Monday, November 26, 2018

Despite its title, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is actually not awful (Anime Review)

Mai and Sakuta
Can't judge a book by it's cover but you can usually judge an anime by its title. However, the first half of "Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai" breaks the rule. I mean, as a lover of shoujo, josei, yuri, early feminist classic literature, critical theory, equity, etc...just putting the words "Bunny Girl" into any sentence is likely to make me turn my ears off and vomit. Thankfully, I took the internet's suggestion and started watching this show. This is a review of the first 6 episodes, or what I gather is roughly the first two light novels worth of content in animated form.

Basically, it comes across like a cross between "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" and "My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU" but missing much of those two series' charms. We meet Sakuta, a hard luck, but good guy, 2nd year high-schooler as he notices a beautiful girl in a Bunny Girl costume wandering through a library, seemingly unnoticed. She's perplexed when he notices her, believing herself to be invisible.

Turns out she is Mai, a former child actress that left the business and is not only being slowly forgotten, but is being ACTUALLY forgotten (invisible), even when she is physically present. Thus begins a romantic comedy/existential/pseudo science show based around what is translated as "adolescence syndrome" (not nearly as fun as Chunibyo apparently). Sakuta bears strange scars from his own earlier bout with it, and his younger sister even burst into spontaneous cuts due to her own trauma in school (a plot for later in the series apparently).

The first episodes deal with trying to get the world to physically see Mai again, while the next few deal with a new problem, a day that keeps repeating endlessly. What makes it like Haruhi Suzumiya is the power of people to alter the world, often unwittingly. What makes it like SNAFU is that it centers around a hard-luck, friendless young man to fix it all, even if he puts himself out to help others.

But it isn't quite weird enough to rival Haruhi Suzumiya or messed up enough lead characters to rival SNAFU. By the end of the first couple episodes, Sakuta's reputation around the school has been restored and now he's not disliked, and he ends up dating Mai who is seen by everyone again. So there's a quick anti-climax to the story before it launches into its repeating day arc. Although the series does manage to do more in three episodes than most do in a whole season.

However, what makes this series work is Mai. At first I was turned off by how she was written, but very quickly she becomes an extraordinarily written character. The banter she has with Sakuta is wonderful. They actually talk like teenagers in love, they tease each other and give each other a hard time but also talk about making out and they both clearly enjoy it. They aren't the overly prude teens we typically get in anime where it takes 3 years to get a single kiss even though they clearly love each other. No, here, they actually date, and actually enjoy being teens.

And she would too!

I'm always up for a good anime slap.

Even better, some of the dialogue is extraordinarily well written. There are scenes between the two of them where Mai's subtle personality, a mix of confidence, shyness, tenderness, aggression, smart-ass-ness, brains, compassion, annoyance, etc... all come out and flow from line to line in the most natural ways possible. Just when you think the writers are going off the cliff with her dialogue, they tie it all back together and she's just wonderful, and more importantly, real. She's an anime character who you can believe might actually (almost) exist and talk that way. Remarkable, really.

OMG so cute! SQUEEEEEEE >_<

Now, I have plenty of problems with this series. There is a definite male fantasy quality. Thankfully there isn't much fan service, but the general sense that the world revolves around this hapless boy and that he's the one that's going to fix it (and the fact that at least the first two, and maybe more, storylines revolve around his romantic life) do suggest a male-centric-bias.

I almost turned it off within seconds when in the first episode he wakes up and his younger sister is sleeping in bed with him. I just don't have any place in me to tolerate the whole sis-con stuff. Thankfully it's not too overdone, and there is a plot reason behind it (even if it doesn't make much sense). And what makes it almost worth it, is that she acts as the Greek chorus and says the exact same snarky responses to him that I'm thinking about how gross the setup is whenever it occurs in an episode. At least there is some self-awareness.

Also, a main side character, someone whom the third arc (not reviewed here) revolves around, is a young, smart woman, with a huge chest and glasses and luscious hair but doesn't think she's attractive. She's just a mess of tropes combined together. However, there may be something to it in the third arc that could redeem it a bit, we'll have to see when those episodes air.

For all the promise of some well written lines and one really great character (Mai), the art is really pretty bad though. The line work on the characters, especially in episode 1, is overly thick, but the backgrounds go between nearly photorealistic to really really simple and pastel washed-out. The characters don't sit in their backgrounds well at all, although I was less bothered as it went on, maybe just getting used to it. However, even with that, the quality of animation was fairly poor. There is minimal detail or shading in the characters, movement is fairly minimal, and it just has an overall indistinct look. If it didn't have killer cute lines between Mai and Sakuta each episode, it might not make the grade.

But thank goodness it does. Their little couple moments are so cute and well done, and the fact that they hint (but don't show) that they actually have a physical relationship that is realistic to teens, make this show worth watching. It'll be interesting to see the next arcs over the whole season (13 episodes?).

But for a show with an awful title, it is thankfully light on offensive stuff, at least compared to many other shows, and has some truly redeeming value. Some people will probably love the actual plots (I didn't really care either way) but if you're like me, you'll love the back and forth relationship between Mai and Sakuta. I'm giving the first 6 episodes a surprising 6/10 and will definitely watch the rest of the series.

🚺

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