Those were the biggest meat buns I’ve ever seen.
As I’ve long suspected, Nazo no Kanojo X is the big brother to FLCL in many ways. This is Naota’s absurd and painful head-on collision with puberty four years later – this is the “alien” girlfriend only this time, all the parties involved are just sophisticated enough to make the relationship something more than metaphorical. And thank goodness for Miyu Irino and Yoshitani Ayako, because they’re every bit the equal of the material. Irino is peerless at mining every drop of genuine emotion out of a character and capturing the restless insecurity of adolescence, and Yoshitani is utterly natural – a complete contrast to virtually every female seiyuu working today.
MGX is also a great example of the way a series can be stylish and distinctive on a minimal budget. With no flashy KyoAni detail levels or expensive CGI, it manages to be be as visually arresting as any series this season. How? By being faithful to the retro look of the manga and taking it even deeper. By constantly using ingenious camera angles and wildly original framings of the characters, and by a judicious use of simple visual effects – even the eyecatches are part of the charm. It also benefits from the great soundtrack, which continues to subtly evolve and change every week while returning to the main themes, much like a stage musical. A mangaka with a flair for the unusual, a fearless director with a great eye and a generally outside the box approach mean more than a budget in this case.
This episode specifically was a marvel in the way the events played out so naturally. For this the credit goes to the mangaka, but the pacing is surely Watanabe-sensei and the anime staff’s doing too, and they just flat-out nailed it. Starting from Tsubaki’s dream (the dream sequences in MGX are always stellar) right through to Urabe’s apartment (complete with alien posters) was a symphony of rising erotic tension. I loved every moment of those scenes in her room – Tsubaki’s thoughts as he waited for the coffee, sniffing her bed, the awkwardness after her return. The lightning strike was fantastic in itself, a wonderful bit of symbolism and great physical drama, too.
Again, I can’t recall anime doing a better job of showing the awkward fumblings of “first contact”. The twin sides of Tsubaki were on display – the kind, respectful boy as well as the physical animal in the grip of urges he can barely control. The event itself and the aftermath were spot-on – Tsubaki’s ultra-responsible protestations at Urabe’s suggestion that he touch her, the exuberance of that first touch of her breast (once and for all the real one exceeding the psychotropic one), the edgy moments that followed, the ear-licking. And then Urabe realizing that she was feeling the same urges he was, just as his reason returned and the rational part of him became dismayed that he’d forced himself on her and made her cry – not realizing that she was crying from the power of her feelings, and not because she was angry. If she was scared it was of her own feelings, not of Tsubaki. But of course, he didn’t know that – he could only see that he’d become something terrible and hated himself enough to flee into the storm.
Dammit, that was genuinely touching stuff – no pun intended. Romance is sex and love, even at 16, and MGX has always been about the sometimes uneasy but always inseparable link between the two. And almost as if showing off, MGX gave us another bravura scene at school the next day – first a hilarious yet oddly powerful moment between Urabe and Oka. While it was Oka explaining Urabe’s feelings to her, it was also Oka set back on her heels for once – because she’d never felt what Urabe felt with Tsubaki. Brilliant visual style again on display here, with the expression of female desire through the pressing together of the legs, and the human special-effects machine that is Oka and her glasses. And then that last conversation between Urabe and Tsubaki, where he was determined to be punished for his transgressions, and forced her to slap him – and then she insisted that she share equally in the pain, as he’d done nothing except make her feel things she’d never felt. All of that – the shared pain through the drool, Tsubaki’s declaration that he never wanted to see hurt on her face – should have been silly or even maudlin, but the magic of Magical Girlfriend is that it was an emotional bulls-eye.
Damn, I’ve rambled on for a full-length post over all. What can you do? Great anime makes me want to go on and on – and the last 48 hours have seen some of the best anime since I’ve been a fan. Sakamichi, Tsuritama, E7: AO, Hunter X Hunter, MGX – none of these series are even remotely alike, and that’s the sign of a truly great season. There’s certainly nothing like MGX airing now, that’s for sure, and maybe there never has been anything quite like it. This is not ecchi, not sex for its own sake – but it’s undeniably sexy, and neither treats teenagers as oversexed airheads or ignores the role desire plays in their lives. Maybe best of all, in my view, is that it tackles desire head-on – and while acknowledging that it’s something most kids are embarrassed about, tells us it’s nothing they should be ashamed of. Physical desire is a wonderful thing, as long as it’s paired with genuine affection and empathy for your partner. Why that should be so difficult, both in life and in art, I don’t know. But it is – and MGX is making it look ridiculously easy.