Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens carved a name for itself in Japan when it launched not too long ago. Originally released in 2005 as a manga by Eri Takenashi, the franchise quickly took the next logical step and in 2008 A-1 Pictures produced a 13 episode animated series. From there Japan saw a light novel and subsequent OVA release in 2009 as well. On our side of the pond Bandai Entertainment scooped up the show and released individual volumes last year, though the discs only just showed up on our doorstep.
With a rather strange sounding name that doesn't leave much to the imagination Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens is a rather straightforward show. It's all about an average high school student named Jin who happens to be sensitive to spirits and the like. One day he takes a chunk of wood from a sacred tree and carves the figure of a young girl out of it. Imagine his surprise when the wooden carving turns into a real-life girl (named Nagi) standing before him! It's a rather inventive plot, I'll give that to Kannagi, but from here on out the show somewhat falls into comedy stereotypes.
As one might expect Nagi winds up moving in with Jin and the two become very close from the very beginning. It would seem that Jin's abilities to see spirits as created a bond between the two and together they work to eliminate impurities from the disappearance of the tree. These spirits appear in many forms and while Jin can see them, it's really up to Nagi to take care of them. That's more or less the makeup of their relationship in the beginning, but as the episodes progress Jin notices Nagi's cuteness more and more and naturally a relationship forms.
While all this is going on Jin must also deal with some of the other women in his life. There's a girl he lives with who happens to be a family friend, and Nagi's spiritual sister comes along to complicate matters as well. Toss in some additional support characters as well and some every day school life and the show begins to feel more and more like other school aged harem-comedies (even though this isn't "technically" a harem). Nagi even becomes a student in Jin's school and does whatever she can to stand out (such as gathering a fan club). There's a point to all of this, but it's rather weak in all honesty.
Despite the cliché pieces that make up these seven episodes Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens actually has a lot of heart. It's an entertaining show with some fun characters and relationships that really draw you in. In particular I appreciated Jin's fellow art students and some of the antics they concoct during this installment. This is all superfluous fluff, however, since it's really the core story that helps carry this show further than it probably should go.
The concept backing Kannagi is very inventive and quite engaging in all honesty. As Jin and Nagi hunt down the impurities around town and in school the show gets more and more interesting. It's just a shame that these cool moments are interspersed amongst drivel such as the Maid Café episodes and some of the stuff involving Nagi at school. Funny as these may be, they just don't feel right somehow. Maybe it's because this is merely a 13 episode series and it's fiddling around with generic pieces that could have been approached in other ways.
Whatever the case, Kannagi's first volume gets the series going on a positive note with an interesting story, endearing characters, and plenty of laughs. There are some areas of concern for the overall quality, but from where I'm sitting the show is mostly a success. In the end I'm going to recommend the show for now, but we'll see how that opinion comes to bare once the second installment has been reviewed.
Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks very good with bright, solid colors, clean lines, and an image that is basically free of flaws. There is some grain at times and a couple of points where artifacts can be spotted, but otherwise there's nothing here to complain about. Even these elements are nitpicky. This is a great looking show that stands out based on its strengths.
Japanese 2.0 stereo is as good as it gets here. There's no 5.1 selection (not that there needed to be) and there's no English language dub. As it stands what's here is serviceable with an entertaining cast that handles the script well, but the technical aspects feel kind of flat. The sound never has depth to it and by and large the lack of directionality is something of a sore-spot. Granted that's not nearly as glaring as the English omission, but that disappointment hinges entirely on whether or not you prefer to watch anime with English or with Japanese and subtitles.
A textless opening, textless ending, and previews for other Bandai releases are included here for features. In other words there's basically nothing.
If you're in the market for a fun comedy series with an original theme then Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens may just be what the doctor ordered. There are enough positives to warrant a purchase and ultimately it's easily recommendable. There are some weak points and the show feels a tad too generic at times. The lack of an English track will also put off some prospective viewers no doubt. If you can look past those flaws you'll find a solid show that's off to a good start. Now, let's just see how the second installment turns out!
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