Dec 26, 2018
papsoshea (All reviews)
Anime about teens in high school are a dime a dozen in this medium. You could say, if your anime isn’t set in some sort of school setting, then chances are it’s not really an anime—unless it has Bankai’s or something. While on the surface, this would look like a run-of-the-mill show, it dares to offer something different than most high school anime doesn’t dare touch—and that is reality itself.

With a (translated) title such as Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (Bunny Girl Senpai for short) and the promotional poster of an attractive girl in a sexy bunny outfit, you would think that this would be a slice-of-life comedy with all of the tropes tossed into the pot in order to generate merchandise sales, right? That is where you are seriously mistaken! Despite the red flag in the title—very long titles tend to be disappointing anime—it prioritizes storytelling before fanservice and otaku pandering, giving the audience an atmosphere and characters that we can sympathize with and relate to on a deeper level than their appearance. The reality is showing how to deal and overcome some of the issues we go through in adolescence, and not all resolutions are happy endings. These issues come under the guise of a supernatural phenomenon called Puberty Syndrome.

With a straightforward plot, the story revolves around our main protagonist, Sakuta Asusagawa, who meets girls with Puberty Syndrome, and must help them overcome their emotional instability in order to save them. It’s a fictional illness which can cause a slew of problems for adolescents. Mai Sakurajima (Bunny Girl) is at the centre of this as she experiences invisibility to everyone. Mai is a well-known celebrity, and yet very few people but Sakuta is able to see her, are able to remember she even exists. We all know that feeling of being invisible. We know we physically aren’t, yet all the attention is directed at everyone else, we feel stuck, having to take it all in, without actually being a part of it. It’s heartbreaking for Mai who is a social star and is used to been seen all the time. The people she wants to notice her don’t, more so they can’t. Despite her success—she’s totally alone. Sakuta can relate to this since he’s vicariously experienced it through his sister, Kaede. It’s soul-crushing, and he wants to help.

Puberty Syndrome is a culmination of all the things we hate about growing in adolescence, mainly the things we’ve gone through at our lowest points. It’s a visualisation of them, placing a magnifying glass on the invisible, examining what makes these particular things so painful. Sakuta’s friend, Rio Futaba acts as the show’s narrative device, offering exposition on this phenomenon and quantum mechanics that might otherwise come from a floating voice from the sky. Information is always better revealed through character interaction since we’re experiencing the story through the eyes of Sakuta. Futaba doesn’t just serve that purpose, she slots into the dynamic, falling for people, just as other characters do and experiences Puberty Syndrome herself. Although this supernatural occurrence is fascinating, it isn’t the selling point. That belongs to the characters, their dialogue, their interactions and chemistry together—especially when it comes to Sakuta and Mai.

There is a ‘spark’ when our main protagonists are together, it’s like a captivating dance. They are always in sync, but they are always moving. One pushes, the other yields. Then the roles are reversed. Back and forth, back and forth. They’re not fighting. Their energies are harmonized—towards the mutual goal of a seamless performance, eventually, they're perfectly balanced against one another. Even in instances where the pair is fighting—whether it be sub textual, verbally, or physically, the balance remains. They are evenly matched. Each gives as good as he or she gets—and there is inevitably a certain measure of respect, one for the other’s skill. They spar almost from the moment they meet. Their arguments are earnest, but their energy is always aligned, the chemistry between them is the best thing that Bunny Girl Senpai has going for it. This is the result of putting two lively characters together where they create a dance of opposition and harmony, having a focus on dynamic character archetype, creating coherent conflict, and lastly, enacting change.

What’s to appreciate here is that Bunny Girl Senpai manages to avoid delving too far into that cliché by keeping Sakuta solely interested in Mai. In fact, they become a couple, and early in the series. It’s very refreshing to see an MC who isn’t so easily swayed by other women and instead tries to keep things platonic between him and the other girls struggling with Puberty Syndrome. Sakuta treats people the same, and while his smug and sarcastic nature usually enjoys poking fun, underneath his deadpan persona is a genuine guy who is caring and respectful. Mai is a character who goes through a great deal of development, she has changed so much throughout the course of the show without sacrificing her traits to be carried by Sakuta; she’s strong-willed, intelligent, independent and honest. The dynamics between them and the casualness of their relationship is a refreshing change of pace from the hyperactive romance we are used to seeing. You feel invested in not just the plot, but how the plot affects all these characters.

Cloverworks got the opportunity of adapting Hajime Kamoshida’s Light Novel. The character designs are very much like a hodgepodge of styles, to the likes of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU and Monogatari. They look great, they feel great and they sound great—thanks to a talented selection of seiyuus that bring their given character's personality to life, making them believable and hitting comedic scenes out of the park. The colour palette is pulsating with vigour and energy, the background art, the layout of the architectural designs and shot composition is gorgeous and all combine to complement the alluring atmosphere of Bunny Girl Senpai. The animation has had consistency issues, but never in important moments, it’s very scarce. Most of the soundtrack is casual, relaxing and suits the light-hearted tones and pacing. There are also tracks for the ‘gut punch’ scenes that evoke emotion, especially in instances where characters have melancholy reflections. The OP "Kimi no Sei" by the peggies is a perfect song choice, it’s a very catchy acoustic rock ballad. The ED “Fukashigi no Carte” is sung by the seiyuus of Mai, Futaba, Kaede, Tomoe Koga, Nodoka Toyohama and Shouko Makinohara at the end of their given arcs. It gives an eerie and whimsical feeling equal to the story they're telling.

Bunny Girl Senpai’s message is incredibly relevant to the difficulties of teens today. It manages to be a surprisingly poignant metaphor for the effects that issues such as bullying and ostracization can have on youth. It manages to keep a consistent quality of the plot without sacrificing anything to adhere to quotas of fanservice and otaku pandering. The dialogue, the characters, the progression, the music and visuals are operating as powerfully and effectively as possible. The “Sakuta Effect” works because he is a strong character who handles situations maturely, he’s not pessimistic nor arrogant in the sense he tries to do everything himself. He reaches out for help, he knows his limitations and flaws, he’s self-aware, he’s genuine and honest. Great characters make for great writing, and Bunny Girl Senpai is definitely a smash hit from Cloverworks and joins the discussion of Anime of the Year.