Fox Spirit Matchmaker
When a yokai and a human fall in love, they can profess their undying love under the grievance tree. That way, even when both of them are reincarnated, they can still be together. As for bringing the two lost lovers together, that's where the Fox Spirit Matchmaker organisation come in. Their job is to get the two lovers together, and then reawaken their past memories.... with memory-restoring mallets.
Tousan Suusu, the younger sister of a notable fox spirit clan, is a hapless young girl who wants more than anything else to be a good matchmaker agent. Unfortunately for her, the rest of her family wants to marry her to Haku Gessho, a monk of a rather poor disposition, albeit one who's a reincarnation of the famous monk Tousan Gessho.
It's hard to not be aware that this is another production by Haoliners/Tencent, much like the earlier reviewed Bloodivores. That's part of the reason we chose to continue with this very show once we finished the aforementioned, because it seemed at the time to be a good replacement for the hilariously oversecretive Bloodivores and their dull-as-dishwater leads.
To the latter's defense, my synchro partner Melkorka managed to track down a translated version of the original Bloodivores comic, which turned out to be a good deal better (generally more coherent) than the anime, and I can only hope with all my heart that this is the case for Fox Spirit Matchmaker too, because the anime is the pinnacle of wretchedness. I said in the synchro, and I quote: "The story is all over the place, the TONE is all over the place, the animation is all over the place, the characters are all over the place, the timeline is all over the place, my brain is all over the place." Watching this show really hurt. It's got the incoherency of Garzey's Wing, the lack of common sense found in Odin: Photon Space Sailor Starlight, the "lovable" character types I saw in Gugure! Kokkuri-san and the comedy chops of Kono Aozora, as well as the animation chops of the cheapest of net animations. That is not a good pedigree to have by any stretch of the imagination. The closest I can think of for a compliment is that the individual story arcs aren't really hard to follow; indeed, the "past" segments of this show actually carry some promise of quality that the animation house simply doesn't have it in them to bring out.
"It's like the writers got drunk, mistook their script for a bowl of ravioli, ate it all and threw it up on the artwork."
The main joke seems to be that, yes, most of the people in this show are terrible people, and their idiocy makes everything so much more difficult. Haku Gessho -- known in China as Bai Yuechu -- is an opportunist if there ever was one, and the only reason he's not better off than he is... is because the guy is an easily distracted and manipulated idiot. Dangle a lollipop in front of his face, and he'll do anything for you, regardless of whether you actually let him have it, and even more regardless of the fact that he suspects you might not let him have it when he's done what you ask of him. He seems to have taken some lessons from Oh Fuuki -- Wang Fugui in China -- when it comes to charming women, at least as far as his introduction goes: he charms a fast-food delivery clerk before literally wolfing down a boxed lunch in front of her incredulous expression, before she punches him and calls him a loser. And yes, he's on his way to participate in a televised dating show, where women gets to choose between a rich man or a good-looking man for other people's entertainment. As someone who's had to endure so much "reality TV" during these last ten years or so, that makes this alone the most depressing joke of the entire show.
Stig: "So the joke is...."
And then Tousan Suusu literally crashlands into his life by pure chance. Suusu is one of the few characters in this show who isn't a huge jerk. She wants nothing more than to be a great matchmaker, but standing in her way is the complete inability to pay attention to even the simplest lessons, a klutz-factor that's off the scales and an attention and memory span that would be scary even on a human. With alzheimer. In an attempt to get the viewers to sympathize for her, the first couple of episodes shower her in poor treatment, but it's taken to such a ridiculous level. It's actually a joke when she suddenly says something smart. The show says so, so it must be true. Then again, almost everyone are idiots in this show, and they conveniently "becomes smart" when it's convenient to get the plot moving.
