Before I became an anime fan, I used to go to a lot of concerts by what are commonly called “jam bands”. There are certain leisure activities that are commonly (and correctly) associated with the act of attending such a concert. Somehow, magically, Nazo no Kanojo X has made me feel as if I were back in that time, only this go-around, I was watching anime.
OP: “Koi no Orchestra” (恋のオーケストラ) by Ayako Yoshitani
Damn, this show is weird. I alternate being transfixed by how utterly and perfectly the show has mirrored the look of late 80’s and 90’s anime, and being totally swept up in the bizarre yet somehow sweet storyline. This week we’re treated to the OP (like the ED sung by Ayako-san) which, exactly as it should, captures the sound and feel of what anime OPs sounded like 20 years ago with unnerving accuracy. Also unnerving is to see these visuals and have my mind expect a romantic comedy of that vintage, and then to have the sheer audacity of the premise thrown in my face. I’m having a very hard time coming up with words to describe what the experience of watching this show is like, because I’ve never seen anything quite like it. And neither or those two are things I say very often.
I won’t bore you again with how great Miyu Irino is, but the casting of this show is pure genius. MGX is all about contrasts – the retro visuals with the ultra-edgy premise. The disgusting nature of the central conceit with the innocence of Tsubaki’s feelings for Urabe. And the casting fits that theme like a glove, because Miyu is a magician here, hilarious (his “Hi-mi-tsu!” parody alone with the price of admission) and perfectly capturing the confusion and exuberance of Tsubaki in love and modulating his performance constantly. Meanwhile Yoshitani Ayako is completely natural. Her performance is mostly low-key and completely unconventional, utilizing none of the affectations and mannerisms female seiyuu rely on these days. Her voice has a sultry quality to it somehow merges with that hair-over-the-eyes look and amplifies Urabe’s presence tenfold. It’s one of the weirdest seiyuu combinations I can remember, but it totally works.
I see some kinship with Tsuritama here, as both seem to be taking a magical realism view of the adolescent male psyche. In the former case it’s all about social anxiety – being stared at, the voice cracking at the worst possible time, unease with social convention, fitting in. Here, it’s sex and love – in a broad sense I think MGX is really a wry look at the way teenaged girls seem like they’re from another planet to inexperienced teenaged boys. Or as one of our commenters pointed out last week, giant robots – mangaka Riichi Ueshiba has publicly stated that he views the series as a giant robot story, with the girl as the giant robot. In makes sense that way if you think about it, especially when you consider what the act of piloting a giant robot symbolizes in anime in the first place. He’s simply added a layer of symbolism – or eliminated one, depending on how you look at it.
Looked at that way, I can almost view MGX as a companion piece to the timeless (and ahead of its time) classic FLCL, which was full of similar themes, but this time centered on the subject of puberty. In the same way Urabe as a giant robot clarifies MGX, thinking of Haruka as puberty itself gives order to the avalanche of symbolism in FLCL. In fact this is probably the best anime that’s purely about the exploration of the adolescent male libido since FLCL – but it’s FLCL grown up, with a high-schooler at its center instead of a kid just entering middle school, and the terrifying alien is the relationship itself and not the physical onset of the awareness of the opposite sex.
Well, that’s a lot of words after all – I guess I wasn’t having as much trouble as I thought – but I still feel like the best way to experience MGX is to experience it, and not read about it. The episodes themselves are visual feasts, full of clever little touches like the recycled drink-machine sequences, the cutaways to cats and birds having a much better time than Tsubaki, and yet more dream sequences. The music is again splendid, authentic to the throwback visuals but clever and subtly reflecting the odd events on screen, and the percussion effect when Urabe uses her scissors is spot-on – in fact those sequences are exactly how I imagined them when I saw them on paper. Yes, those scissors – if you thought the drool thing was Urabe’s main weird card, she’s got plenty more up her sleeve, including this ace. Don’t think there’s no symbolism in this either – the scissors, and where she keeps them? Ah, the anxieties of an overstimulated teenaged psyche.
I would be hard-pressed to name a favorite scene here, but the one where Urabe disrobes in the abandoned building to make her drool extra charged-up was stupendous. It was beautifully drawn, unsettling (those ants!) and sensual, again juxtaposing desire and fear – those inseparable companions in the life of a teenaged male. Urabe is clearly weird (yet endearing) but the hinting is strong that it’s more than that – not only can she control the chemical impact of her drool, but she can tell what’s in Tsubaki’s mind from his – and I would be hard-pressed to think of a funnier line this season than when she told him he could “have me do whatever you want in your dreams – but if we were doing that, there’s no way I’d have a doll tied to my head!”
That sense of surrealistic, dreams bleeding into reality strangeness is at the heart of what MGX is. I think Tsubaki’s frustrations – both sexual and romantic – were extremely realistic and communicated to the audience well, thanks in part to Miyu’s performance. As did Taketo in R-15, Tsubaki can’t ignore the physical demands that are raging in his body – but he wants the relationship too, the hand-holding and the talking and the sense of closeness. But how do you have that with an alien – or a giant robot? What this series understands is that the two are not mutually exclusive, and in fact go hand-in-hand – but also that trying to make sense of the whole mess is an impossibility when you’re 16 and never had a girlfriend before. On top of everything else and all the other contrasts, MGX is both elemental and deep – by looking at Tsubaki’s life in a funhouse mirror, it shows us what adolescence really looks like.