Saturday, 17 March 2012

B型H系 / B-Type H-Style / B-Gata H-Kei

B-Gata H-Kei is another entry on the list of anime I’ve watched expecting something utterly dismal but actually finding it quite watchable and even enjoyable. It’s at the nadir of a sliding scale, though: The iDOLM@STER I expected to hate but actually loved and found to be remarkably high-quality, Rosario + Vampire was pretty awful but looked great and was always fun, while B-Gata H-Kei…well, it was a bad premise and there’s really not a whole lot that’s good to say about it…yet it still had moments that made individual episodes quite fun, and a cast that ended up being quite likeable.

It’s really the overall premise that earns the series the hatred I’ve seen for it in other places, sometimes without actually understanding the twist. The story is that Yamada is a pretty, popular, somewhat airheaded highschooler who is privately obsessed with sex and aspires to sleep with 100 men. She is inexperienced, though, and decides she needs to start somewhere easy, so fixes on a plain-looking, unremarkable boy called Takeshita to begin with, in order to then move on to bigger and better conquests. You can see how this would both seem like a plausible premise and rub people up the wrong way, right? On the surface, it seems like it’s a masturbatory fantasy – the audience is meant to feel like they are ordinary, unexceptional Takeshita, and that they ought to long for some hot girl to decide they want to have sex with them. You may think it’s all going to turn out a bit Futari Ecchi. And then you might feel that it’s insulting to the male intelligence and objectifies Yamada. But that is to get the series all wrong.

You see, the twist is that Yamada is actually a pure maiden utterly clueless about sex and rather terrified of it. And what begins as intending to use Takeshita and spit him out rapidly becomes just an eccentric way of getting her to spend time with him – and fall for him. Of course, the sex itself gets delayed and delayed, by mischance and because the two main characters are utterly hopeless at it, and thus we get a light comedy not about a slut and a doormat, but about two people being too sweet-natured, silly and adorable to ever have sex with each other. It’s more cute than depraved, despite there being uncensored versions that more or less turn the last episode into softcore porn. If it were actually about having lots of sex, the whole thing would fall apart, and it’s obvious almost from the start that Yamada’s ideas about sex are totally delusional and completely opposed to anything she could actually do, and she often makes a fool of herself doing stupid things to try to progress her relationship with Takeshita. Oddly enough, that makes the sex angle childlike and sweet, paradoxical as it sounds.

Not many anime driven by a romance can start with characters having sex – the only one I can think of that does is the rather remarkable Shaft production REC – and this series certainly couldn’t support it. Particularly as it’s based on an ongoing Young Jump manga, it has to be put off more and more. Unfortunately, the central relationship can’t quite drive the whole series either, so tension has to be injected with a rival, in this case a girl with a rather overwrought incestuous crush. It almost works in that it does bring some laughs to the series, but it takes everything in a surreal direction that doesn’t help overall.

Basically, B-Gata H-Kei manages to lift itself to something quite watchable and entertaining, which is surprising given its basic premise and the rather sloppy production from Hal, where the art is sometimes gorgeous but often gets downright ugly. It does a good job of twisting a dirty outline into a story about people being very pure, but that leaves it without much direction, and it’s a good thing the series is only 12 episodes, because the gags already got a bit stale by the end.

Essentially, I liked it more than I expected…but it’s telling that I finished it earlier than planned so it wouldn’t be the 400th post on my blog!

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