Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun-
Episode 10

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 10 of
Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun- ?

If you weren't a fan of some of Asobi Asobase's uncomfortable humor from past weeks, you will probably have mixed feelings about episode 10. In the past, the show's weaker segments have been juxtaposed with stronger jokes that revolve more around the Pastimers Club members (mainly Hanako), but episode 10 feels like a long, strange trip into the dark side of this show's humor. There are still some laughs to be had, but let's just get right into the nitty-gritty.

This week's episode focuses more heavily than usual on Aozora, the implied trans or crossdressing character, and that's after it turns a character from last week into a "scary lesbian" cliché. As a lesbian myself, these aren't the kinds of jokes I normally enjoy, but this episode worked better for making jokes at the expense of the Pastimers Club and their narrow way of looking at the world. At the same time, there were definitely missteps along the way.

For starters, the first installment focuses on Fujiwara, the girl who took Olivia's place in the speech contest. At first, Fujiwara was charmingly awkward to me. I loved the way she peppered her speech with random English words, like way too many kids who get too excited about learning a foreign language. (I definitely did some of that while taking French in high school.) There are some good gags where she learns the truth about Olivia's lack of English skills, like "so this is the famous Japanese kabedon!" as Kasumi confronts her against the wall. Unfortunately, this leads to Fujiwara blackmailing Kasumi into going out on a date with her. Even if it seems like every character in this show is shady in some way, and Fujiwara is framed as awkward and clueless, it hews a little too close to the stereotype of predatory gay people for me not to feel a little icky about it, and it largely ruined the appeal of her character for me.

Speaking of "pushy" queer people, Aozora then kisses Kasumi after "rescuing" her from Fujiwara. This seems to be framed as more mutual in the feelings department, given Kasumi's reaction. She's flustered in more of an excited than traumatized way, even if she's weirded out by the dreams this gives her about Aozora. That doesn't give Aozora the right to assume Kasumi's intentions, and given Aozora's secret, it could yet again fall into a "predatory" stereotype that has harmful real-world consequences. I'm not about to tell trans viewers how to feel about this, but for me at least, it felt like a mutual attraction between them, followed by some confusion over Aozora's potential secret identity. If you've long suspected that Kasumi's "hatred of men" coded her as potentially gay herself, episode 10 puts a lot of wind in those sails, so that made me less sour on it than I expected to be.

Naturally, Hanako turns this into a supremely awkward experience. I love that while Kasumi is genuinely stressing over her feelings about Aozora's kiss, she sees Hanako looking frustrated and thinks that she must have problems of her own—but Hanako is just thinking of the right way to get her friends to say the word "poo." (Olivia, the dimmest bulb of the trio, is not thinking about anything at all, of course.) I feel like that word has already been uttered many times across Asobi Asobase's runtime, but anyway, Hanako's fixation devolves into an attempt to force it through a game of Taboo, but this ends in drama when Kasumi is given the word "kiss" and inadvertently reveals that she kissed someone in the hallway. Hanako freaks out, tying her up and dressing up like an old-fashioned judge, until Olivia reminds Hanako that Kasumi would've kissed a girl, since this is an all-girls' school. Hanako does a complete 180, somehow making things even weirder than they already were.

This leads into the episode's most squirm-inducing segment. Kasumi has a dream about Aozora revealing her "schlong," and she can't stop inserting the word into conversations at school the next day because she's so fixated on the image. She really wants to look up Aozora's skirt and discover the truth. Now if this were a normal show, she might get a lecture about how that's wrong to do to other people without their permission, but the Pastimers Club being the little shitheads they are, they start looking into skirt-peeking techniques. Naturally, they choose the stupidest, most convoluted possible methods to sneak a peek, but it's still not great to be making light of a type of sexual harassment that's a pervasive problem in Japan. Likewise, it worsens things that too many people already see trans people's bodies as "curiosities" for public consumption, rather than belonging to individuals who have boundaries just like anyone else.

At the same time, this once again didn't come across as bad as it could have because framing is everything, and Asobi Asobase is aware that its characters are insensitive and frequently cruel youngsters. In a strange way, it makes even Asobi Asobase at its most bizarre truer to the junior high experience than many other shows, where girls that age are portrayed way nicer and sweeter than reality. That said, comedy is super subjective by nature, and I could see how someone else could interpret this scene as making too light of a serious breach of privacy. I hope that future installments lean into Kasumi's potential crush in a good way, rather than continuing to focus on what might lie beneath Aozora's clothes. The show needs to do more to develop her character beyond one (crappy) joke.

The last installment is the most removed from all this, with a focus on Kasumi being a geek who watches Star Trek and wants to make a movie based on her weird misinterpretation of the series. (It's worth noting that Star Trek was never as popular in Japan as it was here, so this would be considered plumbing the geek reference pile deeper than usual.) Olivia has what I guess passes for Vulcan ears in Kasumi's mind, playing a sexy alien spy who announces being a spy to everyone in English. This installment really takes off when they decide to show off their "pastime" objects in the movie, tying up Olivia's spy with a jump rope and using a Kewpie doll as a high-tech "interrogation device." Hanako gets way too into this, but the real centerpiece is how gung-ho Kasumi is as a director, thinking she's got a masterpiece on her hands while making lots of stupid choices.

It's hard to analyze comedy, because it's so variable from person to person. One person's "edgy" is another's "offensive." Even while I write this, I worry about making excuses for a joke that might not have upset me as much as people from the group depicted—or conversely, overreacting to something that hit too close to home for me. But that's the nature of reviewing a show like Asobi Asobase, which seems determined to blow past every boundary, for better and for worse. I also think the jokes land better when it steers away from punching down, turning more toward the sort of absurdist jokes that hooked me in its first few episodes. I say fewer jokes about what's under Aozora's skirt and more about Maeda's laser cannon butt. We could always use more laser cannon butts.

Rating: C

Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun- is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a Ph.D. student in musicology, who recently released a book about the music of Cowboy Bebop. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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