The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Domestic Girlfriend ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I was somehow expecting something much skeevier when I read the title “Domestic Girlfriend”, but low and behold, it turned out to be a fairly entertaining melodrama about a high-school student who harbors an unrequited crush on his teacher, loses his virginity to a complete stranger at a student mixer, finds out his widower father is suddenly getting remarried and moving the family to a new home, and then discovers that his new step-sisters are none other than his teacher and the girl he happened to shack up with just a couple of days before. Granted, this is still a horny sex-drama brimming with the potential for oodles of step-sibling incest, but given the state of some current anime trends, I was halfway expecting the main character to own his step-sisters as his house slaves or something. I'll take what little victories I can find, thank you very much.
In all honesty, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the premiere of “Domestic Girlfriend” – for a series with such a trashy premise, the execution is remarkably solid. Natsuo is an everyman kind of protagonist, but he feels just normal and grounded enough to not come across as a total blank slate. His sexual encounter with Rui feels appropriately awkward without being exploitative, and I even enjoyed the goofy characterization Natsuo's father gets. When the truth of the situation comes out, all three of our central characters react with the subdued shock you might expect, though what makes it such perfect soapy melodrama is that all three characters are processing their own slightly different perspectives: Hina realizes that she's living with the kid who has a super-obvious crush on her, Rui is looking straight into the face of the boy who just took her virginity, and Natsuo is aware of both these relationships, along with the trouble that would come from either sister finding out about them.
It's all so perfectly ridiculous, though the show somehow manages to play it straight without devolving into complete self-seriousness. This isn't to say there aren't red flags; this might as well be called “Red Flags: The Anime”. I'm already predisposed to getting weirded out by student-teacher romances in fiction, and Hina is already behaving far too casually with her new student-turned-step-brother (the scene where she “forgets” about her new relatives when she walks naked into the living room is the script's one major lapse into the unfunny kind of stupidity). What's more, it's clear that Rui is going to develop feelings for Natsuo, and there's no way Hina would be here if her relationship with him wasn't going to get way too screwed-up for its own good at some point. While this first episode may have been relatively grounded, I have no doubt that this could all easily devolve into a deranged, incest-filled love-polygon fueled by taboo and self-loathing. After all, the show is called “Domestic Girlfriend”, and not “Non-Problematic Domestic Sibling Relationship That is Completely Above Board”.
And that's kind of the point, isn't it? This isn't the kind of anime you take home to mom and dad; this is the kind of trashy, guilty-pleasure romance melodrama that lets you revel in the ridiculousness of it all from the safe distance of your television screen. I doubt I'll be keeping up with this series every week, but I wouldn't be surprised if I end up checking in on it from time to time, if only out of my own sick sense of morbid curiosity.
I was thoroughly entertained by this premiere, but probably not in the way Domestic Girlfriend intended. Instead of being shocked or enthralled by all the juicy plot twists, I spent nearly the entire time laughing my butt off. I'm not sure what that says about my personality, but I find it nearly impossible to take this particular brand of drama seriously. When the plot is so obviously crafted to generate scandalous situations and disastrous misunderstandings, it's tough to keep thinking of the characters as people, so all my empathy and sentimentality goes out the window.
To be fair, there are moments where Domestic Girlfriend does a surprisingly good job of depicting the conflicting emotions and questionable judgement that define life as a teenager. The way Natsuo and Rui's initial encounter escalates into sex feels reasonably authentic, largely because of the characters' motivations. Rui thinks of sex as a shortcut to being treated like an adult and sees Natsuo as a suitably harmless candidate for her first time, while Natsuo is desperately seeking an outlet for his pent-up feelings for Hina. Put them together and you get awkward hormonal fireworks. The vague sense of disillusionment they both feel afterwards is equally believable, and if the episode had stopped there, I would have been genuinely impressed.
Of course, that's not all there is to it, and the rest of the story quickly takes this episode into cheesier territory. There's no sense of subtlety to the way Domestic Girlfriend keeps dangling temptation in Natsuo's face, and the last second-twist of Rui seeing him move in for a kiss with a drunken and semi-conscious Hina feels extremely contrived. Unless a series is trying to offer some kind of metafictional commentary, it should never be this easy for the audience to see the machinations of the plot. Hina also suffers from inconsistent writing, and the script repeatedly trips over itself while trying to sell us on the idea that she might fall for Natsuo. When all is said and done, she ends up coming across as a leading candidate for least responsible anime teacher of the year.
If you're in the mood for saucy teenage melodrama, Domestic Girlfriend will absolutely fit the bill. It seems capable of delivering “oh no they didn't” moments on a regular basis, and in general it has a good sense of what its core audience is looking for. I might even stick with it for a week or two, and I'll spend every minute egging the characters on and mocking their inevitably poor decisions.
Well this sure is a messy stew! Domestic Girlfriend seems poised to be this season's gleefully seedy melodrama, rampaging through the feelings of its characters like a bull in a china shop. And so far, it seems like a pretty reasonable example of its genre.
The crux of Domestic Girlfriend's drama is a love (or if not love, at least drama) triangle between its three stars: the teenage Natsuo, young adult Hina (a teacher he's in love with), and Rui, the girl who takes his virginity. After that awkward sexual encounter, Natsuo quickly learns that Hina and Rui are sisters, and that his father is soon to be marrying their mother. And so the stage is set for a delightfully awkward home life.
