I’m pretty sure there’s never been a relationship anime quite like this one. I confess that while I was totally wrapped up in the this arc’s story after last week, I was looking forward to this ep with a hint of trepidation. After all, this was really the most conventional arc of the series so far – driven by a fairly standard plot and even relying on the cliffhanger. It was set up beautifully in episode 10, but it still left room for some of the “M” in MGX to be lost this time.
So now that it’s over, what’s the verdict? Well, truth be told, I don’t think this is MGX’s finest hour – that would be the first two eps and the sublime exploration of physical intimacy in episode 8 – but it was still resolutely MGX to the core, and that’s the main thing. While there were elements of the conclusion that didn’t totally work for me, they were outweighed by the fact that the arc was concluded quickly and decisively, and not pointlessly dragged out for the rest of the season, and the fact that it was done in what for me was a completely unexpected and original manner.
What didn’t work so well? Mostly Hayakawa. I found it quite refreshing to see her as depicted last week because it was a marked contrast to the way teenaged girls are idealized and deified in most anime. Of course high school girls are every bit as petty, deceitful and hurtful as boys, but rarely do you see a characterization so stark and unapologetic as Hayakawa. So the way this arc was resolved regarding her was a little bit cliché, and felt like a bit of a cop-out. I was looking for something more than an all-smiles, “she’s just a sweet girl who’s been hurt too much” resolution. She did learn a lesson, but she got off pretty easy for her Machiavellian machinations if you ask me. I also wasn’t that crazy about the double-slap when Tsubaki’s blindfold fell off, which also felt pretty much straight out of the “Tropes 101” textbook. I mean, it’s not like he was the one who told them to get naked in the classroom in the first place…
Nitpicks aside, where the episode did totally work for me is a much longer list, starting with the classroom scene itself. Leave it to MGX to come up with an uproariously silly situation that’s also extremely sexy (this may be the sexiest mainstream anime in many a season, and in a totally non-exploitative way) and manages to shed real light on the relationship that matters, Tsubaki and Urabe. Ueshiba-sensei has a great gift for striking visual imagery, and Watanabe-sensei is doing a perfect job making it come alive (including some of the best eyecatches ever). I loved the whole bit with Urabe deciding to spy on Tsubaki in her robot suit – starting with the suit itself, which was a hilariously retro pastiche of cardboard boxes and cool patches (even a flap over the mouth). The whole thing is just so totally Urabe – assertive and bizarre, yet also subtly vulnerable.
I also found Oka’s role in this episode to be quite interesting. She’s every bit the oddball that Urabe is. In some ways I think Oka is an expression of pure libido – she acts on whatever she feels, and seems quite untroubled by the consequences (or more accurately, unaware of them until after the fact – and then only mildly bemused). She sees maids, she wants to be a maid. Oka doesn’t seem to really think about things – she just does them, and given that she has a very healthy erogenous side, this can lead to interesting results. I found her spying session especially interesting for that reason. Effectively it was her doing that Urabe knew about Tsubaki’s “date” with Hayakawa, and her first instinct when she saw him about to taste her drool was to snap a photo – but she actually caught herself and thought “I can’t do that – I have to stop him!” It might be the first burst of conscience I’ve seen from her in the series, and the first selfless act too. It wasn’t necessary in the end, but it’s the thought that counts.
As always everything boils down to Urabe and Tsubaki, and they both passed the test when the chips were down. Tsubaki was partly a victim of Hayakawa’s playing on his sympathy and decency, but he certainly shares the blame for this whole fiasco – yet he did refuse to taste her drool in the end, and restate his commitment to Urabe. And the most impressive thing about Urabe here is that she’s such a realist. She’s surely hurt by what’s happened and threatened by it (she wouldn’t have stalked them otherwise) but she pushes events towards a conclusion rather than lashing out at Tsubaki. She understands the powerful pull of an old crush and doesn’t blame Tsubaki for feelings she accepts as “perfectly natural”, but she does show him how his thoughtlessness made her feel.
If only it were so easy to communicate feelings in RL relationships – but that’s part of the fantasy element of MGX. I think Ueshiba’s point is, the relationship works 1000X better when we understand how our partner is feeling – and the only thing stopping that from happening is that we usually don’t tell each other how we feel. Tsubaki and Urabe may have a fantastical way of sharing their feelings but there’s nothing to say the rest of us couldn’t do just as well using traditional methods. Really, this series is a relationship primer that every teen on the cusp of dating should read or watch – share your feelings. Don’t pretend sexual tension doesn’t exist – acknowledge it openly and put it in the context of the whole relationship. There’s nothing magical about it, it’s just common sense – but it may as well be magical, as most of us never get there. Not before a lot of hard knocks on the way, at least.