Fuelling Fiction Through Pain

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Domestic Girlfriend Episode 12

The secret is out and Hina takes it all upon herself (which as the adult in the relationship and the supervising teacher that quite clearly acted in a way contrary to her position it makes sense that she does this). In order to avoid the scandal becoming public, Hina accepts a transfer of position (why she isn’t fired is a question I guess we’ll never understand) and then she vanished from Natsuo, Rui and the rest of the family (though she does send her mother a text). Domestic Girlfriend has been big on these extreme reactions to emotions rather than more measured responses but to be honest at this point this was actually a fairly low-key way to handle the situation.

Hina - Domestic Girlfriend Episode 12

All of which is better than Natsuo’s approach which is to literally hide in his room. I’m going to give full credit to the support cast of Domestic Girlfriend in this instance for not putting up with that. The support they give Natsuo in this episode is phenomenal and Natsuo really hasn’t appreciated Rui enough given everything she’s done for him (of course, her throwing herself at him in the end is all kinds of weird but more or less expected from this story at this point).

Rui - Domestic Girlfriend Episode 12

After being encouraged, shouted at, and dragged to a bath house, Natsuo turns to writing to help deal with his emotions. While at first he ignores the food and other supports Rui brings him, in time it is almost as though the writing provides a release for him and he returns to the world around him.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 12

Of course, this being the kind of story it is, it isn’t just a personal writing venture. he gives the draft to his teacher who is a writer who just happens to decide to pass it on and the next thing you know Natsuo is winning an award.

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There’s something very unbalanced about Domestic Girlfriend in that some moments are really grounded and touching and then it does things that makes you wonder just what planet these characters are living on. It always takes things just that little bit too far and pushes them past the ability to suspend disbelief.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 12

That said, for an anime that has been borderline trashy since the beginning, is well outside my usual preferred viewing genres, and is generally full of characters that aren’t all that likeable, there’s been something kind of great about watching this. It is going to make for an interesting review and I’m kind of looking forward to writing it.

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Karandi James
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Foolish Hearts and Foolish Choices

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Domestic Girlfriend Episode 11 Review

The drama continues in Domestic Girlfriend but as each of these characters insists on making fairly short sighted decisions I’m more at the point of just kind of watching to see what wrong turn they take next. Rui, for her part actually gets out of this episode fairly unscathed making a number of reasonably sensible choices. The biggest one being to simply push Natsuo away from her thoughts and not hold a grudge against her sister. That could have gotten ugly and certainly would have strained the family relations and so Rui is actually acting the most sensible of any of these characters right at this point.

Rui - Domestic Girlfriend - Episode 11

Unfortunately, Rui being reasonably sensible doesn’t help Natsuo and Hina who are apparently just born to be stupid in love.

Still, before I tear Natsuo down too much, he did do one smart thing this episode (which if I said he’s stupid in love but not actually stupid). Shaken when Rui wins an honourable mention in the writing contest, Natsuo decides he needs to start taking writing seriously if he ever is going to pursue a career as a writer. Fortunately he’s more than determined enough and actually willing to work for it, so the progress made on this front is actually kind of pleasing to see this episode.

Advisor - Domestic Girlfriend - Episode 11

While I still find the adviser guy a little creepy and honestly hard to get a character reading on given he seems to fluctuate in whatever mode they need for the scene, his offering Natsuo advice is actually kind of nice to see and you could actually see these two developing a nice mentor/student relationship. Assuming of course he doesn’t flick back into creepy mode.

Natsuo and Hina - Domestic Girlfriend - Episode 11

However, Hina and Natsuo together are a terrible idea because they both just stop thinking. On a school trip, Hina invites Natsuo to her room to talk. There’s a whole lot of stupid just in that decision. Then Natsuo declares he wants to get more serious with her at the same time that she says they should break up. She then outlines some fairly clear and logical reasons why they should and he just rejects them out of hand. Why worry about reality when you have true love on the table, I guess is the reasoning but it just sounds so dumb. And she accepts it.

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Next thing they are making out and discussing when they fell in love and he even reveals he saw her masturbating that one time… This is while they are on a school trip and she is there in the capacity of the supervising teacher.

But it is all sunshine and roses because he asked her to marry him one day. It really is just a disaster you can’t look away from.

