Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television and games.
There can be some anime based on existing properties for the sake of marketing, tie-ins, or promoting the product. Some would watch for the fast-paced action genre. Others would watch it for character development, world-building, a laugh, fanservice, or even all the above. True, watching Japanese animation could be considered a form of escapism. However, sometimes we need to take a break from all of these aforementioned tropes and watch something to could make us feel relaxed and unwounded. Our answer comes into a form of a cute fox demigod girl known as Senko.
The Helpful Fox Senko-San (or Sewayaki Kitsune no Senko-san) is a 2019 anime based on the manga of the same name by Rimukoro. The series centers on a depressed and stressed businessman meeting a fox demigod girl named Senko. She has been sent to help him ease his pain and find his happiness again.
A Laid-Back Tone With Tons of Fluff
Conceptually speaking, the series has been heavily inspired by the "kitsune" (Japanese for "fox" ) from Japanese folklore. According to legends, these creatures are interpreted as intelligent spirits that watch over generations of families and take on human forms as either servants or lovers.
For the latter, a story about a grown man developing a relationship with a little girl as his "wife" or "mother" would sound...creepy for anyone blindly tuning in. Thankfully, this series, especially with the first episode, is fully aware of that and it doesn't go that far or serious as it sounds where they easily patch up these misconceptions with context on the folklore. Granted, there is one character (or possibly two) in particular that almost went into that direction, but it was mercifully brushed off.
With a simple plot like that, a person with a straight face would find it boring with not much excitement happening and lacking substance. But when you really think about it, it doesn't have to be.
The show has a very laid-back tone where the main character spends her time, no pun intended, raising his spirits by cooking him dinner, cleaning his apartment, and more. There's a positive and innocent charm that would make us feel exactly how the main character Kuroto is feeling: relaxed. Life is always complicated and there will always be moments we could get unhappy, angry or unnerving. But, in the end, there will be always be a time to feel relieved for a brighter and healthy life. In order words, this anime feels like going to a spa or spending time with a loved one.
In fact, after watching each episode's end credits, the show has an interactive segment called "Super Senko-san Time" where we are in a POV scenario with Senko pampering us exactly how she did with Kuroto in each episode. Once in a while, the other demigods would comedically interrupt the segment with different results.
Of course, since Senko is a centuries-old spirit, one would expect the series to go into the "fish-out-of-water" clichés that are common in a stories like this. Luckily, this has been significantly downplayed, including the episode about Senko learning to use household appliances. The recurring demigod character Shiro is more victim to that category than Senko.
What about comedy? Yes, while the atmosphere is easygoing, the show does supply a fair amount of laughs, mostly from dialogue. To answer your first question, there are fox puns, but again, to a lesser extent. There are also visual gags and media parodies with fox characters. One of the supporting characters Yasuko is a fan of a fox girl anime that she watches and, I kid you not, an episode where Kuroto and Shiro challenge each other in a Super Smash Bros.-like fighting video game with fox characters.
While Kuroto and Senko's relationship is more family-related than romantic, there is a recurring gag where Kuroto has a...questionable "obsession" with touching or petting fluffy tails. On one hand, it is kind of funny that would he would use it like a pillow to cleanse his stress. Then again, his behavior would lead to awkward moments, principally with Senko having a sensitive side with her tail.
Like any anime that year, the anime lasted one season. Without giving anything away, the final two episodes are a bit of tearjerker yet predictable when everything wraps up in the end. Not in a bad way mind you, it's just some people would easily guess what will happen. It may sound uncomfortable on paper, yet it was executed in a soothing and lively manner.
Vibrantly Cute Animation
Not only this anime aired around the same year as How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?, it was also animated by the same studio Doga Kobo as well. While some of the animators spent their time putting attention to detail on muscles, the others spent their time emphasizing on the plainness, colors and cuteness. Cute is everywhere in this show. Once you get past the limited character animation, comedic facial expressions, and minimal backgrounds, most of the animation quality relies on the crafted visuals behind the concept.
Starting with the character designs, each has their own distinct look to visually stand out from another. For example, with the human characters, Kuroto has a more realistic design with small, sunken eyes while Yasuko has bigger expressive eyes. When to comes to the kitsune characters, Senko and Shiro have a more appealing and youthful look to coincide with the positive and innocent nature of the show. These girls are a living embodiment of cute. They're like plushies that you wanna buy at the nearest toy store. It wouldn't be a shock if this design was made for tie-in merchandising. Their boss Yozora is depicted more as a mature woman for her longtime eldership in the spirit world and a little something that she has no shame hiding. Being centuries old spirits, their wardrobes accurately represent the ancient Japanese period and folklore. On a side note, whenever the anime Little Yoko, Inari Girl is present, the art direction on the characters and backgrounds are very simple and vibrant to give that over-the-top and enthusiastic Saturday morning cartoon feeling.
