What’s it about? Koito has just turned 16 and taken on the role of miko at her family’s shrine. But the goddess she has to attend to is a little unconventional: she’s Elda, a 621-year-old elf summoned from another world, who wants nothing more than to spend her days playing video games and painting figurines.
If this show had been a one-trick pony, relying solely on the goofy juxtaposition between Elda’s ethereal elegance and her geeky hobbies… well, it would have been fine, but that joke would have gotten tired pretty quickly. Otaku Elf is not content to do that, however, and seems to understand that it’s endearing character dynamics and deeper themes that keep a story like this afloat.
Yes, to be fair, this premiere has its fun with the gag premise: relishing in the silliness of the immortal, radiant Elda demanding a Red Bull from her shrine maiden because she stayed up all night watching anime, with Koito predictably annoyed and acting as the “straight man” to Elda’s antics. I’m sure we’re going to get some excellent Goofy Face images out of Elda’s shenanigans as well as some “wow, she’s just like me for real” memes.
But. There’s also some deeper emotional stuff going on here—not heavy melodrama, but enough to make the characters feel like people and for the story of this weird little friendship to have stakes. Rather than returning to the surface-level joke of Elda being a shut-in, this episode has a melancholy mini-arc where Koito comes to see things from an immortal being’s perspective and wonders if living so long in a world that has changed so rapidly around you would make you unbearably lonely. Elda isn’t just a doofus who loves gaming: she clearly has a deep sense of care for the community she’s been placed in charge of, and clearly cares about Koito even if she’s not always the best at expressing it.
Koito’s characterization isn’t just anchored in being the frustrated foil to Elda, either. She wants to be seen as mature and cool, with Big Dreams of living in a fancy part of town and eating classy sweets like macarons. She spends her birthday money on a Chanel handbag with the plan of “growing into it,” patching her self-image together out of awkwardly aspirational snippets of what she thinks adult life looks like. It’s dorky and weirdly authentic as a teenager’s thought process, and did a lot to endear me to her character. If Koito’s also capable of being a dingus, it means that the onus of the comedy doesn’t all fall on Elda.
Maybe the whole show won’t sustain itself, but honestly I was pleasantly surprised with this first episode. It’s a supernatural comedy first and foremost, but that silliness is grounded in characters that feel like characters rather than one-off jokes, and there are some surprisingly bittersweet and tender moments between our two leads that provide an undercurrent of emotional depth to the shenanigans. No fan service so far, either, of the 621-year-old or the 16-year-old.
I picked Otaku Elf to review because I was interested in the goofs, and I’ve been delighted to find a show that seems to have real heart. I’ll be giving Elda an offering of at least three episodes, for sure.