by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Domestic Girlfriend ?
It was only a matter of time before Domestic Girlfriend decided to up the ante on its love triangle shenanigans by adding yet another love triangle inside of the primary one. But this time, Hina has nothing to do with the proceedings; instead, Rui makes a new friend, Momo Kashiwabara, a girl with her own inner turmoil, and she finds herself with a pretty big crush on Natsuo. Rui's own feelings on this matter are complicated, to say the least, and thus we have our formula for this week's batch of melodrama.
To be honest, when Rui first met Momo this week, a part of me was thinking that the love triangle would be borne out of these two forming a romantic connection. To be even more honest, I was hoping that would be the case. Momo is a seemingly sweet girl who has been scorned by her peers for her perceived promiscuity and casual attitude toward sex, and Rui simply doesn't care that much about the foibles of social politics – the two make a great pair, from the first time Momo shows off her home-made charms to Rui to the montage of their first girls' day out together. Unsurprisingly, Domestic Girlfriend ends up pursuing a more conventional route when Rui and Momo run into Natsuo at the book store, and Natsuo manages to impress Momo with his book smarts.
The way Domestic Girlfriend has framed its protagonist as the “sensitive writerly type” has always existed on the border of being irritating, but Natsuo remains just likable enough to make it work, and I can buy why Momo might find him appealing. Momo even tries to do right by Rui when she runs by her intention to ask Natsuo out, though even when Rui gives her best noncommittal shrug in response, it's obvious she feels more strongly about this than she'd be willing to admit. In fact, she stresses out about this so much that she ends up collapsing into a feverish mess, which leads to the episode's most out-there scene. After Momo asks him out, Natsuo tries to tend to Rui's health before he runs off with anyone else, and he eventually finds himself being the only family member around who can give Rui the suppository she's been given for her fever.
While this might sound like a setup for a porno, perhaps the most surprising thing about this episode is how it's able to take a scenario like “Natsuo has to shove medicine into his step-sister's ass” and make it feel grounded and sweet somehow. It's played for laughs, to be sure, but there isn't any focus on the grossness or kinkiness that easily could have been accentuated in a different show; instead, we get a tactful cut to black and an emphasis on how Natsuo cares about Rui enough to do something that makes him so uncomfortable. Not only is Natsuo willing to put himself out there to make sure Rui can make friends and be comfortable in school, he's also willing to really get his hands dirty in her time of need. I never thought I'd say this, but Natsuo and Rui's relationship already feels more genuine than a lot of other romantic pairings in anime, and it's becoming clear that they'd probably make a great couple if it weren't for the whole “being step-siblings” deal (which isn't likely to stop them anyway).
We can't forget about Momo though, and yet again we see Natsuo (and the story) dealing with this development in a surprisingly nuanced manner. Though the other girls in the school are absolutely in the wrong for slut-shaming Momo, it's also apparent that her approach to sex and relationships is unhealthy - the scars on Momo's wrists are a reminder that she's dealing with emotional and psychological troubles that can't simply be papered over through the pursuit of sex. Natsuo has the good sense to not take advantage of Momo's vulnerability, coming to the remarkably mature realization that neither of them should be in relationships with people that they depend on to feel stable.
When Natsuo decides to be a supportive but platonic friend to Momo, it's possible he's just continuing to put his feelings for Hina on a pedestal, but there's also real empathy present. It would have been easy for Domestic Girlfriend to indulge in the dramatic possibilities of Momo and Natsuo becoming physically and emotionally dependent on each other a la Scum's Wish, but this route is much more interesting and satisfying. Regardless of what part Momo plays in the rest of this story, I am glad to see how her presence this week gave us more insight into Natsuo and Rui's inner lives. It's so much easier to identify with these adolescent trainwrecks when they feel human, and Domestic Girlfriend continues to surprise with just how down-to-earth its incestuous pretzel of love-triangles can be.
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