Domestic Girlfriend is a Surprisingly Thoughtful Sleazefest
by Andy Pfeiffer & Steve Jones,
Domestic Girlfriend takes a practically pornographic premise and turns it into high-stakes melodrama with some surprisingly meditative moments. This week, Andy and Steve separate the trash from the treasure within this controversial series.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.
Steve Well Andy, I was rummaging around for the next anime we could talk about, and I think I found the perfect selection.
One person's trash is another person's treasure! But sometimes it's also still trash. This is Domestic Girlfriend, and I kinda love it.
Don't get me wrong. This is trash. Absolute trash. And I don't hate it, because if you're gonna make trash then you'd better make it entertaining and man does this one manage. When you're halfway through the first episode and you've already hit "sleeping with a random girl to get over your crush on your teacher only for your single dad to suddenly remarry and the lady's daughters are both your teacher and the girl you had sex with", you can carry that whiplash pretty far. And Domestic Girlfriend makes sure to throw more and more soap opera drama into the mix so that the rollercoaster never slows down too much.
It's legit one of the shows I look forward to most each week. There's a lot to be said about the way it takes a premise that sounds like the plot to a hentai and turns it into something compelling. I also appreciate how matter-of-fact it is about its skeeviness.
Literally the 7th shot of the first episode is of a used condom in a garbage can. That's a statement.
It knows what it's about, and the direction is pretty damn solid for that. I'm definitely more forgiving of the leery shots when they're from the perspective of our horny milquetoast protagonist, but the camera tends to linger whether it's supposed to be his view or not. That's just to say that providing excuses for leery shots doesn't make them not leery.
I think it's interesting how it walks that line! It engages in a lot of the standard horny anime gaze, but it also has these moments where it blazes right past the kind of juvenile titillation you'd expect and instead engages with sex in a frank and fairly mature way.
Like, it's pretty great that this is Rui's reaction to losing her virginity.
I gotta applaud the show for that starting point. So many of these extreme melodramatic stories spend their entire focus on "when will they fuck" as a rite of passage, and this throws it out the window immediately. Both Natsuo and Rui see themselves as more emotionally mature than their peers and feel talked down to by the adults (specifically Hina) around them, so they try to force their way past that by having sex, only to discover that they're still the same people they were before. Honestly, the introduction of the pseudo-incest feels kinda cheap when the emotional drama was already there right away.
I mean, at the end of the day, it is still trash. The show seems to understand that it's fundamentally a soap opera, and it's not shy about throwing its characters into absurd situations so they can be messy and make bad decisions. However, it also treats its characters like people by giving them lives and personalities outside of the drama, and that three-dimensional treatment is a big part of why the show works for me so well.
The moment that made me fall in love with Domestic Girlfriend was Natsuo trying to help Rui learn how to have a conversation like a normal person, and instead ending up with an impromptu comedy routine in front of the entire class (which mercifully ends up endearing everyone to Rui anyway).
It's outlandish in a mundane way where no one questions the absurdity of their situation, and it advances everyone quickly along the track. Rui gets a little more open, Natsuo continues to be whatever is demanded at any moment—that's actually my main complaint with the show. There is an attempt at three dimensional characterization, but it's mostly just being self-aware and self-indulgent about its two-dimensional tropes. Rui is blunt and shy. Hina is a slob outside of teaching. Natuso is whatever the situation needs from him.
Honestly he's at his best when doing skits, like the one with his friend Fumiyo.
I mostly appreciate those reminders that, despite their expanding web of sexual misadventures, we're still dealing with a bunch of dorks. Hina needs to pull herself together and set some boundaries though, holy shit.
Yeah, I can't see how this line could backfire...
Oh my god, can you imagine the deluge of r/relationships posts that this show would necessitate? That would be untenable.
I'm not above believing that Fumiyo has all of this queued up on his livejournal. I fucking love when we're treated to how he views himself after all the posturing relationship advice he's given.
He and the rest of the employees at that cafe are basically the audience stand-ins. At least, I'm right there with them lapping up this delicious bullshit.
Marie immediately trying to monetize their family drama is another highlight of the season.
I guess we should get to the actual plot of this first arc. Hina is having an affair with her married college TA, because this is Domestic Girlfriend, and teacher-student relationships are all the rage. Hina's insistence that children such as Natsuo and Rui have no business in her relationship is what pushed them to hook up in the first place.
So now they've created a super-sleuth team determined to take Hina's new man down!
Orrrrrr they could just watch her get plastered.
