Anime Review — Rascal Does Not Dream of a Bunny Girl Senpai (Cloverworks)
I know I rag on light novel adaptations a lot on this blog, but at the end of the day, they’re here to stay and it’s very doubtful they’ll fade out of existence anytime soon. Unlike the visual novel adaptation trend, which only had a few acclaimed shows and the rest of them you’d only remember if you browsed through Hidive’s catalog, these adaptations have been somewhat acclaimed from the start with titles like Full Metal Panic and Kino’s Journey, and after a dip in quality around the time Shana was a thing, they’ve suddenly become the most dominant presence in the fandom. Re: Zero. Gate. Overlord. Saekano. Reincarnated As a Slime. Shield Hero. And who can forget Bunny Girl Senpai, which is ironically not that big in Japan, but in America it’s considered a sacred cow as long as you’re not working for one of those “journalists” who consider a guy insulting a girl by talking about her period to be crossing the line?
Nothing has really gotten as big as Re: Zero from what I can see, but there’s no denying that Bunny Girl Senpai is really well-loved with a MAL score that’s actually higher than Re: Zero, and was even higher than A Place Further than the Universe for a time before the backlash gained some steam (if you look at the top reviews on the MAL page, you’ll notice they’re mostly negative). A lot of Anitubers praise the series, and I’ve seen some pretty fun reaction videos to a good chunk of the episodes. If you guys recall, the titular bunny girl, Mai Sakurajima, ended up winning the “best girl” award at this year’s CR Anime Awards show – an event that I think the world has just flat-out given up on at this point since barely anyone has talked about the thing over the last week and literally no one in my anime club bothered to watch it. So obviously, this is a really well-loved show.
Yeah the animation isn’t very lively, but it could have been a lot worse. The supernatural/science elements are quite frankly a load of tacked-on bullshit that comes and goes with no explanation, but in exchange it captures the social anxiety and adolescence that most anime fans go through fairly accurately (according to them). Yes, it’s a little dumb how the basic structure of this series is a snarky guy helping out several girls suffering supernatural diseases like in Clannad or Monogatari, but considering how many people like those shows, it’s a tired argument to use that formula as a negative. These are all complaints that the fans go “don’t care” at, with the only other notable complaint being that the lead character has no growth or personality. To which they just go “I disagree”.
As such, I wasn’t really sure how to approach this anime for the longest time. It probably isn’t going to surprise people that I didn’t like it, but I’m also aware of how much the fandom these days want anime reviewers and journalists these days to be unbiased. And I personally don’t want to live in a world where being unbiased means ignoring everything that doesn’t appeal to you and only focusing on the good. In other words, I didn’t want to just leave this anime due to its popularity (although as per usual with anime fandom, they’ve already moved on to talking about Cloverworks’ newest anime, The Promised Neverland, as of this time of writing). So how can I explain why I don’t like Bunny Girl Senpai without going “Light novels cliches. Herp dee derp derp”?
Well let’s look at the basics of what Bunny Girl Senpai is about. The story starts off with our main protagonist, Sakuta Azusagawa, who is basically an outcast at school due to untrue rumors regarding his past, and it doesn’t help that he’s pretty much an asshole to everyone he doesn’t consider his friend (and if you are his friend, he’ll still be snarky with you).
One day, he meets Mai in her bunny suit and discovers that he’s the only one who can see her because of “Adolescence Syndrome”, the official name for a magical phenomenon that afflicts troubled youths in plot-convenient ways. Since Adolescence Syndrome has damaged his life in the past, Sakuta does his best to help Mai out, and the two eventually overcome the phenomenon, as well as become a couple in the process. However, Mai isn’t the only one suffering from Adolescence Syndrome, and Sakuta ends up having to help other girls with their issues whilst Mai either hangs around in the background or gets personally involved if she knows the girl who’s afflicted.
