In the September 2014 issue of Kodansha’s Monthly Afternoon manga magazine, Riichi Ueshiba’s Mysterious Girlfriend X (Nazo no Kanojo X) ended a run stretching back to August 2006. If one goes back far enough in the history of this blog, the 2012 anime adaptation of Mysterious Girlfriend X was among the first things I had commented about in the initial post.
Things have, of course, changed a lot with the blog since that time.
With the manga ending, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit where we essentially started.
“Ok, so what comes before the step before the first step?”
Fundamentally, Mysterious Girlfriend X is a series where one very notorious trait hangs over the entire production in any anime and manga related conversation it would arise in.
This is the one about drool. Psychic drool, even.
As in, using that vector of emotional exchange as a basis concept for setting a high school romance story.
The sort of thing where a back of box synopsis alone would land it on countless “Weirdest Anime EVER!?” type internet lists. A tidbit and a factoid.
It just drips right on down the page and the back of the mind’s eye, does it not?
I remember well the anime season preview guides where the television show was first coming out. It was April 2012, and I was about two months or so out from graduating with my Master’s degree. This was when I was just starting to get back into weekly airing anime, after taking a hiatus for essentially all of university and graduate school. I was starting to gain some additional free time back in my life, while also looking towards job opportunities.
Many anime season preview guides, by and large, had quite an animated time trying to type out and describe the device driving of Mysterious Girlfriend X. Let me be clear: I never knew of this series prior. And when I heard an anime show said to have a focus on drool was coming out, in an industry that seems at times to be in an internal arms race with exploiting every possible fetish in existence, I fear the worst. That said, the season preview guides did make for very, very entertaining reading as meany reacted with revulsion. I can recall at least one instance of a friend and I reading the internet breakdown post reactions out loud to each other during some break period down time for the sake of hilarity in the dwindling days of my graduate school career.
This was pretty much my experience with the production for about a year. Once the initial “What is the industry thinking these days?” novelty of it wore off with reading about those initial episode impressions, I essentially stopped paying any attention to Mysterious Girlfriend X. I would say I may as well have forgotten it existed, but the tricky thing with a mental concept like “The Anime / Manga About Drool” is it sort of sticks. Had anyone mentioned it to me in something like a trivia game context in the months that followed, I probably would have been able to provide at least the English language title without much effort.
As the year went on, I happily went about on various evenings browsing through the official streaming catalogs which had opened up over the years I was engulfed in university study and activities. If one browses around things like the index of this blog, it is no secret that I will often stick with a title I come to dislike, just to see how far down in quality it goes in my eyes. To see where what things happen to go wrong, as there is a scale. Likewise, I will at times pop something on I know is supposed to be terrible or should not work for me, just for the exercise of having it as a knowledge base and where it would go on a personal mark of quality curve.
I do this with a lot of media, well before ever having a blog.
It was late on a Friday night in May 2013 where, in browsing around Crunchyroll’s website, I just happened to catch Mysterious Girlfriend X in its Romance genre list. At this point then, over a year had passed since the television show started airing, and its thirteen episode weekly run had long since finished. I mulled the idea around for a time, and came to the conclusion I may as well give it a spin. After all, gore splattered anime excess in the back of Blockbuster Video or other rental stores were things I was familiar with. It is not like this series could go harder than them viscerally. Surely, I could take a mental hacksaw to some sort of drool based romance show.
Thirteen episodes may as well only be two or three films, when one has a whole weekend.
By this point, May 2013, The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana) was well into its run. I was looking forward to it each and every week, while its rotoscoped visual style caused widespread venom spitting across many an anime forum, blog, or otherwise. There was a lot of community rage and aggression towards it. While I more than welcome others to disagree with my opinions on media, this was particularly potent. I wanted to be able to express my media opinions online better than I was, though where, how, to what extent, and even if it would happen at all were very much unknown factors. The Flowers of Evil would later go on to be my favorite anime production of 2013.
I turned on Mysterious Girlfriend X to, in a sense, make good on having the follow-through from those times I recalled where I was just as taken aback reading about it as others seemed to be watching it. That seemed appropriate.
I finished the thirteen episodes by the end of the weekend, and I was left with something of a frustrating thought.
I could not write it off. As a complete package, I could not say I disliked what I saw.
