I can’t speak to the manga, because I’ve only skimmed it (and that doujin that was my introduction to the series, way back when) but it seems as if the TV version of MGX is becoming decidedly more “normal” the last couple of episodes. One-cour adaptations of long manga are always going to be a crapshoot with it comes to that kind of thing, but what’s striking me about this season is that we’re seeing several difficult manga adaptations (Sankarea and Sakamichi no Apollon come to mind) where the anime staff is doing a phenomenal job of transitioning the material, keeping the essence of it while tweaking it to work with a much different medium and far less time to develop.
For my part, I enjoy this direction the anime is taking. It’s not as if the fantastical elements aren’t interesting, but the series seems to work best as a very smart commentary on the nature of adolescent romance, using (as Jormungand does, in a very different context) the absurd to shed insight on the human condition. The last two episodes have been unabashedly sweet – sweeter than Urabe’s drool, in fact. Love and sex are always co-existing side by side in MGX – neither out of sight, nor out of mind – and the feeling is that the one cannot exist without the other (when you’re 16, at least). In the real-world there’s plenty of sex without love in high school, of course, but I don’t think Ueshiba-sensei is burying his head in the sand and pretending sex doesn’t exist – I think he’s simply trying to place it in context. What Urabe and Tsubaki (perhaps I should switch to Akira and Mikoto) are learning is the sense of emotional responsibility that goes along with the physical attraction in a romantic relationship. It’s a lesson most couples their age never learn, and I think the writer would say that’s not to their benefit.
It’s not easy for those of us outside Japan to understand the significance of something as simple as calling your girlfriend by their first name, of course. In America you’d quite naturally call your opposite-sex friends – romantic or otherwise – by their first names. But in Japan, where the transition from formal to casual in a relationship is fraught with the weight of social significance, it’s a big deal to Akira – especially after the very sly and impish Oka teases him about it mercilessly over their chance meeting for ice cream in the city. Oka is an odd duck, that’s for sure, and she’s certainly lamped out the connection between Akira and Mikoto. Her feelings in all this are hard to decipher – I think she’s displayed signs she might be interested in either Mikoto or Akira, or both. I wouldn’t put it past her, but at the very least she has an edgy sense of humor.
If there was a theme this week, it was the importance of seemingly minor things in the course of a teenaged relationship. Not just first names, but photographs, and chance meetings with old crushes, too. Tsubaki passes this test with flying colors, turning down an invitation for coffee from middle-school crush Hayakawa. I was actually quite impressed his explanation to Urabe (though not so much with the wisdom of asking her whether she’d have been upset if he said yes) – he admitted to temptation, and admitted to a wistful “Too bad” as Hayakawa walked out of his life forever. This was an interesting sequence, culminating in the the tears he shed after tasting Urabe’s drool, and her response. This relationship of theirs is certainly a strange one, but it’s built on real affection, as is becoming clearer with each passing episode.
It strikes me that MGX is doing a better job than any series this season at conveying emotion through facial expression. There are certainly prettier shows with better animation, but Hoods is doing amazing work (with the manga as a template, no doubt) at using the characters faces as special effects – these faces are the roadmap for everything that’s happening in the series. That’s why Tsubaki’s focus on getting Urabe to smile for a photograph (“Bad Cat” instant camera) was rather fitting. Her insistence that faking a smile for a photo was very much in character, but I thought what Tsuabki got in the end was a pretty honest expression of who Urabe is – and I think he knows that, too. This is one weird relationship – but MGX is a deceptive story. Nothing is quite as it seems on the surface, and their relationship is, in a funny way, refreshingly normal.