Arguably, the closest "likable" character aside from Suusu in this show makes our first "clients", the sand fox Prince Han Unhi -- Fan, Yun Fei in China -- and his attempts to collect on his fox spirit promise with Reki Setsuyo -- Li, Xueyang in China. The first story arc seems to be about bringing the two of them together again. The problem, of course, being that the two are caught up in some kind of "who can screw up everything the most" competition between the two star-crossed (time-crossed?) lovers, which takes the simplest of stories and drags them out to unbearable amounts of time. Which would have been fine if this had been about two people settling down together, but the comedy shtick is literally "things would've gone just fine if someone else hadn't tried to 'help' them on the way", which is not helped by the fact that the show keeps establishing something, often through flashbacks, and then moves on a bit more, including another flashback that showcases how the thing we saw in the last flashback was based on misunderstandings or false information. It's as if we're being lead by the nose by a blind man without a walking cane or any other kind of aid, who then, after "clearing up the misunderstanding, turns in our general direction and says "Hah! I bet you didn't see that one coming."
"I think fridge magnet poetry would make more sense than whatever the hell is going on here."
And if Natsume's Book of Friends actually made a good case of "why yokai and human beings probably shouldn't fall in love" despite not really condemning it when it happens either, Fox Spirit Matchmaker seems pretty sold on its own dating mechanics. Human beings -- and sometimes yokai -- are reborn after they die, and as such, it's apparently fine to "awaken their memories". The show is somewhat unclear on what this entails; when it's done to Reki, she sort of becomes an amalgam of her past self and her present self. Of course, it's normal that our memories is at least in part what makes us all what we are, but the show also makes it clear that people who reincarnate don't retain those memories. As such, they make new lives for themselves, and possibly also new loves. And then what, should a yokai show up and want to continue where the two left off? Suuzu is apparently 500 years old and she looks like a 14 year old. How many human lifespans will a yokai life cover? Do they have to redo the ritual for each human incarnation, or does the first time basically tie the soul in question for all of the yokai's life? Or, since yokai can reincarnate too, will that mean a truly eternal love? Sounds kind of terrifying when you give it some thought, right?
"Basically, this is a romance show for people who haven't grasped the concept of moving on with your life."
That's all in the present, though, and it's when the show goes into the past -- that is to say Haku Gessho's and Suusu's past, and even Oh Fuuki's -- that the show actually manages to present something that could arguably be called interesting. While the concept of the relationship between yokai and human beings -- and I'm not talking solely romantic ones -- can always bring something interesting to the table. The past tale of Tousan Gessho and Koko, Suusu's past incarnation, could arguably make for some compelling drama if left in better hands, and is the part of the show that I suspect is based on old Chinese folklore, at least to a small degree. Their penchant for tearjerking drama could actually have been put to good use here, if not for the show's tendency to derail itself with idiotic attempts of humor, where the humor is based on everyone being idiots, or massive breaches of logic, where there is none to be found. One of the many jumps to the past concerns Koko and Roro -- one of Koko's sisters, known as Rongrong in China -- being captured by human monks to be sold to a brothel, and where one of the monks, upon meaning to free them, acts like an almost stereotypical rapist. (Hand covering mouth, veiled threats about what he'll do if she's not quiet.) Koko's actions, given her situation and her powers, are perfectly understandable, yet the show has the nerve to make that the driving point of her motivations by dint of her guilt.
See, Suusu is the incarnation of Koko, once the older sister of the Tousan clan. And whoo boy, the two versions of the same person couldn't have been any more different. Where Suusu is the innocent and terminally naive little girl, Koko is very much an adult woman (by Fox Spirit standards) whose main clues to being Suusu's past incarnation are their identical coloring and fashion sense. And while the present time of Fox Spirit Matchmaker sees its cast through their endless chase for riches, their past selves were far more obsessed with powers. And so, the fox spirit clans found themselves embroiled in a war against the Unification League. Most of that is centered around the past self of Haku Gessho, then known as Tousan Gessho. As a child, he escaped from said league because... I'm not sure, but I think they wanted to kill him to gain his powers, since that turns into a plot element with one of the show's villains later on. With that in mind, he seeks asylum with the fox spirit clan, and somehow finds himself under the protection of Tousan Koko.
