Reviews

Dec 26, 2018
tingo_ (All reviews)
Ah, Puberty.

Puberty makes us do some crazy things. For example, oft times when I’m taking a stroll through my local library in my double XL, extra cleavage bunny boy costume and I’m being ignored, I think to myself “this must be just another Quantum Mechanics issue!”. I’ve consulted a multitude of other people on why I’m being socially outcast, but they seem to think I’m the problem! Can’t be, right?! That was the moment in which I was so graciously blessed by this anime, to save me from myself, and help me understand what I’d known all along. That of course, it was the cat. Schrodinger’s cat.

Bunny Girl Senpai, Cloverworks’ wildly popular light novel adaptation, is the type of anime to present itself as something to be desired, only to constantly undermine itself with every waking moment. It takes any amount of credibility you could attribute to its core themes and tells you to go elsewhere. It’s the type of show I so desperately wanted to enjoy, something that I could wholeheartedly say earned my AOTY, but turned me away at nearly every step of the journey.

Sakuta, our story’s protagonist, is generally an inexpressive, unintentional lady killer. His intentions are deceptively pure, and most notable of all, he consistently manages to be the most inconsistent character in the series. He takes on the persona of a perverted, dense teenage boy. His demeanor is relatively cynical, and his method of solving issues is bizarre… ninety percent of the time. The other ten percent, he takes a full 180, falling victim to the notion of dramatic climax. In these times, he expresses his cathartic side, often tearing up or yelling wildly. His outbursts come off as less of a part of his character, and more as an effect of the story. Sakuta receives what some may call “development” throughout the course of the arcs, and while I can see why it may be perceived as such, it falls short on a few fronts. First and foremost, Sakuta does not change at all in between or during the arcs. He maintains the same outlook, attitude and demeanor throughout the entirety of the show. The only development that is visibly noticeable is Sakuta’s life changing interaction with Shouko. The Sakuta the viewer is made known to, is as I described above. The Sakuta we are exposed to in his occasional flashbacks, is not the same person. This meaning, while the two Sakuta’s we are made known to are different when compared before and after, it has nothing to do with Sakuta’s character in the story at large. All this interaction serves as, is a justification for why his current attitude is the way it is. It’s two contrasting personalities, that are inferably conjoined, but not detailed enough to connect on a developmental level. Sakuta does not change over the course of the story, but rather changes before the story, and uses that as a lame justification for lazy character writing. Sorry for the redundancy, just wanted to make that clear. I’ve heard arguments as to the change in his optimism as a result of meeting Mai. Considering Sakuta was by no means “sad” before meeting Mai I believe the scenario speaks for itself. Being happy is not development, happiness exists as a by-product of being alive.

Where Sakuta’s inconsistency comes in (other than the outbursts) is how his methodology of dealing with conflicts changes as the story progresses. Keep in mind that the basic frameworks of his character are not changing as these solutions change. Initially, Sakuta is displayed as someone willing to go to the ends of the earth to solve a problem he is invested in. He believes that if he can assist in someone’s woes, he inevitably will intervene. He maintains this mentality for the next arc, going as far as to publicly embarrass himself for the sake of Tomoe. After this though, he takes a sharp turn in how he approaches issues. He begins allowing those he’s helping to fix their own situations. He “adopts” a mentality in which he believes that there are times when people can only truly help themselves. He isn’t conflicted over this change in world view, just accepts it as though it never happened. Had he consistently used this philosophy or any philosophy for that matter, there wouldn’t be a problem, but then after a couple arcs, he slowly begins gravitating back without any apparent thought process, intervening at some points, withheld at others. Inconsistent character philosophy is not development either. It’s frankly the exact opposite and removes possible room for development by creating a gray area in the projected principles of the character.

Mai, the main heroine and incidentally the “bunny girl”, is a character design with a voice actor. She has no feasible motive or desire that’s worth caring for aside from her relationship to Sakuta and wanting to be in show business. Once her character arc is over, she becomes a cameo. She shows up whenever Sakuta needs motivation or inspiration and helps him tie up the loose ends of whatever he’s dealing with. That’s seriously all there is to her.

