Episode 11: Mysterious Culture Festival
Phillip: In this episode, we venture into what some would say is the weakest part of the show’s narrative structure. Hayakawa’s plans for Urabe and Tsubaki are revealed and Urabe turns out to ... not be upset at all. Seriously, she finds the two of them as Hayakawa’s about to make her move and she’s not upset, not even annoyed. I don’t claim to know what goes on in Urabe’s head most of the time (probably best if we don’t), and yes, Japanese people are kings of understatement, but she doesn’t slap either one of them around. Urabe does slap Tsubaki but for something else entirely. I like that we finally vanquish the ex-crush as a villain but I was hoping for more fireworks. I’m resigned to the fact that this show will never have people shouting at one another. But in that, at least it is consistent. It does show that Tsubaki never really wanted to go along with Hayakawa’s plans and we do learn that Urabe has a lot of trust in him. Also, a hell of a lot of sideboob in this episode.
Ink: I’d totally agree with Phillip concerning Urabe’s discovery and subsequent confrontation of Hayakawa and Tsubaki if it weren’t for two things. Mind you, the scene is still a pretty unbelievably calm reaction, but it could be buffeted by keeping in mind 1) that Urabe had been made aware of Tsubaki’s lie by Oka in the previous episode and was probably already assuming the worst after having also been stalked down by Hayakawa, and 2) Urabe internalizes. The latter I think is most important; Urabe only tends to lash out when physically startled or reveal her emotions passive aggressively via the drool ceremony. As a slight change to that formula, Urabe decides to tell a fib to Tsubaki that parallels the situation he just put their relationship through but with roles reversed and gets the feeling of hurt across that way. There’s also the way she walks without ever looking back, the fact that she smiles after tasting Tsubaki’s drool and makes sure he knows that it’s his smile (not her own), and her ambiguous exclamation when parting ways. In this way, I think I can excuse the lack of fireworks, no matter how disappointing, because it falls within her character while lending to the exciting, bittersweet air of the series.
Episode 12: Mysterious Tug
Ink: After Tsubaki breaks the parallel of the trust exercise from episode 2 at last episode’s school festival, Urabe finds herself having to deal with her boyfriend’s mounting sexual frustration and one-track mind. Tsubaki’s seen her naked and can’t stop doing so in the spinning, scratched vinyl that is his own record-player mind. All that rushing blood, according to Oka’s unsought council, can be lethal to a guy, but what about Urabe? How will the imposition of Tsubaki’s invasive imagination affect Urabe’s mindset and subsequent actions? The answer: distraction, which results in some accidental cuts and a realization that sexual tension throws both sexes off their game even when working nervously towards a common goal. Tsubaki also fights off his former impulses, well, most of them, from former episodes, injuring himself instead of Urabe in the process, which is right in line with showcasing Tsubaki as a “nice guy.” This aversion to perversion, which contributes to Urabe’s guilt over how paranoid she’s made Tsubaki, also leads to a physical and mental release that both cures and cultivates the relationship betwixt the two spit swappers. Of note: I really liked the placement of the dream sequence. Its ambiguity, although short-lived for the most part, as to who exactly is dreamt and who is dreaming fits the episode’s overarching theme of “men and women are both perverts” rather precisely.
Phillip: I wondered when they would get around to this. Throughout the series, every time Tsubaki has impulsively hugged Urabe, Urabe has declared that he should never do that unless asking permission to do so. And my thought was “Well, ask permission then, dummy!” But here, they give me what I suggested but in the MGX way of doing things. Since seeing way too much of Urabe in the last episode, Tsubaki’s horny mind goes into overdrive. And rather than thinking of ways to get his girlfriend naked, his brain decides to punish the hell out of him. And Urabe seems to come to the conclusion that for her part, she shares some of the blame for him being a nervous wreck when it comes to being close to his girlfriend. And I agree that the blurred line as to whose dream the two are sharing is a nice distraction and it’s not quite resolved by the end of the episode. Finally, Tsubaki’s head is made of indestructium. Just saying.
