by Mercedez Clewis,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Kageki Shoujo!! ?
Content warning: this review (and episode) contains discussion of eating disorders.
Episode 4, “Tears Overwritten,” picks up immediately after the emotionally-charged events of episode 3 with Sarasa and Ai's confrontation with the otaku Ai previously called a creep. Only…he's here to apologize to Ai, which is a bitter pill to swallow considering her previous and unresolved trauma surrounding her mother's sexually abusive boyfriend. Yet Kageki Shojo!! leaves room for this to develop into an earnest apology from Ai's would-be stalker, and while it's not a perfect resolution to someone stalking a high school student, it does give room for context in a way that feels less “two sides to every story” and more “I made a mistake, here's why, and here's what I'm trying to do to actually take strides to not letting it happen again,” which I commend Kageki Shojo!! for.
It's not often that you see such a candid exploration of abuse in anime, and it's even rarer to see someone actually have to pay penance of sorts for being a problem. And like I said, it's definitely not perfect: Ai is still living with her trauma, which Mr. Stalker Otaku still triggered, and he ultimately can't undo stalking her even if it was for an apology, and there's a ways to go before Ai is able to reconcile with her own past and ongoing trauma. Yet you leave the front half of episode 4 feeling like this was a step forward of sorts, and that ultimately…Ai will find a way to move on. Like I said: it's not perfect, but it does hold Mr. Stalker Otaku accountable while offering a way forward for all parties involved.
Yet that's not what impacted me the most during my watch of episode 4. It was another character: Ayako Yamada, an unassuming teenager rocking a bob and blunt-cut bangs. It's here that I'm going to offer some trigger warnings for this episode, especially for eating disorders (primarily, bulimia) and dieting/diet culture. This is, of course, directly in reference to who takes center stage later in the episode. We've seen her plenty of times, and it's unfortunately been in the context of her being “too fat,” which is shocking since the poor girl can't be more than 55 kg (about 122 pounds) soaking wet. And even if she was double or triple that, that wouldn't necessarily be a hindrance to her ability to be an artist and performer: there are plenty of IRL fat performers who are masters of their craft. In fact, I kind of bemoan the fact that Ayako isn't allowed to have a body that can be a tool while also…being a bit chubbier. But fatphobia is alive and well in Japan (even in its fiction) and so it seeps into Kouka, which presents the most traditionally beautiful bodies it possibly can as part of the aesthetic of the theatrical performance.
Unfortunately, Ayako, and her body as a whole, are cruelly judged and pushed toward disordered eating, which saps her strength. At the end, we see her lift her head from a toilet after purging, and it hurts so, so much. She looks wan, pale as a sheet, and her eyes are glazed over. It's wrecking havoc on her, and we've only seen the beginnings of that. I expect that we'll get more into the weeds with her ED and probably will reach some sort of resolution next week. Whether or not it will be satisfying is hard to say. I know how I felt about the manga's handling of it, and assume that I'll have similar feelings here as well. But more on that when the anime gets there.
A lot of plot is squeezed into this episode of Kageki Shojo!!. As well, there is a lot of setup for the next episode and the next bit of character growth. While a bit fast-paced, things fit together like puzzle pieces, offering resolution to Ai's plot—and Mr. Stalker's own sub-plot—while preparing viewers for Ayako's character growth and hopefully her eventual resolution. We even get to finally see Ai and Sarasa as true friends, bonded together through an earnest act of kindness and understanding on Sarasa's behalf. It's a truly sweet moment, and really endeared me to Ai, a character that I already liked, but now love as an equal deuteragonist.
I'm definitely still here for the show: between the drama are real-world topics being dealt with in a much more straightforward manner. There's no drama when it comes to stalking, trauma, or disordered eating: instead, Kageki Shojo!! presents them in a very grounded way, stripping back to the softly harsh world of Kouka Academy to just…deal with the hurt. I deeply respect the show—and the source material—for doing that, which is a large part of why I'm still very into this series. Ultimately, I expect great things from Kageki Shojo!!, especially next week: I truly mean it when I say that I'm quite excited to continue reviewing this show through every emotional beat.
Mercedez is a JP-EN localization editor & proofreader/QA, pop culture critic, and a journalist who also writes for Anime Feminist, where she's a staff editor, and But Why Tho?. She's also a frequent guest on the AniFem Podcast, Chatty AF. When she's not writing, you can find her on her Twitter or on her Instagram where she's always up to something.
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