Middle school is awkward. It marks the beginning of adolescence, and for many kids it’s when they start trying to examine themselves, forge friendships, and pursue the mystical “love” that they hear about all the time in their trashy shoujo mangas. At its heart Inari, Konkon, Koi Irohara deals with these issues and themes rather poignantly, but there are also some things about the show that hold it back.
The story follows Inari Fushimi who has a crush on her classmate, Tanbabashi, and often compares herself negatively to her classmate Akemi. After saving a fox spirit though, she gets granted a wish from the goddess Ukanomitama, and wishes to literally become Akemi. But then after realizing what a dumb wish is, she then receive’s Uka’s ability to shapeshift. And thus the rest of the story involves how her shapeshifting powers and friendship with the Goddess affect her awkward middle schooler year.
In Inari’s eyes, Akemi is smarter, prettier, and has a much better chance of winning Tanbabashi’s heart than she’ll ever have. To make matters worse Inari is shy and clumsy, and even accidentally pants Tanbabashi in the first episode. Inari sees Akemi as perfect and “normal,” and consequently beats herself up for being less than perfect. Middle schoolers are inexperienced at life; which isn’t to say that they’re dumb (though that’s often true too,) but that they lack perspective on how life works and its complexities. Everyone in middle school wants to fit-in and be normal, but they don’t really know what its like to be “normal” in the first place. All they have to judge what “normal” is is based on their surroundings and peers, and when your environment is full of a bunch of other dumb kids, it gives a pretty narrow-minded vision of what’s normal.
From an outside perspective, anyone can seem like they have all their shit together, and because of this middle schoolers tend to make overly positive assumptions about their peers. Inari, not being Akemi, can’t know what it’s really like to be Akemi, and thus doesn’t know of the issues and problems that she herself faces. Akemi ends up befriending Inari, and later in the series confesses that she really know how to make friends. She’s “built walls” and failed to interact with others, so she doesn’t see herself as a perfect or normal either, and wishes that she could be like Inari—who in her eyes is much better at making friends. Nobodies perfect, and comparing yourself to others when you barely know them is bound to set yourself up for unrealistic expectations. Everyone underestimates themselves in middle school.
Now, the way Inari Konkon explores these themes is less than perfect, as the characters often act a bit melodramatic, and behave oddly. Melodrama is often essential to a good story, but sometimes it works in Inari Konkon, while other times it doesn’t. Then there’s the melodrama with how these kids express themselves. First example that comes to mind is how Akemi literally describes her social ineptness as “building walls around others” while she’s crying her eyes out. Or when Inari decides to quit her school’s play while they’re way late in production. Or later when Tanbabashi starts to ponder what love is, and whether they apply to the weird feelings he has for Inari—to which a disguised Inari replies that it’s an “obsession.” (It’s hard not to laugh at that last one. “Obsession” doesn’t exactly exclude stalkers or perverts, you know)
Inari also tends to misuse her shapeshifting abilities a lot. And that’s just part of the plot, but you’d figure that shapeshifting into someone else is obviously bound to stir up a bunch of misunderstandings, and maybe even make someone’s life worse. Like when she transforms into Tanbabashi’s best friend, and then hugs him from behind sensually after recalling a heartwarming flashback—whispering Tanbabashi’s name into his ear. Gee, surprising that Tanbabashi doesn’t suspect the kid of being gay. Or when Inari shapeshifts into the male school president to chase a god who’s shapeshifted into her, and then she runs into the girls bathroom. Pretty sure that would damage someones career as a school president, not just get them beat up by some female students.
But hey, I guess these are just middle schoolers, and like I said they’re less experienced in life; perhaps they could be forgiven for acting dumb. Not that that entirely explains or dismisses their actions,but it’s just more plausible to think that a middle schooler would act like this instead of say, a 30 year old. The real issue lies in how the show itself so seriously, which in turn makes it’s difficult to take seriously at times. Overall I do genuinely like this show and the themes it tries to deal with, it’s just a bit wonky with how it goes about it.
Which brings me to the biggest sore point of the anime: the romance between the Uka and Inari’s older brother, Touka. At first I thought it was cute to watch a goddess get friendly with some soon-to-be-NEET and play video games with him. but then i started to become clear that the show was setting us up a romance between the two characters, at which their relationship just gets creepy. Touka, to put it bluntly, is an asshole. He treats Uka as more of a nuisance and doesn’t really show any affection; and the majority of their interactions have either been them arguing or playing video games, the latter of which always ends with Touka ragequitting like a manchild.
The way the other characters act can at least be excused by them being young, but Touka is an older teenager and Uka is goddess who’s thousands of years old. Touka should know better then to be so abrasive towards someone, and Uka should know better than to set herself up for an abusive relationship like this. That’s pretty much why I’m not sure if I should look forward to these last few episodes, since it’ll probably center around Touka rescuing Uka from her arranged dates, and maybe getting married—with all of his past behavior getting swept under the rug. Even if that happens though, I guess we can at least expect some more funny, awkward teenager moments with Inari and Tanbabashi’s romance.
As a side note, after that whole controversy with Sakura Trick it’s nice to see an anime with some non-sexualized lesbians…sort of. For the most part there’s nothing wrong with Inari Konkon‘s plot development of Akemi having feelings for Sanjou, though the way its handled is a little weird. Particularly since Akemi comes out to her friends in a rather awkward fashion—while they’re in the middle of eating as Sanjou plays badminton nearby. And then right afterward the otaku chick essentially says “I’m okay with you being a lesbian because I’m into yuri and bara!”, which isn’t really why you should be okay with someones sexuality. But hey, other than that the scene still had me exclaiming “YESSSS” after all the hinting the show did beforehand.
1. I say “adolescence” because Japanese middle schools generally cover grades seven to nine, with an age range of 13–15. So its a bit later than here in American where middle schools usually cover grades six to eight, with an age range of 11–13 which would be preadolescence. Does this really necessitate clarification with a footnote? I don’t know, I just wanted to include a footnote.