Nanami is an ordinary 17-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down after her horrible parents abandon her and she’s kicked out of her home because of her dad’s gambling debts. While trying to figure out where to go from there, she helps out a random guy who was chased up a tree by a dog. That guy turns out to be Mikage, a land god who abandoned his shrine 20 years ago. He gifts Nanami with both the powers of a land god and his shrine. Later, Nanami also acquires his former familiar, Tomoe, sealing their new contract with a kiss.
At the beginning of the series, Nanami listens to a few prayers and engages in some of the supernatural matchmaking that is her duty as the new god of the Mikage Shrine. However, most of the series is devoted to her various encounters with other supernatural beings (several of whom are hot guys who develop an interest in her) and her growing love for Tomoe. Unfortunately for Nanami, Tomoe is dead set against romance between yokai and humans.
I reviewed the first volume of the manga way back in 2013. I wasn’t terribly impressed with it - the power imbalance in Tomoe and Nanami’s relationship bothered me. Their relationship was the result of a kiss that Nanami forced onto Tomoe, and their contract meant that he was essentially her slave. He had to do whatever she ordered him to do, whether he wanted to or not.
Those problematic elements still existed in the anime, although there were a few things that helped make them more bearable for me. First, it didn’t take long for evidence that Tomoe cared about Nanami to crop up - as early as the second episode, I think. Second, in episode 5 their contract was broken, and this time it was Tomoe who sealed it again. The contract still left him unable to disobey her, but at least it was clear that he was willingly Nanami’s familiar.
Unfortunately, this series quickly outstayed its welcome. I’ve seen it compared to Fruits Basket, and I’d have to say that they’re similar only in the most superficial sense. Fruits Basket was a delightful mix of character relationships, humor, supernatural elements, and romance. In Kamisama Kiss, the romance overshadowed everything.
Because I’m silly and overly optimistic, I initially thought that this series would feature Nanami trying her best to fulfill her duties as a god while her relationship with Tomoe steadily deepened. Instead, Nanami was barely shown doing her duties as a god - the shrine might as well have been a regular Japanese-style house. She spent most of her time at school and dealt with the new supernatural aspects of her life only because they were impossible to ignore. Her renewed interest in the shrine, right at the end of the series, seemed to come out of nowhere.
My impression of the romance between Nanami and Tomoe steadily went downhill. It was frustrating, because I spotted several moments when things could have been turned around and improved.
When Nanami realized that she was in love with Tomoe, her new friends at school encouraged her to go on an official date with him and capture his attention by being as cute as possible (another difference between this series and Fruits Basket: Tohru’s friends were far more than just cheerleaders for her potential romance). Nanami went way overboard, to the point that Tomoe felt he had to put a stop to things. Nanami was so heartbroken at his rejection of her that she very nearly ordered him to let her fall to her death. I wanted to shake her, but I was hopeful when she had an epiphany later on in the series. Would she realize that, whatever her feelings happened to be, she wasn’t entitled to Tomoe’s love? Would she start to come to terms with the idea that she had maybe mistaken a familiar’s devotion to his god for romantic love? It could have been really interesting, seeing Tomoe come to the realization that he loved Nanami after Nanami had already adjusted to him being nothing more to her than a loyal and devoted servant. I think I’d have liked to see him try to convince her that he loved her in a romantic sense.
Unfortunately, Nanami’s epiphany was that she needed to more actively pursue her love for Tomoe. Instead of crying over his rejection, she should work harder to convince him to love her, even after he’d repeatedly told her that he wasn’t interested in her that way and that he believed romance between humans and youkai was doomed to fail. Nanami’s renewed determination was more horrifying than endearing, especially considering that Tomoe was magically bound to her and literally could not get away from her. (No, I don’t think he’d have wanted to - from the audience’s perspective, Tomoe pretty clearly liked her. But if that hadn’t been the case, Nanami could easily have made life hell for him.)
Although the final episode ended with Tomoe asking Nanami if he could kiss her, leaving the romance in a relatively satisfying place for viewers who weren’t, like me, already turned off by it, lots of other things were left unresolved. For example, Tomoe still didn’t remember his past romance with Yukiji, there were various other huge gaps in Tomoe's past, and the series never explored the fairly strong possibility that Nanami was the reincarnation of Yukiji. Also, Mikage’s reason for abandoning his shrine was never given.
While doing a little googling after finishing this series, I discovered that it was not, in fact, the “complete series” (although it might have been when these discs were first released). A second season has since been released. That season might flesh out some of the things that this one left unresolved, but I don’t know that I care enough about the characters and story to want to shell out the cash necessary to get it. Still, the completist in me is annoyed.
- Episode 1 commentary with Jerry Jewell (ADR Director) and Tia Ballard (English dub voice actor for Nanami). I hate to say this, but listening to this commentary was a waste of time. I did appreciate that Ballard also noticed that Nanami rarely performed any of her new duties as a god. The best quote, said by Jerry Jewell: "Why would you want to help people when you can find a boyfriend?"
- Episode 6 commentary with Jerry Jewell (ADR Director), J. Michael Tatum (English dub voice actor for Tomoe), Tia Ballard (English dub voice actor for Nanami), and Sean O'Connor (English dub voice actor for Kurama). Unlike most commentaries, this one was primarily footage of everyone in the booth, with the episode playing in the bottom right corner of the screen. I prefer normal commentaries, but this one actually worked out fairly well, mostly because no one let the conversation die out for too long. It didn't touch too much on behind-the-scenes info about voice acting for the series, but it was still more interesting than the first commentary.
- Episode 12 commentary with Jerry Jewell (ADR Director) and J. Michael Tatum (English dub voice actor for Tomoe). Again, not too much behind-the-scenes info, but still not to bad. I'd say it was the second-best commentary in the set. This one went back to the ordinary commentary format of just an audio track playing over the episode, and they did a great job of remembering to talk.
- Textless opening, and all 13 textless closings. I disliked the opening and closing songs enough to skip them almost every time, so I didn't bother watching these.
- U.S. trailer for Kamisama Kiss.
- Trailers for several other series.