by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Domestic Girlfriend ?
So Hina and Natsuo are officially a “thing” now. After the tacit admission of their shared feelings for one another this week, I wondered how the show would handle the characters taking the next step in their horribly ill-advised relationship, and they're pretty much diving headfirst into things. Hina succeeds in moving into her own apartment, and she leaves her brother a going-away present that makes her intentions for the future of their affair crystal clear.
Before all that, we spend some time with Rui, still reeling with the reality of Hina's move, who has an improbable and surprisingly inert encounter with Hina's ex Shuu, after he takes her to the diner to apologize for that earlier relationship drama. Given that the whole point of this scene is to get Shuu involved in Hina's love life again after his divorce, it's weird how flat and simple the exchange feels. It ends with Shuu reassuring Rui that Hina's motives in moving out aren't spiteful. Okay? I get that a melodrama sometimes needs to spend time setting up the pieces for future plot developments, but they should never feel this perfunctory.
Afterwards, Rui and Hina finally get to properly open up about their feelings, and it's a much better scene. Though the conversation still technically concerns Natsuo, this is one of the first times we've seen these girls open up to one another like sisters, which is much appreciated even if it doesn't mitigate how much it feels like Rui has been sidelined lately. It also better crystallizes how genuine Hina's feelings for Natsuo have become, which is good because once Natsuo and Rui help Hina make herself at home in her new apartment, we get two story beats that really cement how much Hina and Natsuo have committed to playing their game of taboo. The first sees Natsuo gently but firmly telling Rui that he's there to support her purely in a platonic, friendly, step-brotherly sort of way. This is opposed to the super-duper-sexual step-sisterly relationship Hina is now actively pursuing, because the envelope she leaves behind contains not a letter, but a key to her apartment. She wants Natsuo to know he can come over whenever he wants.
This is where Natsuo and Hina get together and indulge in their desires to flop around on top of each other, and I doubt you'll be shocked to know I have some big problems with this, but probably not for the reasons you're thinking—Hina is the one who calls herself a “failure as an adult and as a teacher” this week, which takes care of that part of the review for me. No, if anything, my biggest gripe with this entire scene is that it isn't nearly sexy enough. The art in general is weak all over this episode, but the stiff direction does the sloppy animation no favors—it isn't just awkward watching Natsuo and Hina fumble around her bed, it's boring.
I believe this anti-climax is at least partially intentional, and there's something to be said for having these characters' first real intimate encounter be such a letdown after so many weeks of buildup. The utter lack of chemistry between the two is impossible to deny, and whatever ironic flavor it might give the story is overwhelmed by how uninteresting it is to watch. The pair's lovey-dovey dialogue feels cheap and forced in a way that Domestic Girlfriend has managed to avoid up until now, even in its most ludicrous plot developments. When the episode ends with Hina and Natsuo sneaking a secret kiss in a wide-open school hallway, there's no sense of danger, or thrill, or any of the other emotions that are supposed to be carrying this kind of lurid, forbidden romance forward. All I can do is marvel at how these two could possibly be so stupid as to try and hash out their incredibly incestuous hang-ups in the middle of a school day. (It's not all bad, though. Good ol' Alex the American joins up with the literature club by the end of the episode! The Literature Club has barely factored into the plot at all, so I'd more or less forgotten about them entirely, but I'm always down for more Alex shenanigans.)
Look, we've only got a few weeks left to go in the season, so if Domestic Girlfriend is going to double down on the Natsuo/Hina pairing, then the show just needs to cut loose and go for it. Give Scum's Wish a run for its money and have these step-siblings get straight up weird with each other. That would be its own special brand of problematic, but it would put the “pleasure” back into a show that's supposed to be a “guilty pleasure”, at least.
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