Going into a piece of media with the expectation I may dislike it, but walking away surprised, is nothing new of course. I would like to think it happens to everyone. It would be a shame if someone never had such nice experiences in their media consumption.
Let me reiterate though: This was and is the drool romance anime we are talking about here. And coming with well rounded overall positive opinions of it.
This bugged me. I can not really deny that.
A little less than a week would go by. Given the other factors in my head at the time, such as The Flowers of Evil, I would finally begin to write around on certain anime related forums and try and discuss media more. When I eventually started this blog, I archived some things from those posts, and if one digs back far enough the first one happens to contain some words on Mysterious Girlfriend X. It just so happened be a part of a larger breeze when I jumped over the writing and discussion fence I had already been sitting on.
And here we are today! The blog having gone through formatting and stylistic changes over time, but here none the less, and arguably for the better. In the time since, I have read the Mysterious Girlfriend X manga via the Crunchyroll simul-publishing service, and kept up with it up once a month up to its recent conclusion. Seeing this as an opportunity for a good lengthy post, given how the franchise shows up in my first post for this blog, I went about re-watching the television show recently as well. To see what I come away with this time, now that it is all over and I have a lot more media writing under my belt.
So: Actually talking about the series now!
There will be some situational spoilers for illustrative example purposes, but nothing I deem to significantly damage the plot. As with the Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer post, I have broken up sections with thematically appropriate quotes for easier reading.
Having access to no really solid interview or commentary materials from either anime series director Ayumu Watanabe or mangaka Riichi Ueshiba, I am merely using lines pulled from across the materials to device topical areas. The quotes and photos are not from the same scenes.
“Do you want me to tell you why your body is going through all these changes?”
A benefit to the experience of Mysterious Girlfriend X is knowing the manga was originally conceived as a one shot back in 2004. Conceptually, based on the simple if extrapolated to the extreme idea of “A girl sleeping so hard some drool is coming out of her mouth is kind of cute.“ As such, what is essentially the most dramatic use of drool in the entire series, in terms of raw volume and attention, is achieved by the end of the very first chapter / first episode, when leading lady Mikoto Urabe reacts to Akira Tsubaki asking her out to be his girlfriend in a way only he can.
This is the wall, in a sense.
In its original form, none of this was ever really intended to go any further. It would be roughly two years until an actual monthly series ended up coming out to continue the universe the one shot had established.
The situation here then, is Mysterious Girlfriend X had two paths: To either ramp up the drool factor and go for more horrific or visually gross factors (not necessarily impossible; Monthly Afternoon has serialized things like the Parasyte manga, for instance), or draw it down and emphasizing things like the emotional and symbolic uses it could be used for. To his credit, Riichi Ueshiba sort of lurches around with what to do with this world for a bit in the initial chapters, so the process of him trying to figure out what direct to take his characters is quite apparent I feel. It even lends a bit of an added meta-organic quality to the initial stages of the central pair, as starting points are often where folks at their most confusing in a real life relationships before they understand each other better.
The later option would be, in the end, would be what won out.
It is not that the drool factor disappears of course. Akira coming to taste some of Mikoto’s drool by a spark of momentary schoolroom madness fit for a far later part of the aforementioned The Flowers of Evil forms the basis for how they begin talking and dating at all, of course. It sort of needs to be around going forwards, given the emphasis the one shot places on it. So what the series ends up doing, in manga and anime form, is have Mikoto placing her finger in her mouth and then into Akira’s as the exchange vector, and even playing that down in places with smaller and smaller scenes of it.
In terms of three dimensional space, this forms a variety of interesting shots over the series. Things like locational height differentials and the arms length separation between them in such moments can show symbolic equality, depending on the mood and elevations within the scene, so as to fit how the characters may feeling at the time. Even some simple camera rotational matters can make it seem as though they could be kissing, when they are in fact doing anything but.
This is the beginning of where one can start to understand how Mysterious Girlfriend X operates as a larger exploration. Something seeking to touch on matters of adolescent intimate behavior and awakening sexual feelings, while they are also trying to figure out how quasi-adult relationships even work.