Despite majority of the scenery taking place in Kuroto's (and sometimes Yasuko's) apartments, we do get some imaginative and colorful backgrounds. For instance, the fox spirit world is designed to be reminiscent of Japanese ink paintings. They also have an inventive method of travelling through both the human and spirit worlds by using portals from shrines where people pray or leave offerings for the demigods. One highlighted location in the series is the private beach where the characters spend their summer break. At first glance, it seems like your cliched episode with a poor excuse for fanservice. In actuality, this beach is a sacred area that kitsunes would access. It's almost like a secret vacation spot.
Color could sometimes benefit certain pieces of animation. Whenever Kuroto has a a flashback or dream sequence, the screen will be filtered with old film colors to give a nostalgic and authentic feel. There are also neat effects animation whenever Senko could summon her fox-fire, and smoke-like energy to represent the positive and negative aura surrounding Kuroto. It is quite visually a feast for the eyes.
A Small Pack of Empathetic Characters
It is quite a surprise that this anime values quality over quantity since it keeps its focus on the main characters with a couple of side characters. Beginning with our titular character, Senko is a 800 year-old fox demigod sent to pamper Kuroto due to having a familiar history with his ancestors. Outside her supernatural abilities like summoning fox-fire and floating, she is a thoughtful, talented, and hardworking soul. She is the heart of the anime. Despite looking very young for her age, Senko acts more like a mother and wife where she wishes to make Kuroto happy with no romantic or selfish desires. Speaking of Kuroto, he is the overworking and unhappy salaryman whose health and life gradually improved ever since Senko's arrival. In fact, he is almost considered an avatar where the audience would be in his perspective and would get all the relaxation and motivation they need.
If you are looking for a kitsune that would almost act exactly how anyone would expect, then Shiro is the answer. Like Senko, she is a 900 year-old fox demigod that would occasionally visit Senko and Kuroto. The major difference between these two is that Shiro is easily the jealous, manipulative, and arrogant type with a belief that all humans are servants worshiping demigods for their service. Fortunately, she eventually becomes accustomed to human life and befriends Yasuko. Yozora is the head kitsune of the spirit world who acts, no lack of a better term, foxy around Kuroto yet serious at the same time.
Strangely enough, the only human supporting character is Kuroto's [only] next-door neighbor Yasuko. She is a college student and part-time manga artist with an adorkable personality, thanks to her love for Little Yoko, Inari Girl and cosplaying. On top of her fandom, she mistakes Senko for a cosplayer and sees her selfless nature as an inspiration. And that's pretty much it. Kuroto's mother and his co-worker don't count for having not much screen time nor personality.
For the sound direction, the opening and ending theme songs are peppy and cute. It's not everyday to hear scatting in an anime theme song. The visuals that accompany the songs are also quite a sight. It is cute seeing a fluffy tail coming out of a food maker or seeing Senko sleeping at dusk while she dreams of a mini-version of herself.
Like How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?, the anime was dubbed and distributed by Funimation Entertainment. To their credit, the voice actors did a pretty job with their characters. Admittedly, Kristen Sutton's performance as Shiro was a bit high-pitched at times, but did okay nonetheless. Aaron Campbell and Kristen McGuire have believable chemistry with Kuroto sounding down-on-his-luck and Senko speaking sensibly that it washes the stress away.
With a small cast of characters, you will remember having a relaxing time with them.
Overall, The Helpful Fox Senko-San is a calm and collected anime that remedies the negativity and stress among viewers. Even though the premise is basic with lacking conflict, short-run, and an uneasy scenario, the execution makes up for it with a mellow atmosphere, vivid colors, noteworthy characters, and a full layer of cuteness. This is recommended for anime fans that wanna take a break from the typical anime and wanna relax and/or in a mood to go "aww". This would also apply to anyone who is overstressed from working all day. It's almost like a prescription. For anyone else, it depends how you feel about the premise whether unintentional or not. It is guaranteed that the anime doesn't go that direction as it sounds. It is also available on Blu-ray with features including a compilation of the "Super Senko Time" segments, textless opening and ending credits, commercials, and a commentary on episode 8. So, sit back, relax, enjoy Senko's cooking, and sweet dreams.