Summary: After 300 years, the gods that imprisoned Senzou the Fox Spirit for his arrogance finally set him free. There is only one condition ― he can’t have any of his supernatural abilities back until he successfully helps a tanuki cub named Manpachi become one of their magical assistants. Unfortunately for Senzou, there’s no cheating when it comes to completing his task! The magic beads around his neck make sure he can’t wander too far from his charge or shirk his duties, and so… Senzou the once-great Fox Spirit must now figure out how to be an actually-great babysitter to a mischievous little tanuki or risk being stuck without his powers forever!
Thoughts: The first volume of The Fox and the Little Tanuki had many things to say about the consequences of rejection and repression, and I quickly grew to think of the story as something akin to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Something that’s ostensibly for kids, but also has surprising depth to it, things that adults can enjoy and stand to be reminded of every once in a while, and more to it than what’s on the surface. I found myself hoping that this would continue in the second volume. Happily, I wasn’t disappointed.
Manpachi has gone missing, tricked into vanishing by a sly and deceptive badger, Momoji, who senses that Manpachi will become powerful when he grows up and wants to set himself up as an ally to that strength. Manpachi is entirely unaware of this, thinking only that Momoji wants to be his friend and help reunite him with the family who rejected him at birth.
Once again I’m struck by how much this manga addresses the issue of people not being to blame for their own births. Or rather, how they shouldn’t be blamed; plenty of people blame Manpachi for his birth. He’s bakemono, he’s different, he’s an outcast, the energy needed to create him messed up the ecology of his home for possibly years to come… And he’s not actually at fault for any of that (that last one is revealed to be entirely untrue anyway), though people are happy to treat him as though he did everything deliberately, maliciously. Turning bakemono into scapegoats.
It’s one of the reasons I really enjoy Senzou as a character, even if he can be a jerk and practically desperate to deny that there’s anything good about himself. He’s faced that same mentality. Heck, he became the embodiment of it, taking an, “If they’re going to hate me for being destructive, then I may as well destroy everything,” approach to life for so long. But that’s part of why he was chosen to raise Manpachi to begin with. Not just as some sort of rehabilitation project; that could have been anything, really. But Manpachi has the potential to become just like Senzou, facing the same obstacles in life and risking the same brutal punishment that Senzou experienced, when his pain overwhelmed his reason and he became violent. Senzou’s got this job because he gets it. He knows what Manpachi’s life will be like, he knows that kind of pain. His job isn’t just to raise Manpachi to be a good person, a good tanuki. His job is to spare Manpachi the same pain he went through, by making sure he doesn’t walk the same path.
Or at least, that’s how I’m reading it.
I think this sort of story can resonate with anyone who’s spent time on the fringes of “acceptable” society. The blame, the stress, the internalizing of what everyone considers as your faults. The way pain can make you lash out — I liked finding out that Mikumo nearly lost his way and became angry and violent due to pain, not because I like knowing he was in pain, but because he found his way out of it. And also because his case shows that really, it can happen to anyone if they’re pushed in the right way; nobody is inherently evil. And there’s the positive side of the manga’s themes, too. The friends and family you make, rather than the ones related to you by circumstance of birth. The way idealism can lead to great changes. The way one’s destiny isn’t fixed, but that change comes all the time, and how you handle it affects how life goes from there. Nothing is ever destroyed, even if it changes beyond what you can easily recognize.
I’m really enjoying seeing Manpachi grow up with that idealism, and the guidance (albeit somewhat unwilling, at least at first) to avoid missteps. I enjoy seeing Senzou adjust to how his life is so very different from what he imagined it to be, and the way he’s learning to be better because people have placed their trust in him. I enjoy Koyuki’s weird hyperactive maternalism toward Manpachi, and the way she sometimes turns that on Senzou to amusing effect. I like the bond between Tachibana and Mikumo, and Tachibana’s doofy canine smile. I like Hagiri’s love of cats, and his loyalty to those who deserve it. I like the way the story of animals spills over into humanity, and the complications that brings to Senzou’s life and appointed task. I like the art style, I like the way a simple story can say so much that hits so hard.
I still maintain that The Fox and the Little Tanuki is the sort of story that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike, in so many different ways. It’s got a lot to say about a lot of issues, and the fact that it chooses animals as allegory isn’t a reason to dismiss it as being too childish to pay attention to. I didn’t expect to have so much to say here, either in this review or my review of the first volume, but the manga itself has plenty to say, so I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’m already looking forward to volume 3, whenever that gets released.
(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)