This was a moment you knew had to come sooner or later – it happens in the life of almost every anime comedy, even the really hard-edged ones like Mitsudomoe. I didn’t necessarily expecting a character-based episode that borders on heartwarming (actually, it swarms across the border) in a series whose first two episodes were as zany and ironic is this one, but that’s exactly what we got. So the question, then – did Binbougami! pass the test?
For myself, that’s a definite “yes”. In fact, I would say the series did quite a bit better in “serious” mode that its closest stylistic cousin of realistic vintage, Haiyore! Nyaruko-san – which felt seriously lost whenever it tried to lose the irony and play it straight. By contrast this series showed it’s built around a premise that actually has some traction on the human level, and chose a very involving story to illustrate that fact. That story is built around the boy who’s been sleeping in class next to Sakura for the first two episode, Tsuwabuki Keita (Uchiyama Kouki) and his family.
Make no mistake, this story is played pretty broadly. We have a stuck-up rich girl and a plucky but loving poor family with no parents – hardly a more saccharine scenario could be imagined. But there’s a bit of depth in the way it’s portrayed here, and perhaps this even sheds a little light on the symbolism of Sakura being a rich girl “born lucky”, who sucks the good fortune of everyone around her. Obviously she’s shallow and mean-spirited in this ep, interested in Keita mainly for his looks and because she assumed he was rich and horrified by the cramped apartment he shares with four younger siblings he works multiple jobs to support. In America we’re seeing a political drama play out which reflects the fact that the rich have a very hard time understanding the needs of those not like them, and that disconnect paired with the fact that Sakura is a 16 year-old girl (hardly the most empathetic sub-group on the planet) produces a very ugly situation when she tells Keita off in front of his family, belittling their struggles and reminding him how much better off they’d be with money.
She’s right, of course, in the sense that people like her do have a freedom that the rest of us will never have – that’s the ugly truth you don’t hear discussed much. But there’s also the matter that she’s jealous of what Keita has that she doesn’t – a house (albeit a tiny one) full of family that loves and reveres him. The story of Keita’s otouto Ryuu, a trading card and a sudden rainstorm plays like one of Aesop’s fables, but the point gets across – and as broad as it is, the emotions ring true. Sakura may have bought Ryuu the card to rub her wealth in his face, but she got some genuine joy at seeing how happy she’d made him – and in the end, she acted to save a child in trouble despite professing not to care what happens to “a bunch of nobodies”.
I’m not saying I’d necessarily want to see this level of sincerity every week from Binbougami!, but the show has convinced me that it can handle this sort of material, and the moments of random screwball comedy (Sakura will forever by “Tittyko” to me now) were all the more noticeable in that they were the exception rather than the rule. It seems as if this is actually a show about something, and that something is Sakura’s integration into the human race. Momiji hinted at this herself – her job may not in fact be to leech Sakura’s fortune and share it with the world, but to help Sakura do the job for her by coming out of her self-imposed isolation. And based on the level of storytelling we’ve seen in three episodes, I’m quite keen to see that play out.