I really don't appreciate being called out like this.
And when their crack detective skills don't cut the mustard, they hijack her phone while she's in the bath so Rui can pretend to be her sister and break up with the dude. Have I mentioned how much I love this show?
It's honestly damn good, because the dude does totally suck when we eventually meet him, but this is still bumbling children getting in the way of adult affairs. Hina is clearly a mess both in the life she shares with her family and the life she keeps to herself, but she's portrayed as a good teacher and helpful mentor despite that.
Her response to Natsuo's inappropriate approach is powerful and does a good job of pushing him back.
The crux of this arc is that being an adult doesn't mean you suddenly have all the answers. Hina is still a mess in a shitty relationship that she can't extricate herself from, so Natsuo's naive sense of heroism just frustrates her even more. She even flips his sexual pressure around on him instead, and it's a scary and uncomfortable scene to watch.
She immediately regrets it, but it just goes to show that Domestic Girlfriend can also get serious sometimes.
Also, I need to point out that Natsuo initiates this whole sequence with the tact and delicacy of a Howitzer.
Natsuo tries to force the way he wants things to go, and he thinks he's getting his way only to be met with the truth that he's out of his depth, and the Hina he's built up in his mind isn't the real person in front of him.
This doesn't make what Hina did right, but she's at least aware of the ramifications of her actions afterward. Meanwhile, Natsuo literally runs away from home.
These are deeply flawed people making mistakes, but in the hands of the right storyteller, that can make for compelling fiction. While Natsuo does lean too heavily on the standard everyman protagonist thing, I like that this refutation of his attempt at heroism makes the resolution of this arc come equally from both his and Rui's efforts, plus Hina's realization that she cares for her siblings more than her boyfriend.
Incidentally, the ending of this episode is a perfect encapsulation of Domestic Girlfriend, where a touching reunion in front of the protagonist's mother's grave is followed by this episode preview image.
That boyfriend did super-suck. He purposely baits the kids into a reaction to make himself look superior, negs his girlfriend then plays the "just a joke" card, and as she worries if the kids are gonna be alright, he goes straight for the manipulative.
Yeah, there's a deliberate delineation between the flawed but empathetic main characters and this jerkwad.
I expect that we have not seen the last of him. I also want to say that the OP is better than this show deserves.
The OP is SO GOOD. Anyhow, with Hina's stuff resolved (for now), this week's episode finds new and exciting ways to ramp up the drama.
Thank you for reminding me of the literal worst part of the show.
From what I hear, the manga version of this scene is even worse, so be thankful!
I mean we all know who this was for.
It's so funny how he keeps freaking out about this shit while Rui's like "y'know we've fucked already right?"
To be fair, he's probably living in fear of this face.
Extremely fair. This episode also introduces Momo, who's the only person qualified to be dating Rui thus far, let's be real.
She even makes a Rui for Rui!
The resemblance is uncanny.
Now you might be wondering what dynamic Momo brings to the table in this story. I preface this by saying I think the show is walking on some damn thin ice with this character I like, because melodrama of this type has a thing for glossing over issues or easily resolving them.
I was fairly impressed with how the episode handled Momo. It digs into the awful attitudes people have about women with more than whatever number of sexual partners is nebulously acceptable, while pushing back by giving Momo some depth underneath her superficially airheaded personality. It also digs into the ways people use relationships and sex as coping mechanisms.
I like how, when Natsuo is about to have sex with Momo, the focus is less on the sex and more on their ulterior motives. Natsuo's trying to forget about Hina, and Momo's trying not to feel alone. It's messy, complicated, and human.
Momo initially falls for how Natsuo treats Rui, only for him to turn around and treat her like all the other guys have.
It takes until the last moment when he sees the cost of that thinking to change his mind and actually treat her as a person.
This is where my eyebrows raise over how the show wants to handle this. Adultery and power dynamics are common fare for melodrama, but I don't want this show to gloss over Momo's issues. She's an incredibly lonely serial dater who always tries to have the best intentions and ends up used and ostracized, which has had severe repercussions on her.
Time will tell whether or not they delve into this deeper, and if they do I hope it's with sensitivity, but for the time being, I'm glad this episode makes an unequivocal point of not stigmatizing her for her promiscuity or her scars. And I'm an absolute sucker for people sharing small but powerful moments of kindness via meals.
Also, big golf clap for Natsuo's realization that maybe some relationships should be forged independent of one's libido.
We'll see how well that lesson sticks. But maybe we should keep this off the menu for now.
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