Creators: Ihata Shoota (director), Sasuga Kei (manga author)
Release year: 2018-2019
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
Genres: romance, thirsty, drama
My rating: 3 out of 5
Highschool student Natsuo is in love with his teacher Hina. Despairing of his love for her ever going anywhere, he agrees to have sex for the first time with Rui, a friend of a friend who he meets at a karaoke social shindig. Natsuo is confused by the feelings of emptiness and sameness it leaves him with. When he gets home, he finds out his father is remarrying after 10 years, and meets his new step mother and her two daughters. Who, you guessed it, are Hina and Rui.
So… let’s get this out of the way: this anime is hella problematic. It…
Of these, the women inexplicably falling for a butthead is the most prevalent. Transphobia next–it hits a few times. The sexual assault is at the tail of the first episode.
For all that… this anime also has a lot of heart, and I would still recommend it with caveats.
Also, this anime is really horny, which I don’t have a problem with per se, but it’s definitely NSFW (and focuses its thirst on female bodies–no objectified sexy male bodies here).
I’ve just finished saying a lot of things that sound bad. And they are. But really… the reason I’d still recommend someone might want to watch this are two characters: Rui (the younger sister), and Momo, secondary character who pops up later.
I also want to give this anime some credit right off the bat: I was wary of the step-sibling relationship being mined for titillation factor and this anime getting gross from the jump. It doesn’t do it. To the anime’s credit, it uses the relationship as a source of drama because of the enforced proximity of the Rui-Hina-Natsuo triangle. It serves really just to put them into an almost suffocatingly close environment with each other to ramp up the stakes. And it does this well, and in a way that feels worth it.It may be a contrived premise, but once it’s in play it’s used really effectively to create and amplify tension. It’s not what I feared from a step-sib romance story. So props for that.
Spoilers from here on out.
Quick note on Natsuo–I don’t like him. But, he does have some good characteristics, that are genuine reason for these women to fall for him. He seems really interested in just helping Rui fit in in school, for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do. And the way he ends up not sleeping with Momo I think is solid–we see moments of a teenage boy struggling with what’s right and what’s sex when they happen to be opposed. I don’t think he has enough good qualities to justify holding the attention of the women longer term, but… they’re all in weird transitional places in life. My biggest issue with Natsuo is that the show excuses his sexual assault when he tries to kiss Hina while she’s sleeping at the end of the first episode. And, honestly, as I think about the rest of the show… maybe it’s not excused. The way it ends, it’s pretty clear that he’s a selfish bastard.
By the end of the anime, I was 100% team Rui. Hina and Natsuo are deeply flawed people, and their actions seem set to destroy their family–their parents’ new-found happiness with each other after years of loneliness, and Rui as well. We see her fall slowly in love with Natsuo (and let’s be honest, we’ve all fallen for people who were bad for us) as they share their lives together. And we see her struggle with social isolation, and slowly learn what it takes to be herself, and in the world.
Refreshingly, Natsuo isn’t the answer to all of this for her. She is discovering this for herself. Sure, Natsuo helps in a big way early on, and I think this is why it makes sense she ends up falling for him, but it’s really her doing the work, and thinking doing things to make friends and help herself. I have a lot of empathy for her–she’s a very well-written character, and when she makes mistakes, they’re not tropey. They feel like honest mistakes.
This theme of honest mistakes is what carries the show. Momo, as well, broke my heart. When we meet her, she’s almost immediately described as an easy gyaru–willing to show off skin and be sexy, and while that’s true, the show, to its credit, has that description transparently come from people who are being mean-spirited about it. It feels like commentary on the action, not reinforcement.
When Natsuo and Rui start interacting with Momo, we really get to see that she’s a really sweet and lovely person. The anime probably leans a little too heavily on the broken family leads to sexual promiscuity trope it implies, but honestly… again, Momo’s voice actor and animation were so understated that regardless of the tropiness my heart was breaking for her on several occasions. She is so incredibly vulnerable and honest, it was sweet.
The thing that I really, really appreciated the show did, was include non-judgmental depiction of cutting. Momo is very into Natsuo1, and when they are maybe about to have sex, he sees the scars on her wrist after she’s taken off her long sleeves. It shocks him into rethinking his plan to have sex with her just to get over Hina (still…), and… they don’t. Momo seems about to take this as a rejection of her as a person, but Natsuo, to his credit, sticks around and cooks for her. It’s one of the moments where he does a truly decent thing, and this whole episode might have been my favorite.
It’s not a perfect episode, and runs very close to the those who cut are unstable and should be treated with care trope that takes agency away from them, but I think a reasonable read might actually be that on seeing the scars, Natsuo finally snapped the last remnant of the image others had put in his head of Momo as a sex person, and realized that he was about to use a human for his own selfish horniness and loneliness, and treated her instead as a person with feelings.
I want to come back to Natsuo. First, he is a piece of shit, for what he does at the end of the first ep. Honestly, this show would get a whole extra star if it had cut that scene. That aside for a moment, I’d like to explore why he appears better, for the sake of the women who end up falling for him. This isn’t about rehabilitating his character, but about understanding theirs.
This anime is really invested in meditating on the messiness of teenage (and early 20-something in the case of Hina) emotion and confusion. They’re all in it (though honestly, Momo is the best and honest and maybe isn’t so confused). And as I’ve mentioned a couple of times, Natsuo does seem to have some really lovely moments with Rui and Momo, where he’s genuinely and actively being good to them. So yea, I can see why they might fall for him. And especially for Rui, it’s over the course of the anime, as she sees more of these acts of kindness from him. He’s also, if I’m honest, a little bit charismatic. Not Char charismatic, but… more Gosling charismatic.
I don’t want to excuse him. Thing is… he’s nice only to the women he’s not really interested in (and yet pursues sexual relationships with anyways: see about him being a dirtbag). When it comes to Hina, he is very proactive about helping her, but it always has an ulterior motive. And he also does a lot of gross things:
It’s not a good look. When it comes to Hina, for Natsuo, all rules of engagement get thrown out.
In general, this anime does a very good job with the tender moments. The animation, voice acting, and music all come together to make for some very understated, very poignant scenes. It’s not often that anime stirs up that many feels for me these days.
There are some smaller ones than those I’ve discussed too–there are a couple of scenes between Natsuo and his father that are really sweet, and the moment when (SPOILERS) the father and mother start getting divorced because they think that the remarriage is causing their children real pain is really well done. You just see them at a table, with pens, and the word “divorce” on some papers, and they don’t say anything or move… it really hits.
It’s the interstitial bits it really messes up. I haven’t even talked about how it frequently misgenders Marie, a bartender who becomes an adviser for everyone (though she does get sweet if rushed backstory that kicks at toxic masculinity, especially the kind we see holding Natsuo and his father back).
If you’ve got the stomach for some bullshit in the middle, there is a wildly beating heart in this anime that is worth watching.