Here we go again. I can't help myself. I'm a total sucker for shows about the Japanese pantheon getting mixed up with ordinary old humans in the modern-day world. Sometimes it's gods (Noragami, Our Home's Fox Deity); sometimes it's beasts (The Eccentric Family, A Letter To Momo); sometimes it's hybrid creations out of mythology that aren't tied to anything in particular (Tokyo Majin). I'm twice as much a sucker for these things when they actually end up being a cut above average. Inari Kon Kon makes the cut by dint of actually dealing with the implications of what it brings up, and also by being good-hearted and sincere with its material instead of leering and cheap.
This is, in truth, a lot more than I expect from most any show these days, so the temptation does exist to overrate a title that is at least competent. As with Noragami, I don't think anyone is going to call Inari Kon Kon a classic, but it's also not hard to see how another show provided with the same ingredients wouldn't have even bothered to try. That they tried at all, and achieved a few things in the process, is nice.
Crazy like a fox (goddess)
The setup for Inari Kon Kon did sound like the sort of thing to make me cringe. When high-schooler Inari Fushimi saves what she think is a fox pup from danger, she's rewarded by a visit from the goddess Uka. Uka has a sweet, big-sisterly demeanor, and also a large soft spot for human beings as a whole (something underscored by her affinity for things like dating sims, ha ha). To further show her gratitude to Inari, she blesses the girl with a smidgeon of her own power — enough to allow Inari to transform into anyone else she chooses.
Thus the stage is set for what is ostensibly going to be a low-brow comedy of impersonation, where Inari pretends to be her friends (or her brother, or her parents) and the messes that result from this require a goddess to disentangle. Surprise: the show isn't about that stuff. Instead, it's about how Inari finds, over time, that using her power is more trouble than it's worth — that you get a lot more mileage out of simply dealing with other people as people, and not as problems to be solved with the right degree of cleverness.
Uka, too, gets handled in a way that's out of phase with expectations. Her powers only go so far, for one, and her own desires and interests work against how they ought to be applied a good deal of the time. When she develops what could be described as a crush on Inari's older brother, Touka (they sort of bond over his game console), it's not a case of a dumbfounded human enjoying the pampering of a divine force a la Oh My Goddess!. Instead, it's more about how Touka distrusts Uka deeply from the git-go, and resents the way divine interference has made life difficult for both him and his sister. Gods belong with gods, and humans with humans — something Uka also gets it in the ear about from her own fellow gods.
Do the right(er) thing
Over time, the show becomes more about the responsibilities both Inari and Uka have to themselves and each other, and less about what specific situations can be cooked up. Sometimes, giving other people what they ask for — even if they really want it, even if you believe it would make them happy — only makes things worse. This last part hits home especially hard during a summer-camp sequence, normally one of those banal sine qua nons of anime, but handled here with more smarts and sensitivity than I was expecting. (Equally intriguing is the way the show handles Inari's friend Maru, an otaku -- she's not used for joke fodder, but rather as part of how Inari comes to realize you can't artificially create friendship between people.)
Another, later, segment, underscores this point even further. When Inari is asked by a friend to deliver a love letter to someone she herself as an affection for, she doesn't deliver the letter — instead, she transforms into the other girl and tells the boy herself, just so Inari can have the luxury of being able to say to him "I really like you!" But it means nothing for her to say that when it's not her saying that — and that she didn't mean any harm by doing so is meaningless. It's what happens, not what you intend, that matters in this world. As Shel Silverstein put it, it's that "some kind of help is the kind of help / that helping's all about / and some kind of help is the kind of help / we can all do without."
The same, again, goes for Uka. All she ever wanted to do was enjoy the company of humans, and conferring some soupçon of her power upon Inari was meant to be a way for her to express that affection. Like Inari, she has a great deal of enthusiasm and good spirits; like Inari, she has little idea of how shortsighted and dangerous her actions are. It all comes home to roost when Inari discovers to her horror that the use of her power comes at the expense of Uka's very existence.
Many anime, especially those aimed for a wide audience, prefer sincerity over profundity — the idea that a simple notion expressed with great emotional weight is as good as, or better than, a deep idea expressed elaborately. Movies in general work that way, I think; we respond most in the movies not to what's profound, but to what affects us, and rare are the stories that combine both impulses effectively. Inari Kon Kon is built along that model, and doesn't need to be particularly profound to work. What insight it has is simple, but simple is not always a synonym for simpleminded.