The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Masamune-kun's Revenge ?
What is this?
Back in elementary school, Masamune Makabe was a pudgy, miserable kid. One day he confessed his love to the beautiful Aki Adagaki only to be cruelly turned down and given the nickname “pig's foot.” Masamune was so scarred by this that he devoted himself to losing weight and becoming the hottest guy in town. Now he's in high school, gorgeous, fit, smart, and fully aware of it, finally ready to find Aki and pay her back in kind, by making her fall for him so he can reject her. Amazingly enough, she's a student at his new school and still up to her old tricks. Can Masamune carry out his plan? Or has Aki already figured out who he used to be? Masamune-kun's Revenge is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Thursdays at 11:00 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
Masamune-kun's Revenge is a series built around a mean spirit and mean concept. Normally that isn't the kind of fare that interests me much, and the first episode shows some other clichés that I am normally not a fan of: the rich girl attended by a servant at school (although at least in this case the servant is dressed as a normal student rather than a maid), the rich girl who looks down on everyone and treats them deprecatingly, and the arrogant male protagonist. Hence by all rights I should hate this first episode. Instead I actually found it to be quite entertaining, to the point that it's a strong candidate to be one of my keepers for the season.
I think what makes this starter work for me is that protagonist Makabe has the makings of an arrogant prick beneath his dazzling veneer but it doesn't seem to be a natural state for him. His desire for revenge on the girl who once tormented and rejected him had pretty much forced him in that direction, so he has to work at both his nasty attitude and his outward charm. He seems to think that's the way he has to be in order to be the “hot guy,” while inside he's far meeker. That contrast, which comes out in some of the episode's funnier moments, is intriguing. Aki, the target of his hate, is more of a cipher at this point. All that's really been revealed by the end of the episode is that she an appetite so enormous she's ashamed to let anyone else see her eat and a low regard for any boy who makes a pass at her. I suspect that there's something more going on with her, so seeing how she does or doesn't play into Makabe's scheme could be interesting.
The other factor working in the series’ favor is that it's actually funny – far funnier than Akiba's Trip, anyway, even though the humor runs in a more conventional anime vein. The production values seem pretty good, too, but you'd expect that from SILVER LINK. The opener and closer both suggest that one more major girl is going to be added to the cast soon to supplement the three girls who already seem to be forming an orbit around Makabe (Aki, her servant, and the female class rep). Then there's Makabe's apparent close friend, who seems to be unconsciously perfectly playing into a certain stereotype. Spoilers that I've inadvertently come across suggests that one of the characters introduced so far isn't at all who the character appears to be, which could make for juicy future plot twists.
The English dub for the first episode is now available on Funimation's site. It's a collection of big hits surrounding one big miss. Josh Grelle, with his extensive background voicing male harem leads, was a natural choice for the title role, and as expected, he acquits himself perfectly. Morgan Garret is also a nice fit as Aki, and all the more minor roles are dead-on too. Yoshino hardly has any speaking lines in the first episode (and what little she does have is quite soft), so it's hard to tell how good Monica Rial is voicing her, but I don't expect any significant problems. The weak point is what Justin Briner is trying to do with Makabe's friend Kojuro. Though I found Briner's rendition of Mikaela in Seraph of the End to be passable, he jacks up the effeminate approach tenfold in this role. While Kojuro is played up as effeminate, this dub version goes overboard and sounds strained as a result. This could be a case where it will sound better as we get used to it, but for now it's a distraction.
I can see this concept not going over well with some audiences because it is predicated on shallowness and humiliation, but so far at least it's one of the more tolerable and entertaining takes I've seen on the concept.
Having watched a full episode of Masamune-kun's Revenge, I'm left vaguely wondering exactly who this show wants me to like. The ostensible protagonist Makabe is a now-hunk who used to be overweight, and was once given a cruel nickname by a girl named Aki Adagaki. In order to get his long-awaited revenge, Makabe has embraced a philosophy of “everything depends on whether you're hot or not,” and now plans to make Aki fall in love with her just so he can dump her in the cruelest way possible.
Makabe is petty and small-minded and unlikable, and he's the guy we're actually following. His target Aki is actually worse - as we learn early on, she's known as the “Cruel Princess” at Makabe's high school, because she has a reputation for shooting down any guy who confesses to her in the meanest way and most public way she can. Aki is smart and attractive, but scorns boys and treats the girls who look up to her like pets. There is basically nothing likable in her personality either.