Akira Tsubaki is a good guy as a character, though I do not mean that in the sense of a more vacant “Nice Guy” blank state of a stand in for the audience. Due to the nature of this material originally being a one shot, he realizes early on he does want to date Mikoto, and asks her out. And it is appropriately kind of confusing and stammering, as most instances of asking someone out in high school are, but he manages. And he wants to do right by his girlfriend. He will fantasize about little things like wanting to hold hands, wanting a picture for his wallet, try and invite her to the movies with him, and may more. But then also aspects at times where he ends up considering his girlfriend as a more sexual being and relationship partner. And how to react to that existence.
The drool transmission aspect functions as a literal physical metaphor for an emotional bond of sorts; one resonating with it gets a general idea of their partner’s present mood, which can not be hidden or lied through. It inherently functions as a device whereby Mikoto and Akira have a means by which they have ever less wiggle room to be evasive with each other. So when Urabe asks at one point very early on if Akira wants to kiss her, because she has gotten the idea that he does, he is put on the spot to answer. And does so in the affirmative. Because he does, and he knows he can not hide that information from her even if he wanted to. Said kiss being discussed in that early scene does not come to pass directly, through it does open a door to a larger consideration regarding their relationship with each other and intimacy matters. Akira comes to mentally contend with how to handle personal desires or fulfillment, while also viewing his girlfriend as an independent person who he has the opportunity to share a reciprocal relationship with. And how that later part is so important.
It should be noted that throughout the series, it takes the opportunity for many gentle and well paced environmental pillow shots to sell this as a motif. Butterflies and flowers, water coming to meet a drain. Even elements like toy figures of Ueshiba’s Bad Cat author stand-in leaning on R. Dorothy from The Big O, and then being leaned on in kind later, and so on. Any and all of it throughout touching on matters of giving in to mutual support.
Mikoto, for her part, is also an equal partner in all of this and so too someone who by being involved in the relationship is also changed by it. She has an legitimate upper hand of sorts at the start, as she understands her own body (and in turn, the drool bond power vector) well beyond anything Akira can really wrap his head around at first. Working backwards, her knowledge base regarding herself (which is to say, “That’s just how my body is”) effectively come to represent the titular high tier “mystery” factor many young people tend to view their initial relationships in. Folks are just barely getting grips on how their own bodies even work, let alone another person’s. And so indeed, some topical character and plot points end up popping in relating to things like rustling one’s hair really hard, or one’s personal sense of their own senses changing because they did not even realize they liked a certain action or sensation. She is also surprised by the things Akira does for her, and tries to look out and reciprocate in her own ways.
As the series is a seinen manga, we as viewers and readers are more keyed in directly to Akira’s view. It will go into his internal monologues for us to process, while we never really get into the same headspace for his girlfriend. Though, she does get whole scenes in the anime and manga chapters away from him (be it by herself, with her school friend Ayuko Oka, and so on). This is part of the particular series of spells and gears the work is attempting to weave however, as she does need to be a bit more mysterious as per the title.
As a character, Mikoto Urabe would be exceptionally easy to botch the development of though. She is relatively quiet, direct, has short hair of the variety that would in combination make many writers see her as a way to evoke a sense of popular automaton-like classic figures like Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion or Yuki Nagato from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Many productions have tried to mimic them, and indeed most fail because there are narrative reasons for why those characters act as they do. The danger to make the leading lady of this series another swing at those iconic figures, I am sure, was also quite a realistic potential outcome as Ueshiba attempted to figure out how to flesh out the character more after the initial one shot.
Thankfully, he took the warmer approach. And to Watanabe’s directorial credit on the anime end, Ayako Yoshitani was cast to play her, a live action television and film actress with no other anime roles before or since to her name so as to ensure a unique voice.
Mikoto Urabe is only ever really perhaps a little further ahead, in terms of viewing their relationship as a whole, than her boyfriend is. She comes off strong, especially in the earliest stages, as she is quite straightforward in her manner of speech. But, she is nowhere near impervious to displaying sweeter emotional reactions, be it through blushing or embarrassment at something Akira did for her, trying to respond or find ways to reciprocate in her own ways, and so on. She puts up a good front for a lot of the outside world, complete with the bangs of her hair often being directly over most of her. But she is not a stone wall of a human being. Which, time and again, surprises her in various ways and how she reacts to certain things.
It is not at all by accident where on the occasions where she is being the most excited, open, or otherwise emotionally vulnerable regarding her relationship with her boyfriend that she breaks through her own hair. Whatever armor, shell, shield or what have you that it may provide her, it falls at all kinds of times as a very direct visual metaphor.