In addition, a spider yokai woman shows up in the second plot arc looking for the "book of incarnation". As it turns out, she's looking for her own reborn lover, who turns out to be Oh Fuuki. Well, maybe "lover" isn't the correct way to describe it: Seitou -- known as Tong Qing in China -- was once a low-level demon, or possibly just a very young one (and as such not very powerful), and as such was used as a slave by one of the members of the Unification league. Fox Spirit Matchmaker basically pulls the old "he was the only one who treated me with kindness" plot element to explain why she wants so much to see him again. In any other show, that would probably have been a rather trite excuse, but given this show's terrible sense of comedy, it becomes more of a relief instead. Particularly since Seitou becomes the only person who eventually realizes -- and points out -- the absurdity of the fox spirit matchmaker system; she doesn't want the present Fuuki to be caught up in a promise he had no part in making. So despite her initial sorta-villainous introduction, she quickly becomes the most sympathetic character in the entire show.
"Just one side. That's all I ask. Just one side in this ridiculous, stupid war I can root for. Just one."
Of course, she's a yokai, and about 99% of the show's brand of comedy is "humans are terrible to various degrees". Haku Gessho is a greedy, petty and quite stupid man, who's really only superceeded in that area by his father. (And how?!) Oh Fuuki isn't much better, at least at first. His type falls more into the well-worn shoe of "rich people are huge jerks because they flaunt their wealth" with a heavily manipulative streak, especially towards women. And even when he learns about his past, he still proceeds to lay out how much he hates his name for partially ruining his gloriously wealthy life. This does extend into the past, where Haku Gessho's and Fuuki's past selves are the only human beings who could arguably be counted as benevolent, which strikes me as an absurdly unfair assessment. Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that for one brief, shining moment, the story about Past Fuuki -- man raised as weapon -- and Seitou -- spider yokai girl whose only kindness was given to her by Past Fuuki -- was enough to eclicit an emotional response out of us both. Of course, the show would go on to sabotage that goodwill right off the bat, but credit where credit is due: that was some pretty decent material that was completely wasted on this idiotic show. And also the reason why I suspect that the Chinese manga version might just be a better option, much like with Bloodivores.
I suspect this is the case due to the ending animation of the show, which includes a lot of handdrawn art, like some where you see Fuuki and a now human-looking Seitou living somewhere in the countryside, apparently quite happily. Said ending is actually much more adept at instilling any kind of story or characterisation than the show itself and its character- and story-derailing comedy. That is to say; the original ending animation, which is taken from the original Chinese version of the show -- included in the Crunchyroll stream because... well... I don't know, but it's one of the nicer gestures this show has to offer, especially since it's accompanied by a wistful ballad. Sure, the oddball Japanese songs that round off each episode is more in tune with Fox Spirit Matchmaker's general idiocy, but it's nice -- and kind of aggravating -- of the original ending animation to remind us how much better this show could have been. The art there has a vivid and warm color sceme, and for what it's worth, the character designs are generally on the nice side. Sure, it's a bit fanservicey with some of the ladies -- Yaya and Seitou in particular -- but the presentation in the flashbacks of their past selves look very much like I remember seeing in various Hong Kong movies I used to watch, albeit some of the yokai are a bit... yeah. There's apparently a sunflower yokai. I mean... just look at this:
I wonder if HE was in the original comic. I have a hard time imagining it, but I'm not entirely discounting the possibility. Also, on the topic of Yaya; she's the oldest of the Tousan sisters now that Koko is gone, and while I had no problem with her adult self being portrayed as this alluring, curvaceous woman, I had a bit more of a problem seeing that selfsame chest size being applied to her younger, presumably barely-teen self, as if Fox Spirit Matchmaker also wanted to channel Eiken while they were at it. Why would anyone DO that?!
"In fact, the whole show feels like the aftermath of a different, way more interesting show."
