Nazo no Kanojo X – 13 (End) and Series Review

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I’m resigned to the fact that this series will never be recognized as the classic it was, but that doesn’t diminish its greatness one bit.

Please don’t mistake the fact that I’m not doing a separate series finale and series review post for Nazo no Kanojo X as any indication that I loved it less than others where I did – the fact is, my feelings about the finale and the series as a whole are so intertwined that it simply didn’t feel right to do separate posts about them.  Without any question this is one of the highlights of the strongest anime season in a couple of years – perhaps second only to Tsuritama on my list.  It’s certainly been the biggest pleasant surprise for me, and quite possibly the most fun series to blog.

Everything that’s magical about “Mysterious Girlfriend X” is summed up in that last scene in the cemetery where Akira and Mikoto visit his Mother’s grave.  It’s a miracle, a paradox, a seeming impossibility – how can a scene where two teenagers suck on each other’s drool possibly be so moving and emotionally pure?  MGX is the proof that you can’t judge an anime on first impressions alone.  The series is so nuanced, so full of subtext and hidden meaning – and the drool metaphor itself turns out to be one of the cleverest literary devices I’ve seen in anime for a long time.  A load of credit to the mangaka Ueshiba-sensei, but also to director Watanabe Ayumu for making some incredibly good decisions about how to go about adapting the manga.

The entire finale was a great example of how MGX confounds expectations at every turn, always going just a little bit deeper and more thoughtful than you expect.  It was sober, reflective and emotional – full of nostalgia and memory and ultimately joy.  Much of the first half is spent in the company of Youko-san (Fukuen Misato is fast becoming one of my favorites), who we haven’t spent much time with.  Tsubaki arrives home to find her asleep and drooling, and the question this prompts for him – “do you have a boyfriend?” – sets her off down memory lane.  In fact, she’d been dreaming of her time in high school with her sweetheart Arima (Eguchi Takuya) and she has her own romantic association with drool, connected to him.

The chance meeting between Youko and Urabe in town felt very natural.  Urabe was shy and hesitant, aching to tell Youko about her relationship with Akira even before Youko asked directly about her brother’s social life.  For Youko seeing Mikoto in her school uniform is just another reminder of the past that’s been much on her mind.  We learn a bit more about her, and the sacrifices she’s made since her mother’s passing.  Her father (Kawashima Tokuyoshi) and her brother encourage her to think of her own future, telling her that they’ll be fine on their own – but Youko has promised their late mother that she’ll act as Akira’s mother until he’s out of college and settled in a good job.  The sibling relationship in this episode is wonderfully realistic, with Youko determinedly trying to learn more of her brother’s life – asking him for examples of what he’d told their mother while praying at the grave (which he isn’t about to provide).  I wish we’d gotten a little more background on their father, but he remains a background figure, absent for the entire series until this point. 

It was a fascinating choice to close the series with an episode whose focus seems so different from the rest of the series, but in reality it makes perfect sense.  For Urabe this chance meeting has a huge impact, for several reasons.  For starters, hearing about how Youko and Arima drifted apart after graduating makes her much more aware of the fragility of her relationship with Tsubaki.  But this is also an opportunity for her to get closer to him, in her unusual way.  Urabe is, as Tsubaki says, “a girl who often makes no sense” (sums up the theme of the series pretty well, actually) but though her methods are always odd, she’s actually quite normal in terms of her true feelings and her emotional needs. 

I think the key moment of the episode was when Tsubaki told Urabe that he had no memory of his mother’s death, not even of being sad.  With Urabe everything is about confronting your true emotions, and this clearly strikes her as both sad and fundamentally wrong.  She asks him to visit the grave with her in part to grow closer to her, yes, but also to help Tsubaki come to understand his own feelings and embrace the memory of his mother, even if it makes him sad.  That’s the show in microcosm right there – the problem in our lives isn’t too much communication, it’s too little.  The small miracle she engineers by sharing drool with Tsubaki while he touches his mother’s grave is unique and quite unlike anything I’ve seen before, and a very powerful moment for all the emotional weight it carries.  Mikoto and Akira share all the sadness and joy of the memory he’d suppressed – the tears he shed at losing his mother, and the joy he felt in knowing that his father and sister loved him so much and would always take care of him.  With that shared moment and the emotional growth it brings to Tsubaki and their relationship, they can go forward – to “even bolder things”, as she promises – and the new Sakura blossoms bloom as they do every Spring. The future is always right in front of us, urging us forward no matter what happens in our lives.

