Okay, let’s throw something on the floor here: You got this high school student named Natsuo. He’s got a heavy crush on this girl named Hina. In the mean time, this other cute girl named Rui is hot for him. That’s either an Eternal Triangle or a broken triangle depending on how Hina feels about Rui.
Then Natsuo’s dad comes home and announces he’s getting remarried, and that his new bride is moving in with her two daughters.
I’ve just gotten through midterms, so let’s set this up as a multiple guess choice question:
Circle the letter of the best answer. Natsuo’s new sisters are named:
a. Revy and Eda
b. Kobayashi and Tohru
c. Faye and Ed
d. Hina and Rui
Yes, d. is the correct answer. What a setup for a harem comedy, right?
But what happens if you decide to play this story straight, as a drama rather than a comedy?
That’s what I find interesting about Domestic Girlfriend.
Now, let’s be honest with ourselves: Domestic Girlfriend IS a harem story. Along with Hina and Rui, Natsuo is surrounded by Miu, the literary chick, and Momo, the school “bad girl;” he hooks up in various ways with all of them in the course of only twelve episode. But it is played for drama, not chuckles.
To play this straight there have to be legitimate, sensible reasons that Natsuo doesn’t just zero in on one and carry her off. (I mean, he could go for all of them, but if they are playing this straight that would make him a very unsympathetic and unlikeable character.) So, let’s see:
Hina is his teacher. That makes her off limits for student Natsuo
Rui is disengaged. She’s introverted and stand-offish
Momo is seriously messed up. She uses sex to build her own self-esteem and it doesn’t work
Miu is crushing on someone else, a teacher who forces Natsuo to kiss her
They may not be the greatest reasons, but you see what they do? They put tension into the harem without the conventional trope of the comedy harem of boy being stupid and/or oblivious.
As opposed to the comic harem hero, Natsuo is actually fairly smart and thoughtful in a number of ways, keeping him from being the stereotypical harem protagonist.
There’s one moment in particular that I think is outstanding in terms of writing and character exposition: He is being seduced by Momo. She’s frankly a mess; she’s deserted by her family, used to cut herself to get attention, and now she gets it by sleeping around. She lays this out for him more or less directly as they are getting it on, even says she is jealous of him for being able to sit down to dinner with his family.
Our boy Natsuo has rounded second base and is headed to third when he sees her cutting scars. That stops him in his tracks, and she is frightened that he is turned off or repulsed by her. But instead he does something profoundly kind: he makes her dinner and sits with her as she eats, just so she has someone dining with her for once. His behavior displays both empathy and perceptiveness, very unlike the comic harem hero.
Natsuo is very Marty Stu in many ways, but he is flawed in one major regard: his love/lust for Hina is uncontrollable. If you’re playing this story straight, it’s hard to make a Comedy out of this. Not comedy, played for laughs, but Comedy, the meta-plot “Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl.”
Do you feel a Tragedy coming on? I do.
Through the series, even when he’s with Momo, Natsuo is torn by three forces: His crush on Hina is constant and unabated, BUT and this is a big but, he has slept with Rui. In fact, he has given her his virginity and he has taken hers, and this is a big deal to him. So there’s a level of over-arching tension there: Rui? Hina? Or, given that they are step-sisters and we’re talking a certain level of incest here, maybe neither of them is the best idea. I mean, Momo and Miu are pretty cute, too.
Well, as the series is closing, he hooks up with Hina, and it is serious and involves a great deal of hard, sweaty sex (Domestic Girlfriend is R-rated, not just MA). Oh, yeah, and there’s a fireworks show as they climax. Move along. Nothing symbolic to see here, folks.
But there we go: Natsuo and Hina become lovers. Boy Gets Girl.
To keep it real, though, their affair has real consequences. They are discovered, and Hina, the teacher screwing her student (and step-brother), is fired. She goes someplace else far away, leaving no forwarding address. Boy Loses Girl. Tragedy.
But to keep THAT real, at the end of the last episode Rui hits on him. As far as the anime is concerned, that’s left hanging: Will Natsuo find love with Rui or will he not?
I’m not sure that’s a good way to construct an ending. Main plot points are supposed to get resolved. But I think it’s a good way to maintain the adult complexity of the story: by making his future with Rui ambiguous, they avoid substituting Rui’s plot (if he accepts her, her story is Comedy) for Natsuo’s.
Plus, you know, I’ve read some of the manga and know he hooks up with Rui down the road.
Domestic Girlfriend, the manga, ran to 28 volumes; Domestic Girlfriend the anime basically lasted to twelve episodes. And I don’t think that’s an accident: manga is richer and deeper than anime, and also cheaper to produce.
And I’m not going to pretend the anime is flawless. One fundamental source of tension, the family relationship between Hina and Natsuo, is handled poorly. When Natsuo has feelings for Rui, he has to constantly push his way past the fact that she is his sister. When he is hot for Hina, it’s, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do it!” Incest? What’s that?
So Domestic Girlfriend got one season and that was it. There’s an almost endless market for harem in anime, but only the harem audiences expect. And brother, that ain’t Domestic Girlfriend
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.