Ever wonder what happens when gods find themselves injured? I sure have. Especially when looking at mythology, there’s always a question of where almighty beings seek respite after a battle. Given that nearly every major mythological story involves conflict, it’s logical to expect to find it somewhere. But KAMIKAMIKAESHI locates that answer and it may not be somewhere you expect.
This manga revolves around the spiritual ceremony known as kamikamikaeshi. In this ritualistic process, a human invites gods (or more accurately, kami) into their hair to rest and rejuvenate. The kami(s), after taking time to restore their strength within their human hosts, leave and go about their business. Obviously, this makes those capable of serving as hosts especially important. But, as you might expect, the privilege of qualifying for kami rental is a unique one.
This is the crux of our story in Ema Toyama’s KAMIKAMIKAESHI. Mashiro Kamitsuka is a very special girl in terms of the ritual. She has extremely long white hair capable of holding many kami at once. As a three-year-old infant, Mashiro interrupted a kamikamikaeshi ceremony and the divine chose her as a host in the process. Following her selection, her family and caretakers placed her in a small room. Mashiro learns that she isn’t permitted to leave the room or see her mother again until every kami within her is rejuvenated. After 13 years in that same room, the first volume follows her exploration of the world.
KAMIKAMIKAESHI isn’t a manga that moves very quickly, but that’s not a bad thing. The concept is incredibly unique and brings in a lot of notions of what it means to protect and cherish someone. When a human has a chance to help the divine, should they take it? At what point does protection become blatant paternalism? Is it worth living an empty life if your safety is guaranteed? These are the questions governing KAMIKAMIKAESHI.
One of the things immediately clear about the manga was where its true strength will likely continue to be: characterization. Toyama achieves development and exposition not just from a character’s actions, but also from looks. Mashiro is a classic woobie character, somehow oblivious to her pain yet clearly suffering. While the kami stayed sealed in her hair, she didn’t age. From the audience’s perspective, she looks about the same as a “teen” as in her childhood memories. The plot moves slowly because that’s what life is and always has been for Mashiro. Her delicate, almost doll-like disposition turns little advances in plot, like literally going outside, into massive steps.
This is how KAMIKAMIKAESHI quickly redeemed itself for its pacing. It’s pretty easy to dismiss something for poor speed, but volume one handles it in a way that is justifiable. On top of that, the buildup of mysteries within the kamikamikaeshi ritual is relevant toward the thematic questions that Mashiro’s character brings to a reader’s mind.
Rather soon into the manga, it’s clear that magic, spiritual arts, and arcane techniques are a focus. Mashiro’s caretaker uses talismans to seal the area around her room and references exorcists doing the same in the past. About a tenth of the way into the volume, however, two cute little creatures arrive in Mashiro’s room. She promptly names them Uno and Seno. Mashiro’s adolescent curiosity keys us into just how abject her isolation is: she is so ignorant of the world that something not of it doesn’t surprise her.
As it turns out, Mashiro’s aunt had been using talismans to keep kami sealed in her hair. Mashiro’s growth was stunted as a result, plus she was never able to release the kami or, by extension, see her mother. Mashiro is from a side branch of her clan. Her branch usually doesn’t serve as hosts for kami. So, to her aunt and the main family, her prowess as a mere branch family member constitutes insolence.
Uno and Seno seem to have the power to momentarily release these seals and restore Mashiro to an appearance fitting her age. The outside world became the key to her salvation in volume one. It was only after naming and choosing to protect the strange creatures from her wicked aunt that she was able to escape. In the most basic act of humanity, she staked claim over life and did something rather than exist as a passive subject, or a mere hostel for injured kami.
Protection vs Personhood
After summoning the fire kami Hinokagu from her hair and escaping, we get to really see how out of touch Mashiro is. She never learned to do even basic housework like cleaning. Her life for 13 years was eating simple, bland meals and letting others brush her hair. Everything in life was meant to ensure safety for her and the kami. Her caretaker, Hayate Kokumiya, is characterized much like she is via appearance on top of action. He is almost always stoic except when protecting Mashiro. Even then, the love he shows for her isn’t romantic. Rather, it transcends standard dedication and becomes true, unbridled devotion.
I will admit that the latter half of the volume was a bit more unforgivably slow than the beginning. The character building was amazingly detailed (albeit slow), but the shonen fan in me was dying to see Hinokagu just burn everything and go wild. Fortunately, Toyama avoids the easy gratification and sets up the beginning of what is sure to be a long journey freeing the remaining kami from Mashiro’s ridiculously long hair.
Thus far, Mashiro seems relatively in the dark about how her power works. It’s likely that any combat will involve Mashiro summoning kami from her hair to wield that divine power in combat. Combining that with the intense characterization of the manga will certainly make up for the slight deficiency in plot depth that volume one has.
Bursting Toward Life in KAMIKAMIKAESHI
Overall, KAMIKAMIKAESHI is a delightfully interesting concept that makes up for its lacking plot with detailed characterization. Little things, like naming a strange creature, mean a lot when you’ve never been outside. Thus far, we’ve learned about Mashiro’s family. That, in turn, tells us that there’s something rather suspect about her confinement for over a decade. On top of that, there has to be a reason for keeping tons of kami locked away in a young girl. If things go how they seem to be right now, there’s likely an evil plot at work.
But these are things I don’t know yet and likely won’t have the pleasure of learning until later. That’s not entirely an issue. Watching Mashiro develop as a person is interesting enough. And, the first of those crucial questions is slowly getting an answer. The insurmountable drive to protect something and keep it safe is only justifiable when the risk of danger is great. But, if it’s possible to protect and let someone be someone, that’s the better option. Mashiro is finally getting the chance to become a person capable of interfacing with both the physical and spiritual world. The chapters to come can make this into a top-notch series by building from that.
KAMIKAMIKAESHI Volume 1 is available on Comixology.
Featured image via Kodansha Comics.