It's charming and heartwarming. I loved it. My only complaint is that I wanted more episodes, but then I discovered that not only is the manga still going, but that this is only an adaptation of its first 24 chapters or so. (The manga's going to end at volume ten, but that's still lots of unadapted goodness.) I'm thus hoping for an anime season two. I also have another title to add to my dauntingly long list of manga to be bought next time I'm in Japan.
It reminds me of Kamichu, which is close to being the highest praise I have available. I don't know if Kamichu kicked off a wave of Kamichu-imitators (e.g. also Kamisama Kiss), or if there's a genre I didn't know about of Japanese schoolgirls entering the world of Shinto gods.
Our heroine is Inari, a klutzy girl with a heart of gold and great loyalty to her friends, but also low self-esteem. She's in middle school. (She also has an adorable accent, by the way, although not noticeably more so than everyone else in the show, which is set in Kyoto.) There's a boy Inari likes (Tanbabashi), but she couldn't manage to make herself speak to him even if you locked them in a cupboard together. Something a bit like this happens in ep.1, when Inari hurts herself and a teacher tells Tanbabashi to look after her. Inari turns into a tongue-tied blob, then shrinks into herself even more on seeing Tanbabashi apparently asking out a glamorous classmate of theirs, Sumizome.
Anyway, later that day Inari meets a goddess. You know, as you do. She lives near a shrine, after all. The goddess, Uka, takes pity on Inari and decides to grant a wish. Inari says she hates herself and wants to turn into Sumizome.
No, no, no, no, no. Inari, no. You don't. You really... oh dear. In some respects this episode turns out less scarily than you'd expect, but in others it turns out far worse when the episode ends with Uka permanently giving Inari divine shapeshifting powers. She can't turn into something cool like a bird, a cat or a ghost, by the way. No, Inari's new powers are limited to turning into OTHER PEOPLE. She can impersonate people, perfectly. She can deliver love confessions as them, or anything else. Imagine the potential for mischief. Paradoxically, I'd have found this less disturbing had Inari been a scoundrel, because that would have just been funny. This is worse. She wants to help. She's an almost painfully good-hearted girl who always wants the best for everyone and isn't great at thinking through her actions beforehand. She'd never deliberately try to hurt anyone. This cannot possibly go well.
Mind you, Inari's the best possible friend for Uka. They're both a menace to themselves, but also adorable in their devotion and kindness. Uka's a bit of a bubblehead whose mother wants to see her married off to another god, even though it's against her will. Uka doesn't want to marry anyone. She wants to live on Earth, watch humans, be friends with Ikari and drool over the pretty 2D boys in computer games.
That's the show's premise. You could terrify an audience with this, or at least me. Fortunately, though, the show doesn't. Inari's skating on thin ice every time she uses her powers, but she usually just about gets away with it. (Not always, though. Oh, no.) Furthermore, the show's two protagonists are so gentle and well-meaning that any stories about them can't help but be uplifting. Inari's more than capable of mistakes, obviously. She's trying to make everyone happier, even when she's acting like a child trying to solve adult problems with a scarily inappropriate tool. However she cares deeply about doing the right thing and will beat herself up over mistakes, to the point of relinquishing something she wants more than anything because she thinks she came about it dishonestly.
Inari and Uka also both have suffocating older brothers. Uka's (Toshi) is a comedy loon with an incestuous obsession, which is liable to get him tied to a tree or repelled by magical barriers. (When Toshi shapeshifts into a schoolboy and show up at Inari's school, basically to mess with her head, he and Inari fight so openly that everyone assumes they must be boyfriend and girlfriend.) Inari's brother, though, (Touka) has second sight and can see gods even though he hasn't been given any divine powers, which you'd think would make him Uka's best friend. She loves humans, but they can't see her. She's starved for company. They're made for each other, right? Unfortunately Touka's been scared of Uka since he was a small boy and now also sees her as some kind of untrustworthy supernatural trap for Inari. (In fairness, he's not entirely wrong.) Result: he's an antagonistic bastard.
One of the funniest things in this show is the unfolding Uka-Touka relationship. They fight and Touka's rude all the time, but they also both love Inari. Uka discovers that Touka has a supply of computer games and a console. She invites herself around. She's also sweet, beautiful and curvaceous (although you'd never know about the latter due to Uka's goddess robes, which are practically a tent). You can see where things must be heading between these lovebirds, but goodness me, it's funny seeing them fail to see it.
The anime's a significantly compressed version of the manga, to the point of being controversial among the latter's fans. Its last episode apparently has a moral that's the opposite of the manga's. Personally, though, I liked that last episode, which doesn't cheat by giving us a Disney Happy Ending. I thought it was wonderful... but I'm also very happy to learn that it's not the real ending, if you read the manga. There's more. Apart from anything else, a little thought would show that surely Uka would have various ways of getting around the eventual situation (although that moral might mean that she'd choose not to). Gods can shapeshift into humans. There's Touka as a go-between. The possibilities aren't quite endless, but there's certainly plenty of room for things to go further (and they do).
No, it's circa ep.6 where I think the show suffers due to adaptation compression. It's the girls' holiday together. I haven't read the manga, but I remember thinking that the girls seemed a bit quick to open up to each other, get over their problems and resolve their emotional issues. It wasn't enough to stop me loving the show, obviously, but there are a couple of scenes there that felt a little to me like shorthand plotting, despite the essential strength of the material.
The show has a dangerous core. Uka's gift to Inari wasn't cost-free. There are enough serious consequences here that it has weight when, for instance, a cornered, scared Inari tears into the gods in ep.8. I loved that scene.
Amusing fact: the manga's creator apparently also acted as the anime's dialect coach.
It's a charming show. There's plenty of depth in which to look for subtext, so for instance you could get quite deep into the lesbian subtext... until it stops being subtext and the girls' reaction to that is adorable too. It's a feelgood show that will make you happy, but it's got teeth in Uka's predicament and in Inari's combination of supernatural power and terrible instincts. It's also very funny. Uka's demonic mother is hysterical, for instance. (She's not literally a demon, but you get the impression that life would almost be easier if she were.) Where do I sign for the campaign to persuade them to make season two?