Kageki Shoujo!! – 01 (First Impressions) – The Immovable Beanpole vs the Unmovable Idol

The apathetic, androphobic, recently canceled idol Narata Ai (Hanamori Numiri in top form) enrolls and is accepted into the exclusive Kouka School for Musical and Theatrical Arts, which is the training stable for the even more exclusive all-women’s Kouka Revue, a stand-in for the real-world Takarazuka Revue.

Her opening scene is a harrowing one, as she attempts to escape one pushy fawning fan only to nearly end up in the clutches of another. Considering she had to “graduate” from her idol group (an AKB48 stand-in) due to publicly calling a male fan “creepy”, the inherent unfairness of that industry has followed her to the outside.

Like Chihayafuru, Rakugo Shinjuu, 3-gatsu no Lion, and Snow White Notes, this is an anime about a very specific-to-Japan thing, which means we’re sure to get an education on the cutthroat world of elite all-women musical theater while reveling in the absolutely wonderful odd-couple pairing of Ai and Watanabe Sarasa, who is fleet, fearless, and five-foot-frikkin-ten. Ai’s quiet jadedness and practiced apathy pairs perfectly with her bold, loud skyscraper of a roomie.

The animators clearly have a lot of fun both with the size comparison and the confident ease with which Sarasa moves those impossibly long limbs. She simply moves differently from everyone else. We’ve yet to see what Sarasa can do on the stage, but it’s great to see how much chaos her huge frame and loud voice causes during ordinary life, as no bed—or hastily-built privacy curtain—can hold her.

Where the two women are similar, however, is that neither intends to play The Game of catty whispers, rumors, gossip, and bullying in which nearly all the other girls on their periphery seem to engage. Ai, because she’s trained herself not to care (though it’s clear she Idoes care); Sarasa because her head is literally in the clouds. Neither of them care what others think. In that regard, they’re two peas in a pod. They can, in theory, support one another in this hostile environment.

When a positively delightful JSDF captain drills the new students on moving in sync, he singles out both Ai and Sarasa. He tells Ai to improve her core and posture, as iodl “cutesiness” has no place in Kouka. As for Sarasa, he just reminds her to be mindful of her limbs, but is impressed when he shoves her back and she keeps her balance.

This in turn leads Sarasa to cheerfully challenge him to shove her again when she’s in a special stance that keeps her firmly grounded. It’s later revealed she used a stance taught by her grandfather, a former kabuki actor (lest we forget, there are no women in kabuki).

While she’s being a lot less aggressive about it, Sarasa is employing a similar stance with regards to Ai, insisting that as roomies they should be friends and support one another. It’s only fitting that Sarasa’s the only girl at school who doesn’t know about Ai’s dark idol past. But even if she did, I seriously doubt she’d turn on her!

Kageki Shoujo!! is off to a strong start, packed with colorful personalities and potential for some pretty cool musical and theatrical performances, which the first episode only hints at. Sarasa has also loudly proclaims she intends to be the school’s top star, and I dare anyone to try to move her from that position.

I’m totally psyched to watch the girl who won’t let herself be emotionally moved live and work with a girl who won’t let herself be physically moved unless she allows it. I imagine Ai will eventually thaw a bit in the searing sunshine of Sarasa’s personality. That stalker coming for Ai better watch out—he wants no part of that Watanabe Sequoia smoke!

Bokutachi no Remake – 01 (First Impressions) – To Be an Artist Is to Believe in Life

Bokutachi no Remake’s first episode is fifty minutes long, giving it a cinematic quality. While there’s no combat or explosions, there is a lot of heart and a lot of quiet, relaxing atmosphere. I was a little surprised we spent nearly half of the episode on protagonist Kyouya’s life in 2016, but in hindsight I’m glad we got as much as we did.

Kyouya comes to believe his life went wrong when he chose an economics school over an art school when he received acceptance letters from both. He burned out of his office job, went to work for a video company, but was soon laid off. While searching for work he happens upon Kawasegawa, who just so happens to be in dire need of Kyouya’s specific set of skills at SucceedSoft.

At first it seems Kyouya has found his dream job, but gradually politics from higher-up curdle that dream, and he has to take the express bus back to his parents’ house for the second time. That double whammy, combined with Kyouya’s laid back affability-turned disillusionment, helps us feel for him. I could also relate: I was laid off a job of eleven years due to Covid!

It’s here where the show stops teasing us with “will he/won’t he” travel back ten years every times he hits the hay. This time he wakes up in 2006, which he identifies from his sister’s middle school uni, his deep CRT TV, PS2 (all I had in ’06 too!), and flip phone. It doesn’t really matter how he ended up back to the day he got two acceptance letters—just that he chooses the art school this time.

