OK, maybe that’s not so out there. But it’s interesting that I can still be amazed by just how weird she is, even into the third episode. Maybe the effect of all this is amplified by the visuals, because I can’t shake the feeling I’m watching the result of Rumiko Takahashi going on an acid trip. And despite the fact that I’m still totally grossed out by the drool (made the mistake of watching this over breakfast today – never again) I’m still completely taken in by this series. Between the visuals and the amazing BGM and the unapologetic insanity of what happens on screen, there’s nothing like it. Hoods, like DEEN, has changed the way I look at them as a studio, at least a little.
It occurs to me that one of the best ways to express a point of view is to hide is stealthily inside something that appears to be the complete opposite. In R-15, Fushimi Hiroyuki is writing a story about romantic love, but has couched it as a superficial teen sex comedy about a 15 year-old “genius porn writer” – which is exactly what most perspective viewers thought it was. With Nazo no Kanojo X, Ueshiba Riichi is likewise musing on the nature of the lost romantic relationship among teens, but he’s hidden it under a surface layer of weirdness and kinky antics that rivals anything out there. I fear that most viewers are going to have a hard time getting past that here, just as was the case with R-15. This is a better series overall than that one (which was still excellent and hugely underrated) and due to the cast and production values is drawing a bigger audience – but I hope it’s appreciated for the subtle and smart work that it is.
It’s interesting to look at Ueshiba-sensei’s own words when discussing MGX, because they always seem to spark an interesting discussion. As mentioned here last week (and commented on earlier) he called this series a giant robot story, with the girl as the giant robot. He’s also commented that he thinks teens jump into sexual relationships too soon, without going through the “relationship” building part. Some have spun this as a kind of abstinence message – and this week’s ep will no doubt add fuel to the fire – but I think that misses the real point. I can’t speak for Ueshiba but I don’t think he’s saying sex before marriage is immoral, etc. – I think what he’s saying is that teens are so anxious to jump to the naughty bits that they’re missing the best part, and the sex would be even better if they just did a little heavy lifting and got to know each other first.
Of course this being manga that’s going to be told in metaphor, and there’s the added element that Ueshiba’s natural inclination is to go for the most outlandish or grotesque symbolic act possible to get his point across. That’s why the giant robot, Urabe, never seems to do anything remotely normal – as indeed, most girls probably appear to most boys. Tsubaki is endearingly normal – he thinks about sex but what he primarily wants is the girlfriend part of having a girlfriend. He wants to hold hands, he wants to kiss – but he’s too embarrassed to even acknowledge their relationship publicly. That’s also the case for best friend Kouhei, who’s been seeing Oka Ayuko (Hirohashi Ryou) in secret, and even lied about it to Tsubaki. What is the source of this secretiveness? Perhaps it’s somewhat of a relic of a more innocent world where teenagers are embarrassed when the subject of romance comes up, but I suspect that even today there’s still a good deal of that among kids in high school.
Urabe’s behavior is of course extremely odd this week, as it always is. She’s approached by a popular member of the soccer club, Ogata, who’s been admiring her from afar, which of course leads to much consternation for poor Tsubaki. I find it sort of interesting that Urabe felt the need to do a drool test to determine whether Ogata was “compatible” – you’d think she knows by now that Tsubaki is the guy for her – but until she does she doesn’t give him a firm rejection. I notice also that she doesn’t do anything to ease Tsubaki’s mind either, which could easily be interpreted as rather insensitive. Her scientific method is classically Urabe, of course – she doesn’t wear panties to school the following day, knowing that going commando will put her in an anxious frame of mind and change the chemistry of her drool. When Ogata isn’t effected but Tsubaki is, she has her answer – and rejects Ogata. There are other ways the plot could have gotten to that point, but few would have been as amusing.
It’s easy to see Tsubaki’s frustration at this point. I couldn’t help but be amused at his sister’s reaction when he kept “going to bed” early, as she made the reasonable assumption that he was intending to do what comes naturally – but in effect, all Tsubaki was really doing was trying (via the exaggerated device of the drool in the test tube) to figure out where he stood with Urabe. This is the irony – Youko thought it was about sex, but it was about love, just like the series as a whole. When Tsubaki wants to kiss but declares that they shouldn’t “until they understand their feelings” the symbolism is obvious enough – sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss. But even after Urabe declares that they do understands after he nosebleeds from her no-pan drool, there’s still no kiss. Tsubaki still isn’t getting what he seems to want most of all – a “normal” girlfriend – but he can’t help being fascinated by all the odd and bewitching things Urabe does.
Ultimately I think that’s an important part of the symbolism at play here with the drool and all the other strange things Urabe does (and let’s set aside the potential sci-fi/magical realism ramifications for the moment). All of the drool stuff is purely physical – it’s a natural by-product of Urabe’s femininity that she couldn’t turn off even if she wanted to. And it has a physical impact on Tsubaki, whether he wants it to or not. And of course, part of Urabe likes the fact that her physicality has this impact on Tsubaki, and allows her to control him – and part of him likes the physical impact, and being controlled. Neither one can deny this physical relationship – it’s not something that can be turned off like a faucet – but it’s a distraction from what both of them really want, which is to relate romantically as people. Teenagers are always wrestling with this conflict of the libido and the soul (just as adults are, though the hormones do simmer down and experience can offer some context that teens don’t have). It’s the same one R-15 dealt with, in a somewhat cruder but still enlightening way. It certainly makes for fascinating viewing, and MGX remains the surprise stalwart in my top tier for this superb season.