Episode 13: Mysterious Boyfriend & Girlfriend
Phillip: This is my favorite episode of the series because it’s the one that takes the most risks in terms of its execution. Urabe decides to talk with Tsubaki’s sister, Youko, about him. The two talk in general and Urabe doesn’t reveal to Youko what Tsubaki really means to her. But in the doing Youko makes Urabe aware of a fact she had not considered before: Tsubaki’s mother. Despite having died when Tsubaki was very young, he still loves her and attends to his duties in regards to her shrine in the cemetery, but he does so because he wants to, not because he has to. And in any other show, if his mother were alive, they would meet at Tsubaki’s house and they would get to know each other and so on. But seeing as how she’s dead and Urabe being the girl she is, she suggests they travel to the cemetery so Urabe can meet his mother. Yep, you heard that. What follows is one part creepy, one part honest, heartfelt love. In visiting his mother’s grave, he and Urabe share drool and she connects with him on a different level. It’s kind of hard to put into words but at the end, Tsubaki understands why his girlfriend turned up at a graveyard in a floral dress, why she needed to do this and finally puts his mind at ease, at least for now, that he’ll probably never understand his girlfriend completely but it isn’t that important. By doing all this, the show’s creators go beyond the whole “they share drool, she’s weird, he might be borderline” thing the show has been touting and just end on “he’s a boy, she’s a girl. Their relationship won’t make sense but then you’re just an observer and as such not fit to judge and if they stay together, who cares so long as they’re happy?”
Ink: As Phillip described it, the graveyard scene kind of embodies everything I love about this show. The amalgamation of disgusting, creepy, awkward, and sweet, all shown and not told, emulate the horrors of falling in, accepting, and exploring “love.” The icing on the cake, however, is the street meeting between Urabe and Youko and their subsequent discussion and parting at a cafe. The scene smacks of Urabe wanting to get closer to Tsubaki by learning about the portion of his world that exists without her. The bridge, of course, is the customary Japanese kindness or show of appreciation for the little things, like complementing one’s relatives or bringing home worksheets. But there’s also an air of desperation in Urabe’s gratitude for the opportunity to speak with Youko that conveys a sense of loneliness cured via familial contact. Keeping in mind we have yet to see/know anything about Urabe’s family, I thought this was a great keyhole through which viewers were allowed a peek as to foster postulation and empathy.
Phillip: In the end, the show didn’t turn into the weird-fest I was hoping for nor did it descend into the all-out creepiness of some other shows. The metaphors used in the show (drool, hair, nudity) are all elements of frustrated teenagers trying to explore their sexuality, tastes and mental states. Once you get past the bizarre elements of Urabe’s speech patterns, her talents, and Tsubaki’s interest in her, her drool, and his dream sequences, you’re left with a quiet, quaint series about two people falling in love with each other against all odds, without the usual ways of doing so. Urabe might tomorrow decide the two of them are finished, but he already knows this. But for now, he’s happy and so is she.
If I had to pick a favorite character, I’d say Urabe. Even after watching her for thirteen episodes, we still haven’t met her family, we know nothing about her in what she does outside of school or being with Tsubaki. But she’s a nice girl who is kind (if brutally honest) and capable, and knows what she wants. But like every chemistry experiment, once she comes in contact with Tsubaki, he affects her in ways she can’t have anticipated. He is a typical bloke but she seems to have picked the correct one because he goes with her temperament rather than try and change her (for the most part). The friends she makes through him and her own means change how people see her in public and in school. She comes across as amazingly confident when she declares that she knew that Tsubaki would be her first sex partner in the first episode. But by the end, she remains a confident girl who likes her partner enough to trust him with her body (when she asks him to close her eyes), her respect (when he gets tested against Hayakawa), and her future happiness. So in the end, the only real thing she’s gained for herself is experience and knowing her own heart.
Ink: This show, by removing traditional forms of contact and replacing them with elements of the fantastic, creates a gut reaction of unease towards a budding relationship that I have not honestly felt in any anime before. Maybe that’s just the awkwardness hitting a little too close to home. Maybe I’m over-analyzing or over-thinking or letting my “awww” factor get the best of me. Whatever the case, Mysterious Girlfriend X has consistently proven itself by unabashedly working within its own world’s rules, offering scenes actually written to show instead of tell, as well as delivering a narrative that seems to achieve the proper balance of several kinds of humor with a strong emphasis on the need for sensitivity and sympathy that seems lacking in most romantic comedy series. Unlike Phillip, I don’t think I was expecting a “weird-fest”, but I am similarly relieved and impressed by the show’s discretionary creep factor as well as how effectively it was leveraged.
If I had to pick a character that was completely abhorrent: Oka. I understand the need for her in the story as a female equivalent of what Ueno is to Tsubaki, but Oka’s over-the-top Urabe obsession seems tacked on to create an intrusive sexual tension that quite simply does not seem necessary. Add to that Oka’s invasive nature, and what could have been played off as innocent intrigue now comes across as overtly forceful and ugly (adult) instead of playful and sweet (adolescent). The degree of saccharine with which this series drips may have tainted my tongue, but Oka just leaves a sour taste after every appearance on screen. Such a contrast, however, may be the exact point, and it’s the little ambiguities such as that in the show’s plotting, execution, and imagery that have made me declare my love for it episode after episode.
Mysterious Girlfriend X is now streaming on Crunchyroll.