Ghosts, friends, smiles, warmth, & girls holding hands. This picture says it all.
A slice-of-life with ghosts. What could have easily been a gag anime with a tinge of yuri became one of the more contemplative, meaningful, and life-affirming series of spring—even though a large part of the cast was already dead.
From 4-Koma to Anime
I was the one who previewed this series, and I had it pegged … well, not exactly wrong, though not totally right either. And without going back and reading more of the manga, I can’t tell you whether that was a mistake or not. I do know what I got right: The comedy was good. The atmosphere was warm. The ghosts were benign. But what I didn’t know about was the kind of meaning and heart that can be packed into a series of stories about the lives of those who have already passed, without any jump scares to ruin their messages. Which is impressive, since it’s adapted from a 4-koma.
In that way, Re-Kan reminds of Mikakunin de Shinkoukei. Not because of anything to do with their subject material, nor did my expectations (and enjoyment) ever soar as high for Re-Kan. It’s a much more laid-back, subtle, and contemplative anime. But both sprang from 4-koma mangas, which is surprising with how much story each of them have. So much story, and so much character.
Poignant, Thoughtful Ghost Stories
Often, ghosts are used as objects of fright. They’re creatures to be feared, things of nightmares, or at best, generic challenge obstacles in a crappy video game or a Ghostusters flick (and in some cases, both). They get a bum rap, is what I’m saying. But Re-Kan doesn’t do that. It’s more contemplative, with its ghosts conveying the respect one should have for people already past. And I just now figured out what series it reminds me of. It’s a spiritual sister to none other than Mushishi, which—keep your pants on—is a statement I know I’ll need to immediately defend.
To be clear, I don’t think Re-Kan is as good as Mushishi. That would be no small feat. But one of the itches they both scratch is similar. Re-Kan treats the spiritual not as abnormal, but as mundane—it’s the extension of life, in a way, where the dead’s unfinished business links them together with the living. This was typified most by the penultimate episode, where Amami was shown all the ways she helped people through her power. And of course, there’s some similarity between Amami and Ginko—it is through their special abilities that they’re able to bring the mundane and the spiritual together. Yet in the way they went about it, Amami was perhaps closer to Makoto of Gingitsune, in the way they facilitated understanding between the spiritual and the mundane, as opposed to the troubleshooting that Ginko specialized in.
The Meaning of Life/Death
If it seems like I’m having trouble defining what I liked about this series, it’s because it’s not an overt thing. Each episode largely had an aesop-of-the-week formula, where Amami met a new ghost and helped them, or helped someone who was still alive. Often, she did both in the same episode. It was simple, but it was the themes they explored were so heartfelt as to spread a warmth through me with each episode. They’re understated, but I found myself wanting to savor their simple beauty. No episode was a worldbeater, especially; I got that right in the preview as well. But each resonated, hitting notes of respect and care, both for the living and the dead.
There’s more. The jokes were good, to be sure, and I enjoyed Amami’s friends. Esumi was hilarious, especially when she was angry at someone about being called Flame-Haired Messiah-chan, especially if that person was Yamada’s hapless aniki. Uehara egged on the antics and loved to tease Inoue, which was always fun. Ogawa’s zombie fetish added perhaps the least to the story, but her general personality was cheerful and bright. Yamada himself was noteworthy for being a male character of actual substance and worth, and in the other main character’s friend group—for a series with yuri tinges, that’s notable in itself, though I enjoyed his baka antics in their own right. And as for the yuri tinge, Inoue’s tsundere attitude and fear of the ghosts was constant fodder for squeeing or laughs. Her relationship with Amami was adorable, even while it remained subtext instead of simply text—save for when Ero-neko hung a lampshade (trope!) on the yuri angle, in the first and last episodes. Loved it!
To Watch, Or Not To Watch?
I won’t pretend Re-Kan is a must see, nor that it will change your world. But there’s endearing thoughtfulness in this series, and heartfelt character as well. When the ghosts are as memorable as the girls, the stories they tell so soft, warm, and caring, and when the production team knows when to do less—harnessing the power of silence, or standing still, or letting a moment carry so as not to spoil the mood—I believe it is deserving of your time.
My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info—now available in paperback!) Sign up for my email list for a FREE sequel short story. Over at stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: The secret to enjoying a long life, Story Review: Mad Max Fury Road, How to not get butthurt when others insult stories you love, and Guilty pleasures are bullshit.