He’s the first to arrive at the house he’ll be sharing with three other co-eds, and there’s a palpable excitement to spending his first night in his half-unpacked room. Things get quite a bit more exciting when, after a bizarre dream sequence, he wakes up to find a cute blue-haired girl dozing next to him. When this girl slips and falls into Kyouya’s crotch, his other two new roommates enter and get quite the first impression.

Fanservice and pratfalls aside, the blue-haired girl, Shino Aki, as well as Nanako and Tsurayuki, soon settle into an easy co-habitation and become friends. They’re even all in the same visual arts program. Kyouya soon learns that his former/future boss Kawasegawa also attended this college, but she gives him the cold shoulder.

Kyouya also learns just how few art school grads end up working in their desired fields (just eight out of over 130), but also just how little he believes his past ten years future experience will help him in this setting when he’s among so many talented people. Again, I can relate to Kyouya here, in that I was the best artist at my non-art high school but when I reached college there were plenty of people way better than me.

It was a little overwhelming, but I soon learned to see it not as being someone unable to shape up in an ultra-competitive field, but part of the education itself being meeting people who do what you do, either better or worse; learning from them, and them learning from you.

Of his roommates, Kyouya ends up spending most of his time with “Shinoaki”, and the two have a lovely cozy chemistry, to the point he can carry her home on his back when she nods off, but she doesn’t wig out when she wakes up. On the contrary, Aki insists Kyouya drop the act and tell her what’s bothering him, because she can sense something is.

He tells her, and she assures him that there’s plenty he can do at their school, just as there’s plenty the people he deems amazing can’t do. Even the amazing worry; probably especially so. It’s just a lovely and beautifully lit scene between the two that thankfully time doesn’t lead to any goofy romantic pratfalls, but instead to Kyouya discovering that Shino Aki is his favorite illustrator from his future. Learning this doesn’t discourage him, it inspires him.

If you find Bokutachi no Remake’s premise too familiar by half, do not be discouraged; unlike say Tokyo Revengers there’s no effort to explain the mechanics of the time travel, which works to the shows benefit. Suffice it to say, Kyouya gets a second chance, and he’s not going to squander it, and now he lives with some of the best creatives of his generation. They’ll all make each other better by making up for each other’s shortcomings.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kanojo mo Kanojo – 01 (First Impressions) – Good Faith Violation

Saki and Nagisa seem like nice people and are very cute, coming straight form the Quintessential Quintuplets school character design—not surprising as Tezuka Productions and director Kuwahara Satoshi helmed QQ’s first season. There’s another QQ connecting thread in a lad trying to juggle multiple relationships with very different personalities while also trying to figure out who he is.

The main problem is that our protagonist Naoya is a loud, unpleasant, incurable boob whose hollow-headedness and aw-shucks feigned righteousness aren’t nearly enough to excuse his conduct throughout this episode. Saki is clearly NOT into him dating someone else—Period! End of Story!—but he blows past her boundaries like a rom-com Tazmanian Devil, while also using the improbably keen and willing Nagisa as a cute prop.

In a just world, Saki and Nagisa would go off and be good friends together, leaving Naoya in punitive solitude to reflect on his many, many missteps. Instead the show seems primed to reward him again and again for his despicable behavior. We know from the jump that he mercilessly hassled Saki into agreeing to date him, as if the idea of “good old fashioned persistence” or “not taking no for an answer” were noble qualities in a young man.

To then present to Saki an almost comically ideal second girl he just met and corner her with the cruel ultimatum of “I’m either dating both of you or just her” just screams bad faith. Naoya can go on about being “upfront” and “honest” all he wants; bottom line is he’s a selfish jerk for putting Saki through everything he has. I just plain don’t like the guy, there’s no indication he’s going to become any more palatable. Even if he did, I’d resent the responsibility of nurturing his redemption foisted upon his girlfriends.

A anime that earnestly explores how three young people come to terms with their polyamory and navigate the difficult waters of that practice is an interesting, worthwhile concept. It doesn’t even have to take it super seriously! All I ask is that it approach that concept from a remotely informed angle, and not just freaking wing it. Or heck, at least be fair: have Nagisa or Saki present Naoya with a second boyfriend!

Instead, Girlfriend, Girlfriend, like its pushy MC, noisily demands we accept its non-negotiable, unreasonable, unbalanced, and above all disrespectful terms, for the sake of some kooky fun. I just don’t think I have the patience for it.