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The Summer 2024 Anime Preview Guide
Senpai is an Otokonoko

How would you rate episode 1 of
Senpai is an Otokonoko ?
Community score: 3.6



What is this?

rhs-otokono-cap-1

Saki, a high school student, confesses her feelings to Makoto. Taken aback, Makoto reveals his secret, but the sudden discovery doesn't seem to bother Saki who is already head over heels for him. After being rejected, Saki asks Ryuji, Makoto's childhood friend, for some advice on how to win his heart. A love triangle unfolds when Ryuji realizes that he might also have some feelings for his old friend.

Senpai is an Otokonoko is based on the Senpai is an Otokonoko: My Crossdressing Classmate manga series by Pom. The anime series is streaming on Crunchyroll on Thursdays.


How was the first episode?

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Caitlin Moore
Rating:

Had I been at a barbecue while watching Senpai is an Otokonoko, I would have hollered, “The whole thing smacks of gender!” while overturning my uncle's grill. Alas, I am stuck at home working while my friends frolic in the sunshine and cook various meats over an open flame—so their hot dogs and hamburgers will go unmolested by me.

Dril references aside, Senpai is an Otokonoko does indeed smack of gender. If you're looking for clearly-defined categories, you will not find them. Is Makoto a boy who likes presenting femme? Is he a trans girl who isn't able to be out yet at home and isn't fully ready to make the leap to identifying as female? All of the above?? None of the above???? Who knows! But there's a boy and a girl in love with him and I'm pretty sure that makes everyone involved gay.

Okay, that was the last reference to a viral internet post. Maybe. No promises yet. But I found the haziness around their identities charming, since the cast is at an age where it's totally normal for them to still be figuring things out for themselves. Saki's enthusiasm for Makoto's genderfluidity was adorable—even as it was clear that her attention and affections were overwhelming and awkward for Makoto and she really needed to back off a bit. Ryuji could easily have been nothing more than the jealous, possessive childhood friend but his protectiveness turned out to be merited. How he identifies remains ambiguous as well—since his feelings for Makoto certainly aren't platonic.

Throughout the episode, the animation style leaps back and forth between typical anime style and a more cartoony, superdeformed look. The normally-animated parts do look quite nice, well-directed, smooth, and expressive. The superdeformed cuts are cute but halfway through the episode, I realized that they were cutting away to them way too frequently and at tonally inappropriate scenes. They're totally a way to conserve resources. I'll take them over long still shots or the animation falling apart during important scenes but it's still kind of a bummer that they're so constant.

All in all, there's fertile ground here to explore questions of how gender, sexuality, and identity intersect—and doing that would be lovely. But to be honest, I'd also be okay with this just turning out to be a romantic comedy where the three leads are just who they are. Three kids, dressing how they like and wanting to smooch whoever they want to smooch, without any need for labels.


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James Beckett
Rating:

Well, that was cute! If there is one trend that I would be happy for more anime to shamelessly rip-off from each other, it would be the ways that modern shows tend to be so much more decent and empathetic when it comes to how they approach characters of diverse sexualities and genders. I'm always happy to collect more evidence to embarrass those “Japan doesn't care about woke Western politics!” clowns that show up in the discourse. While it isn't necessarily going all out in examining the evolving attitudes about LGBTQ people in Japan, I think Senpai is an Otokonoko is doing well enough to just let Makoto, Saki, and Ryuji exist in their world. Makoto likes to present as female, Saki is down to clown with Makoto regardless of what parts and pronouns they're working with, and Ryuji is the kind of dedicated bro whose passion for protecting Makoto from the douchebags of the world will almost certainly evolve into something more romantic. (To be honest, I would be down for that relationship way more than the pairing of Makoto and Saki).

The point is, I like these kids, and I wish nothing but the best for them. On a production level, Senpai is an Otokonoko provides very little to complain about. Its lively characters and confident direction go a long way toward keeping the premiere moving right along, even as it indulges in some of the wistful and melancholic beats that come packaged with this type of show. The music wasn't exactly to my tastes—it reminded me too much of the kinds of songs you'd find in the background of a Mario Kart race—but I wouldn't call it bad.

Really, my biggest gripes with Senpai is an Otokonoko are entirely down to my personal tastes—rather than any failure of execution on the show's part. For one, I think this overdoes it with the cutesy chibi scenes; a little of that tends to go a long way for me in a show that isn't focusing on its comedy as a #1 priority. I also have to admit that I just really can't stand the affectation that Akira Sekine is putting on as Saki. The whole “overbearing snaggle-tooth girl” persona just gives me flashbacks to Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!.

That said, if those don't sound like issues that would bother you, feel free to add a half-star to my score up there, because Senpai is an Otokonoko is an excellent example of the show it is trying to be. If it can dial the "Saki is a Lot Meter" down a notch or two, then it might be something I could get excited to watch more of.


