Sunday, February 3, 2019

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai season end review (Anime Review)

Sakuta x Mai
This pretty much sums up the problems with the series. Average guy, way too many beautiful girls, and he's the one that can solve all their problems. It had potential, and a great female lead that was underutilized, but ultimately got boring and redundant.
I reviewed the first half of the terribly named "Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai" here, so this is my follow-up on the second half of the first (only?) season. Despite its name, the first few episodes were surprisingly good. However, in that first half of the season were two story arcs. The first one, while pretty good, was followed by a disappointingly redundant second arc and less time with the burgeoning relationship between our two leads, Sakuta and Mai. Much like that disappointing second arc from the first half of the season, the second half of the season was composed of two more disappointingly redundant arcs and a very unfulfilling conclusion. Basically, the show started off surprisingly decent and became boring pretty quickly.

The quick summary of the series: Sakuta and his sister, Kaede have both experienced puberty syndrome, a strange metaphysical set of experiences that have wrecked their lives. Sakuta living with huge scars across his chest and Kaede having been so traumatized by bullying that she can no longer leave the house, the mere thought of it bringing strange bruises all over her body.

The series starts with Sakuta in a library watching as a high-school girl in a bunny girl outfit strolls through the stacks, seemingly invisible to everyone else but him. Finally talking to her, she's surprised that anyone can see her. Turns out Mai is a former child star whom the world has literally forgotten. To prove this to herself, she dresses in that ostentatious outfit and still can't get attention. But Sakuta can see her. Thus starts their quest to make her visible again and through this, their relationship blooms.

The absolute best parts of the series are the interactions between Sakuta and Mai. She is confident and vulnerable at the same time, and her dialogue is so well written, as are his responses and complete devotion to her. They are a joy on screen together. However, after the first few episodes, now that she is seen again, she restarts her career and has little time for him, and little screen time at all. Instead, the final 3/4 of the series, including the specific two arcs reviewed here, are pretty much Sakuta addressing puberty syndrome in others. It's boring, it's the same basic stuff again and again, predictable, and without any of the joy that Sakuta and Mai bring when interacting with each other.

We get an arc where we are introduced to Mai's half sister and they switch bodies. So most of our time is either with someone who looks like Mai, but is actually her sister, or Mai but in her sister's body (which we don't get much time with anyway, as that time is spent in rehearsals for her sister's girl group). The natural conclusion to the body swap is for them to heal their emotional distance from each other. Duh.

The last arc has to do with Kaede, Sakuta's sister, an interestingly depicted character throughout who has a strange crush on her brother and may be meant more as sis-con service than anything else. However, we do get some greater insight into why she acts like this as her true story unfolds. I'm not going to give that away, as it has some value to it. But, when it all unfolds, we're left with a non-resolution that is both emotionally painful for Sakuta as well as the audience. There is a great sense of loss with this ending. That certainly has value, in that it did generate true emotion in me, but it was also somewhat against the tenor of the series. I wonder however, if this goes further in later volumes of the light novels on which the anime is based. Either way, it wasn't a satisfying ending for what was overall a light comedy series.

Further, we get more insight into the strange girl that Sakuta saw when he first went through puberty syndrome himself. That too is a strangely unsatisfactory explanation and does not in the least tie into or resolve the similarly named younger character, who is introduced in the middle of the series, stays with them for a few days, and then is promptly never to be seen in the series again. Poor writing? Who knows, maybe this goes further in the later light novels as well, but it's too many loose ends for me.

So aside from the relatively boring and predictable final half of the series, and too little time with Mai and Sakuta's relationship, there are other overall concerns with this series. Basically, the show has an average male lead who gets the beautiful and talented girl, and is surrounded by many other beautiful girls at all times. Sakuta is actually a nice guy, so it isn't that bad, but clearly this is meant to mostly appeal to boys/men.

But my biggest qualm is that it is another series in which the male has to come to the rescue and solve all the women's problems. Now, there is his friend Rio Futaba who helps him unravel many of the problems, but she's mostly a sounding board for useless pseudo-science jargon and he ultimatley has to help her too (in a strangely service-y story line). Ultimately it is Sakuta who solves things for all the girls in the series. I'm not really comfortable with that combination of nice but non-descript guy, gets all the girls, and solves all their problems.

This isn't a bad show, per se, but it is problematic and doesn't live up to its early potential. It also clearly cops aspects of "Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" and "My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU" (or at least squarely fits into that genre but not nearly as good as those two), so if you liked those shows you'll like this. But what could be a wonderful romance between Sakuta and Mai is so under-represented with screen time, and the plots are so relatively predictable in their resolution, mixed with the male-dominant focus, that it was just overall underwhelming. What was a strong first few episodes became boring and perfunctory for the final 3/4 of the series. With that I'm giving it a watchable but cautious 6/10. I want to give it a lower score, but there are some redeeming qualities and it is watchable despite it's flaws and male-dominant value system.


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