They are each in their own ways “just” confused teenagers trying to figure things out, as weird and scary as relationships can be at points, both with themselves and each other.
“Whoa, it sure got ugly outside in a hurry.”
The notion of a scare factor to being with a significant other, placing oneself in such positions to be hurt and the unnerving quality that can have, is not an idle threat.
Being in a relationship involves, at least partially, elements of fear.
This is slightly different than, say, straight up traditional character relationship drama. It is a tonal quality. In the anime version of Mysterious Girlfriend X, the soundtrack would generally not be out of place in a horror series. Hard violin strings, creaking and groaning from the string instrumentation at others, and lots of accordion music appropriate for a Halloween carnival. Going along with this, Akira at several points in each form of the story has elaborate and surreal dream sequences involving his girlfriend in an eternal festival-like city. He enjoys the dreams and fantasies as they happen (his creativity and hormone infused subconscious is a runaway train of frankly impossible ideas), and then has tricky times trying to shake them at points in reality.
I had mentioned before the pillow shots the series weaves in and out to sell reciprocation. These too can be and are used in other ways to sell the uncomfortably of a scene.
A sequence very early on involves Akira being led to an abandoned house by his girlfriend. They were not really spending as much time as he would like with each other. He is blindfolded, and strictly ordered to keep his eyes covered while she tries something. Akira knows not what or why. What is actually going on is she is testing him by undressing in a room of this empty house. She had removed articles of clothing, visually vulnerable if Akira opened his eyes, but her boyfriend has no idea.
This is a scene that, in the hands of many manga authors or anime series directors, one could easily see playing out for raw cheesecake factor.
The viewer sees more of a legion of ants devouring and carting off a bug carcass than they do of the shadowed Mikoto herself. The soundtrack screeches and groans like a slow fearful exhale or grinding of teeth. The shot composition is designed around it being an uncomfortable series of events. Akira has no idea what is going on, Mikoto wants to try something that entirely relies on trusting her boyfriend to not slip out of his blindfold. The scene is sexually charged, sure, and yet this is not really a sexy scene. It is framed around the terrifying nature of it, for the characters mentally and physically in different ways.
I have seen some folks complain that the home video release did not “uncensor” the shadows that envelop Mikoto during this chain of events.
Such a practice is common enough in other productions, sure. Whereas the entire reason for the shadows and outlines (again, interspersed with lavish shots of dead bugs, ants, and so on surrounding the environment) is regarding the inherent discomfort of the characters. Which does, I feel, touch on elements which drives an undercurrent of Mysterious Girlfriend X forward. This is a relationship between Akira and Mikoto. While we have enough information as viewer operating as an external (and sometimes internal) camera to know what is going on and provide appropriate context, these are still private moments of them trying to fumble around with their emotions and actions. Either not being able to see or not being seen by others in the way one wants is a struggle to come to terms with, which does not get easier just by being in a relationship. Something like nudity is established enough for us to know it is there, to understand the character charge of such a scene, and that is as far as it need go. It is not explicitly for us to see certain things.
There are places we can not go with said viewer camera. And there are places the characters want to go, but they are very much fumbling around with scattershot ideas of physical and emotional needs in a scrambled teenage head-space.
There are news articles all the time about what kinds of things kids are into these days. What they try and get into that may not be sex by extremely narrow definitions.
Indeed, aside from the drool connection aspect, Mikoto’s one other large “out there” character trait is her consideration towards carrying a pair of scissors under her school uniform skirt. In turn, anything approaching what would in other series be a cheap underwear shot carries with it here in Mysterious Girlfriend X the immediate visual of a bladed instrument. Many a production has used underwear shots as a quick little titillating workaround for actual nudity or for indulging in a bit of voyeurism. Here then in the few instances where the series utilizes a panty shot for Mikoto, it also carries with it the adjacent messaging of violence. A sharp, dangerous object, prime for snipping things which she has deemed a threat and should not be here.
It is on the blunter side as a messaging tool, of course. Yet Akira quickly learns to appropriately operate around his girlfriend’s personal space in ways she is comfortable with. Episodes at a time and whole story arcs of the manga go by without the scissors being seen. It is also hard to shake the notion that this can be taken as a kind of literal physical metaphor in its own right for their relationship boundaries. Sex is terrifying, insofar as maybe wanting aspects of it at a teen age while having foggy ideas of what that even entails due to lack of information combined with anxieties.
