by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Domestic Girlfriend ?
There is precisely one scene in the finale of Domestic Girlfriend that I thought worked pretty well. It comes after Hina has resigned from her post at the school to protect Natsuo's reputation, during the mid-episode stretch where Natsuo wallows in a depressive haze while everyone frets over him and bends over backwards to get him out of his funk. Rui babies him, Fumiya dusts off the old "berate your buddy against a wall" routine, and so on. Even his parents – who both apparently know about his affair with Hina – seem more concerned about their son's post-breakup malaise than the fact that their oldest daughter lost her job because she had an incestuous relationship with the underage student who was also their son.
All of that stuff is pretty lame, but there is one interlude that sees Masaki taking Natsuo to a public bath to let off some steam and work out those negative emotions. I really appreciate how Domestic Girlfriend has never gone the cheap and easy route of playing Masaki's homosexuality as a dumb gag. Natsuo is more put off by Masaki's giant yakuza tattoo than being in a bath house with an openly gay man, and when Masaki explains how he's struggled with reconciling his decision to embrace his true self and abandon his family, even after his father died of cancer, there's some real weight to it. Masaki's story is a lesson for Natsuo, telling him that he has to accept life's pitfalls and move on, no matter how hard that may be. Sure it's a little trite, but it's a cohesive message, the closest Domestic Girlfriend comes to providing any kind of central theme.
So it's a shame that the rest of this finale doubles down on all of Domestic Girlfriend's worst instincts to present us with a saccharine treatise on love and creativity that's almost impossible to take seriously. I was already bristling at how rushed Hina's exit from the story was, but my opinion on the episode soured completely when Natsuo's big moment of character development amounted to channeling all of his misery into a novel he wrote while he was locked away in his room. The single draft of his novel, which is apparently not even in need of revisions, turns out so well that it earns him a young writers' prize instantaneously.
Admittedly, I've yet to publish any of my own fiction or poetry, but I got my degree in Creative Writing, I'm a published media critic who works with editors regularly, and I teach writing and literacy for a living, so I'd like to think I know a thing or two about the process. Plenty of teenagers have published their writing before too, so I'm not even saying that Natsuo's situation is improbable. My problem lies in how Domestic Girlfriend's cliché approach to the craft posits that Natsuo's indulgent self-pity over his first heartbreak automatically equals great art. As Natsuo writes, his text literally floats off the page and dances around the room, while Rui gazes at this intense process with warmth and respect – it's just that good.
Natsuo even includes a supposed Pablo Picasso quote as his novel's epigraph: “Art is born of sadness and suffering.” For one thing, I am convinced that Natsuo only found this quote by Googling something like “famous quotes + art + sadness”, because that's exactly the kind of arrogant nonsense I might have pulled when I was a pretentious 15-year old who fancied himself writing in the tradition of James Joyce or T.S. Elliot. It'd be one thing if Domestic Girlfriend applied any kind of pushback to this childish view of art and life, but if there's any self-awareness to be found in Domestic Girlfriend at this point, I certainly haven't seen it. Everyone celebrates Natsuo's renewed sense of joy as he publishes his novel, and the takeaway for our protagonist seems to be that even if his sordid affair with his teacher/sister didn't work out, at least he got a book deal out of it.
Ultimately, this is what this whole season of Domestic Girlfriend boiled down to: Hina ditches her job because she committed a crime and was generally pretty bad at having an affair with her teenage brother. Natsuo's own approach to sleeping with his teacher/sister was also dumb, but he gets to fail upwards into immediate success because he's the main character, I guess. Rui figures that since Hina's not doing anything with Natsuo anymore, she can just hop back on the “making out with my step-brother” bandwagon, which ends the series more or less in the same place it started. Nobody has learned anything at all, and if you want to know how any of this plays out, there's several volumes of manga waiting for you.
Was Domestic Girlfriend the worst thing I watched this season? Absolutely not! There's a Hand Shakers sequel out now, after all! But this was far and away the most disappointing anime I've seen in a while. It started as a surprisingly strong character study wrapped up in a great big ball of silly trash, but then all of the characters turned into parodies of themselves, and the soap opera drama became too contrived and hollow to sustain itself. The show couldn't even succeed as smut, seeing as the closest Domestic Girlfriend ever got to being “sexy” were those weird end-cards that had the episode titles written on bikini models' bodies.
I understand why some series end up being little more than glorified commercials for the manga they're based on, but this season has only managed to convince me that I should bid this story goodbye right here. Maybe Domestic Girlfriend will cut its hair, move to a new city, and find someone who can love it for what it is. And now that I've parted ways with this series, maybe I should just lock myself in my room for a few months to write a blockbuster novel about the experience.
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