Natsuo and Hina fireworks - Domestic Girlfriend - Episode 11

By the time the end of the episode rolled around you’re just waiting for it and when Hina is called to see the head-teacher you more or less know what’s about to happen. Of course they end it there and I know I’ll watch it next week anyway because this is some great pop-corn worthy melodrama. It’s just terrible and yet unmissable all at once and the only question left is what stupid choices will they make next week?

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Natsuo, If You’re Going To Lie, Cover Your Tracks

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Domestic Girlfriend Episode 10 Review

Getting caught in a lie seems to be a theme this episode. First we have the literature club adviser away ‘sick’ for multiple days prompting his oh-so-concerned-students to go visit him at his home. Turns out he’s not sick. He’s actually an author, one that Natsuo is a fan of, and he’s just behind on his deadlines. He openly tells his students this while puffing on a cigarette and blatantly says he hasn’t told the school that he’s working on the side.

Um…

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 10
Model Teacher

Are any of the teachers at this school actually going to have any kind of moral or ethical standard?

However, that isn’t really a drama. It is more just foreshadowing lies coming apart which Natsuo, being a wannabe writer, should have paid more attention to given he’s been lying to Rui about where he’s been going for dinner and it is going to bite him.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 10 Natsuo fall down stairs

The next day at school he’s teasing the girl who like the literature teacher a little bit and she elbows him in the ribs, at the top of a staircase, sending him flying in a way that defies any kind of physics unless Natsuo actually launched himself backwards at the same time as she elbowed him, but let’s ignore that part of the story for now. After falling down the stairs he breaks his leg and so begins Rui in care-taker mode.

Do we even need to discuss how breaking a leg doesn’t prevent his hands or brain from working so why he really doesn’t need his step-sister to share a bath with him? This story has gone for a lot of contrivances in order to create drama and fairly uncomfortable situations like the one we get where Rui is reaching for the soap in the dark bathroom (yeah, you can see where they go with that already). While usually these aren’t too intrusive, the way they blow a broken leg out of proportion here is insane.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 10 Rui
Pouting Rui is still pretty cute.

Yet, despite how many things he apparently can’t do on his own in this scene because of a broken leg, later on his father apparently has no issue with his son going out in the rain and one crutch to find a missing step-sister.

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Anyway, Rui ends up at the cafe and finds out that Natsuo hasn’t been going to his friend’s place and so calls Natsuo on it, and he lies again. Not only that, at the next opportunity he lies to Rui again saying he’s going to apologise to his friend and off he goes to Hina’s house, where Rui later finds him having confirmed he isn’t at his friends house.

So, drama.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 10

Despite how idiotic the plot is here and how overblown everything is, I can’t say I actually dislike it. Outside of the bathroom scene, I actually quite enjoyed watching the train wreck that is Natsuo’s life right at the moment. Still, wondering how exactly this one will wrap up.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 10 Anime Maids
Also, random maid montage at the beginning as part of the school festival because why not?

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Making Choices and Hearing Truths

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Domestic Girlfriend Episode 8 Review

For some reason, this week Domestic Girlfriend has added in a new character. A male student at Natsuo’s school who has returned from overseas and intersperses English amongst his fairly over the top dialogue. Not sure what his purpose going forward is but he didn’t serve much purpose in this episode other than to kill some time before Natsuo spotted a rumoured underwear thief and the two of them chased him down.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 8

Then again, he did manage to make a reason for Rui to get annoyed at Natsuo. Alex asked Natsuo to set him up with Rui and when Natsuo tentatively started trying to get Rui to meet him she slammed a knife down on the counter and stormed out of the room. See, communication is a wonderful thing.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 8
Awkward

Anyway, that then allows Natsuo to take food to her room which leads to them making out before being caught by Hina.

