The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide Real Girl
How would you rate episode 1 of
Real Girl ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
If you'd asked me to judge just the first six minutes of this episode, I'd place it as easily the worst, most unpleasant show of the season so far. Its background art is mediocre, animation minimal, and pacing stilted. Its comedy is undercooked, lazy, and poorly timed. And on top of all this, the show's protagonist Hikari Tsutsui is totally insufferable, essentially embodying the entitled toxicity you often see in young male nerds. Judged by just those early minutes, Real Girl feels lazy, spiteful, close-minded, and just plain unpleasant.
Fortunately, it turns out that Real Girl is well aware Hikari is a huge jerk. Over the course of this episode, his bitter preconceptions about his classmate Iroha are undercut again and again, as he eventually realizes that in spite of her stylish appearance, she's just as lonely and just as persecuted as he is. The sympathy with which Real Girl initially portrays Hikari thus ultimately blooms into a major strength: this is a show about unhappy people trying to help each other, but Real Girl is unflinching in its articulation of just how nasty a person Hikari can be. I can certainly appreciate a show that acknowledges its protagonist is ignorant and mean-spirited and unkind, but also believes he has the possibility to grow beyond those qualities, and ultimately also deserves love.
Unfortunately, all the aesthetic problems of those early minutes hold steady all through this episode. Real Girl is a visual mess, lacking strong background art, any real character acting, or even particularly expressive character designs. The jokes remain just as obvious and slowly paced from first minute to last, exhibiting a lack of understanding of dramatic timing that also undercuts many of its emotional moments, as well as resulting in consistently strained scene transitions. Even the music is very simplistic, and the singer of the opening song sounds half asleep. If I had to describe this production in one word, it would probably be “lethargic.”
On the whole, Real Girl's major aesthetic failings mean I can't give it a general recommendation, but I did genuinely like the dynamic between the two leads by the end. It'd be easy for a story like this to simply validate Hikari's various grudges, but instead it manages a difficult balance of “Hikari's a mean little stinker, but his unhappiness is real and valid.” This episode didn't give us too much insight into Iroha's feelings, but that feels like a natural result of this episode sticking to Hikari's insular headspace. If you're looking for a “unhappy people try to help each other” romance and don't mind the visual mess, Real Girl's definitely worth a look.
Based on a description of the premise, I was not expecting anything more out of this title than a normal, bland story about an otaku boy who has little interest in 3D girls suddenly discovering that he just might if the right kind of girl came along. After seeing the first episode, I am happy to say that I may have completely underestimated the series. Though nothing about the way the episode plays out is all that surprising or different, there's a level of heart and sincerity to this one which sets it apart from most of its animated kin.
That difference may be because the source manga is from a magazine whose target demographic is women in their late teens/early 20s as opposed to a male audience. Perhaps that's why this feels much less like a male wish fulfillment exercise (even though the first episode is from the perspective of the male co-protagonist) and much more like a pair of outcasts finding enough common ground to form a relationship. No explanation is needed for why Hikari is one, as the girl he knew from middle school made quite clear. However, Iroha is just as much one as he is. She has no friends because girls despise her – perhaps out of jealousy, perhaps because she plays around with the boys too much – and boys seem to respect her only for her looks. Her semi-delinquent attitude also surely doesn't help. I'm guessing that we'll eventually find out that she's drawn to Hikari because he actually seems to care about her as a person and not just an object of lust.
Whatever the case may be there, Iroha is clearly her own person. She has enough confidence to calmly but harshly verbally browbeat the former classmate who's giving Hikari a hard time, to clearly define where she stands with two other boys, to allow herself to be seen in a state of partial undress without flipping out over it, or to ask him out when others are watching. She's also responsible enough to not shirk punishments. That she is no less firmly-defined than Hikari lends an emotional legitimacy to Hikari asking her out at the end of the episode and her accepting. Likewise Hikari's friend seems a little more real than normal in the way he expresses his frustrated resignation about his own status.
In fact, the only downer here is that I'm not a big fan of the art style even though Iroha's design is fully appealing. Still, I think I could put up with it if the writing in future episodes delivers the way it does in this first one.