You know the underwear areas are involved, as it were. But when and how and there is also a whole other person involved with their own perspectives too.
Even in less explicit ways, away from bugs and scissors, the internal fear and unease factors do rise up in their own ways.
At the top of what began this section there is an image of Akira, standing alone in his room hugging a purchase from the bookstore. More specifically, he comes to learn at one point from other students at school that his girlfriend kind of looks like Momoka Imai, a rising in-universe idol figure. With this information, he ends up purchasing one of her special photobooks, using the mental justification that she does look pretty much like his girlfriend (barring some minor differences in hair style and where a few physical centimeters may be). And so in his mind, he is acquiring this book to self insert imagery of Mikoto (“I’ll only be a fan of this idol because she looks like my girlfriend,” essentially). Fashion’s she may not wear, expressions he may not get to see on her face too often, and so on. And he actively thinks it is a pretty great buy, leafing through it at home.
But when he hugs the book as an appreciative gesture, the entire visual style of the scene momentarily changes. The camera backs up significantly from the more eye level reading, and the colors have drained. It is a hollow moment, and stylistically he knows that on some subconscious level. The idol book can not and will not hug back. It is a fantasy object being latched on to due to some fears about if he would get to see his girlfriend look or act certain ways.
Understandably, Mikoto comes to use this as a moment to express to her boyfriend he does not need to hurl himself at such things because he does have an actual real deal girlfriend. And there are degrees of disapproval, anger, jealousy and whatnot inherent in that exchange.
Fears and the explorations and handling of them are a part of what makes relationships, well, mysterious to navigate. So many aspects are pinned on trust, boundaries, sharing, and compromise. And there is not really a fool proof guide to any of it, because the wishes and desires of other people are not easily predicable. Especially at an age when people are very much still discovering themselves and what they can do in a relationship.
“Since the name Tsubaki means “Camellia,” I decided to try making Camellia’s for you.”
While I have mentioned some select aspects of the visual mechanics already, it would be remiss of me to not spend a more dedicated area on the general look of Mysterious Girlfriend X.
In manga form, while the individuals in play go through slight visual changes over time as would be expected of practically any manga running for so many years, Riichi Ueshiba’s style is one that speaks well to nostalgic qualities. Noses for instance remain locked into a relatively 1990’s style, and so are more prominent and nubby than many more modern and minimal design aesthetics. Eyes have more hints of angular qualities, and are often quite feline. Hard black fills are generally reserved for hair (which he will still put numerous small lines into), certain clothes like winter school uniforms or skirts, and that is about it. While he has the advantage of working within a monthly publication, Ueshiba pours numerous little details and uniformly thin pencil work throughout which can give the world more of a “haze” like feeling, or a nostalgic fragility. For Akira’s dream sequences especially, bursting with all manner of what would be individually quirky things, as a complete splash page or visual progression they are a wall hitting the viewer. And I mean that here as a great compliment; their design and detail encourages a reader to parse through Ueshiba’s panels more carefully. One goes more slowly by necessity in these moments, and it encourages both reflecting as well as hunting for hidden details like his eye-patched Bad Cat marks and small pop culture nods.
Ayumu Watanabe’s anime adaptation retains and emphasizes these qualities in its own ways. Characters keep physical aspects like the hair detail through multiple layers of shading, for instance. I recommend taking a good look at some of the hair in even just some of the screenshots provided in this post; four or five shading and detail layers is not at all uncommon, particularly on Mikoto’s hair, which is a real treat for television animation. Elsewhere, bloom effects, blurs, and even simulated film grain are all over this production, in an effort to make the world we are seeing seem more akin to a memory or a much older anime from cel animation days than something with a 2012 vintage. Articles like the aforementioned winter uniforms use additional graphics texture filters to emphasize their additional weight. Such qualities would have been otherwise lost in adapting the work to a color animated television medium directly without doing something, and the textures have the added benefit of evoking the little lines Ueshiba jots all over his original work.
Right from the opening credits, it is very apparent this is television program that is aiming at trying to recreate a sort of 1990’s visual look.
Considering the manga is a seinen work, which can encompass everything from high teens to low forties in age demographics, right smack in the wide middle ground are people who would have fond hazy memories of their own regarding such styles of the time. That Ayumu Watanabe came into this project mostly with years of expertise directing or otherwise working on Doraemon projects, he is well versed in the art of seeking to ensure his anime works can touch on qualities far beyond their own time.
