Honestly, I don’t even know if I should call Kannazuki no Miko a “modern classic”, “cult classic”, or just plain “classic”, and difficulties in describing it briefly go well past that. Two things I can say for certain are that there are still people who consider it greatest yuri anime, and that both its defenders and detractors often have very strong feelings about it.
Note: I have a lot to say and intend to spread it out over multiple posts. This one won’t have anything about the most controversial aspects of the series, or the biggest spoilers.
Someone could say that, based on the early episodes, calling it yuri as I did above is itself a spoiler, but to this I say the opening makes it pretty clear who the official couple is.
(uploaded by Kaichi44)
And the ending even moreso; in fact, this is probably the most iconic yuri image ever.
Yeah, I guess I can call it a classic. It’s newer than most anime I would use that label for, but it was near the start of what can reasonably be considered the first major era of the yuri genre, so it’s clearly old enough to be a classic within that. (Yes, much older yuri series exist, but with the one obvious exception of Utena, pre-2004 yuri fandom was dominated by series that didn’t have “yuri” as a main genre.)
Back to the opening. Four disparate themes stand out in its imagery; romance, Shinto, the moon, and mecha. That doesn’t create an inaccurate impression of the series, but the themes aren’t necessarily in the expected proportions.
In most series that have much fighting of any kind, the conflict between the two sides is the main plot and anything else, like romance, is a subplot. Kannazuki no Miko is one of the exceptions to this, and ignoring this fact is unlikely to lead to a high opinion of the series. The romance is the main plot here.
However, I have seen people say things such as “It should have been just the romance without the mecha or supernatural elements”. Seriously, the romance plot of Kannazuki no Miko without the supernatural parts? Did we watch the same show? The romance and the supernatural conflict are deeply intertwined in the second half of the series; nothing close enough to be remotely recognizable as the same story could be told without all the supernatural elements.
(As for the mecha, I do agree that the plot would be only slightly different if they were replaced with something else; the rest of my thoughts about whether they belong or not can wait until next week.)
Overall, Kannazuki no Miko is a series that tried to do a lot relative to its length (12 episodes), but always kept the focus squarely on the romance and its main three characters; I wouldn’t say that everything else is done badly, but nothing else really gets enough time to be a reason to watch. (In the case of the fight scenes, budget may have been a bigger issue than time.) Despite the fact that it’s been criticized as an attempt to fit into too many genres, almost everyone who likes it, including me, does primarily for the parts it actually puts focus on and does well.
I’m not exactly sure why, but Geneon added a subtitle so the full title was Kannazuki no Miko: Destiny of the Shrine Maiden, which was unnecessary (and odd, given the dub actually translated “miko” as “priestess”) but not confusing, and then for some reason Sentai’s release shortened it to just Destiny of the Shrine Maiden. Almost no one calls it that but I thought I should mention it since I’m about to talk about the title of the series. A Miko is a Shinto shrine maiden and “no” is the Japanese possessive article. (And I’m aware those are probably both at least was well-known as “yuri“.)
Kannazuki is the tenth month of the traditional Japanese calendar, or a poetic name for October since Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar. (The common Japanese name for October is jūgatsu, which literally just means “tenth month”. Before you call that lazy, remember that October literally means “eighth month”, which is even lazier because they didn’t rename the months after changing when the year started.) It’s written with kanji that literally mean “month without gods” and commonly interpreted as such, but it’s thought that the middle kanji was used only for sound and the intended meaning was “month of the gods”; nonetheless, Izumo (which is where all the gods from the rest of Japan are said to go) calls it Kamiarizuki (“month with gods”) instead, and this also seems to be the meaning Kannazuki no Miko was going for since Orochi is the one who awakens on October 1st, and it takes a lot of effort to awaken Ame no Murakumo. (Which is a god in this series, but not in Shinto belief or mythology, where it is the sword Susanoo took from Orochi after killing it.)