There will be no podcast this week as we are all going to be working or traveling or dealing with family this weekend, but I didn’t want to go too long without posting something. So in the spirit of our new flexible content format, I have some THOUGHTS I wanted to get off my chest. Specifically, I want to talk about episode 7 of Boarding School Juliet and Bloom Into You.
Both shows made me think of a pattern we see over and over again where an anime tries to say something but then undermines its message with its actual content. If you think about I’m sure you could come up with a dozen series that, for example, bring up themes about empowering women and then the director ogles their bodies with the camera or puts them in uncomfortable, sexually charged situations to titillate the audience. In fact, you might be harder pressed to find shows that DON’T do that.
This is exactly what Boarding School Juliet has been doing thus far. If you’re not watching the show you can read my first look for the full context, but basically the main female character, Persia, and her supportive boyfriend, Romio, are literally trying to smash the patriarchy. It sounds great on paper, but in execution its been a mixed bag of mindless anime comedy, an unbalanced focus on Romio, and totally unnecessary fan service that has been a struggle to watch.
I was willing to keep trying because the main relationship has been good enough to give me hope they could turn things around. But then episode 7 happened… I’ll try to sum this up as briefly as possible: there’s a sports festival and in the final competition Romio sets up an opportunity for Persia to gain attention and power by winning MVP. The two face off and are equally matched until Romio accidentally grabs her chest and collapses from the sensory overload. Yes, Persia wins and gains the accolades she wanted, but only because she has boobs. Lovely.
But wait, there’s more! As a penalty for losing, we later see Romio has lost his position as the leader of his faction and his second-in-command is in charge. Up to now she’s proven she’s more than capable of handling the job, but instead of focusing on her new responsibilities we see she’d rather keep nursing her one-sided crush on Romio and help him recover from the dreaded anime cold. I suspect he’ll eventually get his job back and she’ll remain a cute, doting sidekick.
Hopefully I don’t need to provide much more analysis on this. What started as a very positive message about empowering women gets undermined by the series’ need to include excessive fan service and cute, subservient anime girls. Sorry folks, you can’t have it both ways. It’s really disappointing because I can see the potential in Boarding School Juliet to be the exact kind of dumb comedy with heart that I love. Now I’ll probably forget it existed by the time we finish first looks at next season.
By contrast, Bloom Into You has been making definitive statements on subjects that mainstream anime tend to avoid. Plenty of shows tease romantic relationships between girls but dance around actually saying they are dating or in love. As Bloom Into You’s female cast explores their feelings for other girls, we see all different forms of love and friendship identified for exactly what they are.
Episode 7 was my personal favorite so far. As an old, straight man I don’t really feel qualified to speak with authority here, but it did feel important. Basically it told the back story of supporting character Sayaka and her own experience dating a girl in middle school. Eventually she gets painfully dumped with the “it was just a phase” line, not only ending their relationship but casting doubt on the validity of her own feelings.
Fortunately the episode doesn’t leave us or Sayaka hanging too long. We are introduced to an adult lesbian couple, definitively letting everyone know that her feelings are not “just a phase”. I kind of choked up a little when Sayaka opens up to one of the women later in the episode. I can only imagine what a relief it would be to find that kind of affirmation when the rest of the word is telling you you’re strange or wrong.
While it might not be totally fair to compare a more serious drama to a dumb comedy like Boarding School Juliet, you can still see the contrast in how Bloom Into You presents a message and then supports it with its actions. I mean, this show has actual kissing in it, could you imagine if they zoomed in on their writhing bodies as they were making out and showed the spit trails as they pulled away? Oh wait, maybe that was Sakura Trick, there’s a hell of a show to compare and contrast with… POINT IS, Bloom Into You’s statements on the validity of same sex relationships would be undermined if the show’s actions then said they only existed as a sexual fantasy. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
If we’re talking shows airing this season I might also throw Zombie Land Saga in the mix for trying to say things about idols while being a very cut and dry idol show, but I’m not really sure how much satire or critique they were going for in the first place. We’ll save that and other discussions for another time. Until then please check out Bloom Into You on HIDIVE and it’s probably safe to skip Boarding School Juliet (on Amazon, if you must).