If Jormungand is a perfect example of how to succeed by doing a note-faithful adaptation of a manga, Nazo no Kanojo X is a perfect example of how to make an anime that’s even better than the source material by means of wise and judicious changes.  Watanabe-sensei adapted chapters from all over the manga (still ongoing) – adapting chapters completely out of sequence, and combining those from different volumes into single episodes.  But this isn’t just a “best of” collection – it’s clear now, in hindsight, that the ordering of the chapters was carefully planned out to produce a narrative that flowed seamlessly.  It’s almost hard to believe Ueshiba didn’t write the stories in this order, because the series a whole feels entirely cohesive and the progression of the relationship totally natural.

It’s amazing that Watanabe-san can direct two such radically different shows like MGX and Uchuu Kyoudai in the same season.  But it’s also amazing that his entire career in anime prior to now was in the Doraemon franchise.  This is clearly a director of real talent, and while I love both his shows this season this is the one that really allows him to show his stylistic chops off to the audience.  Above and beyond matters of content Watanabe has shown an impressive sense of style in bringing Ueshiba’s strange universe to life on screen.  I love the dream sequences he’s crafted, and I love the way he’s turned the show’s retro, 80’s look almost into a character in its own right.  No show this season has been as much pure fun to look at, with characters whose faces speak a thousand words, and to listen to – both the soundtrack and the lead performances are among the best of the year.  Irino Miyu is at his polished best, as always extracting every drop of genuine emotion from his likably good-hearted but normal character, and Yoshitani Ayako has been a revelation.  With her completely natural and relaxed verbal style she’s a great contrast with Irino-san, and the two of them work spectacularly well as a couple.  In a series full of contrasts, their disparate styles fit right in.

Ueshiba described MGX as a “giant robot series where the girl is the robot”, and he’s created something quite deep and profound through the use of bizarre imagery.  This may very well be the best anime about relationships since Bokura ga Ita, or even Kare Kano – I consider it the spiritual heir of FLCL, which explored the complexities of adolescence through the use of symbolism.  The relationship is more interesting than the build-up, but so many series waste so much time in getting there.  MGX is all about the “there” – the sometimes bumpy co-existence of sexual and romantic feelings, the struggle to remain faithful, and of getting past misunderstandings.  Relationships are never easy and they aren’t here either, but through the use of a magical device Ueshiba is able to muse on what would happen if boys and girls actually understood each other.

For me, that’s what the whole “alien” thing Ueshiba continually hints at (posters, phone straps, etc.) is really about.  No, Urabe isn’t really an alien – but to a teenaged boy, his girlfriend may as well be.  Urabe is sexy and scary and mysterious, and in the real world most couples never get past the wall that separates the male experience from the female.   I think he’s telling us that if we just work at it, we can actually communicate with each other – and our relationships would be the better for it.  It’s not as if we shouldn’t act on our physical attraction – but how much better will the physical intimacy be if we do the heavy lifting to achieve emotional intimacy first?  It’s an astonishingly smart and penetrating series of questions he’s asking – and Watanabe-san does a superb job of bringing that vision to this adaptation.  I have no reservations in calling Nazo no Kanojo X a great series – it’s funny, smart, and genuinely deep.  Even more, it’s universal – the topics dealt with could hardly be more elemental to the human experience.  If you haven’t seen it, set your preconceptions aside and prepare to be astonished.  If you have, I’ll see you when the OVA comes out.

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  1. j

    Spot on, Enzo. As a fan of the manga, I couldn't have hoped for a better adaptation. The additions and editing were so apt. When the manga finishes, I'd really like to see the same bunch do a second season. I think there's enough material, as Ueshiba treats his secondary characters well.

  2. A

    Its funny that this was the one manga adaption I was really concerned about. What a pleasant suprise the last 3 months have been. I wonder if fans of the manga have been the primary audience, since this show doesn't seem to have gotten nearly the attention it deserved. I'm just glad we had one one blogger that recognized the great quality of this show, so thank you Enzo!

  3. T

    I really think that you have said everything throughout your covering of this series that needs to be said about how good it is but I will talk anyway. You have said it before but I really wish there was more anime that dealt with this side of the relationship instead of all the build up only. I believe you and Zanibas covered that pretty well in the RC podcast but it is so true. The build up is so great in many other shows but if that was only the halfway point and the rest was about the relationship they could improve so much. I will take my namesake as an example. I love Toradora do absolute death but I would love to see it go further and explore more of the dynamic of the relationship as this show did. How does their dynamic change now that they know they love each other and the dynamic of Taiga knowing that they constantly are hanging out with challengers. I am curious! These are the question I want to see explored and having a fantastic show like this explore it really is a treat and your blogging of it was fantastic.

