“Hey, did you know that everything has a soul? If you treasure your possessions, a Cocotama god will be born. Don’t tell anyone!” Thus, sounding much like a public service announcement teaching the official Japanese animist belief, begins each episode of Kamisama Miranai: Himitsu no Cocotama (meaning Trainee Gods: The Secret Cocotama), a children’s show that ran from 2015 to 2018 for a formidable 139 episodes. A major commitment, and sometimes patience-testingly juvenile, Cocotama is a remarkably consistent program with numerous cute moments, budget-conscious but appealing animation, and humor that sometimes wins a laugh.
Kokoro Yotsuba lives with her family in Aozora, an oceanside town at the mouth of a river. Kokoro’s father works as an architect, while her mother operates a crafts store, and she also has a younger brother, and a cat, Amanda, with a beautiful violet coat and a white heart over her face. A fifth-grader counting a number of good friends at Hidamari Elementary, she lives a fulfilling life, but is concerned that she’s too clumsy, and begins the series by flubbing one of the many hands-on construction assignments primary schoolers are so often given. Yet Kokoro is good at caring for her possessions, in particular a green colored pencil given, her favorite color, in a set given by her grandmother when she was little. Her grandmother, who lives on a farm on a small island, always reminded Kokoro that everything has a soul. Sure enough, her granddaughter’s care of her green pencil pays off, and magically gives off an egg, which hatches to reveal Rakitama (Luckytama) the Cocotama—a Hamtaro-like munchkin trainee god, which Kokoro meets before long. Ordinarily, Cocotama aren’t supposed to be seen by humans, though, so Kokoro has to build him a “home” before nightfall. Defying her want of skills, Kokoro gathers empty containers, cups, and pan lids, and superglues them all together to create what looks suspiciously like a playset just in time. With that, Rakitama signs a contract (stamped with his bare butt) whereby he lives in the house Kokoro built until he gathers enough Happy Stars (pieces of human happiness given off when Cocotama solve their problems) to become a full-fledged god; on his part, he will help Kokoro overcome her clumsiness.
The emphasis on treasuring one’s possessions contrasts with the usual enjoinder to children that they should share, but this possible conflict is never brought up. Kokoro must be inordinately possessive, because as in Shugo Chara!, an anime with similar egg imagery, one mascot character is never enough, and before long Kokoro has a half-dozen Cocotama and counting. Also, the good ownership theme dovetails well with the underlying purpose to which the series was created. The Bandai Namco logo is there to be seen in the credits of every episode, and like Pretty Cure or Beyblade it can be amusing how mercenary the animation can be. In addition to dolls of the Cocotamas themselves, the Cocotama House playsets must be especially lucrative. It is always kind of a stunner when an independent crafting project miraculously ends up looking just like a facory-made playset.
The irony is, Cocotama contractors have to build their own houses for Cocotama, so per the rules of the series the prefab ones children are supposed to beg their mothers for wouldn’t count! And, or course, Kokoro would never overcome her clumsiness. It can be kind of strange: the Cocotama are wide-ranging creatures, wandering all around Aozora, climbing the hill overlooking the town, even going on vacation to Okinawa without human aid, yet seem obsessed with the playsets. In particular, there’s later a “Cocotama Training House” with a handful of obstacles that should pose no problems for such able divinities. But I think the idea is supposed to be that Cocotamas are like little children romping about in their underwear; while they’re often self-sufficient, Kokoro and other contractors have an evident parental joy watching the little gods with an ant farm-like fascination. And children, of course, given ever so wide a field or park to play in, often keep to the precincts of the constructed playground of their own accord.
So, why should adults watch? It’s hard to imagine recommending to Western kids this series you can only see subbed on sites with mature “you won’t last 2 minutes” pop-up ads. The most obvious answer is girls, girls, girls. Kokoro and her friends are all just adorable, and it’s always a treat when an episode focuses on her best friends at school, whether ladylike Hina, my favorite, tomboy Ayase, or even the Hafu aspiring idol, Kate. The other Cocotama contractors that get introduced are all girls, and while males (and even adults) can form Cocotama, there are never any instances of them getting to know them and forming contracts. There is no overarching conflict, and despite a few wannabe “delinquent” Cocotamas in a disused park, and a recurring pair of shady sibling businessmen, there are no bad guys, so this is a great place for plots that just involve realistic problems young girls face. Some of the best episodes feature Ichinose, a sportive, popular boy Kokoro is gone for romantically, but who always ends up seeing his admirer in the most embarrassing and awkward situations.
The Cocotamas themselves can be entertaining, even a riot, but also sometimes kinda gross. They each have personalities marked by the objects they emerged from, and can perform magic by wagging their butts and chanting “Kokon poi poi Cocotama”, then a line unique to each one (for Rakitama, “Raki raki raki ra ki ki”). The effects of the magic can be wide-ranging, but most have certain effects they specialize in. On rare occasion, many Cocotama combine their powers to perform more powerful feats, in a way comparable to Magical Stage, a similar non-combat combo in Ojamajo Doremi. Yet it can be annoying how much they focus on wagging their baby-fat rears, and there are some of that bane of contemporary children’s shows, fart jokes. Is this really “by popular demand”? I have to wonder. Thankfully, with such a wide range of Cocotamas, there will be plenty to appeal to each person. My favorite is Renji, an enterprising little guy who sets up his own business, selling furniture for the Cocotama House and other implements for the “sparkles” in shiny objects, a great stand-in for play money. There is even, strange to see in a kid’s show, a character based on Friedrich Nietzsche! Nicchie lives in the public library, right next to copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil! I think the joke is supposed to be about the idea of becoming gods, which is what Cocotama have to do, albeit by more altruistic means.
I did have to roll my eyes a few times. The Cocotamas are the only deities in the series, without hint of any others, so on overhearing someone praying or thanking God, a few times one will remark Oh, that means me. You’re Welcome. The worldview does align with Shinto, but even thus can seem pretty silly.
While the animation is always professional and crisp, one gets the feeling that Cocotama is a discount production. Locations are returned to again and again, with new characters providing most of the novelty. To be sure, there are visits to the Cocotama World, the blissful heaven all Cocotamas aspire to once they become full gods, including in a theatrical movie, but across nearly 140 episodes the action feels constrained, in a way perhaps appropriate to a plot that follows a child. Yet, there are only three openings, the first used across over seventy episodes! That isn’t normal. But it is a wonder how pretty a place Aozora is. There are plenty of gorgeous pans over the river and looking down from the hill Hidamari Elementary rests on. The park and sports fields on the flood plain, and the view from a bower on a hill where the “troublesome trio” of delinquent Cocotamas live are real favorites. Should you elect to start the lengthy series, at least be assured you’re in for something as cute and picturesque as it is cozy.