This is the conclusion of my dive in Bunny Girl Senpai. This post in particular is reviewing Nodoka and Kaede respectively. If you are interested in the other characters then I highly advise you to read part 1 and 2. Enjoy.
Nodoka Toyohama Arc
If I were to recognize myself in one of the puberty syndrome phenomena, it is easily Nodoka. I am someone who personally attest to the struggles of comparative success and even having some performance anxiety. I will always have some kinship with Nodoka. Due to how understandable and personal her drama speaks to me and that her character is overshadowed. Overshadowed both in the world and with the fandom.
However, when I go to recollect my thoughts, all I can think about is that disturbing bone cracking sound effect they used when they switched back. That sound effect is maybe the worse thing I’ve ever had to listen to ever. It shook me to my core. For all the ways this should have been the most profound or relatable of the story arcs; I just couldn’t really find much to really appreciate this one.
I would argue that this arc was just doomed from the start. A lot of those factors out of its control. First, there’s just not a lot of tension to this story line. Especially when compared to the rest of them. For Mai she literally will cease to exist if she does not fix her situation within an impending ticking clock. In Koga’s arc it’s that time literally cannot move forward until the plot is resolved. Even in Futaba’s arc I would argue that there’s a sense that maybe if the two identities drift further apart Futaba will be permanently altered forever. Then you get to Kaede which we’ll get into. That one might have the biggest ramification on the results and has been the longest one coming.
Nodoka’s drama just seems like a small tiff. While they try to work the Freaky Friday angle of having a deadline of a concert for Mai to live in her shoes for it’s small potatoes compared to the rest of the series. It also isn’t done any service being the fourth out of five arc and being I believe the shortest. It just feels like one to complete the collection. Not devoid of substance but almost marketed as being less significant. It isn’t the closing act, and it doesn’t focus on a character we’ve already been thoroughly introduced to. Honestly feels like an OVA in the mid-series.
I also found it really strange to do a body-swapping gimmick, where you are introduced to a character as someone else. Usually the appeal of this troupe is to take two pre-established and distinct personalities. Then contrast them for a comedic or dramatic foil. It is hard to get to know Nodoka when her appearance and personality are separated. Maybe this is an arc that really could have been enhanced with a dub. Could help better distinguish between their speaking cadences and tones. Something about the swap just never fully registered.
Don’t misconstrue me as being all negative on this arc. I still think there is a lot of solid aspects that it could definitely be someone’s favorite. Personally, it something I would call underwhelming and not out right bad. The relationship between Nodaka and Mai was very genuine, both had fair reasons to hold some resentment towards each other. Nodoka’s panic attack was a really effective scene to show the burden she has.Displaying her as a perfectionist and the stress of being infallible like she images her sister. I suppose I’d have to say this is the weakest link in the series. Yet if this is as bad as it gets than I still consider that pretty fricking good.
I also almost forgot to even talk about how Nodoka tries to commit suicide in just an upsettingly silly fashion. Don’t get me wrong large bodies of water are certainly dangerous. Also I don’t think Nodoka was in that dark of a mental state to earnestly be trying it. Still, this scene just didn’t land right. This is essentially the darkest moment of the soul, the big emphasis of Nodoka at her lowest. The cinematography is stagnant. The dialogue has no punch. There’s no build up as it comes and goes way too fast.
Maybe emphasizing this point would shift things tonally too dark. Maybe would detract from the touching forgiveness scene but I disagree. We did compared this show to Clannad earlier. Clannad has a lot of grim moments featuring abuse, death, and depression. These moments never sullied it’s reputation as being an emotionally uplifting and whimsical show. The solution would feel more rewarding if we knew how damaging and draining the conflict is. Nodoka’s arc isn’t badly portrayed but it does almost feel the show does the character a huge disservice for all the reasons discussed.
Kaede Azusagawa Arc
This is the most misunderstood arc of the entire series. While I myself find it sloppy it is some of the richest story telling the show has to offer. Kaede has always been a somewhat off-putting character for me. Her character by design is just too transparent. Almost like I get it people like themselves a imouto moeblob loli. I discerned a very disingenuous vibe from her inclusion. That’s why I would say for most of the series I just sort of tolerated her.
That’s really a shame because her arc should be gut wrenching. Kaede’s puberty syndrome is really a compelling allegory for degrees of self-harm, dissociation, and depression. A victim of intense bullying Kaede deals with extreme social anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Although this are really intense ordeals, it almost gets dismissed simply because Kaede is a generally comedic character.
It’s hyperbolic to what dealing with these sensitive issues is, but the portrayal in general is inspiring. To a degree I’m sure we can recognize ourselves or someone we know in this struggle. The desire to shut the world out because how cruel it can be at times. There’s something heartwarming with just how significant the show a small victory can be for someone. It might seem silly that the show dedicates so much time and energy in portraying the significance of taking “one small step” outside your comfort zone. However, when you apply this bigger picture it’s a well-executed scene.
It’s not necessarily Kaede who I’ve seen people taking issues within this arc. It has been Sakuta who I’ve seen some people loft critiques at. Sakuta acts somewhat out of character, shedding his composed demeanor and eventually having outbursts of erratic behavior. I would concede that the show could have elaborated on the inner conflict more. Still I think if the viewer burdens themselves to emphasize with the situation, they’d find it quite disheartening.
Kaede’s arc is a happy ending is a reductive sentiment that completely dismisses the gravity of Sakuta’s turmoil and the weight of the situation. From Sakuta’s perspective, Kaede inflicted with puberty syndrome is a completely different person. Achieving his ultimate goal to bring Kaede to normal comes with a price. The price of essentially killing the Kaede he has nurtured for. It’s a hollow victory, and one that curses Sakuta to remorse and regret.
There’s something just frustrating about not being able to articulate your feelings and trying to force yourself to be happy. I think Sakuta truly grieves over the loss of the innocent Kaede. He even kind of goes through the five stages of grief. Sakuta denies that his relationship will get erased. Angered at its unfairness and even tries to bargain to justify for things to stay the same. It’s truly a sad moment, but also because it is compounded with Sakuta’s sense of duty to the original Kaede.
Why can’t you just be happy for her? Why didn’t you work harder to revert her back sooner? Did you enable her because you enjoyed how Kaede idolized you? Why were you so selfish? Would someone else had done a better job tending to her? What right do you have to be upset over any of this? How do I look at Kaede the same way again?
These are the things that I could imagine slowly eating away at Sakuta. So yeah, I think an outburst and the need to cry one out kind of makes sense. That isn’t necessarily out of character in the slightest.
Overall, the Kaede arc is a tough sell. I could see others being like myself and feeling detached from the character, but the struggle and conflict is uniquely rich. It’s a unique introspection on how coping with trying to help someone else through their ordeals. Displaying a sense of compassion with just how taxing that can be. Sakuta’s is doomed from the start, and it really puts it in perspective that failures and complicated emotions aren’t just all puberty syndrome, that’s life.
It’s frustrating that this arc gets so easily dismissed. Hiding in Public did a phenomenal video essay covering this arc. They comprehended the significance of it well. So instead of paraphrasing I encourage you to give it a look.
How’d I Rank Them
At the end of the day my final ranking is:
- Mai Arc
- Futaba Arc
- Kaede Arc
- Koga Arc
- Nodoka Arc
I feel strongly about the first 2, can probably sway on the rest. I am extremely excited yet terrified of the movie because of what might happen. In conclusion watch the show and give it a chance. That’s all I have to say, see you next time!