And all of this drama is simply leading to Natsuo finally having an actual conversation with Hina at the festival they go to, after Hina announces she’s moving out on her own, and the two of them more or less admit they like each other. You know, the whole teacher/student sister/brother thing aside. I love how they didn’t even try to address those issues but we get a hand holding scene at the end so I guess we’re supposed to think its all sweet.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 8

I’m just waiting for Rui to lose it.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 9 Review

Unexpectedly, this episode begins with Rui running into Hina’s former flame and the two end up at the cafe, accompanied by the literature club adviser. I keep wondering what ethics or code teachers in Japan are supposed to be following because anime does not do a great job of showing much of a line between teachers and students.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 9

Keeping going with that same kind of idea we have Hina leaving Natsuo a key to her new place. After a hard day of moving, Natsuo returns and the two have a bit of a kissing session before Hina puts the breaks on the whole thing. It seems really weird that she’s accepted that she is going to be involved in a relationship that is questionable from a number of points of view but she doesn’t seem to want to dive in.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 9

Not sure that kissing a student at school is a particularly good move mind you if the idea is to keep the breaks on the relationship.

Anyway, Alex joins the literature club so apparently his character is going to keep hanging around. I still don’t get the point of his character mind you but there he is.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 9
This however sounded and looked delicious.

I will admit I was a little underwhelmed by the developments here and while that is kind of to be expected given this has always been a melodrama, previously I was a lot more caught up in what each of these characters were doing. Now it is kind of going through the motions as we set up for the next train wreck.

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Domestic Dramas and More Mundane High School Problems

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Domestic Girlfriend Episode 7 Review

It feels like this anime put the accelerating drama on hold and decided just to let all the characters ruminate on the current status quo. The end result is a far more satisfying mix of interactions between the characters even if this means a deeper dive into the potential of a relationship between the main three. However, the possible relationship between Hina and Natsuo is problematic as it is, and worse is Natsuo potentially starting a relationship with Rui in order to prove Hina wrong. All and all, this episode just kind of nailed the tension inherent in the situation, added just enough drama to make it entertaining, a bit of sex just because that sells, and mixed it all into what was an overall slow moving but enjoyable watch.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 7 Hina

I will admit, I had some real tension early in the episode when Hina began leading Natsuo into the ocean. I’m not the biggest fan of drowning scenarios having a lot of anxiety around water and I wasn’t really sure where they were taking that scene. Fortunately they aborted the situation, though I’d really like to know how Hina assumes that double suicide is the appropriate response to the confession of a student/step-brother.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 7 - Hina and Natsuo head out to see

I did however like that relationship drama, while present throughout the episode, wasn’t the only thing going on. The Literature club that they joined is looking toward its publication for the school festival and there are exams to study for. Life goes on even while these emotional hits just keep coming.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 7 Natsuo under the covers

That said, finding a happy ending here may not be possible given Hina is clearly still in love with Shuu (who, it turns out was her teacher when she was in high school – this anime loves its coincidences), Natsuo is in love with Hina though he’s trying not to be, Rui is clearly jealous of everyone who gets close to Natsuo and is pressing her advantage at home, and all and all this just seems like heartbreak is right around the corner for more or less everyone involved. At least the parents seems happily married though after actually having a presence earlier in the anime they’ve since slipped into the role of missing anime parents, though the mum did make a brief cameo in this episode.

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Good Intentions; Questionable Activities: How Will This End?

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Domestic Girlfriend Episode 4 Review

Rui and Natsuo returned to the house in episode 3 with a plan. This week we see that while they are solid on the goal of the plan the execution needs a little work. While we get some adorable moments with the duo as they sneak about after Hina and try to figure out her schedule, in terms of actually achieving anything I have to say they fall pretty flat.

Which is when they take a more direct course of action and go from polite family meddling (if that is even a thing when you are stalking your older sister) to full on invasion of privacy as Rui steals Hina’s phone while she’s in the bathroom. They then try to call the cheating guy and have Rui break up with him but Rui’s just not up to the task and pretty much stammers and hangs up. Again, cute moment for Rui and Natsuo together but still not much forward progress on the grand plan.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 4 Rui and Natsuo

It does mean that we see Natsuo point out that it isn’t Rui’s fault and that he never should have asked the impossible of her in the first place while they lament about their failure at the cafe. This is when our old friend coincidence kicks in again and Hina and Shuu, the cheating guy, enter the cafe. Normally this kind of thing would annoy me but from this story that has been heavily reliant on coincidence from the get-go to keep the drama moving it was more or less expected and the timing was pretty well done.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 4 Everyone in the cafe - Awkward

I also like that they guy didn’t just give up because Natsuo and Rui insisted he break up with Hina. Like many people who are cheating, he actually had seemed to convince himself that he wasn’t in the wrong and that it just wasn’t possible ‘yet’ to do the right thing. While Hina continued to suck up his lines Rui lost her cool and flung her water in his face before bolting with Natsuo hot on her heels.