Shows about unlikable people can be enjoyable, but that's generally when they're used as the butt of jokes - the show understands the cast is terrible, and so its perspective hovers somewhere near the audience, shaking its head along with the viewers. Masamune-kun's Revenge, on the other hand, feels like a poor man's My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. It wants us to sympathize with its mean cast, but it doesn't give them personalities with enough nuance to warrant that sympathy. And the fact that all of Masamune-kun's side characters so far have basically just validated Makabe's cynical perspective makes me feel far from confident that this show's author understands people well enough to say anything interesting about bullying, adolescence, or judging people by their appearances.
That said, this episode also isn't truly egregious in any way - it's just a fairly generic romcom premiere starring a very repugnant cast. The direction is competent and color work fairly striking, though the animation is minimal, and the soundtrack is actually pretty distinctive. I assume we'll also eventually get some explanation for Aki's horribleness, but the writing so far isn't strong enough for me to stick around and find out.
Masamune-kun's Revenge is a petulant boy's revenge sonnet, set in a hyperbolic world full of caricatures, where women are either shallow, cold bitches, or shallow, simpering morons. The men in this rage-fueled fantasy are the victims, superficially from the cruel talons and icy barbs of heartless women, but also from the hypermasculine lens of the main character—because no other man in the show can be as Cool, Smart, Nice, and Hot as the main character, all other men are reduced to sad geeks, fat dudes, and effete boys. Revenge of the nerds, indeed.
Look past this layer of anger and impotent rage, though, and you'll find… nothing. That's it. This is an entire show about a boy's lifelong mission to get back at a mean girl for rejecting him. One hopes that in the end, he learns that personal growth and transformation is ultimately about self-acceptance and self-pride, but I have a suspicion this won't be the moral of the story. Undoubtedly, this show will just reinforce what its angry nerd target audience already believes; that women are dumb monsters, and hapless men can only thrive if they commit themselves to a fake world of pumping iron, eating protein, and opening doors for undeserving shrews. "Girls are cutest when they smile," says the guy who's only nice to people because he's playing the long game.
And then there's the lazy characterization of everyone who isn't Masamune, each reduced to a half-assed quirk plucked from other anime. There's the pint-sized mother who looks like a child, the nosy sister who loves barging into her brother's room to remind him that they're siblings, the cutesy-poo lackey girl who dangles her hands out like a rodent, the ditzy teacher with the big knockers, the Queen B whose dark secret isn't that she's mean, but that she can't stop eating, and the shota who has a teddy bear on his backpack the size of his backpack. "A certain crowd calls him the 'designated bottom'," says Masamune, whose entire school seems to be populated by terrible stereotypes written by aliens whose only knowledge of teenagers is from watching 90s films and bad anime.
If the entire review seems to be hung up on the characters, it's because nothing else happens. It's a plain piece of toast smeared with unresolved childhood memories of rejection.
Masamune-kun's Revenge is an odd one. Based on this first episode alone, I can't really make heads or tails of it. The story and characters are unusual enough to be interesting, but I have mixed feelings about both at the moment. Heck, I'm not even sure what kind of series it wants to be. Some parts of this episode feel like the beginning of a romantic comedy with a dramatic bite to match its bark, while other scenes appear to be setting up a fairly standard harem storyline. What in the world am I watching here?
Part of my like-or-hate dilemma stems from Masamune himself. On one hand, he's an interesting departure from the usual male protagonist playbook. He has a jaded, bitter personality that reminds me of good ol’ Hikigaya from My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, but he hides it under a relatively smooth exterior. He's charming and sociable in public, and he puts time and effort into looking good. Rather than opting out of teenage social conventions, Masamune has completely embraced them in pursuit of his goal. Unfortunately, his motivation happens to be a petty, vindictive grudge that plays against his particular brand of snarky charm. It seems odd that I'm rooting for the protagonist's plan to fail right out of the gate.
The target of Masamune's lifelong grudge is something of a mystery as well. Aki's mean streak is clearly meant to be amusingly over the top, but the fact that she's so indiscriminate with her insults makes the whole revenge plot feel even less justified. It'd be one thing if Aki had singled Masamune out for torment in the past, but the whole “mean nickname” thing feels a lot less personal once we see that she does it to every guy she meets. The supposed crack in Aki's popular girl armor is pretty underwhelming (OMG, she has a fast metabolism!), and she has yet to display any redeeming traits that would add some genuine complexity to her character. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about her, but right now I'm sticking with general apathy.
There are signs of life here and there, and this premise could allow for an interesting look at how reputation and physical appearance influence the way we treat people. Of course, that only works if the series has some high-caliber writing to lean on, and I'm not convinced it does. The cynical protagonist tightrope is a tough one to walk, and any slip can result in a very unpleasant viewing experience. Decent production values and the occasional spark of insight or intrigue might be enough to sell me on a second episode, but Masamune-kun's Revenge will need to find its footing quickly if it's going to succeed.
