Tamamo-chan's a Fox! GN 1

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Stories about divine beings suddenly seized with the desire to live the high school life are perhaps a bit less common than stories about high schools where everyone is a supernatural creature. Tamamo-chan's a Fox! tries to hit the sweet spot in between the two genres by having divine fox Tamamo decide to enroll in a human high school disguised as a human – something she's incredibly bad at. Although she's human-sized and shaped, she's also still covered in white fur, with a fox face, ears, and tail, as well as some decidedly canine behavior that she either can't shake or doesn't know she should. The resulting story could have been mean-spirited, but instead creator Ray Yūki plays things for the goofy, and the manga that comes of it turns out to be an awful lot of good-natured fun.

The story follows Tamamo, one of four divine fox statues guarding the Inari shrine. Tamamo, the statue with the key (all four have something different in their mouths), has had enough of just watching happy school children come to visit the shrine, and whatever your feelings about high school, it's hard to blame her – she's had centuries of just sitting there, observing snippets of a life she's not allowed to have. To that end, she asks Inari, the goddess of bountiful harvests (among other things), if she might be able to transform into a human girl and go to high school. Inari, who comes off as a doting parent, agrees to the plan, with the caveat that Tamamo not be discovered to be a fox.

That, as it turns out, is easier said than done, because unlike most of the foxes (and tanuki, for that matter) we see in manga and anime, Tamamo is really bad at transformation. She can get the shape right, but that's pretty much it, with the upside being that only children, or child-like adults, can see her fox attributes. Since she's going to a school, a place that by definition is full of children, that does gum up the works somewhat, but at least all but one of her teachers are blissfully unaware of her true nature. (Although “blissful” may be overstating it in the case of that one teacher who keeps stealing her lunch. That's a jerk move for a teacher in general, but in his case, it leads to some divine punishment.) Inari, fortunately, does seem to be at least partially aware of Tamamo's shortcomings in the transformation department, and she appears to one of Tamamo's classmates to ensure that someone's looking out for her.

Probably because of its original serialization, this setup is quite frequently rehashed in the volume, which meant it needed to recap each time the story reappeared. Since this is a four-panel comedy, that doesn't detract too much, nor does its relatively limited repertoire (thus far) of jokes. Mostly this works because of the disconnect between what Tamamo thinks is happening and her friends and classmates scrambling to keep her “secret” safe – which doesn't mean that they're averse to occasionally giving in and playing with Tamamo's more doggy behaviors. There is never a sense that they're being cruel, though, and Tamamo herself always seems to be enjoying herself.

Another fun piece of the story is the way that everyone worships Tamamo in a religious sense. She's largely unaware of it (although either she or Inari are granting wishes; I'd suspect it's Inari as a way of repaying the class' kindness), happily eating the offerings left in her locker and joining (or attempting to join) any club that's interested in her for whatever reason. As far as Tamamo is concerned, everything is just a part of the high school life she dreamed of, and if that makes her come off as flaky, that's okay, because flaky or not she's genuinely having a good time. Her joy is infectious, and that's really what pulls the volume together and makes it work: it's all well and good to have a gag comedy about a humanoid fox attending high school, but if there's no heart to the story, it'll be style over substance. That isn't the case here, because Tamamo really is all heart.

The manga does have a lot of little tidbits of information written on the sides and bottoms of panels, which may make this work better in physical format rather than digital. The print is quite small and often sideways; depending on your e-reader or app, zooming in and out and rotating the images is a constant, which can get annoying. The side notes tend towards the informational – such as noting that the manga opted to use “white” instead of “invisible” to describe Tamamo for the whole visible fur angle – while the footers are more authorial comment on the action on the page. Strictly from a writing standpoint, the footers work a bit better than the sides, simply because they don't take you out of the story. Seven Seas has included cultural glosses on what would have been blank pages between chapters rather than collecting them at the end of the book, and while that can make it harder to look them up, it does have the benefit of putting the notes close to where the references actually happened.

Tamamo-chan's a Fox! is a nice, light read. It's silly in the right way, playing with mythology and school stories and mashing them together, and it works well. Good-natured and fun, it's the kind of book you pick up when you just need to escape from reality for a little while.

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