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Rebecca Silverman
Rating:

I think there's probably a very good story in here, but right now it feels like it's buried under a lot of comedy trappings, either to throw us off or because the creator of the source material wasn't sure how to handle it yet. That seems at least a little bit fair – the subject matter is one that can be difficult to handle. The core idea of the episode seems to be that Makoto, a second year in, I presume, high school, prefers to dress as a girl at school, although I couldn't tell you yet if they identify as female. (I'm going to use they/them pronouns because of this uncertainty.) It's something of an open secret at school, with the second and third years all being aware of it and first years in the dark. The teachers also appear to be in the know – Makoto has gym with the boys, and when a teacher asks for “the boy on duty” to fetch something, Makoto stands up. The teacher is visibly taken aback by this reminder of Makoto's AMAB body, and very nearly doesn't have them go on the errand. Most poignantly, the episode ends with Makoto and going into a locked storage shed on campus to change out of their female uniform and into the male; after closing the door, they say goodbye to themselves, as if now they are being forced into playing a role they aren't comfortable with. This dovetails with the brief flashback we see of Makoto's mother yanking a handkerchief away, saying that “it's for girls,” so I have to assume that this is where the need to dress like a boy comes from.

If the episode had focused on this, I daresay it would have been stronger. But instead, most of the runtime is taken up by Saki, a firecracker of a first year who has fallen in love with Makoto on the assumption that they're a girl. She's not at all put off when she learns the (physical) truth, however; instead Saki is even more gung-ho about her crush, something Makoto doesn't know what to do with. Since Saki herself isn't the picture of traditional Japanese femininity, the implication seems to be that there's no one right way to be any gender, and the only real answer is to just be yourself, whoever that is, but it gets lost under the frenetic screeching of Saki and the jealousy of Makoto's childhood friend Ryuji, who does not appreciate someone encroaching on his Makoto.

Adding to the problem is the way the episode is animated. A lot of shortcuts are taken, many of which are passed off as humor. The characters frequently change into little sketchy chibis or outright stick figures, and when that's not going on, there are an inordinate number of still shots thrown in. It feels like an uneasy balance between the seriousness of Makoto's situation and the desire of the story to be a wacky romantic comedy, and I hope that it evens out going forward. There really does seem to be a good story in here, but the presentation is making it feel like an archaeological excavation to find it.


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Nicholas Dupree
Rating:

I was both very curious and a little apprehensive about this show. While I love romcoms and I'm always interested in seeing media that explores the topic of gender, I also recognize that any discussion of that topic is going to be complicated, especially when it's happening indirectly across multiple cultural barriers. Even the localized title had to make a call about how it would communicate the word “otokonoko” to a non-Japanese audience. I can't say if what they went with is optimal, but it's exemplary of just how loaded this show's subject matter is. Even I have to sit for a bit to consider what pronouns to use when referring to Makoto in this preview. I'll be going with They/Them, for the time being.

That all said, this first episode isn't really that concerned with breaking down the specifics of Makoto's identity or wallowing in the struggles of public gender nonconformity. Rather, it's interested in being cute as hell, and it absolutely excels. Makoto, Saki, and Ryuji are all immediately likable kids, with an easy comedic chemistry that makes them endearing together. Ryuji's overprotective attitude could have felt unpleasant, since we know as the audience that Saki is truly head-over-heels for Makoto, but it makes sense thinking about the larger outside reaction to Makoto's cross-dressing. People who so much as poke a toe outside their prescribed half of the gender binary mocked or ridiculed with vicious frequency, and knowing that lets us sympathize with Ryuji even as he likes a bit of a jerk.

Saki is a bit more complicated, despite being so straightforward. Her initial reaction to learning about Makoto's identity is to get a comical nosebleed, and initially feels like it's playing into an all too common trope of fetishizing transfeminine characters. When she first confesses to Makoto, thinking they're a cisgender girl, she just mentions things like Makoto's height and voice, which initially paints her as affections as shallow. However, once she learns about Makoto's situation, her attraction and kindness never changes. She's not graceful or thoughtful about it, but that earnest interest touches Makoto's heart, and makes them feel more welcome. It's not a perfect start, but there's clearly a lot of good intentions baked into the pair's potential romance.

The visuals are also kind of a mixed bag. The show seems to be working with very limited resources, as nearly half of this premiere in total is presented through simplistic doodles. Those doodles have a lot of character, and work well in selling their respective punchlines, but when it happens so frequently you can't help but think it's a cost-cutting move. The most standard animation is fairly minimal, outside the occasional flourish, and the direction is solid all around. This isn't the most amazing-looking show of the season, but it gets the job done with just enough charm to work.

There are a lot of questions still lingering about how this show will explore its ideas, and a lot of ways it could drop the ball. Still, this premiere on its own is full of likable characters, funny jokes, and warm sentiments. If it can keep that up, then I'm happy to see where it's going.


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