by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Domestic Girlfriend ?
I've often complained about how anime romances, especially ones focused on younger characters, spend way too much time focusing on the pining and misunderstandings between their leads, relying on the momentum of a “will-they-won't-they” dynamic and holding back the payoff of an actual relationship until the end of the series (if even that). When I wished for there to be more romance shows that dealt with what happens after the love confession scene, somewhere out there the Anime Monkey's Paw curled up yet another one of its bony fingers and delivered Domestic Girlfriend, a show that has suffered tremendously ever since it let two of its three main characters become an official couple.
I'm a perennial sap when it comes to romance, and my tolerance for saccharine nonsense is quite high. I'm all in favor of cheesy love triangles and goofy post-coital banter when it's executed well. Domestic Girlfriend simply isn't executing any of this romance or drama with much dramatic weight or tension. When Rui steals a few final kisses from Natsuo after he reveals his relationship with her sister, there's a little genuine pathos there, but it's undercut by how muted and borderline comedic her anger at him is played up. It comes across less like a devastating rift between two potential lovers and more like a petty sibling spat, and while that contrasting dynamic would make sense given the circumstances, the show isn't up for the balancing act. Last week leaned hard into the betrayal that Natsuo committed, and this week it feels like business as usual.
Then there's Hina, whose characterization takes even more of a nosedive. The way she fawns over Natsuo and frets over Rui's feelings seems more in line with how an inexperienced teenager would handle the situation. I get that Hina's lack of maturity is an intentional character flaw that's meant to be taken seriously, but there's a fine line between portraying a compromised woman blinded by her passions and making her act like an emotionally stunted child. Later, when the whole class has gone on a trip to Okinawa, Hina and Rui confront each other on the beach, and the whole conflict gets resolved with little more than a shrug. Rui says she gets it, she's not mad, and everything's cool. I don't believe that for a second, but the show could have done a much better job of at least attempting to wring some kind of interesting conversation out of the scene.
Before the Okinawa stuff, there's a subplot involving the Literature Club and the fiction contest that got mentioned last week. The one surprise of the episode is that Rui was the winner instead of Natsuo, but I was mostly surprised because I didn't even realize that Rui was writing anything at all. I wouldn't doubt that it's been mentioned at some point before now, but Domestic Girlfriend has done such a poor job keeping up with Rui lately that it completely flew over my head. Natsuo's ego is predictably bruised by this loss, and Reiji gives him some vague advice about staying determined and working hard to be a better writer. All of this only amounts to giving Natsuo more fuel to project his insecurities onto his relationship with Hina, which he feels he needs to commit to as much as his writing.
So in Okinawa, when Hina broaches the possibility of breaking things off before they get too swept up in each other, Natsuo gives her a ring and they have sex for the first time. It's all off screen, which is probably for the best, because the pair is so lacking in sexual chemistry that showing their night of passion would have likely done more harm than good. The two also have a weirdly frank discussion about their masturbatory habits, which may be sort of charming when you squint at it from a certain angle. For me, this mostly played as an awkward attempt to write “realistic” dialogue between two sexual partners that still came across more stilted than anything else.
Oh, and lest we forget that Hina is sleeping with her underage student who is also legally her brother, the final scene of the episode leaves us with Hina getting found out by her superiors at school. Honestly, this is where my critical instincts and my experiences as a teacher collided and forced me to find this funny. What on earth did Hina think was going to happen? Even if it's a little bizarre that the school has clandestine photos of a night-time hotel tryst, it isn't like Hina hasn't been above making out with Natsuo in the middle of the school hallways. She should be fired, seeing as she's not only committing a crime, but she and Natsuo are apparently incapable of refraining from pawing at each other like rabbits in heat at the most inappropriate times.
This speaks to the core issue that's been plaguing Domestic Girlfriend for the past few weeks, and I don't think the show is in a place to fix it before the season ends. We're supposed to feel invested in Hina and Natsuo's love for each other, and we're supposed to empathize with the struggles they face in order to be together. But at this point, all I can do is feel embarrassed for them.
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