Not to be confused with Montezuma's Revenge, the unfortunate affliction that befalls the unprepared intestines of tourists in Mexico, Masamune's Revenge is more likely to bore you than turn your stomach, but don't count out having both reactions at once either. (Or as they say in Mexico, "Por que no los dos?")
This romantic "comedy" manages to be just dull and phoned-in enough not to be as off-putting as its premise suggests. I put comedy in quotations because there are barely any jokes, which surprised me. Roughly 3/4 of the show's punchlines are just mean-spirited snap judgments that are supposed to make you laugh because you agree with the show's bitterly sophomoric perspective. (The other 1/4 are more conventional anime romcom gags that are at best painless and shruggy.) When we see the show's lead heroine going absurdly overboard to humiliate a guy for writing self-insert fanfiction and having an ugly mole on his neck, we're clearly supposed to dislike both of them at once, because he's a cringey loser with a gross blemish and she's a horrible bitch who torments people for no good reason. Almost every scene that follows continues in this vein, even the brief interactions our hero has with his sister and best friend. (His sister calls him vain for washing his hair in the morning and posing in the mirror, which is not only judgmental but even bizarre, and Masamune responds to his friend bringing him lunch by smirking to himself about everyone calling his effeminate pal a "designated bottom." Geez.)
It's a lot of strong dislike to go around for such simple characters in such a flat and innocuous show. The story seems propelled entirely by mean girl logic, where you're supposed to dislike everybody for petty reasons but really find them all endearing because their simplicity makes it easy to "like" them from a superior position of belittlement. It's an extremely "get in loser, we're going shopping" approach to dramedy, and while this is far from the first time I've seen this kind of demeaning stereotype humor (Kiznaiver was the most recent example), it's usually not delivered in such a bland way.
Overall, it's hard to get wound up about the weirdly dehumanizing "comedy" of Masamune's Revenge because it's just so flat and unengaging. This definitely feels like an "off-season b-project" for Silver Link, with wholly uninspired storyboarding, art design, animation, and music just sort of carrying the plot beats and dialogue through to the credits without much energy. If you're magnetically drawn to these kinds of catty teen romcoms either sincerely or ironically (I might watch a few more episodes to see if it gets any nastier for that reason), Masamune-kun's Revenge might have some appeal, but frankly, it could stand to be even meaner and weirder if it's going to be this bland in every other regard. Right now, it's just mean and weird in an oddly uninteresting way.
There's a very fine line between comedy and cruelty, and Masamune-kun's Revenge is playing a precarious game by using that line as its tightrope. This is mostly because of the main female character: Aki Adagaki is truly despicable. She's the kind of mean that delights in humiliating someone in front of as big a crowd as possible; in this episode alone she very publicly destroys two boys who had the nerve to develop crushes on her. That she doesn't appear to give this a second thought and has been conducting herself in this manner since she was a kindergartener is definitely disturbing. How has no one stopped her reign of terror?
Part of the answer, the show suggests, is because she's so pretty. Masamune Makabe, the protagonist who has transformed himself through diet, exercise, and hard work into the most perfect specimen of male beauty he can be, operates under the theory that if you're not gorgeous, you're not a person, a direct result of Aki's treatment of him as a child. That Aki's behavior has continued unchecked and with the implicit approval of the other students is a testament to this theory. Masamune's revenge, it is implied, is not just for him, but for all the sub-human less-than-pretty people.
But hey, this is a comedy! Doesn't it sound funny? Parts of it are – Masamune's inner monologue contrasts amusingly with his outer image, and Aki's consumption of her weight in junk food, the one thing she appears to be embarrassed about, also has its moments. The episode is at its best when Masamune is screaming internally, especially after he launches his plan into motion by defending Aki against a boy she saddled with the nickname “Pudding Prince” after he dared confess to her. The other boy tries to cut off part of Aki's hair and Masamune grabs the scissor blade, putting on a brave face while his mind debates passing out just so the pain will stop.
I'll admit that my instant strong dislike of Aki is definitely coloring this episode for me. (And just wait – an even more annoying character comes in volume three of the manga!) She's the meanest of the mean girls, and while there's likely an explanation for it, at this point I almost don't care to find out. That the rest of the episode looks nice enough and Masamune himself is so devoted to his evil plan almost redeems it, but she's so repugnant at this point that it doesn't feel worthwhile to devote any more time to her. On the other hand, seeing her get taken down might make it okay…as with the line between comedy and cruelty, my feelings about this episode are walking a thin tightrope.
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