The Summer 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Aoharu x Machinegun
How would you rate episode 1 of
Aoharu x Machinegun ?
Hotaru Tachibana wants to fight evil, wherever it lurks. Though she dresses in a men's uniform and is often mistaken for a boy, her truly meaningful identity is Hero of Justice, born to punch evil in the face. So when she learns her friend Kanae was apparently scammed by a host club, she stomps right over and demands the host fight her, only to learn her enemy is her skeevy new neighbor, Matsuoka Masamune. Matsuoka challenges her to a BB gun fight, and after a property damage-heavy duel and crushing defeat, Hotaru learns that her friend wasn't actually scammed in the first place. Now, in order to pay back the damage she's done to Matsuoka's club, she'll be conscripted into his survival game team - but of course, Matsuoka has no idea she's actually a girl.
There was basically one enjoyable thing I got out of this first episode - Hotaru's personality. Her belligerent thirst for justice and battle was pretty endearing, and she carried a lot of scenes on energy alone. I also liked that her decision to dress as a boy wasn't played up as ridiculous; it's just her style, and she totally owns it. I'm all for more characters that don't play to gender type in a way that actually accepts their identity.
Unfortunately, the rest of this first episode wasn't nearly so interesting. The setup was pretty mundane, the writing wasn't much to speak of, and many scenes here dragged as the show labored in introducing Matsuoka and the survival game premise. This show is definitely very interested in lingering over shots of pretty boys, but the art here was just too shabby for that to work. The characters were off-model far more often than on, and though there were occasional visual quirks for stuff like Hotaru getting pretend-shot or going into rage mode, the regular style looked very threadbare, and there wasn't much animation to speak of. And by the end of the episode, it's clear Hotaru's gender presentation actually is going to be a thing - a mistaken-identity romcom thing, that is, one of the most standard directions it could possibly be taken. It seems very likely this show is going to play out as a mixture of survival game action and gender-ambiguous love triangle shenanigans; if that's your very specific game, it might be worth a look, but the writing and visual execution certainly don't elevate it above that premise.
I'll be perfectly honest: I do not like survival games, guns, or realistic toy guns. That makes me clearly as far removed from the target audience as it is possible to be when it comes to Aoharu x Machine Gun, so if you enjoy those things, you're probably going to disagree with what I'm about to say. Even without that plot point, however, I'm pretty sure this has been the weakest debut episode thus far.
The story follows Hotaru Tachibana, who dresses like a boy, sounds like a boy, and has very masculine body language, and yet is still surprised when someone can't tell she's a girl. Hotaru, who consistently refers to herself in the third person as “Tachibana,” has a burning sense of justice and the ludicrous strength to back it up: we first meet her when she leaps from a third story window to confront a trio of bullies who are trying to extort money from a bespectacled upperclassman. The thugs quickly give up when they realize who Hotaru is, at which point her buddy Kanae comes up and gropes her (flat) chest, because that's how we can tell Hotaru is a girl.
At this point in the episode I was fairly certain that somehow Crunchyroll had mistakenly broadcast episode two first. Aoharu x Machine Gun just jumps right into the story with no introduction, which can work but here does not. The convoluted antics of Hotaru get tiresome quickly, and we can predict nearly every move she's going to make. By the time the actual concept of survival games comes up – in a host club where she mistakenly believes her new neighbor has impugned Kanae's honor/wallet – it is difficult to care about the story anymore because it's been such a cookie-cutter ride with an exhausting protagonist. There are no real surprises once Masamune (the neighbor-host in question) hands Hotaru her choice of weapons for their in-club duel, and even when he praises her for her choice of gun, he doesn't bother to explain why she picked a good one, which feels like it should be an important part of a show about gunfights. It doesn't help that the animation and character designs aren't particularly good either; one scene where Kanae is jumping up and down looks like she's just contracting her stomach and the background characters tend towards the wall-eyed, even if they have a line or two.
If you're really into survival game shows and find mistaken gender hilarious, there might be more here for you than I found, but I'm also sure that there are better versions of both stories to be found elsewhere. While the idea of a host club where they have random BB gun duels is pretty amusing, it doesn't quite pull it off, which is really how I would sum up this episode. It may have some promise, but basically it shoots itself in the foot with its execution.
Review: Hotaru Tachibana is a slightly-built student council president and a ceaseless, dedicated crusader against evildoers, with the strength and fighting skills necessary to back that up even in the face of multiple bullies. Hotaru is also a girl, though based on the way she looks, dresses, and acts, she could easily pass for a cute boy, to the point that none but her best friend Kanae seem to pick up on her true gender. Exactly why she is doing this is not revealed in the first episode, though her concealment of her true gender is apparently not intentional, as she regularly gets flustered at being misidentified. Whatever the case, it clearly slips by her next door neighbor at her new apartment, the dashing Masamune Matsuoka, who (as we later learn) otherwise has exceptional observational skills and is not above coming on to Hotaru even though she is passing for a guy. Hotaru notices that he is also carrying a gun. When Hotaru later encounters him in a host club while in pursuit of a man she thinks ripped off Kanae, she discovers the truth: he is both the host club's star and an avid airsoft enthusiast, with a passion for survival games. During a duel to establish whether Masamune has to apologize or Hotaru “belongs” to him, he discovers that Hotaru, despite being a newbie, is such a rare talent that he want her for his team – again, without ever realizing she's a she. A final shot shows that he has another laconic teammate already, hence making Hotaru his team's (presumably crucial) third member.
We haven't had an airsoft/survival game-based series yet this year, so this is apparently it; the opener and Next Episode preview certainly suggest that depicting such events will be a staple element, anyway. Despite the very shojo feel of the content so far – imagine if Ouran High School Host Club and Sabagebu! had a love child and you have at least some idea what to expect here – it is actually based on a manga from a shonen magazine, and that gives it a very weird vibe. The first episode promotes that offbeat feel even further by suddenly leaping back and forth between disarming humor and more heavily dramatic tones, including regularly tossing in some faint sexual undertones (despite having no conventional fan service) and then jumping to something else entirely, which leaves Hotaru hopelessly confused and perhaps wondering whether Masamune even cares about her gender when coming onto her. Depending on how long the series keeps her gender hidden from him, that could be interesting.
The technical merits of the first episode are actually pretty good, including a creatively-animated duel and some sharp backgrounds in the host club. Really, though, whether the series passes muster is largely going to come down to whether or not the idea of survival games laced with gender confusion holds appeals to you, as its comedy merits alone don't yet cut it.
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