I wonder if there weren’t a lot of viewers who watched a couple of episodes of Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun, felt like they had the measure of it, and moved on. It’s not as though I’d expect this series to be a hit (it’s not as though more otaku-friendly comedy gems like Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge or Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru! were hits either), but for a sizeable chunk of the Western audience especially anything with the “sports anime” tag is pigeonholed and dismissed. It’s a shame more people don’t seem to be tuned in, because they’re missing out on something pretty excellent.
The essence of what makes Aoyama-kun special, for me, is that is takes what could be basic and straightforward and still be passably entertaining, and says “that’s not good enough”. Obviously we’ve seen relationship triangles in anime romcoms ad nauseam (and I do mean nauseam), but I’ve never seen one portrayed in quite the way this episode did. The vehicle for this new development is Umeya Tsubasa (Namikawa Daisuke – cast-wise, the rich get richer), a standout first-year in the judo club who’s decided to quit and join the soccer club. The reason is as simple as it gets – he’s in love with Gotou-san.
“Why do we fall in love with someone?” is a seemingly obvious question that’s not often asked in anime romances, but it’s rather central to the story here. Who knows why Moka fell in love with Aoyama, a guy who (until recently at least) was literally untouchable. Why did Umeya – a seemingly sensible and grounded lad – fall for a girl who was madly in love with someone else? Whether it’s hormones or the red string of fate, the heart wants what it wants. Umeya’s decision to switch clubs is a huge trauma to the hilariously unhinged judo coach (“Was it my cool coaching style!? Did you not like it?”), who proceeds to shadow his protege through the rest of the episode via a string of preposterous disguises (my favorite was the “wall” poster), but Umeya-kun is determined.
I loved the way this ep used arrows (and accompanying sound effects) to illustrate the absurd romantic tangle playing out – another of the small touches that make Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun special. Whatever reasons Umeya has for falling for Moka, his approach is dedicated – he first applies himself to helping her clean for Aoyama. Then he flat-out dedicates himself to getting the two of them together – because that’s what she wants. His reasoning? As long as he’s “buried next to her” he’ll be satisfied. Now that’s devotion – although it was for such men that the term “patient to a fault” was coined…
All this builds towards a “date”, in which Umeya invites Gotou-chan and Aoyama both to a cat festival at Inokashira Park Zoo (I can see no evidence such a festival exists, which is for the best as I think I’d have offed myself for missing it if it did). This is delightfully absurd from start to finish, especially in the reactions of the rather large group of camp followers the star-crossed trio have gathered to watch this all play out. And things get even more complicated when Mio-chan and her pal Yuri show up (coincidentally it seems). Yuri is a bemused observer to all this, but Mio is of course very much involved (I adored the way she tried to backtrack after revealing a little too much after she and Aoyama-kun initially see each other).
I don’t think this show is every going to unabashedly become a romcom, but in the last couple of episodes it’s certainly shown that it has what it takes to be an unconventionally successful one. There’s a lot of trope deconstruction going on here, rather systematically in fact – but there’s more to it than just reimagining cliches through a specific lens. By taking its oddball characters as seriously as it does, Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun is presenting something quite original and fresh, and managing to do so week after week.