Calm and refreshed
Anime has a glorious sub-subgenre known as iyashikei—literally, “healing” anime. You know those shows with lovely backgrounds, low stakes, calming music, and (occasionally) really gorgeous food? Those shows you can sit and take in despite their minimal plot because they just bathe you in sunshine? That’s iyashikei. It’s a welcome addition to any playlist, and—much like the title character of The Helpful Fox Senko-san—it leaves you feeling calm and refreshed.
As it happens, that’s the entire point of Senko-san: giving that vibe to overworked salaryman Nakano. His stress is so intense, it manifests in a dark cloud around him. Fortunately, a trio of kitsune girls decides to intervene, with the cheerful Senko-san on pampering duty. And that’s really about it…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Nakano exudes weariness even without the dark cloud. He never looks rested, and he automatically picks up other people’s slack—not with an air of generosity, but with a sense that that’s what he’s meant to do. So the presence of Senko-san is difficult to deal with at first. She’s sweet, she’s friendly, she’s an amazing cook, and she wants Nakano to relax and give over to being looked after. That ranges from actually using his days off to sleep in, to letting her handle breakfast. As difficult as it is to get him to accede, though, there is one thing that will make him agree to just about anything: getting to touch Fluffy Tail.
It’s a recurring motif and lampshaded joke throughout the series. Senko-san has a soft, fluffy tail. Nakano likes to pet it; Senko-san is somewhat sensitive about it. It’s an odd piece of non-fanservice fanservice, in a show that is low-to-middling on that sort of thing. We see Senko-san undressed-but-covered a few times, with Nakano’s thoughts veering toward her size vs. her age rather than anything else. (Yes, our kitsune friend is centuries old but looks like a child, a trope occasionally countered when she throws her back out or makes old-lady noises.)
Mostly, though, the “fanservice” of the series is the fantasy of being cared for, of living a life that’s not hand-to-mouth in a dirty apartment, but warm and worthwhile. Just as relatable as desiring that is Nakano himself: stuck in a groove of doing as he’s told to his own detriment, to the point that he’s initially uncomfortable being offered kindness. He may well be the most realistic protagonist in a wish-fulfillment show, and that’s a little rough to think about.
The cast is rounded out slightly as time goes on. We meet Jasuko, his student/artist neighbor who’s also in need of some looking after; and Shiro, a kitsune seeking out as much attention as possible. The enlarged cast adds some momentum to the second half, with the finale being a mid-level cliffhanger. The fact that the manga by Rimukoro is still going strong means there are only so many consequences that can play out. There is a little bit of lore in the show (the exact sort of lore one might expect of a story like this), which pops in every now and again. There’s no big twist, no “gotcha” moment, but it does feed into the soft ending for the series.
Overall, The Helpful Fox Senko-san is a refreshing show that occasionally shoots itself in the foot with typical modern-anime practices, but rarely enough to take you completely out of the moment. If you’re in search of something to watch with a plot to chew on, though, you won’t find it here. Senko-san is late-day viewing, for those times when you just want to watch someone else making or doing something peacefully. It’s kind of like anime ASMR—and even replaces next-episode previews with a point-of-view short where the viewer gets to be pampered by Senko-san.
It’s not the strongest show, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s warm and comforting in the right ways, and while it won’t go down in history as one of the great series of the era, it is a welcome addition to playlists (and lives) fraught with bleak drama.