The setup is unarguably harem-ish, but to be fair, only one of the other girls is actually in love with Sakuta and a big part of her arc is realizing he likes Mai. The others either respect him or are his little sister, who has the most tragic arc out of the five that make up this series. There’s also one other girl who Sakuta loved in the past and is still searching for to this day, but you’re going to have to wait until the movie before you get to see her. Still, not one other male character is afflicted with Adolescence Syndrome in this show? I understand that diversity is very overrated, but there comes a point when you’re prioritizing the fandom’s boners over the fandom’s brains, and that’s very distracting when the big appeal of your show is exploring social anxiety, which isn’t a gender-specific problem in the slightest.
Then again, maybe the writer of the original light novels, Hajime Kamoshida, needed to approach his subject material that way in order to get it noticed. I mean there’s a reason why his last anime adaptation, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, was such a big hit around the 2012-13 period whilst his original anime from 2017, Just Because, might as well have not existed. Simply put, the former used sex and a lot of anime cliches in order to convey a tale about talent and how different people utilized it. Even if you didn’t like how the main girl was basically a socially awkward “pet”, at least you remembered her and her issues. Plus, it helped that the animation was pretty lively. Meanwhile, Just Because tried to tell a tale about young love and heartbreak by replacing the anime cliches and sexual jokes with a more somber tone. However, said somber tone (and mediocre animation) sapped the personality out of the story, causing it to be not particularly great whilst not doing anything outwardly bad, which is pretty much the fast lane to instant obscurity.
And even with the cliches utilized throughout Bunny Girl Senpai in order to appeal to the masses, he is definitely trying to not let them overpower the story if this anime adaptation is indeed a good recreation of his books. Although the writing is very reminiscent of Clannad and Monogatari, it is far different from either of them when you look at it closely. While the former mostly uses magical drama to highlight different forms of tragedy and the latter uses magical drama to highlight personal growth, Bunny Girl Senpai uses magical drama to highlight/exaggerate personal issues regarding identity. From one girl fading from existence due to her fame combined with her peers not wanting to break the status quo to another girl having issues with her body, even someone of the opposite sex like me can at least go “yeah, I experienced something similar to that, except without the pseudo-science that complicates things”.
Hell, the bunny suit that Mai wears barely appears throughout the show. I think she only wears it 2-3 times at most, and only for a couple of minutes each. When you get down to it, Bunny Girl Senpai is probably the biggest lie in an anime title since Yuri on Ice.
So how likable are the main girls in this series? Well, I don’t think there’s anything in particular to dislike about any of them. They can get haughty with Sakuta, but he’s an ass, so that’s to be expected. I’m not quite sure how high anyone other than Mai ranks amongst the waifu wars, but at least they’re somewhat developed as characters. However, they’re definitely more grounded than, say, the Monogatari cast (who I’m still not convinced are just excuses for the voice actors to orgasm at the sound of their vocal chords) and thus can be seen as more mundane as a result. Now I’ve only seen one Monogatari cosplay at a convention in my life because for some reason they’re hard as balls to find at the fan events I go to, but I’m aware that cosplay groups do exist for the majority of the cast. Meanwhile, I look at the cast of Bunny Girl Senpai and think to myself “who the fuck is going to cosplay as anyone other than Mai?”.
How likable is Sakuta? Well he’s a strange combination of fans relating to him and a guy who basically does everything the fans wish they could do in his situation. For example, there’s a scene in the series where he confronts a bully for constantly pestering one of the girls and he deals with said bully by attacking his leg and threatening to shove poo into his face. Like I said, there was some controversy regarding how he’s not above sexual harassment against girls he dislikes, but a lot of fans who think neutrality is overrated (which definitely applies to practically all of Twitter) respect him for that because at least he has balls.
Personally, I don’t care as long as the story deals with his flaws, which…yeah that doesn’t quite happen. Throughout the majority of the anime, he mostly just reacts to events and deals with them accordingly without actually addressing his own issues or growing as a person. And here’s where I have a problem acknowledging Bunny Girl Senpai as good despite all of the reasons that fans have been telling me.