While there are plenty of “otaku meets girl” shows out there, finding a good one is remarkably tough. A lot of stories in this vein tend to veer off in one lousy direction or another: some dissolve into bland fluff, others pile on too many tired harem tropes, and very few manage to find a satisfying balance in their central relationships. In that context, Real Girl is off to a pretty good start. It doesn't feel particularly pandering or gimmicky, and its lead characters are well-matched without being sickeningly sweet. At the moment, it's a reasonably well-written story about two social outsiders forming a connection with one another.
Iroha is the early standout here. There's something charismatic about the way she immediately jumps right to the point in whatever conversation she's having. It's a nice change of pace from the absurd amounts of trouble that so many romantic leads (male and female) often have expressing their feelings, and it sets up some nice moments of comedy as Tsutsui struggles to process whatever Iroha throws at him. It also adds some credibility to her social isolation at school; as enjoyable as her blunt observations are for the audience, I can't imagine they'd go over well with her classmates. Her appearance at the hospital suggests that there's some depth behind that straightforward persona, adding a little bit of mystery to her character. As long as she doesn't take a sudden turn into tragic heroine territory, Iroha should be a good center for the story to revolve around.
I'm a little less enamored with Tsutsui, though that's not necessarily the show's fault. There's a more defensive quality to the way he interacts with people, and it's most evident in his initial instinct to push Iroha away. His encounter with an old middle school classmate suggests that there's some genuine pain at the root of his abrasive attitude, and a lot of his rationalizations feel very spot-on for an otaku with a persecution complex. As intriguing at that all may be, it doesn't do much to make me like the guy, especially when his attempts at kindness tend to take the form of Leeroy Jenkins-style charges into situations where a little tact might have gone a long way. I'm hoping that the long-term appeal of Real Girl will include watching Tsutsui get better at dealing with other people, and if nothing else he at least has his cat-eared buddy to help steer him in the right direction.
This episode may not have delivered the kind of defining moment that makes me want to go all-in on a romance series, but I like where the story is going. The main characters are nicely set up to help one another out, and the writing isn't shy about addressing the unpleasant sides of being a loner or an outsider. Given some more time to develop, this could be a good, down-to-earth take on teen romance.
Based on the manga of the same name (which Kodansha is publishing in English as a digital-first title), Real Girl hails from the pages of Dessert magazine, which also gave us Say, I Love You. That's a pretty good indicator of intended audience: slightly older female or anyone who enjoys a romance that's perhaps a little less sugary than the more usual shoujo fare. So far heroine Iroha has more in common with a side character from Ai Yazawa's Gokinjyo Monogatari than anyone else – like Yazawa's “Nice Body-Ko” character, Iroha has a reputation as being fast with the boys, to her own social detriment – among the girls, at least. We don't know quite enough now, but even though she's free with her kisses, that doesn't mean anything more than that she likes kissing. Of course, it could also be a way for her to experience any sort of affection or acceptance from someone; the scene of her crying outside of the hospital and the six month moving date she tells Tsutsui about could both indicate a sick guardian and she's already said she doesn't really have friends. What we do know is that Tsutsui is the only person who is even remotely kind to her in this episode.
Although the story is told from his perspective, she's the much more interesting character, at least right now. That's mostly because we've seen his story more frequently – the loner, misunderstood otaku. More importantly, we just don't have a grasp of what truly motivates Iroha yet, which is a pretty good draw. We do know that she explicitly told the boys who were arguing over her in the hallway that she wasn't dating either of them, which makes her asking Tsutsui out more important than it might otherwise appear, but that's about it. If nothing else, Iroha is a lot more in control of her own life and body than many romance heroines – no one's selling her off to an oni to repay a debt, that's for sure. It's interesting (and depressing) that this makes her a target, but it does feel pretty true to high school.
The art for the show has been cleaned up a bit from its manga original, but is still recognizable as the artist's work. What's less great is the pastel color scheme, which simply feels too candy-colored for the story. It's about two people who don't fit in finding each other, and while that's a lovely theme that can be very sweet, the pastels give the episode a younger feel that doesn't entirely work. The imagery in the ending theme, on the other hand, is wonderful – more whimsical than you might expect, but still in keeping with the themes. All in all, Real Girl's first episode starts what looks like a solid high school romance, and if that's what you've been missing these past months, it's worth checking out.
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