Home > Episode Reviews, Kamisama Dolls > Kamisama Dolls Episode 12 – Imbalance of Power

Kamisama Dolls Episode 12 – Imbalance of Power

Part of my job as an anime blogger is to make predictions about what I think is going to happen next. (It’s one of the reasons, even though I have a crunchyroll subscription and can watch ahead, I try not to watch a new episode before writing on the previous one.) Last time I predicted that the show would use Hirashiro’s conspiracy as the major external conflict; foiling that would be the main project for our heroes.

That’s true in part; Hirashiro’s plot is unraveled, but with frightening rapidity, and mostly due to Kuuko rather than Kyouhei or Utao. The first part of the episode has Kuuko tip up Kyouhei to Hibino’s location, rescue Hibino from her would-be rapist, get into a struggle with an armed Hirashiro, shoot him, and pin the whole thing on Shimoyama. (Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.) The final episode likely won’t spend much time on it at all.

Instead, the show is pointing back to the primary internal conflict that has been on display throughout the entire series run. It’s a conflict that’s particularly notable for where it appears, in a seinen action show that otherwise does much to ape its shounen counterparts. Despite the similarities, Kamisama Dolls manages to be different in the way that matters most.

Kuuko has a lot of "fun" in this episode, mainly by being in the right place at the right time, and being willing to take initiative (at great risk to herself) when everyone else is twiddling their thumbs

To explain, I’m going to need to use as an example the only shounen action series covered in full here at antiotaku, Deadman Wonderland. Deadman Wonderland was far darker in tone and subject matter than most other shounen fare (although, to be fair, shounen action series are often willing to incorporate violence, horror, and tragedy in ways that Saturday morning cartoons would never attempt). But at its heart, it kept the same plot outline as any such story: a boy is given a special power, and then is slowly forced to become stronger.

The idea of a training arc, of slowly uncovering new abilities, and then taking on increasingly stronger foes, is so ingrained into such action shows that it’s difficult to conceive of them doing anything else. It provides a goal, a path to that goal, and a satisfying conclusion when that goal is met. And then you introduce a new reason for the hero to need to be stronger, and repeat the cycle.

Utao managed to disable Magatsuhi through a surprisingly clever tactic, but after Mahiru is no longer able to give commands, the Kakashi takes on a life of its own

For such a show, strength is always the goal. The hero is the hero because he wants to use his strength to protect, or because he’s inspired by noble ideals, or because he’s chosen by destiny, or whatever. But he always, always, wants to be stronger. Strength is power, and power—power fantasies, really—drives the genre.

All this is what makes Kamisama Dolls so interesting. When the narrative starts, Kyouhei had already made his mark as being the strongest. He had already unlocked, it seemed, all of Kukuri’s abilities. There wasn’t another Seki who could match him: Aki and Mahiru were both in awe of the Kyouhei that was, and perhaps Utao’s hero worship stems from the same source. Yet he gave it all up, renounced that power, and tried to live a normal life. Even now, that’s what he’d do if he could.

After Magatsuhi goes on autopilot, it starts showing abilities Mahiru didn't know it had. This only demonstrated that she still was a long way from fully controlling it. For all her talk about being strong, she was weak

Mahiru can’t understand that: Her power as a Seki not only lets her do what she wants, but prevented her from suffering much in the way of direct abuse from her absurdly dysfunctional clan. Aki can’t understand it either: His power allowed him, at least in part, to overcome the irregularities of his birth, and ultimately saved his life. Even Kuuko, as fun as she is to see on screen, is obsessed with power; she started exploring “the mysteries of the world” in order to find it.

What Kyouhei wanted, however, was never to be the strongest. He wanted to live a live outside the confines of the village, permanently wrapped up in its power struggles and quasi-Darwinist hierarchy. Being the strongest, he knows that holding that position doesn’t bring happiness, but only poisons the relationships he has with everyone else.

Shimoyama claims he was never friends with Kyouhei, whatever the latter says. Seki (with rare exceptions like Koushirou) can't have normal relationships, because the difference in status and power is too great between them and everyone else

The catch is that Kyouhei will ultimately reclaim his role as a Seki. That’s hardly a surprise: the opening signals very strongly that he will reassert control of Kukuri at some point, and by the end of the episode it looks like it has finally happened. The reasoning even makes sense: He’s placed in a position where he needs to protect someone he cares about (not to mention himself) and so his hand is forced.

But therein lies the problem. How will the show respect its nuanced rejection of the logic of shounen action shows, when it ultimately must have the protagonist fight for those he loves? To fight, Kyouhei needs power, and that means embracing the legacy he—and, by extension, the show itself—deliberately abandoned.

As a normal, powerless guy, Kyouhei still tries to free Hibino from Magatsuhi's clutches. It doesn't work out well for him

Maybe the show will argue that having spent time without power, and having matured into an responsible adult, Kyouhei is now ready for the burden of being a Seki, and to navigate the responsibilities it entails. Maybe Kyouhei will struggle with his inner demons and that challenge will take up most of the next season. Or maybe he’ll only control Kukuri for this event, before losing that ability until it is next needed by the plot.

I suppose the question is, is this a starting point, an origin story? Or is Kyouhei’s conflict here meant to reflect the thematic question of the entire series? I’m hoping for the latter option. But I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt either way. Calling into question the basic logic of your own genre is a move that takes some nerve to attempt. Thus far, Kamisama Dolls has not only attempted it, but is well on its way to succeeding.

The music Kukuri emits switches from Utao's to Kyouhei's at the very end. I'm curious how those cues were incorporated into the manga

You can watch the episode here.

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