Regardless of whether you found these characters likeable or not, they remain unexplored throughout the entirety of the show, with a frighteningly scarce amount of decipherable insight as to the purpose of their actions, or how to interpret their occasional manic episodes.

In my mind there lies a cut and dry line between characters that are memorable, and characters that aren’t, and this applies to the supporting cast as well. When the sole purpose of a character’s existence is to be ‘acceptable’ and convey the story in a way that is admissible, I think that character is worthless. With no hyperbole intended; most of the characters in this anime are arbitrary. This is not Sakuta’s story. Nothing about this story is Sakuta’s, in the same way that any other run of the mill character with a C-cup could replace Mai and be just as effective. I can best describe this as a story told through Sakuta’s mouth, not his character. He, and everyone else are approached as though they are merely liaison between the writers and viewers, not vital to the story.

Taking the cake for the worst character introduction ever written, is Rio Futaba. For the first six episodes, her entire character is based on the idea that she is “smart”. She solves the mysteries. She knows, realizes and explains things that only the most omnipotent of light novel characters could imagine. You thought hacker Kirito was obnoxious? Well this is Kirito’s brain on drugs. She’s (not) well versed in quantum mechanics. She knows the ins and outs of other’s relationships and how they think, yet she is as emotionally aware as a stick of glue when it comes to herself. She is essentially included as a means of easily explaining the content that the writer didn't know how to include in the dialogue (for good reason). To be fair, her personal arc is decent. For a brief non-spoiler synopsis, she encounters an issue in which she is forced to confront romantic feelings and deals with them accordingly. This at the very least makes use of her emotional obliviousness to expand on her character depth (ever so slightly) and create some sense of human existence within her robotic air. This, in my opinion was the only way to salvage her character, and I appreciate Kamoshida’s basic understanding of the characters he had created.

Kaede is in fact a decent character, in both design and execution, and managed to outclass both main characters in her first five seconds of screen time. She has the only interesting character introduction that isn’t butchered soon after, and her panda pajamas were an awesome complement to her shut-in status. She exemplifies both the irritating younger sister, as well as the retrospectively mature one once she undergoes her character arc. She receives the season finale, and deservedly so.

The plot structure of this show is both interesting and immensely disappointing. Much like the Monogatari Series, the main character encounters some sort of supernatural issue with a future member of his mock-harem every few episodes and assists in resolving it. Coming from someone who only liked one member of the supporting cast, and none from the main; I found every piece of character interaction in this anime to be uninteresting. Stories with no overarching plot rely heavily on character interaction. So, you might be able to tell where the “immensely disappointing” part came from.

Story-telling is far from my specialty, but I have to say, introducing a concept, not defining it, loosely basing it on a bunch of random things and then running with it isn’t such a good basis for a plot. The million-dollar question: What is puberty syndrome? In short, it’s whatever fits the direction that the story goes in. “Abnormal experiences rumored on the internet to be caused by sensitivity and instability during adolescence.”, is how MAL chooses to define it. However, Rio likes to think outside that limiting box. Kamoshida (LN author) created a drinking game where every time a character is affected by the ambiguous “puberty syndrome” he’d take five shots, get out a different high-school textbook and vomit some Rio dialogue.

