Image source: TVアニメ「つぐもも」公式 on Twitter

How well do you take care of your belongings? Do you lump your clothes on a chair when you are getting changed? Perhaps you have cracked your cellphone screen because you sat on it, not realizing you threw it on the bed earlier? Maybe you would take greater care of your things if you knew how they felt when treated that way?

“Animism” is the belief that inanimate objects actually possess souls. Its root comes from the Latin, “anima,” which is defined as “a current of air,” “a breath,” or even “life.” Incidentally, it is the same root as in the word “animation,” and thus, by extension, “anime.” After all, in anime, we are giving “life” to mere drawings through the illusion of movement—creating things that some will fall in love with and others will hate as if they were real people. Japan is known not only for its rich animation culture, but also, of course, for its history of animism, deeply rooted in Shinto belief.

In Tsugumomo, animism one of the anime’s most prevalent themes. At the start of the series, the main character, Kazuya, is attacked by a wig that apparently has been possessed by a spirit, known as an amasogi. (In reality, the word amasogi (尼削ぎ) actually refers to a specific hairstyle, namely a semi-long cut, from back in the Heian period.) Kazuya’s life is saved by a mysterious, ethereal young girl with magical powers. It turns out that she is the spirit—in human form—of Kazuya’s late mother’s kimono obi sash, which he has kept with him constantly since her death.

The girl in question is named Kiriha, and she, like the amasogi itself, is a tsukumogami (付喪神), a sub-category of yokai (妖怪). They are defined as being spirits that have embodied normally inanimate objects after a long period of time. As we saw in the first episode, these possessed items can cause problems for people.

Image source: TVアニメ「つぐもも」公式 on Twitter

In episode four, after several battles with various types of tsukumogami, Kazuya finally accepts the role of susoharai—in essence, a sort of exorcist for tsukumogami. His job thus becomes performing chobuku (調伏) which is the act of getting rid of the spirit from the object in question. He does this in tandem with Kiriha’s powers, making them a powerful, spirit-battling team.

What I find interesting is that it is also hinted that Kazuya’s mother also performed chobuku with Kiriha. In a way, then, he is following the family tradition, using the same tool, which in this case is Kiriha, the spirit of the obi. One key flashback scene taking place when Kazuya is still a baby shows his mother asking Kiriha to look after him in case something happens to her. After a brief counter that such a thing would never happen, Kiriha accepts.

Thus Kiriha thinks of herself as Kazuya’s guardian. But why? Perhaps it is more than the promise she made; perhaps it is about mutually looking out for each other. After all, Kazuya accepted the role of susoharai to protect her, since she was under threat.

Image source: TVアニメ「つぐもも」公式 on Twitter

Kiriha, a tsukumogami helping to exorcise other tsukumogami, is doing so out of a sense of duty and deep friendship—perhaps even family love, or a representation of filial piety. Thus the key difference between her and the tsukumogami that are to be exorcised is probably that the latter are spirits inhabiting objects that do not have owners. Meanwhile, Kiriha does have an “owner” in the form of Kazuya, in spite of her believing she is in control and Kazuya is her servant (for comedy purposes, of course!).

The duality serves to highlight the importance of looking after items with care, especially treasured possessions and heirlooms, or those objects that are abandoned may eventually turn on humans and seek revenge for being treated badly.

For Tsugumomo, which, at its heart, is a slightly risqué action comedy, this concept is a good recipe for interesting interactions. It also sets up possible revelations further down the road and teaches a good life lesson: Always remember to take care of your belongings, and they will, in turn, take care of you.

Tsugumomo is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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