Trash. No denying it.
But I enjoyed every episode. And it’s no more egregious than the OreImos and Love Lives of the world.
The female demographic is clearly becoming more and more lucrative in the anime world. It’s female buying power that is the engine behind the success of the likes of Osomatsu-san, Kuroshitsuji and the various hot-blooded sports series like Kuroke no Basuke, Haikyuu!, Free! and Yowamushi Pedal. And just as the male demographic gets feel-good pandering trash, so too do female audiences get their own flavours. Which are perhaps a little more…surprising to Western tastes?
Before it becomes an elephant in the room, yes, a lot of Japanese women like to watch homoerotic stories involving a little boy and an older man. The older man is usually on the feminine side, but the kind of pretty that makes women around him blush and giggle. The boy is usually innocent and often feminised. Kuroshitsuji is perhaps the most prominent example of this set-up, but by no means the only one. And the idea of putting a young boy in a rich man’s house as a maid has been done before in the explicitly pornographic Shounen Maid Kuro-kun.
So this series already begins in a very, very weird place. Little Chihiro-kun in just an elementary school student, 11 or 12 at most, when his mother dies and he goes to live with his extremely wealthy uncle Madoka. Madoka is a clothing designer who loves frills and when he finds out his nephew loves to clean, he promptly puts him in a frilly apron over his shorts and long socks. Though the writer is careful not to make anything overtly sexual about this relationship, Madoka is a rather infantile man who often decides to come and sleep in the same bed as Chihiro.
This odd couple relationship is fleshed out as Chihiro finds out more about his family, various friends and relatives are introduced and Madoka’s personal life gets whipped into shape just as his professional life is kept in check by his personal assistant Keiichirou. A cute member of an idol group called Ryuuji also befriends the motley crew, and I have to say I’d probably rather watch the spin-off about the group that’s airing on Nico Nico Douga (and thus not getting translated by anybody), which at least is sexualising a 16-year-old rather than a 12-year-old – while pretending to be innocent.
But for all the bad taste in the mouth this series might leave, the fact is that it’s cute and fun, just like shows for men about adorable lolis tend to be cute and fun. That Chihiro is only a kid but far more responsible than the adults around him is cute, the occasional embarrassment of being seen in his apron (and his friends ending up with the same fate) is cute. The dynamic between the Uchouten Boys – the idol group – is clichéd and drawn briefly, but also cute. And yes, Chihiro himself, with his serious exterior but obvious vulnerability, is extremely cute.
There’s no denying that the premise is creepy, there’s glamorised paedophilia running under the surface throughout, the characterisation is lazy and the show doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s no more creepy than numerous little sister or loli comedy shows, and is still very enjoyable for those of us who like cuteness, whether aimed at guys or girls.