Apr 10, 2012

Anime Review: B Gata H Kei

In the twenty-first century, we’ve nearly elevated the trope to an art form in of itself. What once was, for decades, used as a label of scorn and derision now has entire websites devoted to cataloging its many forms and instances. Are we celebrating them, enjoying them as though a leitmotif?

B Gata H Kei is nearly all trope, and believe me when I tell you it hits just about every single one of them. Each episode seems to pick a major story cliché and run with it. Rest assured, before you finish the dozen episodes you’ll have collected all of the tokens: the pool, the onsen/rotenburo/hot springs, the school trip, the school cultural festival, Christmas Eve, and more. Every anime romantic comedy’s best hits distilled into single shots for your concentrated consumption.

And boy, is it concentrated. The series moves at breakneck speeds. Each episode is split into two halves. Each half generally flows into the next, sort of, but acts as its own “mini story” with a proper wrap-up scripturally speaking. The series is episodic more because it jumps forward in time so much, clearing nearly a year in a mere half-dozen or so episodes. There is hardly a breath in-between dialog!

The gimmick of the show, in case you are coming at this uninitiated, is simple: Yamada wants to have sex. She is the school queen, every boy’s favorite #1 prettiest voted girl. So far, she’s still a virgin, but she’s ready to get experience and become a woman, her dream to rack up a hundred lovers. In order to get her feet wet, so to speak, she decides to start simple and later move on to greater challenges. Thus, she begins with pursuing Kosuda, a mild-mannered everyman portrayed literally as such at first with a henohenomoheji. With a setup like that, the rest is, ostensibly, non-stop loller-skates, right?

B-H is not shy about its premise and seems to enjoy beating the viewer over the head with it. The symbolism is simplistic but rife, whether it is the Venus Flytrap shown momentarily during the intro or the ever present “cherry” metaphor. Yamada’s constant sex talk and inappropriateness punctuate every scene. Even a little Ero God mascot follows her around, providing narration and simple scene transitional dialog.

The characters continue the clichés to perfection. You have the plain, straight-man and foil best friend who is in a normal, committed relationship and spends most of her time advising (usually to dial it back or be sane). You have Kosuda himself, the boring invisible fellow who lacks confidence and never stands out in any way. You have Yamada’s sister who is a typical small cutesy girl type, right down to her name, Chika. You have the impossibly rich and elegant rival. And finally the plain, klutzy, shy-with-glasses osananajimi girl who secretly loves Kosuda but could never muster the courage to say so and is content to “just be around him.” I swear, you might have to nail your eyes back in to prevent them from rolling all over the place, after watching the first few episodes.

The near constant clichés do get exasperating, even though the series seems to be having fun with it, maybe even reveling in it. Most episodes had me laughing out loud at least once or twice, though anyone that has seen their share of anime will anticipate every single one of the “plot twists”. A lot of this simplicity probably stems from the series’ roots as a yon-koma.

I admit, I couldn’t help liking the show and the characters, despite their obvious shallowness and flaws. The main character, Yamada, we’re repeatedly told is supposedly this super bijin that every boy raves about, yet her design leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, she’s cute, but hardly a knock-out, and you’ll definitely have seen cuter elsewhere, and it makes the constant reminding all the more obvious, as if the series is trying to convince itself. Her seiyuu, the wonderful Tamura Yukari, known best to me as Misha from Pita-Ten, seems ill-fit for the role. Her bubbly-cute voice contradicts such a ribald character and never seems to quite gel. This is all the more apparent when juxtaposed with her best friend, played by the wonderful Horie Yui. It was especially odd for me, considering I know Ms. Horie best as Narusegawa Naru, a near perfect match (even down to appearance, but minus the overt sexuality) for Yamada, so it was odd having her play the reverse. (And did anyone else get a serious Tenshi na Konamaiki feel, at least initially?)

Unfortunately, the series misses a lot of great opportunities to use the excessive troping as a launch pad for something more meaningful. One of the best “wasted” scenes was when, early on, Kosuda starts to question why he likes Yamada just as they are on the verge of making out. It could have been a very poignant scene of introspection wrestling with the immediacy of boyhood sexual gratification, but unfortunately it gets cut off with a gag and is never resolved. This scene really hits home to the major weakness of this rom-com, to which it even frequently calls attention to in the dialog. Constantly we hear Kosuda (and even Yamada, later on) questioning themselves why they like the other or resolving to get to know the other more. Yet these two “love birds” hardly ever show any substantial chemistry or any sort of meaningful relationship, despite the show desperately wanting us to believe they do.

Shallow really epitomizes their situation. She wants sex, yet finds herself (predictably) attracted to him and in love, but can’t admit it. He’s initially attracted to her because, well… because she’s the school’s most beautiful girl, so naturally, right? And? Then what? We get a few spare moments here and there where it seems like things might deepen, such as when Yamada sees the “world he sees” through his photographs, but nothing ever really coalesces. Repeatedly, early on and even later, Kosuda asks “What does she want from me?” What do her weird come-ons mean, her contradictory hot-cold behavior? As a viewer, I was asking the same. And I’m not sure I ever got an answer in all 12 episodes.

You’ll understand if I want desperately to find something more behind it all, because the alternative seems worse: this is nothing more than “wish fulfillment”. The loser dweeb gets the hot girl who wants nothing more than to shag his brains out, for no apparent concrete reason, and afterwards finds herself smitten with him. If that isn’t wish fulfillment on the part of the writers (and/or intended audience) I don’t know what is.

But perhaps it is okay if the show doesn’t have anything nobler in mind. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with escapism, to which entertainment like anime fulfills, existing purely for the “what-if” fantasy scenario. It can still be enjoyable, right? And there is worth in that, right?

Perhaps this series, despite the clichés, really is the most honest, though. The final few episodes, though exaggerated, really explore the excitement and uncertainty of adolescent desire. It’s a refreshingly honest portrayal of transition into adulthood: the fears, the nervousness, the complete lack of confidence of knowing what the hell it is you’re supposed to do, and yet the burning desire to do it right and, above all, to do it. So many other series turn a blind eye to the human sexual nature or skirt around it. Through all of the silly shallowness, perhaps B Gata H Kei is the most honest with itself.

This is a longer review of one that appears here. I'm trying something a bit different than usual for my blog by posting this. I thought it was fleshed out and intelligent enough to warrant being here despite it being an anime review, a long-standing interest I normally omit from this blog.

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