by Lauren Orsini,
The mystery of womanhood can be an extremely tough code to crack. Most adolescent girls look at the women on TV and ask themselves, “How come I don't look or act like that?” An entire industry exists to remind women that they aren't perfect yet, and sells them the promise that they could be. Traditional female gender "performance" takes a lot of work.
This episode of Denki-gai no Honya-san starred Sensei as she continued to navigate her insecurities about what it really means to look and act like a woman. Rather than going for an introspective coming-of-age vignette, Denki-gai played it all raunchy and rude. It's been a recurring theme that Sensei is extremely concerned with the performance of femininity. Being a girl, Sensei thinks, isn't about being biologically female. It's about carriage, mannerisms, and the ever-coveted “Girl Power Points” that Sensei bemoans her lack of in nearly every episode.
The woman Sensei wants to be is beautiful, but effortless. She doesn't try too hard with “weird eyelashes” and “weird lipstick,” but she isn't overly grungy, or “rough,” as Sensei puts it, either. However, she has no idea where to begin to become this woman. In Sensei's mind, every other girl is in possession of this knowledge but her. She asks her female friends, but they're just as clueless as she is. So things take a turn for the sexy when Hio-tan encourages Sensei to act like a man, and evaluate her female friends from that perspective. Coincidentally, the only male role model they can think of is from an anime, so he's just as unrealistic as the perfect woman that Sensei is trying to emulate!
As Sensei, in her male persona, gropes and fondles her friends while they protest, it's supposed to be less offensive than if a male character were sexually harassing them, but the joke falls pretty flat. Until this point, Sensei's over-the-top concerns were purely in the realm of parody. Denki-gai succeeds when it exaggerates a trope about manga fans' sexuality until it becomes funny and new. However, if the trope isn't hyperbolized enough to strike viewers as absurd—as with Sensei's transformation into a horny man stereotype—it's harder to tell if the show is just presenting the cliché without comment.
For a far better Denki-gai gag, take the silent film interval between parts one and two of this episode, a much anticipated continuation from past episodes. The illogical nature of Fu-girl's adventures mean the viewer doesn't have to worry about real life, but simply enjoy the ride. If it's far enough removed from anything we've seen before, it works perfectly.
Reality stuck its ugly head into the first half of the episode too. Sensei considers leaving her bookstore job behind to begin working as an assistant to another manga artist. Ditching a minimum wage job to further one's career as a manga artist would make a lot of sense in the real world, but this is TV and we can't get rid of a character. It's not realistic, but I'd be crushed if they got rid of lovable Sensei. What makes Sensei great is how human she comes across outside of her ambitious goals. She's an aspiring manga artist with the dedication, drive, and meager sleep schedule to back it up, but she's also very fallible, prone to crying and self-doubt. She's both an aspirational character and a relatable one, and this makes us want her to succeed. In terms of character development, she's the star of the show.
What the episode does manage to get across is that Sensei's biggest insecurity is one that every woman struggles with. Even your most well-endowed friend gets nervous about her looks, and attracting that guy you like is never an equation with one clear solution. All the girls of Denki-gai realized they don't need to have the same charms to entice boys. It's still a hard sell to say this was a comment on society and not pure, unabashed fanservice.
Denkigai no Honya-san is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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