I understand that the number of harem-ish shows where the guy is the main spotlight is rarer than finding Winnie the Pooh merchandise in China, but why exactly are we seeing him help so many girls, let alone dedicating the entirety of the show’s screentime to him, if he’s not going to grow in the process? This is something I’ve complained about frequently in visual novel adaptations once you take out the gameplay that would justify the disconnect, and in light novels it makes even less sense. Yes, light novels are fundamentally designed to be long-runners as well as “light reading”, but the same can be said about Shonen Jump series and they’re generally more respected in regards to using arc-based storytelling over a long period of time, including by me. And that’s mostly because the characters do grow over the course of those anime, even if said growth does come at a snail’s pace.
And I think this is a flaw with the series that no fan has really accepted or found a good counterargument for: no amount of adolescent insights is going to make me overlook that Bunny Girl Senpai doesn’t have much narrative direction, let alone character direction. Like if I were to ask you what the end goal of this series is, how many of you would be able to give a good answer? And for those of you who are able to do so, how many of you can claim that the majority of this series is working towards said goal? While it’s nice to see Sakuta reject Tomoe because he’s already associated with Mai, if he himself is not going to develop as a result of that arc and it doesn’t really affect his relationship with Mai herself (incidentally, her growth mostly stops after her own personal arc as well), then why was it important to the overall narrative? What does helping Futaba with her issues accomplish other than to have Sakuta and his best friend bond a little? Yes it highlights real issues, but if you don’t use that highlight in a way that feels important, it’s just going to feel like cheap representation.
As a guy who likes narratives to be constantly moving before ending on a high note, this is kind of a deal breaker for me. And this can’t just be chalked up to disliking light novels, because that’s the main problem I have with a lot of serialized TV these days (especially on Netflix) and even other critically acclaimed anime based on manga. For example, I recently watched the anime adaptation of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad and I had the same issues there too. For those of you who haven’t seen it, there’s this girl introduced in the second half of the series named Hiromi, and I can’t for the life of me understand why she got so much screentime in that series to the point of having some individual focus. She basically exists to serve as a groupie for the titular band as well as a personal confidant to the lead character, as well as having her own arc where she gets better at playing the guitar. Spoiler alert: said arc doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t say anything about rock music that wasn’t already stated prior. It eats up screentime that could have been spent on telling us something interesting about the other band members (who we barely get to know outside of the lead character).
The relationship progress in Bunny Girl Senpai kind of reminds me of the one in Beck as well now that I think about it. Starts off strong, then just sort of halts once other parties get involved. Picks up again at the end, but overall very little progress is made other than saying “oh they’re a couple now”.
Without a strong anchor to weight down all of its individual elements, everything Bunny Girl Senpai aims to accomplish just feels fake. It all seems to exist in a bubble without any importance attached to it, acting as little more than a fictionalized representation of life. And representation is such a shit end goal, even when you remove all the political leanings and historical grounding that tend to be associated with it. It can be entertaining sometimes, but it can’t carry an entire series, especially since anime as a medium is inherently impossible to take 100% seriously.
In short, while I could rag on Bunny Girl Senpai some more for all of the other somewhat superficial reasons everyone else has said (although seriously, the somewhat generic animation style is pretty lame for such a big show), this anime was doomed for me from the very start. Changing the tone to something more mature, mixing up the genders, or even just focusing the entire series on Mai like some people have suggested isn’t going to fix its core issues. If anything, they provide more interesting things to discuss.
It’s just another inexplicably popular light novel adaptation that could have been a lot better than it actually was, and yet people keep eating these anime up, so I’m going to have to keep watching and reviewing them until they fade in attention. Which will probably happen around the time DSP finally gets taken down for good.
- For a show where the waifu wars are a big draw, there sure seem to be a lot more excuses for Sakuta to take his shirt off than anything fanservice-y related to the girls
- Think I prefer the live-action film version of Beck despite Koyuki being completely unable to sing in it.
- How would dating Mai in real life work anyways?