I've noticed a pattern in my anime-watching each season--at the beginning of the season I'm watching nothing but fansubs, as I try to digest as many new shows as possible to see what I like and what I don't like. But later in the season, I've dropped several series, and I find myself going to my DVD collection and re-watching older stuff. That's why I just finished rewatching Asagiri no Miko, which was released in region 1 on DVD as "Shrine of the Morning Mist." While the animation quality isn't exactly stellar, it has a good cast of characters, an interesting story, good atmosphere, and while it doesn't seem to be all that popular, I enjoyed watching it.
The heroine of the story is Yuzu, who works as a miko with her older and younger sisters at a temple in a rural area of Hiroshima prefecture (maybe not quite as rural as Tana in Zettai Shonen, but close). Yuzu is starting high school soon, and she's excited because her childhood friend and cousin, Hiro, is returning to the town and is going to be living with her family, after a several year absence. Yuzu has had a crush on Hiro the whole time he's been gone, but she hasn't seen him since he left. Yuzu and her sisters go to the station to pick Hiro up--and he's attacked by a mysterious person wearing a tengu mask named Ayatachi, who knows that one of Hiro's eyes can see the spiritual world and wants to use that power to help the evil god Yagarena descend to Earth. Yuzu beats Ayatachi back by accidentally crashing into him with her bicycle like the doji-ko she is, and while Yuzu's embarrassed by her entrance, Hiro's saved for now. But he's definitely not out of danger, so a Miko Club is formed at school to fight back Ayatachi and his minions and protect Hiro. At first recruiting is difficult, but Yuzu and four other girls form the Miko Shoutai (they don't call it that, I've just been watching a lot of Keroro lately) and they gradually improve their skills and bond as a team fighting Ayatachi and his Twilight Miko.
The characters make or break whether I like a series or not, and I liked the cast of Asagiri no Miko. You get a good feeling for how much Yuzu really cares about Hiro--to the point that in one episode when she's attacked by Ayatachi's minions, her first thought is to be relieved that this time they're not targeting Hiro instead. She's a bit of a doji-ko, and has the funniest SD facial expressions of anyone in the cast. The other mikos are Reiko, who's athletic, generally outgoing, and has been turned down by every guy she confesses to (although she has a lot of girls who are fans); Chika, who's short, looks like an elementary schooler, but has a lot of attitude; Shizuka, who's inconceivably rich and is mild-mannered; and Izumi, who's a UFO nut (her and Fuyuki from Keroro Gunso would get along well). All of them have very distinct personalities, and since the series is 26 12-minute episodes, while there isn't a whole lot of character development, there's at least enough time to put each of them in the spotlight so they're not just one-dimensional. Even the bad guys get their screentime, they aren't just faceless enemies, and they aren't completely evil either, with their own motivations for what they are doing.
The story has an interesting twist in that it's the reverse of the gender roles you'd "normally" expect--Yuzu's the one who's fighting to defend Hiro and not the other way around. Although it's not that Hiro's just the "guy in distress", he has determination and courage when he really needs to. The story starts with Yuzu recruiting the other miko, a few episodes where they train/bond together, and the "bad guys" even get a couple episodes about them and their relationship with Yuzu's group. But the end of the story is where Asagiri no Miko really shines, putting together a solid, dramatic ending.
For me, the high points for Asagiri no Miko were:
- The flashbacks with Koma and Tadaaki, Hiro's grandfather. For a side character like Koma to get a touching story like this really impressed me.
- The last few episodes and the ending. It may be predictable to a point, but I thought it was well-written and did a good job showing the relationships between the characters.
- The episode where Reiko thinks her bad luck streak in love is over and she's getting confessed to. You can see where it's going from a mile away, but it's still funny.
- Giving the "bad guys" some depth. It's easy to write evil characters, it's not so easy to write characters who do bad things but you can't say are truly "evil".
- Comedy--it isn't ALL funny, but Kurako-sensei vs Chika, Yuzu vs Ayatachi, Izumi vs Chika, Reiko and Chika misunderstanding Kusugi and Hiro's relationship...a lot of the character interactions are laugh out loud funny at times. Although I may just be easily amused.
And the low points:
- The animation is pretty poor at times. It's not "if a five year old drew this, instead of putting it on the fridge his mom would rip it up in front of him and flush it down the toilet" bad, but don't watch it immediately after Haruhi or the contrast in animation quality may kill you.
- Episode length. While it gets a full 26 episodes to work with, each episode is only 12 minutes long, and the story kind of suffers as a result at times. A few episodes are really multi-parters, but I think it would have been a better series if they pulled it out to 26 normal-length episodes.
- Generic fight scenes. Yes, each miko has a signature move. And that's the only combat move they have. I keep thinking of Cardcaptor Sakura, where Sakura has what, 50 different cards to choose from? It would have been nice if they each had a couple different attacks, and there's some thought required in which one to use for which adversary, but...not so much.
- Ayatachi's background. It would have been nice to get some background on his curse and why he is the way he is, but it's not really developed at all.
Overall, Asagiri no Miko has a good cast and has a solid story, which makes it exactly the kind of anime I like. If you can look past the animation quality, I'd definitely recommend it.