Domestic Girlfriend Episode 4 Rui and Natsuo

This actually led to something I really did like about this whole situation. At this point, Hina is the one with the final choice. The guy is still trying to feed her lines and clearly is happy to continue their relationship as is, so Hina is able to maintain the status quo. However, she can also choose to finally end things. While the last couple of episodes have done a good job of painting Hina as a little bit pathetic, it was nice to see her have the final agency in this little arc before it was concluded with a saccharine sweet family moment at the end of the episode.

So, in case you are wondering, I’m still loving the drama and still think this show goes very well with popcorn.

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A Comparison of the Portrayal of Bullying in Anime

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I’ve really come to hate the word bullying. It isn’t just that acts described as bullying are morally repugnant, it is more that the term gets thrown around to cover everything from excluding someone, minor pranks, staring at them, talking behind their back, openly harassing them, directly sabotaging their person, profession or possessions, to full on violence and acts that most definitely should be classified as criminal assault and never be given the cop out title of ‘bullying’. Bullying has become a catch all phrase to cover all those things we dislike about societal living where we realise that while humans do like to herd together we don’t really like to herd with everyone and while teaching tolerance and acceptance are lovely ideals the evidence strongly suggests they haven’t gone that far in reversing this culture. It has also become the excuse as people try to excuse these vicious and horrendous acts as misguided rather than malicious.

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 31

But that’s all just my personal view on bullying and it is one of those major social issues that most societies need to take a long hard look at the causes and why on earth we allow people to get away with it and tolerate it as ‘a part of growing up’ or part of ‘workplace culture’. And that’s not really within my blog’s scope so instead I want to look at how bullying has been portrayed in anime.

This kind of got inspired by a recent episode of The Master of Ragnarok, of all things, as in this very ancient world our out of time protagonist has decided to develop a school system to educate his population and build skills for the next generation. Such an admirable goal and yet from opening we instantly have a situation where a slave girl is being excluded by the other girls in the class. The reason: the patriarch of the clan, our protagonist himself, took her to school on the first day and dared to pay attention to her. I mean, how dare he. Such an unforgivable act being taken to school by someone who cares about you.

The Master of Ragnarok Episode 8

This episode moved me to title the episode review Create School, Create School Bullying and I realised after writing the episode review how I genuinely believe that these days bullying is ingrained in pretty much every institution despite decades of anti-bullying policies and ‘education’. There are a huge number of societal factors at work that drive this but anyone who has been to a school or workplace knows full well that bullying, in one form or another is prevalent there.

Then I started thinking about how this episode portrayed bullying. Effie, the slave girl, has so far been portrayed as a victim. At no point has she been seen in any other light. We met her when Yuuto, our wonderfully kind protagonist, came across Effie and her mother in the market place being sold as slaves. While creating sweeping social reform like universal education is easily enough done off-screen in the space of an episode, apparently ending institutional slavery isn’t and so rather than address the issue of the people suffering, he buys them and gives them jobs at the palace. At least I assume that’s where the mother is working because we never see her again.

Instead we see Effie getting dragged into the harem even though she does not fit there. They dragged her to the hot springs which sounds nice but then she was subjected to watching all the other girls flaunt their superior relationship with their ‘father’ while she was isolated and fairly uncomfortable with the situation. While she’s invited to eat with them, it is only after she’s delivered the food and after Yuuto has personally requested it. Effie remains on the outside of this harem at every turn separated by a class divide that no amount of ‘kindness’ is going to bridge.

The Master of Ragnarok Episode 8

So by the time we see Effie feeling pretty miserable about being ignored at school we as an audience already have it in our heads that Effie is a victim. And while at first I thought she was being ignored because of her class, it turned out she was being ignored because of Yuuto’s attention and petty jealousy, which was just as bad really. By the time a third party intervened, Albertina, it was obvious that Effie was not going to take any action to resolve the situation, that the other students were happily observing a status quo they themselves had assisted in creating, and the teacher never even got screen time so who knows if they were even aware of the situation.