The thing I might have liked most about this episode was its unusually convincing portrayal of the aftermath of first having sex, particularly if that encounter is a casual thing. Rui and Natsuo's encounter is presented as awkward and strangely anticlimactic, with both of them feeling like they expected more. Rui regretfully admitting that she expected to change in some way and Natsuo feeling genuinely guilty spoke to truths of young adult sexuality that anime stories rarely articulate. Sex is a weird and complicated thing, and I enjoyed seeing a show that directly embraces its relationship to young adult feelings.
That refreshingly honest approach also seemed to carry through into Domestic Girlfriend's direction. Scenes are consistently framed to emphasize the uncomfortable distance between characters, creating an ever-present sense of unease and entrapment. This effect is bolstered by the show's minimalist sound design, which generally foregoes overt music in favor of muted environmental noises. The overall effect strongly amplifies our ability to relate to Natsuo's shifting feelings, keeping the audience trapped right there with him.
My biggest complaint with the show so far is that while Natsuo's insecurities are portrayed convincingly, I still don't actually care about him or the female leads yet. The focus has all been on the drama, and messy drama for its own sake isn't a big hook for me; I need to care about the characters first. Additionally, the show's aesthetics are fairly bland. While the direction is smart, the background art lacks much texture, and the animation is limited.
On the whole, Domestic Girlfriend seems to be a reasonable entry in the pantheon of anime soap operas. I'm personally not a huge fan of outrageously messy dramas, but if you're into the genre, I'd definitely give this one a look.
Whoa Nellie, we're in for a wild ride on this one.
If you were a fan of Scum's Wish or Citrus or generally like soap operas and telenovelas, then this should definitely be on your radar. The first episode gives every indication that this will be a heavily melodramatic and totally salacious romp through relationships that are screwed up at their core. Even better, it's a story built around sincere emotions.
The plot kicks off with the impending remarriage between Natsuo's widower father and the divorcee mother of Hina and Rui. The first episode paints a convincing picture of how right the parents are for each other and why their children approve of the marriage; Natsuo respects his father for giving consideration to his long-deceased mother, while Rui wants to see her mother happy (and distracted from bad-mouthing her father). So neither of them are in a mood to willfully cause trouble, giving the story a stable base to start from.
However, throwing two horny teenagers together in a family like that would be complicated under the best of circumstances, never mind if they've recently lost their virginity to each other. It's not hard to understand why Natsuo can't ignore the fact that his former sex partner is literally living with him, and I'm betting that Rui also hasn't distanced herself from the incident as much as she claims. Complicating that further is the presence of Hina, especially given that he may well have treated Rui as a stand-in for her. How quickly will Rui make that connection, given what she sees at the end of this episode?
Hina also presents her own special kind of problem. I have to wonder how much of her portrayal is genuine versus being colored by Natsuo's viewpoint; she gives off the impression that she's flirting with Natsuo a little, but is that just how Natsuo wants to see it? Even if she doesn't recognize Natsuo's interest in her (the rooftop scene should have made it obvious), she disregards her sexual impact around him at home. Besides, living in the same house as a student who's not a blood relative is irresponsible on a professional level, anyway. She's the least believable of the characters introduced so far, but this scenario practically requires a personality like hers to hit maximum melodrama.
The first episode doesn't give much indication that there will be much degree of depth or introspection to this one, but that's fine. There's already enough going on to generate loads of juicy content, and the opener suggests that a couple more girls will eventually figure into the mix as well. With decent technical merits, attractive character designs, and just a touch of sex appeal, this episode offers everything I could hope for given its premise.
As a reader of the original Domestic Girlfriend manga, I both knew precisely what I was getting into and wondered how they were going to animate it. It's fair to say that the opening chapter of the manga is salacious, although it still doesn't show much more than this episode does; rather it's the ideas that are being presented that feel more edgy than the actual content shown. That said, this still isn't something you want to be streaming in the public library.
What's most interesting about the introduction to this story is not the fact that Rui asks Natsuo to have sex with her or that Hina wanders around the house inappropriately dressed. It's the reasons behind the characters' actions, only some of which we're currently aware of. When Rui propositions Natsuo, she says it's because she's sick of conversations being cut off with the argument that she's too young and virginal to understand – she's tired of being treated like she's a dumb kid, in other words. That's an issue that plagues Natsuo as well; in fact, he decides to sleep with Rui because he remembers someone saying that Hina has a boyfriend, so he thinks that he should have some sexual experience. Later when Hina refuses to talk to him or entertain the idea that he has a crush on her, she repeatedly calls him a kid, and Natsuo's frustration is every bit as real as Rui's. The introduction of both Hina and Rui into his home causes him a lot of confusion, not just because he's still stuck in the kid role (now with the added bonus of “younger brother”), but because he really isn't mature enough to sort everything out, and he's unable to get past the fact that he had sex with Rui.
This episode balances out its annoyances with some moments that feel true to its teenage protagonists, such as Rui's surprise that having sex didn't change her life completely or make her more exciting. Hina, meanwhile, seems to continually struggle with ideas of what she can and can't do, from forgetting to get dressed after the bath to slapping a student's ass and then saying she won't date kids, she seems to think she's more grown-up than she actually is. As a manga reader, I can safely say that I dislike her as a character, and the roots of that are on display in this episode, although as always your tolerance for her may exceed mine.
Domestic Girlfriend is a melodrama, like a telenovela by way of anime in the way it piles on its plot twists and emotional turmoil. The visuals definitely contribute to that impression with many lingering close-ups of eyes and lips and judicious use of shadows, and if this becomes half as trainwreck-propulsive as its source material, it will be something to see. It's too soon to tell definitively, but this episode feels like a faithful adaptation. If you're looking for obsessive teen drama, look no further.
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