I have to apologize to Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun, because I’ve been selling this series short. I thought it was an amusing trifle, a bit of a one-joke premise – but it’s not. The first two episodes were funny, but last week’s stepped up the game in a pretty big week. And this one was – God’s honest truth – one of the better anime episodes of the season. There’s actually a whole lot going on here.
I could hardly list all the ways the introductory episode for Narita Shion (an excellent Nojima Hirofumi) was really interesting. He’s a germaphobe like Aoyama-kun, and the first instinct is that’s going to be played for comedy – and it is, at times. But Keppeki Danshi goes so much deeper than that. One could already surmise after the first three eps that this show wasn’t trivializing Aoyama’s condition, and indeed it shouldn’t be – it’s quite debilitating in fact, and a very common phobia. We could see the impact it had on Aoyama’s life – the compromises it forced him to accept.
The thing is, not all germaphobes are alike – it’s complicated. And Narita-kun is fundamentally different from Aoyama in many ways, most crucially here that he keeps his condition a secret. I wouldn’t exactly call Aoyama-kun “healthy” but he does at least accept what he is – his germaphobia isn’t a matter of shame for him. Narita does hide it – he sneaks into school early to sanitize his area, he discreetly refuses to eat any of the food he cooks in home ec if another student touches it. Oddly enough, Aoyama’s way of living almost seems liberating when held up against Narita’s as a comparison.
This is so, so fascinating to me (maybe because I’m a bit of a germaphobe myself). First of all – can you imagine a more terrifying place for a germaphobic person than high school? It’s an environment that’s designed to crush any sense of personal space, and slobs like Yuuko are a dime a dozen. It’s no wonder that Narita retreats to the safety of MMORPGs like “Monstrosity Hunter” for a respite. But even here, it’s complicated. As “Smart”, Narita is basically himself – a neat freak, supremely organized – he just doesn’t freak out when his space is violated. But catboy Aoyama-kun soon joins his party, and he takes a totally different approach to this escape. He becomes everything he can’t be in real life – sloppy, gregarious, juvenile (his online room is a pigsty).
What does this tell us about these two boys? As I said, neurosis is a complicated matter – you can’t paint everyone with the same brush. I really like the way Keppeki Danshi Aoyama-kun puts all this out there and lets us consider it. Aoyama seems more self-aware than Narita-kun, that’s for certain. And what happens to Narita here – being falsely accused of stealing Yuuko’s gym clothes in a frankly quite dark and unsettling sequence (because it’s so realistic) – could never happen if he let the world in on his struggle. Aoyama knows the truth of course – he sees too much of himself in Narita to be deceived – but even his encouragement isn’t enough to convince Narita to come clean (pun intended). This series is a comedy, to be sure – but more and more I sense it’s a black comedy in the vein of Watamote rather than the cheeky romp I initially thought.