Mysterious Girlfriend X (2012) Review: More Than Just Spit
Anime like to alternate between fetishes every season or so to draw in the fanboys (or girls) on its premise or visuals alone. Maids, vampires, zombies and mermaids seem to be ideas of the past. “It looks like incest but it’s not” is another that seems to be all the rage now with titles like Oriemo (except for the ending) and Recently, My Sister is Unusual. I don’t think anyone would have guessed that a show about spit – “How does that work?”, one may ask – would have been licensed or even dubbed. The tagline “Brought together by love. Bonded forever… by drool” on the front cover of the Australian Hanabee DVD was enough to make me feel filthy, like I was ogling pornography. In a desperate attempt to save my dignity I streamed the series online and was pleasantly surprised by its merits.
Now that the big shock is out-of-the-way, Mysterious Girlfriend X is a 13 episode series written by Deko Akao (Arakawa Under the Bridge) and adapted by Hoods Entertainment, whom usually lend their animating talent to anime by other companies. The story is not awfully complicated. It follows a guy who, after deciding that tasting the puddle of drool on the desk of the new transfer student is a good idea, gets physiologically and emotionally addicted to her spit. After some reservations and explanations from the girl in question, they start dating. Weirded out yet?
The main spit gimmick of the show both sets it apart from other anime of its genre and is what will drive viewers away. It’s like trying to aim at a target where the surrounding trees are the easiest to hit. I am one of many who found it revolting. The consistency of the drool looks like an even more questionable bodily fluid which I shall not name. In the manga the spit is drawn more realistically with a watery consistency and almost invisible color, as shown here. However, if you can survive watching this particular clip of the main character practically vomiting her own saliva I can safely say you’ve seen the worst of it. In fact, after the first episode the spit thing was a lot less prominent and does not go much further beyond a guy and a girl munching on the other’s fingers. This gimmick makes Mysterious Girlfriend X a perfect candidate to be watched for a dare or turn into a drinking game: can you survive the challenge that is episode one? If not, the show is not for you – but it is always worth a try.
The story of Mysterious Girlfriend X could be described as: what would happen if Andrew ended up dating the Basketcase Girl (Alison) from The Breakfast Club (1985), only here Andrew is our Japanese, awkward Tsubaki-kun. Don’t worry, you won’t forget his name as our Basketcase Girl says it about one hundred times per episode. Tsubaki-kun is a typical anime lead who is very obsessed about girls although his down-to-earth observations makes the show easier to swallow. He’s the voice of reason, and Mikoto Urabe is the Pandora’s Box he tries to open. She is aloof, distant, eccentric, quiet and generally a bit of a weirdo. Even though the viewer may wonder if she’s experienced something traumatic or how she has developed these qualities it isn’t explored within the anime run – hence the name “mysterious”. Tsubaki-kun isn’t explored in much detail either although he still manages to be likable. Urabe is appropriately the title character as it is the interactions between these elusive, contrasting personalities which make Mysterious Girlfriend X entertaining.
In the anime world it is refreshing to see a show which isn’t obsessed with zooming in on uncovered boobs, overly pretty panties or the main character somehow getting his face planted somewhere awkward. At first Mikoto even looked flat chested but this is unfortunately not the case in other episodes. Again, if you can move past the spit thing Mikoto and Tsubaki-kun have an interesting, unique relationship which is interesting to watch. Most of the humor in Mysterious Girlfriend X arise from the sheer awkwardness of Tsubaki and Mikoto’s interactions, and the attempts Tsubaki makes to push their relationship forward. The attraction Tsubaki feels and has difficulty dealing with was funny to watch when you add Mikoto’s unusual world outlook. Trying to figure out how to impress the other person is a constant battle for the beginning of a relationship and is presented beautifully here. Other reviewers like Arkada from Glass Reflection have criticised the show for the key relationship moving too slowly, however, for a couple who have not been in a relationship previously it seems like a realistic pace, even if it is not exhilarating as other romance titles. There isn’t any obvious filler although the episodes with a previous love interest is where the anime cliche’s find their way through the cracks in the wall. The ending is largely open-ended and is an invitation to read the manga.
Even more than the story elements, the visual and musical elements of Mysterious Girlfriend X set it apart from others of its genre. The first thing most veteran anime fans will notice about this show is the fact the characters look like they were taken from the 80s or 90s. They have familiar small black pupils, simple hair and a stocky, cartoon-like build. The strangest part about this is that the manga by female Riichi Ueshiba was started in 2006 so perhaps this choice of art style is a choice of nostalgia on the artist’s part. The backgrounds are beautifully detailed with pretty lighting effects. The colors tend to be of darker hues although they have high saturation. The highlights of the animation, like most shows of this genre, are in the opening sequence and the dream sequences. The mood of the dream sequences and imagery inside them made me think that Tim Burton had jumped into the production team, so if you like The Corpse Bride or can stomach the ideas behind the pies in Sweeney Todd there’s a chance Mysterious Girlfriend X could appeal to you… only I’m not sure Tim Burton likes spit. Truth be told, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. Animation wise there’s a lot of walking around and a bit of talking heads syndrome, but the anime has enough of fluid moments to stick it above the average mark. The repeated sections of Mikoto pulling out her secret weapon on Tsubaki are strangely impressive.
The other obvious contender that adds to the mystical atmosphere of the show is the soundtrack. The opening “Koi no Orchestra” by Ayako Yoshitani is upbeat and has a rich musical ensemble to back it. The ED theme is fairly average fair, although these pale in comparison to the score. At times upbeat, at others creepy or eerie, the brilliant Tomoki Hasegawa (NANA) brings some real music to the series. It gives me hope to see the number of romance orientated shows that have soundtracks that don’t sound like they were lifted from an elevator. Josh Grell as the english Tsubaki sounds way too old, distractingly so, although relative newcomer Genevieve Simmons (Say I Love You) is great as Mikoto. She brings a down to earth quality to the dub as it’s obvious she’s not putting on a high-pitched voice to bring Mikoto’s weirdness to life. The anime dub industry needs more girls like her.
If you can survive episode one Mysterious Girlfriend X is an interesting addition to the romance genre of anime, mainly for its interesting, memorable characters and unusual execution. This isn’t one for non-anime fans unless you would like to see how weird anime can get – in which FLCL, Futakoi Alternative or Mawaru Penguindrum are just some of many titles worth recommending.
What do you think? Leave a comment.