  4. Thanks Toradora, as well as Anon and jeb. My honest assessment is that most shows don't write about the actual relationship because that's a much harder thing to write about than the buildup. That can be generic, full of clichés, giving people what they expect. The relationship itself is much trickier to depict.

  5. T

    Ya I can understand that fully since it is so difficult to do. I just wish more anime would take the risk to go there and attempt it as I think even a medium success at it would still be very entertaining. It all has to do with the way the industry is set up and working at the moment and I get that but sometimes I wonder what it could be if the financials all worked out better.

  6. K

    Wow. Nazo no Kanojo is definitely one of my top favourites this season. I remember reading the 1st chapter of the manga a couple of years ago, but dropped it immediately because of the drool aspect. I initially had no plans to watch this, but decided to give it a try.

    The amount of detail in exploring a relationship is simply astounding. Girls may seem mysterious to boys, but looking at it the other way around, the actions of boys may seem just as mysterious to girls.
    MGX does a great job in using something as mundane as drool to break down the barrier between boys and girls.

    I really liked the scene at the grave where Tsubaki and Urabe exchange drool by crossing their arms, very much similar to a wedding customs. such a simple gesture speaks volumes about how much their relationship has progressed.

    I honestly have no complaints about MGX. Every thing from character development to BGM, it was done meticulously and faithfully. I eagerly look forward to another cour, since there is definitely enough material to do so.

  7. p

    TY Enzo for blogging this show. Sad to say, too many folks simply got turned off by the drool thing and missed what this show was really about and no amount of reasoning would have them give the show a chance and see beyond that. Strange to think when you have teens fantasizing about, as well as sleeping with ghosts, demons, angels, zombies and siblings that something as simple as spit would be some kind of anime rubicon. I love how this show was about communication and real complications with first love and growing up and treated them with such respect and a healthy dose of humor (If only I could have found an Oka as my first love!). Maybe word of mouth will give this series its due, but I have to admit, the way that this series captured the essence and spirit of the manga makes me wish that they'll be allowed to mine the source material again, there's plenty there to use although if they skip the idol arc, I wouldn't miss it.

  8. B

    Overall the ending was just as good as you said, but it was a little heavy on the Freudian imagery there at the end with the blooming flower and the butterfly sucking it until the nectar overflowed.

  9. e

    To be fair the symbolism has been there since the OP sequence and peppered through the episodes. Lemons, juices, drool, honey (?), nectar (in a words: fluids), flowers, butterflies.
    I was mostly amused by them really, and they are consistent with the show also in their multiple layers of meaning.

  10. R

    I have not read the manga but I agree this show should have had a far larger audience. the first episode I watched with caution and expecting not to like it as "drool fetish is not really my cup of tea, but it turned out to be so different.

    It didn't even take X number of episodes to demonstrate what a different and wonderful show this was going to be… right on episode one we had a taste of the beauty of NnK X, when Akira confronted by Urabe for a "reason" to start dating and him "tearing up" his past crush photo and throwing it to the wind, for her… I swear it was a such a romantic moment I felt ashamed of never doing a gesture like that in my relationships. after that episode after episode surprised me by either avoiding cliches or giving them a twist and of course so many other "not intuitive" romantic gestures… I fell in love with this couple and will sorely miss them.

    The ending was also a high point. So many shows are ruined by trying to force a cliffhanger in hopes of forcing a second season. NnK X stood clear of that, no cliffhanger breakup, no "back to the start" ending. Just a nice insight on what the couple's future may be and a glimpse of how they have grown along with their bond.

  11. A

    Probably my favorite show of Spring 2012, even though it wasn't the clear cut best (Fate/Zero has more ambition, Apollon has better execution, etc).

    The chemistry and the tight writing sold me – Urabe is actually much less mysterious than the show presents her to be, while exaggerating the mysterious normalcy of the others.

    I also completed the manga, & there's enough material for another season (the Momoka doppelganger and the scifi film that turns into an Charlie Kaufman thing)

  12. A

    fantastic anime, but I can say that, despite the fact that many blogs have not talk about it, is one of the best of the season, me back that feeling I had for anime before … fearless proposal and new situations, anime if given for a second season, but taking intoaccount that mess new situations as they did this was simply a fantastic anime, and what was not … well sorry for the XD

  13. H

    A very good writeup and analysis of the show. I love the whole season, and it seems that just about everyone who watched the show thought it was the best or second best show of the season. I thought the ending was unexpected yet perfectly fitting and part of me hopes for more, and part hopes they just leave it there.

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