Studio: Tezuka Productions
Director: Satoshi Kuwabara
Streaming on: Crunchyroll
If you’ve seen my essay where I praised Rent-a-Girlfriend for being an ecchi harem comedy with excellent writing, you may think I’d be enjoying this season’s Girlfriend, Girlfriend. You’d be incorrect there, as I put emphasis on the part about good writing. In the competition of the best harem anime with a super contrived premise, Rent-a-Girlfriend has it beat.
Girlfriend, Girlfriend is the latest outing from director Satoshi Kuwabara, the same team behind the first season of The Quintessential Quintuplets. That would put me at ease, but all the good parts of that came from being an excellent manga. Here, we have something a little different.
I’m going to say it right off the bat, the entire gimmick behind this show is that it’s polygamy. It’s not exactly a novel concept, and it goes about it in a profoundly disturbing way. Everyone has looked at a harem anime before and thought, “all of the above?”, so there’s genuine potential for a series to explore a group dynamic in the context of a relationship.
However, that hypothetical series would have to be subtle, tactful, and interested in peeling back the layers of its character psychology and how relationships work. If it did all of that, then that anime would be a genre-defining classic. Girlfriend, Girlfriend, is certainly not that anime.
Naoya has successfully reached the endgame of every romantic comedy; he confessed his feelings to his childhood friend, Saki, and she reciprocated. Their new relationship is marked by Naoya’s complete lack of self-awareness or guile, which presents him as unusually sincere and open. For a harem protagonist, that’s not half bad, but just in case you thought the childhood friend was going to win this one, you’re a fool.
As Naoya diligently waits for Saki to finish with her club activities, he is asked out by Nagisa, a first year. She’s been in love with him for a long time (as they’re in high school, that means about three weeks) and has been earnestly working to become worthy of him. She proceeds to pull out the kind of girlfriend resume that gets you told that you’re overqualified for the position, but they’ll totally talk to you when a different position opens up.
Nagisa makes just such a compelling case, and has worked so hard just for this moment, that Naoya can’t bring himself to hurt a girl putting herself out there like this. It doesn’t hurt that she’s an excellent cook, unconditionally adores him for no reason, and immediately agrees to play second fiddle just to be near the guy. Self-esteem is not on her resume. So Naoya comes up with a brilliant idea; why doesn’t he date Saki and Nagisa at the same time?
Oh, but don’t mix it up, he’s not cheating, because he is too good of a guy for that. He’s just going to decide to date two girls at the same time, disregard his original girlfriend’s feelings in the matter, and bully and emotionally manipulate her until she agrees to his terms. Hooray for consent, I guess.
This surprisingly works, because this universe bends to the will of this hormonal sociopath who’s still pretending to be a nice guy. And then Naoya offers both girls the chance to live with him because he conveniently lives alone. And I’m going to repeat here that Saki is deeply uncomfortable with this scenario, and has already been implicitly threatened with getting dumped, but Naoya’s the good guy because he told her that she should break up with him if she’s not okay with this. What kind of show is this?
Now is time to talk about the visuals, because if I think about the story for any longer than five minutes at a time, I get a searing migraine. You would think that an ecchi comedy about an audience-insert protagonist living with a harem would at least be good for fanservice, right? Sort of, not really.
Girlfriend, Girlfriend has a strange art style that does not lend itself to good fanservice. The character designs are aesthetically pleasing, but they all have huge eyes, even for anime, in comparison to their heads. This, along with their weirdly small bodies, gives every female character a chibi look, which isn’t exactly attractive. Having attractive girls in the harem isn’t a requirement; I mean, High School DxD is popular even though its art style is ugly as sin. Considering the demonic theme in that show, that may be on purpose.
It also doesn’t help that every girl has the same face with different hairstyles and coloring; the entire point of a harem is diversity of choice, or you’d just pick and date one girl. You can tell that they all immediately fit into the same harem archetypes you’ve seen a million times before: oh, the childhood friend, the shy dandere, I can tell the other girls in the poster are a pompous himedere and a aloof kuudere. If you don’t know what most of those mean, I don’t blame you, I’m not quite sure myself, but you’ll know ’em when you see the show.
Other than that, it’s just kind of okay, visually. If you can get behind the character designs, the fanservice isn’t completely off-putting. I mean, a lot worse series have been built off of the foundation of a colorful art style and overt sexual themes. That’s pretty much all I have to talk about in its presentation, because as much as I have to say about the plot and characters, the animation and music are just okay.
Let me establish that Naoya is every awful harem protagonist cliche rolled into one. He has no discernible personality traits that would lead you to believe he could convince one girl into dating him, much less four at the same time. He seems to have just lucked into his first girlfriend by sheer proximity, and Nagisa can’t even say what she likes about him, so that ought to tell you how much thought the writers put towards that.
He makes a big show about how he would never cheat on Saki, but he throws his principles out the window at quite literally the first temptation. He is horrified by the thought of cheating initially, but the moment monogamy becomes inconvenient, he is begging her to let him date another girl. So your lead’s only characteristic is that he’s spineless and pathetic? Am I supposed to root for him?
I genuinely feel bad for the girls involved, especially Saki, because the entire scene where he convinces Saki is just guilting and bullying her into a relationship that is outside of her comfort zone. Like an abuser. I’d feel worse for Nagisa, considering she’s so open to being treated like crap you would think she was raised to take that lying down. Then, though, she contributes to the bullying of Saki, making her nearly as bad as Naoya.
And that’s also the sum of my plot analysis, because the ‘plot’ is a paperthin collection of contrivances that the writer crammed in to make this trainwreck of a concept work. The story falls apart if Naoya is not a manipulative tool, if Nagisa doesn’t inexplicably like a guy whose dominant trait is sociopathy, or if Saki has an ounce of self-respect. And guess what? The story falls flat anyway! If you need that many things to go right for your story to come together, you wrote a bad story!
I think you can tell sometimes that I work myself up the longer I write a review, both for better and for worse. I thought this was just a crummy romcom after watching the first episode, but after forcing myself to think critically about it, it just peels back all the worst parts most people get to ignore. Once the steam engine of ‘I don’t like it therefore it’s bad’ gets going, good luck stopping me.
So if you’re of legal drinking age and need something to viciously mock in these trying times, I can recommend Girlfriend, Girlfriend in the same way I recommend food poisoning. It will be horrifyingly painful and you’ll throw up afterwards, but once you get up from the fetal position off the shower floor, you’ll have this strange feeling of purification. As terrible as that analogy was, it’s still better written than this turd.
So watch it, or don’t watch it, I just want to forget that it exists until I turn it on next week and repeat the same cycle. I’m starting to think that me and my masochism are the problem here. Thus, Girlfriend, Girlfriend earns the coveted Entertaining Egregious. I need a drink.
If you’d like to share your own harem recommendations or get well soons, best places to do that are the comments below or maybe over on my Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where you can live every excruciating moment of what it’s like trying to review seasonal anime. Until next time, thanks for reading.
|Pleasing||The Detective is Already Dead|