But although the art is fairly decent for the most part, the animation is not. Haoliners -- and by that extension; Emon Animation Company and Tencent -- seems to already have garnered a reputation for being cheap, and Fox Spirit Matchmaker is not here to prove anyone wrong. It's not the worst animation I've ever seen, but it's just so serviceable, like a minimum effort deal. The show leans on a lot of shounen tropes and posturing, yet battles look almost uniformly slow and boring, partially due to the characters' bad tendency to monologue a lot while fighting. The blandness of the show is only superceded by its raging obnoxiousness when it comes to comedy, and so I once again find myself in the weird position of finding the animation the arguably "best" part of the entire show. Or it would've been, if not for the lovely real ending themes, the accompanying art and the brief moment of gold I got from the aforementioned plot arc about Fuuki and Seitou.
"This show has some serious ADD. 'Hey, a plot! Hey, another one! Hey, another one! Which one will I feature in this episode? I DON'T KNOW!!!' "
And the story is a mess. Fox Spirit Matchmaker is supposed to be about the present selves of Haku Gessho and Tousan Suusu, but an almost ridiculous amount of the show takes place in their past, as if this show was another incarnation of Tenjou/Tenhjo Tenge. That in itself is bad enough, but we've already established that the story elements from the past are generally a whole lot better than the present one, and to make matters worse, said flashbacks often get interrupted by said present when the show gets into its head again that it wants to be funny. It doesn't help that every time a new character or an event of some significance is introduced, the show immediately goes into flashback mode again, even when it's already in a flashback -- this show has a flashback in a flashback. It's a multilayered flashback machine. The past is reliving its past. Mind blown! At some point, the characters in the present of the show are actually taken to a theater so that the fox spirit people -- well, mainly Roro -- can put on a play that showcases the past of Tousan Gessho and Tousan Koko, and in the middle of that, Oh Fuuki complains that the actors are bad and the scenery looks cheap, and has it all rebuilt to his tastes, and suddenly I feel the joke is all on me for even spending time on this. Or maybe it's to lampshade the fact that the original Chinese ending animation is so much better than anything else about this show. Do you see now why I'm sorely tempted to heavily medicate myself?
"If I punch myself in the face 100 times, do you think it would erase the memory of this episode?"
If you asked me if I thought this show is worse than Kono Aozora or Odin or those other shows I mentioned in the second paragraph, my honest and truthful answer is: "I don't know". All the aforementioned titles are shows with better production values than this, and arguably, I can see why someone would like Gugure! Kokkuri-san for its rather.... interesting cast. But I'm actually unsure whether Fox Spirit Matchmaker has higher ambitions than making a long string of "ha ha, these people are terrible" jokes, because it's so aggressively terrible on almost every level. It's as if the few scattered gems of actual quality is in there to make sure we know how much better it could have been, with the rest made out of spite. Bloodivores was, to its credit, at least made with a genuine desire to entertain, even if it failed to do so except for all the wrong reasons.
I don't really know much about the animation scene in China, or even what makes it out of the country. But I know they can do much, much better than this, and I'm confident they actually already have. Sure, there's always Cheating Craft and To Be Hero, but I think I'd rather see something not made by Haoliners the next time.
There is a few shining beacons of hope, as pointed out, but they quickly get drowned out by a deluge of crap as if thrown by a monkey high on amphetamine. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The past sees a lot of yokai and some humans killed in fairly bloodletting ways, so the violence already pulls it out of the reach of the young 'uns, and the show does, if nothing else, at least not make light of deaths. (Even if reincarnations are inevitable.) There's also some mild fanservice that's the least of the show's problems, mostly supplied by spider demon yokai Seitou and her often impressive cleavage. Then again, Fox Spirit Matchmaker also gets kind of weird about it with Yaya, who seems to have grown into her breasts more than them having grown out from her.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Fox Spirit Matchmaker © 2015 Haoliners, Tencent.
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