While it might seem cathartic that in this case Effie’s bullying issue is resolved, this representation of bullying is all kinds of problematic. It almost trivialises the problem. My main issue with it includes the fact that the victim is seen as utterly blameless but without agency. Effie did nothing to deserve being picked on, did not retaliate in any way or do anything to draw attention to herself.  She doesn’t even report the situation or mention being upset and it is only through Yuuto’s super sensitivity that anyone realises something is wrong.

But I also take issue with the very quick and easy resolution Albertina comes up with and how easily she reverses the situation. More importantly, solving one case of bullying through isolation by creating another doesn’t seem like much of an improvement. Maybe there will be some in the audience thinking ‘serve you right’ as the bully gets a taste of being ignored but switching the target from one character we like (or at least are supposed to) to another character isn’t really solving the problem so much as sweeping it under the rug. Then of course Effie does the sickly sweet thing and reaches out her hand to the former bully bringing her back into the group. Effie has just been victimised and hasn’t solved the problem on her own but has had someone else intervene on her behalf. There is no way she’s in a state to reach out to someone else.

Emotionally it just smacks of a desire for the show to finish off with this side show and move on. Which made me wonder why even address the issue at all – only that is all too easy to understand. Bullying is a universal and in Japan particularly it is something that is understood by pretty much anyone. If you ever want your isekai, military, harem story to ‘relate’ to your audience, throwing in a bullying subplot is one way to do it. Does it give this dire social issue the development it probably deserves? No. But it isn’t the main point of the story. So maybe this shallow dive approach is fine, only I just found it a little annoying.

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 27

I couldn’t help when watching this to compare it to Hina’s arc in March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 from the beginning of the year. While watching that arc I felt it was such a great representation of bullying, and I still believe it is one of the best anime bullying arcs I’ve ever seen. There Hina is given agency as she actively takes steps to minimise the damage to first her friend and then herself. She eventually reaches out for help and while others certainly do play a part, Hina continues to have to stand on her own and fight (not physically).

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 34

We also see a teacher who has been destroyed by the weight of so many instances of bullying where there are no simple solutions that she ultimately has a full emotional collapse, and then we get the comparison to two other teachers. One takes over the class but has experience and a level head and addresses the problem head on. Even then it doesn’t instantly mend the damage but his actions create a space where the students can start to turn things around and at least he holds people accountable for their actions. The other is Rei’s teacher who listens to Rei as he vents about Hina’s situation and outlines the complexities even while feeling frustrated that there is little that he can practically do for either Rei or Hina. I do slightly object to the fact that the female teacher is portrayed as emotionally fragile and breaks under the pressure becoming hysterical where the two male teachers are more level headed about it, though realistically with only three teachers in play it is just nice that there was a mix of approaches to the issue and each one felt real in its own way. As in the audience might remember the teacher who was like A, B or C.

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 35

Bullying in March Comes in Like a Lion is treated with a great deal of respect and the ripples created by it in Hina’s life are observed as every character connected to her is impacted in some way by her situation. This arc is given an enormous amount of screen time and at times you could almost forget that this is Rei’s story as Hina and this situation takes centre stage, but it allows the situation to really be brought to life.

However, on reflection, I have to say that at least at the beginning Hina has the same issue Effie does. Hina is portrayed as the girl who did nothing wrong and just became the target. At all points throughout the arc Hina’s innocence and the unfairness of her situation are made clear to the audience. Where Hina becomes more palatable as a character is that she is given agency (even becoming the victim was a result of her standing up for another student) and that she doesn’t quietly accept it. She gets angry and she gets upset, even if she tries to hold those emotions in there are times when they explode.

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 36

Honestly, I’d love to see more series deal with bullying giving it the time and attention it needed to actually make it feel meaningful. I’d love to see more like March Comes in Like a Lion. I would really love to see bullying tackled by adult characters and more insidious forms of bullying on display rather than the overt cases on display here. Though more than anything, I’d love for societies to actually do something about this problem. What are your thoughts on bullying in anime?

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Karandi James
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March Comes in Like a Lion Akari Kawamoto
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