The first “encounter” is that of Mai becoming ‘invisible’ and forgotten by the world around her. Hundreds of interesting metaphors could be drawn from this. Hell, you could derive a social commentary on celebrity culture in a heartbeat, and my god the list goes on. Honestly it looked like the show was heading in the direction of using metaphorical insinuations as a means of explanation. Instead, off the rails it went. Schrodinger’s cat. Yes, that Schrodinger’s cat. Why? Cause Rio said so. I understand the idea of using real concepts to ground fictional ones in the same reality, but the concepts must be at least somewhat related. It’s because they take such a farfetched grab at using this repeatedly, that it comes off as a lame gimmick that ignores basic knowledge on the subject. Just as an example, for Mai’s arc, the writing excludes the concept of a half-life, radiation emission probability not being linear; point being, why use a real concept if you’re going to alter its factual basis? Like I said before, it makes it seem more like a gimmick than a tactic. This all to further prove my theory that the pseudo-science exposition is used only to make Rio sound smart and bait the viewer into believing whatever nonsense she cooks up. I used the first encounter as an example to avoid spoilers, but I assure you, none of the other encounters are resolved with any sense of clarity in mind, and almost play out the exact same every time. Some of you may be like me, in that you find the metaphorical insinuations much more interesting. I fully understand and would love for that to be all there is to it. Unfortunately, though, the writer decided to use this method of half-assed pseudo-science to explain puberty syndrome, or at least ground it in some way, shape or form. I hope I don’t have to explain why saying that “the reality of a concept is unimportant”, is completely ridiculous when the intent of the concept is to be made realistic by comparing it to other real concepts. In all honesty any attempt at clearly defining Puberty Syndrome will be haphazard at best, because the author is hell bent on basing it on real concepts that just don’t relate.

Romance is a tricky genre to tread. In this I think Bunny Girl Senpai is at its finest. As a once upon a time fan of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, I know for a fact that Kamoshida is capable of writing somewhat captivating romances, which is the main reason I picked up this anime. There is a substantial amount of embarrassingly uncomfortable confessions here if that’s your thing. If you are willing to put up with the rest of the shit-slinging, there is a romance story to be had.

High-school rom-com anime have the world’s worst track record for horribly integrated settings. The characters in this show have no interaction with the world around them. There is an unwritten standard for both emotional and striking scenes in anime, or any medium for that matter. The iconography/detail of the background and location plays a huge part, and obviously a plethora of other factors contribute as well (BGM, etc.). For the most part though setting is hugely related to the impact of a scene. I’ve racked my brain over and over, to arrive at the conclusion that the only scenery that could hold emotional value in this anime is the beach. The reason being, Sakuta receives his adopted world view from Shouko there, and most of the arcs end up in that area. This is fine, they succeeded in created one area that, while being scarcely occupied by them, holds some value to the viewer. Where the issue lies is that there is nowhere else in this show that is iconic in any meaningful way. Nowhere in the entire world. Not the school in which they spend most of their time, not Sakuta’s stark bedroom. Nowhere. This is one of those instances where this show represents itself as desirable, and then immediately undermines that sentiment. There are plenty of examples of how secondary settings in school anime can become emotionally valuable to the viewer. Take Yui’s bedroom from K-On!, 3-Gatsu no Lion’s stairwell, Clannad’s clubroom, Oregairu’s roof top, Love Live’s roof top/stairwell/school, or any other show known to have massive emotional attachments to their respective fan-base. They all have at least a few locations that manage to create a summative semblance of a world around them. When every background is as bland and unimaginative as possible, the characters become painstakingly vital, and we just established that the characters aren’t even treated as characters at all. Because of this, even when it’s time to reach the heights of the show’s respective arcs, everything is trivialized by the fact that nothing about the world around the characters is important. On top of this, every bit of melodrama incorporated in the scene is amplified infinitely. Melodrama and characters that I don’t like are not a combination I’m too fond of.

To put it bluntly, Bunny Girl Senpai introduces a jarring amount of interesting ideas and fumbles nearly all of them. The topic of being an outcast is referred to a few times in this story. Relatability aside, this is an easy and reliable way to create viewer empathy towards the protagonist’s cause. What would be the one thing that the author shouldn’t do immediately after introducing Sakuta as a social outcast? In my mind it would be giving him a decently large friend group. Guess what, he has the jock guy as a friend, Rio, Mai and the reporter all within the first two episodes. I’m sorry but that’s just sloppy writing. Next up on the list is sexual stigmatism. Sakuta is someone who likes to make puns out of sexually charged remarks. I like this aspect of the show. I think people are far too awkward about sex, and it’s always refreshing to see anime tackle this in a way that isn’t too obnoxious. So, let’s run through this again. What is the one thing that the writing must avoid in order to promote de-stigmatizing sexual remarks and make it ubiquitous with the dialogue? I would say choosing character tropes that have trouble confronting romantic emotions is a big one to avoid.

