Overview (Spoilers Below)
Nanako is an overworked programmer living in the heart of a major Japanese city. His overwork has caused him to neglect his physical health as his mental health deteriorates rapidly. One night, he is asked to stay late—a common occurrence—and then he takes the last train back to his modest apartment. His journey home is interrupted by a voicemail from his family, asking if he will return to his family home to partake in a regional festival. He gets off his train and wonders idly if he still has any instant ramen left. He approaches his apartment, opens the door, and sees a child with fox ears and a tail cooking on his stove. Naturally, Nanako freaks out.
This fox child is Senko, a fox demigod who is indebted to Nanako’s family. Senko chose Nanako from an unearthly plain where she and two fox spirits were watching over his worsening outlook on life. After beating out one of her fox spirit rivals, Senko was sent to Earth to take care of Nanako because he has failed to take care of himself. Nanako is naturally very skeptical at first, but after seeing Senko walk through walls and threaten to dump her food down the drain, he eventually decides to give the home cooked meal a try. After a single bite, Nanako is in heaven and he agrees to trust Sekno, at least for now.
Senko tells Nanako that he is exactly the kind of project that she likes to work on and that she has been serving Nanako and his family for some time. She has seen Nanako become more and more depressed with his life, and she is certain that she is going to do everything that she can to turn it around. Nanako isn’t as convinced, but the more the fox woman tells him, the more he starts to believe her. Senko tells Nanako that he is allowed to ask for anything he wants, and she will do it for him. After some thought, Nanako settles on wanting to touch Senko’s tail. Senko initially tries to push back on the idea, but Nanako—already becoming more comfortable in his dominant role—pushes her. Nanako has a quasi-orgasmic response to the stroking of her tail, and, after renewing her promise to turn Nanako’s life around, tells her new human friend that they would need to set some daily limits on such intimate interaction.
Where to begin with this one? Magic and fantasy are common tools used to take us away from our humdrum lives and transport us into worlds that are far more interesting—and hopeful—than the ones that we currently inhabit. I think, though, Freud said something to the effect of a dream telling us quite a lot about the dreamer. I play this game often with shows that I’m initially turned off by. What kind of person dreams a show like The Helpful Fox Senko-san into existence, and why would they want to?
The obvious answer is that some people want to have sex with women, some people want to have sex with women who look (or sometimes are) young, and some people want to have sex with women who look like foxes. This show could be extant to service the intersection between those three demographics, and I think to quite a large degree it is. But, to reduce the appeal of a show like this down to simple niche sexual appeal does it a disservice. This is an anime with far more lurid goals than that.
Senko-san also goes to incredible lengths to establish the relationship between its two protagonists. Senko looks like she’s ten years old, but she’s actually eight hundred, so it’s okay if later Nanako (or right now a viewer) is attracted to her. She is a god who can walk through walls and dimensions with ease, but she is the servant of a twentysomething programmer. She does everything that she can to make him happy (even crossing some of her own boundaries which at best can be read as like a black person begrudgingly letting you touch their hair, and at worst seems like a coercive fsex act), but because her beneficence is so valuable, Nanako can never pay it back. Thus, he shouldn’t even try. I do have to applaud this show for its economy of storytelling. I rarely see so many red flags show up in such little time. I’m actually a little bit impressed.
I can already hear some people asking me why I’m taking a show so obviously meant to be light and breezy as seriously as I am, but I would argue that it is just that relative lack of heft that is making me take the show so seriously. There’s not much of a plot to analyze, the characters are an audience-insert and the subservient fantasy that pampers him, and the animation is the same house style most mainstream shows have had for years. I honestly wish that I could comment on something besides the abject lack of any self-awareness (or the cynical embracing of the show’s troubling implications), but it’s wildly difficult to focus on anything else.
Zooming out a little bit, it’s interesting to me that a salaryman is the most unhappy person that these fox spirits can find. Each part of that compound word denotes a level of privilege that—while not problem-free—surely transcends the need for magical intervention. I know that Senko is indebted to Nanako’s family, and it looks like this is because they tend the fox shrine, but if this metaphysical system is based on having the means to make sacrifices, that tells me all I need to know about this particular set of beliefs. The whole thing drew comparisons (at least in my mind) to Nickelodeon’s The Fairly Oddparents, but Timmy was actually an abused child and—outside of Rule 34 drawings—never seemed desperate to fuck Cosmo and Wanda.