One of my closest elementary school friends, Diana, grew up to be one of the more beautiful, popular, and sought-after girls in my high school. We had grown apart in our friendship – an emotional distance had developed and continued to widen through junior high into high school – by the time of her peak popularity; however, we occupied periphery social circles. I was not miserable in high school, having made it through the gaping maw of depression that summed up my junior high career, but still found myself envious of Diana. We had grown up down the street from each other, had played with the same kids, climbed the same trees, and yet somehow she was the popular track captain and I was, well, me. Upon seeing her talking animatedly with a boy I liked, I immediately recoiled, hurt and jealous, while fervently wishing to be her.
The premiere episode of Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha hints at what happens when a nervous junior high school student is given one wish from a goddess. To Inari Fushimi’s credit, she could have wished for the object of her affection, Kouji Tanbabashi, to fall in love with her, but does not take this easiest route. Instead, Inari wishes to become the girl that Kouji has feelings for: the cheerful manager of the basketball team, Akemi Sumizome.
Inari ends up running into Tanbabashi and the two go on a date of sorts, setting a scene reminiscent of Natsuiro Kiseki‘s body swap between Yuka Hanaki and Saki Mizukoshi. Both series arrive at similar conclusions, with Inari and Yuka respectively realizing that, regardless of who they appear to be in that moment, they are still inescapably themselves. In Natsuiro Kiseki, Yuka comes to realize how dishonest her actions were – in asking the boy she liked on a date while disguised as her friend Saki, knowing full well of his feelings towards Saki – as she will never truly be Saki. The emotions inspired become too much for Yuka to bear when she realizes that it’s still Saki whom her crush likes, not her.
“I can’t say what I want to say most – not like this.”
-Inari Fushimi as Akemi Sumizome, Inari Konkon Koi Iroha, episode 1
For Inari, this epiphany comes when she, transformed as Sumizome, and Tanbabashi end up getting ramen together. While he laments the fact that a previous misunderstanding is his fault, Inari finds herself unable to offer any words of comfort. She is just as scared, just as nervous, and even more unable to tell him her feelings, or even wish him a simple, “Good luck!” for his upcoming basketball game. Inari suffers the same crises of confidence in front of Tanbabashi that she would in her own body. Additionally, she is hampered by the fact that she appears to be Sumizome. What Inari wants is not only to let Tanbabashi know how she feels, but for him to be aware that those feelings are coming from her, not Sumizome.
All of the examples provided display a distressed, lovesick person believing that the answer to their problem lies in becoming someone else. Rather than offering platitudes of how one must always be themselves (although that’s certainly a piece of it) I’m not going to be quite that nice.
If I had really wanted to be as good of a student as Diana, I should have studied more. If I had really wanted to be the track captain, I should have run more. If I had really wanted to pursue a romantic relationship with someone, I should have made an effort to talk to them instead of watching them from a distance, hoping that they would magically notice me. Above all else, I should have tried to better myself first, before wishing to be someone else.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of junior high school students, my previous self included, are self-centered but not self-aware. It is also far easier to believe that all of your problems would be solved if only you were another person, as it eschews the effort of actually changing in favor of hopes, dreams, and in Inari’s case, divine intervention. The first episode of Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha gives us a charming outlook on Inari’s resolve to change the way she acts, even if she has yet to sort out how. She’s already miles ahead of where I was at that age.