Head count:
Mai - comfortable with sexually charged jokes.
Mai’s sister – uncomfortable with Sakuta’s humor.
Tomoe - can’t confront romantic emotions.
Rio - emotionally unaware and distressed
Kaede – emotionally distressed, but comfortable with Sakuta’s humor.

More than HALF of the main female characters not only can’t deal with sexual remarks, but also have some quantity of emotional ineptitude within themselves. I’m not so ignorant as to believe it would be natural to have every female character in the show be into raunchy humor, but more than half of them aren’t. There is the likely explanation of viewing Sakuta’s perverted attitude play off other character tropes. Unfortunately, when you give more than half the cast the same reaction, it’s tough to remain interested, which leads me to believe the raunchy comedy is indeed an attempt as destigmatizing sex among the demographic watching it. Either way, there were inherent flaws in the way this concept was presented, which is unfortunately the case the with the better half of every concept addressed in this show.

By far the most remarkable technical aspect of this show is its pacing. For a 13-episode light novel adaptation, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that genuine thought went into the storyboarding and layout of the episodes. Director Souichi Masui, having storyboarded on huge titles such as “Beck”, “Soul Eater” and “Samurai Champloo”, may have had a significant impact on how well the pacing turned out. However, this story is adapted from a light novel, and even premonitions aside, the additional effort that it takes to realize writing into animation with no layout of the authors thoughts in the form of scenes and direction makes for a more difficult time generating creative trademarking. This doesn’t mean that the sloppy cuts and uninteresting angles used are excusable, but certainly had a hand in the overall ineffectiveness of any intended artistic integrity. A comparable show like Monogatari (in plot structure, and the fact that they are both light novel adaptations) which uses style as a defining factor makes it known that it’s possible to combine light novel adaptations and individualistic direction, so why is this show so incredibly dispassionate? I can’t answer that question without some lofty speculation, so I’ll briefly summarize the point of this paragraph. Essentially, this anime is paced well, but lacks creative influence. Bunny Girl Senpai pays tribute only to the concept of storytelling, disregarding any sense of innovation. This is not a criticism, this is an effect of viewing common seasonal anime through a critical lens. Although the above will inevitably shorten this anime’s longevity, it’s more than possible that a large portion of viewers don’t care about this in the short term.

Another notable aspect of this show is its sound design. Bunny Girl Senpai’s OST falls somewhere just above average, with a catchy opening, decent – dramatized, albeit – but decent insert tracks, good sound effects, and decent audio engineering in general that does well to create some sense of professionality in an otherwise rudimentary production.

To say that the collective reaction to Bunny Girl Senpai was one of pleasant surprise, would be the understatement of the century. “A trashy bunny girl costume and a confusing, shoddy premise” are the thoughts I had going in. Although only one of those two expectations were made to be inaccurate, I can say with the utmost confidence that this show is much better than a lot of people would have assumed going in. It takes a good amount of blood, sweat and tears to create something greater than the sum of its parts, and frankly this show just didn’t make it there for me. It takes ideas that look acceptable on paper, and fruitlessly attempts to convert them to animation. There’s really nothing wrong with missing the mark but missing the mark in almost every category (characters, plot structure, setting, core concept) and being applauded for it seems rather counter-intuitive. I understand why this show comes off as likeable. It’s a very reticent, palatable show with enough charm to keep its fanbase interested. Beyond that though, there’s nothing. It’s a surface level show with exactly what meets the eye, and while some may consider that genuine, I can’t bring myself to call it anything other than uninspired. So, when all’s said and done, Rascal may not be dreaming of Bunny Girl Senpai, but you can bet that I will be… and with a few complaints he’s well on his way to a second season (that I won’t be watching) of “My Teen Romantic Calamity Pseudo-Science SNAFU”.