The setting is summer 2018. My friend and I are looking at the titles that have been announced for the soon-to-begin fall 2018 anime season. It was then that we came across Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (青春ブタ野郎はバニーガール先輩の夢を見ない). It seemed like a joke; they couldn’t be serious about that title, right? (Side note: it was then that we also discovered That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime and decided maybe Japan was just running out of title ideas). With a title that included the words “Bunny Girl Senpai” and cover art as seen above, we could only imagine the kind of content it would have. So of course I had to try it. It was completely unlike anything I expected. Spoilers ahead.
I’m just going to clear a few things up right now before we dive into everything. Yes, I’m very aware that this show is constantly compared to the Monogatari series. No, I have not seen any of the Monogatari series. Yes, I know they’re good and promise to rectify that soon. Now to continue.
Like countless anime protagonists before him, Azusagawa Sakuta is a loner. It’s not that he can’t understand the atmosphere (i.e. the mood of the room/people around him) and adapt to fit in, he just doesn’t care to put in the effort. Because of this, along with rumors about his past, he’s avoided by most of the students at his school. And Sakuta couldn’t care any less about the whole thing. For a high school student, this is the equivalent of social suicide. For Sakuta, it has been the normal for a while now. The one friend that he already has is enough.
Our story begins with Sakuta at the public library when he notices that there’s a girl brazenly walking around in a full bunny suit. What baffles him even more is that absolutely nobody else is paying attention to her, even when she gets right in their faces. When he finally speaks to her, she seems surprised that he is able to see her. She is Sakurajima Mai, a Japanese celebrity who also attends his high school.
As it turns out, Mai has noticed that her ability to be seen by others has been slowly diminishing over time. The closer she is to where she lives, the more reliably people can see her; but that circle is shrinking. Eventually, only Sakuta is able to see or remember who Mai is or that she ever existed. Mai has what is known as “Adolescence/Puberty Syndrome” (POSSIBLE SPOILERS for the movie in that link; I can’t confirm because I don’t want spoilers….).
A large sub-plot of this anime is the love story between Sakuta and Mai. I say sub-plot because, while the show does spend a lot of time throughout the series watching their relationship form and grow, it isn’t the central theme of what we’re being shown. But the chemistry between these two characters is undeniable and watching them interact is both hilarious and refreshing for an anime love story. There isn’t a constant battle of will they/won’t they. They are open with each other about their feelings and speak frankly rather than letting misunderstandings pile up and create a rift in the relationship. And even when the occasional misunderstanding happens, they are both mature about it, choosing not to jump to insane conclusions. It may not be the most realistic depiction of a high school romance, but it’s delightful to watch.
This anime has several distinct arcs, each one dealing with a different girl in Sakuta’s life who is experiencing Adolescence Syndrome. The symptoms of every girl is different, so the answer is never the same. While Sakuta might not care to read and adapt to the atmosphere, that doesn’t make him heartless or a bad friend. For each girl, he makes himself available to assist with finding a cure for whatever is happening in each of these girl’s lives. And before you roll your eyes at the male coming in to save the female trope, a key factor of Adolescence Syndrome is that only the girls themselves can actually cure it. Sakuta is merely there to help them figure it out and process what is happening (it seems to me that a big part of curing it has to do with accepting yourself for who you are as a first step to maturing and making real changes in your life).
As I said before, the only real relationship is between Sakuta and Mai, despite what you may begin to think during Arc Two, which I lovingly refer to as the “Homewrecker Arc” (yes, I understand most people feel a lot of sympathy for Tomoe Koga, I just don’t care. Fight me). This isn’t a harem anime. Yes, all of the Adolescence Syndrome…(victims? patients? sufferers?) are girls, but again, this isn’t a giant “will they/won’t they” love story anime. It definitely falls more into the supernatural category.
If you asked me to sit down and write down all the flaws in Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, I would have an incredibly hard time coming up with anything. There wasn’t anything that I disliked about this one. Since every arc lasts about three episodes, there was never a lull in the pacing or any filler. Sakuta’s dry humor coupled with his semi-serious personality was a hilarious combination. There is great chemistry between all the characters and Adolescence Syndrome was a great way to highlight differences in each of them. And because they’re all so unique, pretty much everyone can find someone to identify with and/or cheer for.
The show didn’t quite tell the entire story. There was one more arc that was left out of the series and released earlier this month in Japan in movie form, Rascal Does not Dream of a Dreaming Girl. And, it appears the movie was a huge success. It’s being premiered in the United States next weekend at Anime Expo. I’m going to assume this is indicative of a wider nationwide release later on, because thinking anything else is too heartbreaking. Until then, I’m going to be wearing earplugs and internet blinders to avoid spoilers. I would rate this as one of the best anime to come out of 2018, and I highly recommend you try it.