Comedy is a hard sell for me, but I found myself paging through Kuma Miko at Shoreview the other day. I know next to nothing about Shinto shrine maidens (miko) and I’m endlessly fascinated by other religions, so I thought I might as well take this one home and give it a try.
I find it interesting that at some point this got translated to Girl Meets Bear, since even with my limited Japanese I know this says “Bear Shrine Maiden.” Possibly, though it’s not obvious to me by looking at the Mangahere site, that “Girl Meets Bear” is actually the title of the first chapter.
The back cover flap reads: “In the deep mountainous regions of the Touhouku area, the comedic story of the miko of bears, 14-year-old Machi, and her childhood friend, the talking bear, Natsu, takes place as Machi struggles to qualify for city-life with Natsu’s assistance.”
What’s important to note is that, while Machi really, really wants to go to high school in the city, the story actually never gets her there (at least by the ending of volume 2, BakaUpdates seems to think it’s on volume 7 in Japan and still on-going.)
Given the set-up, I initially thought we were going to leave shrine life and the humor would be all about a fish-out-water/country bumpkin lost in the big city (with a bear companion.) But, no. The joke is that Natsu tells Machi that she COULD go to the city, but she has to pass a series of tests to prove that she’s prepared… so we end up with jokes about watermelons (a homonym for the JR rail pass, apparently,) that go so far over my head that I’m thinking I should be studying this book myself, before I consider heading to Japan. I almost wonder if some of the native appeal of this manga is that a lot of people can relate to how baffling life in the big city is. As an American, unfortunately, the jokes are mostly just baffling.
Even though it’s comedic, you get a sense of life in the deep recesses of rural Japan. We find out, for instance, that there might be electricity in a mountain village, but not gas. There’s also another scene where the town councilman finds out that the old people in the town are expecting a ritual, but no one is exactly sure what it’s supposed to be.
Also, it’s just pretty:
Wikipedia tells me that there was an anime of Kumamiko (as one word) that aired from April to June of 2016. The only place I can find to watch it is a fan site, KissAnime. However, there also appears to be a controversy around the ending episode.
I’m not sure I’m going to actively pursue this manga, but I would probably pick up the third volume if it showed up at the library. If for no other reason that I’m fascinated by the in-jokes I won’t get and the details of life we see.