Okou and Seiji are two adopted siblings who run a curio rental shop called the Izumoya together. One day, a daimyo named Katsusaburou asks the siblings for help with a peculiar problem. His problem revolves around the loss of a netsuke (an ornament used to hold pouches onto sashes). The netsuke was in the shape of a mouse, and the daimyo believes that it became a tsukumogami—a spirit—and ran away.
Although Okou and Seiji are initially rather reluctant to take on such a task, they are not unfamiliar with tsukumogami. In fact, they have five of them within their very own shop. These tsukumogami, however, do not like to be seen or heard directly by humans. To get them to “help,” Okou and Seiji have to resort to eavesdropping and some clever antics.
The tsukumogami are lent out to gather information. Eventually, thanks to Notetsu (a bat netsuke), the siblings are able to retrieve the mouse netsuke. The siblings soon find out that Katsusaburou’s problem is much more complicated than it first appears.
(Apologies for the possibly confusing summary. This show uses a lot of old-fashioned Japanese terminology, and the episode itself is fairly dialogue-heavy. I’ve also chosen to omit a lot of details about this episode’s plot, for the sake of brevity and to exclude spoilers.)
I have always been fond of stories where spirits/magical beings live among humans in a relatively mundane setting. I am also incredibly fond of anime set in Edo period Japan. This show combines both of these elements in a fairly successful way. While We Rent Tsukumogami is far from being a perfect series, it is overall quite lovely and charming.
The biggest strength that this series has is its visuals. The animation in this first episode was lively and fluid. The backgrounds of this world are also very detailed and colorful, and help to set a calming yet whimsical atmosphere. And the character designs for the tsukumogami that have shown up are, for the most part, adorable. Notetsu in particular seems to have one of the more “cutesy” designs, leading me to believe that he’s this series’ designated mascot character. (I won’t lie, I kind of want merch of him already.) While the designs for the human characters are a little less interesting, I do really like Okou’s look. I get a bit of an old school, shoujo-style vibe from her. Unfortunately, the female characters in this series do suffer a little bit from “same face syndrome,” but at least Okou looks unique enough to stand out as one of the main characters.
Other than the visual-work, the rest of this show’s elements can be a hit or a miss. We Rent Tsukumogami’s overarching story isn’t anything unique, as the “mysterious store with storeowners that help solve peoples’ problems” trope has definitely been done before in anime. In this case, whether the show will be good or not will depend on the characters and the types of stories presented. We Rent Tsukumogami appears to be following a mostly episodic pattern. While there was not enough substance in the first episode for me to gauge how well written the main characters are, we at least do get a taste of the types of stories we can probably see in the future. In this first episode, we’re introduced to a daimyo’s problem involving a netsuke, which eases us into the concept of tsukumogami. After having watched the episode, I’m not sure if this story was the best one to start off with, as it is essentially about relationship troubles (not exactly the most intriguing of storylines). This episode’s story also ultimately ends on sort of a bittersweet note, but it is a realistic ending for the situation and time period.
There are a couple of other things about this show that I want to address. Although the usage of old-fashioned Japanese terminology is fitting for the setting, it can get a bit confusing at times due to the sheer amount used. I actually had to stop the episode several times to look up words that I didn’t understand. (As a note, I am watching this with Crunchyroll’s subtitles, which leaves words like “daimyo” and “koku” untranslated, without any translator notes to explain what they mean.) I do like that the term “netsuke” is actually explained in-series, although I wish the explanation had come a bit earlier—this explanation does not show up until much later after the word “netsuke” is first mentioned.
Being setting/time-period accurate, this show also has characters talking about red light districts and prostitutes without batting an eye. These places are at least not portrayed sleazily, nor is there any fanservice at all present throughout this first episode. I also do want to mention that there’s some kind of romance hinted between Okou and Seiji. Well… they’re stated outright to not be blood-related (promotional materials mention that they’re adopted siblings), but I know that this will still be a divisive issue for some. I don’t really care, but I do feel sad that the romance aspect is being pushed—I would have been perfectly fine with a show that just featured cute sibling interactions.
Beyond that, the first few minutes of the episode felt incredibly stilted in terms of pacing; although this definitely improved as the episode went on. I think it’s because the show was trying to cram in so many character introductions and establishing plot explanations all at once in the beginning half of the episode. I also have to question the song choice used for this series’ OP. It’s uh… very interesting? But I’m not sure how fitting a strongly electronic-beat song is for a series set in the Edo period. At least the ED is much more calming, and utilizes more traditional melodies. It’s actually very lovely.
Overall, this first episode had a few stumbles, but is on the whole interesting enough for me to want to keep on watching. I think this is the series I’ll be blogging for this summer anime season. Here’s hoping that We Rent Tsukumogami‘s next few episodes show improvement in the areas I went over above.
Out of five for this episode, I give: