Domestic Girlfriend
Episodes 1-2

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Domestic Girlfriend ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Domestic Girlfriend ?

Domestic Girlfriend gave us a a decent premiere episode that does nothing if not establish the foundations of its delightfully salacious melodrama: Natsuo Fuji is a high schooler who's crushing on his teacher Hina, and he also just lost his virginity to a complete stranger he met at a mixer, a stoic young woman named Rui. One day his widower father announces that he has suddenly found a new woman to make his wife, and surprise surprise, her two daughters just so happen to be Hina and Rui. Now everyone is going to be living together under one roof.

“By Any Chance, Did We Do It?” picks up exactly where the first episode left off, with our love-struck protagonist trying to steal a kiss from the sleeping Hina, just as Rui walks in to catch her new step-brother about to lock lips with her unconscious sister. It's certainly not the best way Natsuo could go about establishing new sibling dynamics, and the rest of the episode does a surprisingly good job of exploring Natsuo's deeply confused feelings about having two new sisters, one who he desperately wants to sleep with and one being the only person he's actually had sex with.

To Domestic Girlfriend's credit, it's clear that Natsuo recognizes it was a bad move to even consider taking advantage of Hina's drunken state – there's a sad tendency for such antics to be brushed off as “boys will be boys” behavior, but it's definitely a crime to kiss a woman who can't consent. Natsuo didn't follow through on his temptation and while I don't doubt he would have if Rui hadn't interrupted, he does seem to possess enough self-reflection to still be sympathetic, for now at least.

It helps that Natsuo has an earnest chemistry with Rui, who is easily the show's best character. She's presented as the typically gruff and socially awkward love interest, but not in the way that feels unrelatable or fetishistic. The best scene in both episodes occurs when Natsuo is trying to establish a better friendship with Rui now that she's transferred to his school, and he realizes that she's oblivious enough to social cues that it's impacting her ability to make friends. He and Rui end up engaging in adorable banter that's so perfectly anime that the other kids in the class think they're improvising some kind of comedy skit, which endears the other students to Rui's eccentric charm. Natsuo's satisfied smile afterward demonstrates that he truly wants to be a good brother to Rui, making him more compelling as a protagonist.

The conversation that Rui and Natsuo share later in the washroom is another example of how Domestic Girlfriend is shockingly good at taking this incredibly dumb premise seriously. Yeah, it's a little too easy for Rui to just be cool with chatting Natsuo up while she's taking a bath, but it makes more sense now that it's clear she isn't just writing Natsuo off. Just like him, she's trying to figure out how she feels about their tryst; both of them are now testing out their boundaries as siblings, while reckoning not only with the knowledge that they've slept together before, but with the unspoken understanding that it could easily happen again. Is this in any way appropriate, realistic, or healthy? Hell no, but I don't think that's what Domestic Girlfriend's target audience is looking for.

Then there's Hina, who presents the biggest hurdle Domestic Girlfriend has to overcome. While Natsuo probably shouldn't be lusting after his new sisters in general, he definitely shouldn't be trying to get with his adult step-sister/teacher, especially since her current boyfriend troubles seem to have put her in a fragile emotional state. Also, while Hina's casual attitude toward Natsuo is well-intentioned, it's also dangerously unprofessional – yeah, he's her brother now, but she's still the adult in the relationship, and she remains responsible for making the right choices when the teenagers around her cannot. At one point, Hina flat-out admits that she tends to get inappropriately intimate when she drinks; it's apparently so common that she immediately assumes she's the one who might have kissed Natsuo, and it doesn't even seem to bother her much.

To be fair to Domestic Girlfriend, the show seems to be painting these qualities as character flaws, but I'm also not naïve enough to think that this romantic melodrama won't involve Hina and Natsuo getting much closer, and that's going to be a much tougher sell than his relationship with Rui. It's one thing for a taboo romance to be shared between two confused teenagers who had a sexual relationship prior to becoming step-siblings. If Hina somehow ends up crossing that line with Natsuo, then we're factoring in additional layers of minor abuse and manipulation that will make her extremely unsympathetic. We'll just have to see where the show goes from here.

My reservations about Hina aside, I was pleasantly surprised by Domestic Girlfriend's first two episodes. The animation and direction is a little flat, but the script is more compelling than expected, and I'm becoming invested in seeing all of the doubtlessly terrible decisions our three leads will make over the course of the season. I'm sure I'll disapprove of nearly everything that happens within this dysfunctional family unit, but that doesn't mean we can't also have fun with it.

Rating: B-

Domestic Girlfriend is currently streaming on HIDIVE.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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