)