Even so, one would not be able to easily mistake Ueshiba’s style as many but his own. Particularly so when those simultaneously mystical and magical hand drawn dream sequences are in play in the manga. To every credit of the anime production team, they attempted to recreate these carnival worlds of lights, trains, mannequins, dolls, posters, monitors, tall buildings adorned with walkways and creatures to navigate them, and so on to the best of their ability on a television format.
They are, in their own self contained moments, jumbled up visual cornucopias of ideas and objects indicative of senses of wonder and confusion. One would well remember such feelings from the time they themselves were the age of the characters. When every personal alley explored with another in those first relationship days seemed so completely alien and surreal, and yet wholly larger than life to a teenage mind and seemingly impossible to believe.
“I guess we’ll be changing in many different ways from this day forward.”
Given how hard the drool aspect hangs over Mysterious Girlfriend X in general anime and manga parlance, if you made it this far and have not read the series or seen the television show you have probably noticed any weirdness of it just stopped being an aspect within the content of this post after a time.
There is good reason for that. While the little drool swap ritual between the two leads never goes away as a means of saying goodbye after walking home together from school or a day out and such, the day to day exchange rapidly takes a significant backseat to everything else going on between Akira and Mikoto as both formats advance. The anime being a rather accurate adaptation of selected chapters, reshuffled around for a better sense of weight for a television program (the finale used, for instance, being from as early manga chapter 12, while in total the show adapts up to chapter 36 of the source material). Folks will be able to key into from one into the other just fine. As time goes on, for all the emotional transmission resonance the finger-to-mouth-to-other-mouth activity does have when the need arises for a scene, it is more and more just a habit of theirs over time. Fundamentally, very much akin to the little practices any given couple would and do establish between themselves that seem downright insane to anyone else on the outside.
“It’s just a little thing we do together,” in a sense, as a character relationship arc transition from when the action itself was a much bigger deal for a two of them. One can extrapolate the idea of that to all manner of relationship activities or stages of being comfortable, taking something that was once a really big deal and it slowly becoming more normalized. The starting point here just happens to be very extreme and out of the ordinary, so as to with which to draw the parallel.
One of my favorite set of chapters from the manga version of events, as the animated series never has the chance to get to it, is what is known as the School Culture Festival or Film Club arc (chapters 61 – 70). Akira’s interests here are established well enough as background information in the television show, with lots of classic movie posters decorating his room ranging from Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, One Million Years B.C. to the original Star Wars, as well as some prominent camera equipment. In the manga however, he is reminded he needs to actually help with Film Club duties, and not merely be signed up to a club just to look nice. As such, the club wants to make a movie for the school festival, and the script already developed is entitled Mysterious Girlfriend Y. It is a romance movie with an oddball linking plot device for the main couple, with Akira cast as the lead male, another character as his on-screen girlfriend, and his real life girlfriend assigned to the role of love triangle also-ran.
What follows, due to things like varied shooting schedules for different cast members and the content of the film, amounts to a kind of meta-commentary on the entire series and the relationship it centers around. Akira spends a lot of time going to some contemplative and indeed fearful headspaces areas, as well as trying to talk to his actual girlfriend when he can, out of natural concerns brought about by acting. He has to say things he does not mean to someone he loves and make it convincing, meanwhile other lines and strange actions he would normally use with his real girlfriend are to be done towards someone else and also are to be made convincing.
Which, for someone in high school who has no real interest in acting like Akira (and thus not really psychologically trained for it) and who also has no frame of reference for what it is like to have a girlfriend who is not Mikoto, is a sure point of both frustration and general weirding himself out. He had adjusted to a certain kind of lifestyle with his girlfriend. Going through the ritual motions of a relationship with another, even as a set of film actions or getting to walk home with someone else together due to being the last ones left on set at the end of the day, is downright strange to him. As well as better opening his considerations for what dating someone who is not Mikoto could maybe potentially be like, reflecting on and struggling with the bonding elements within his present relationship.
These are nowhere near new ideas in terms of romantic fiction, of course.
However, as matters of teenage intimacy issues go in a reasonably high profile serialized manga anthology magazine, running a series that is generally summed up as being about drool shenanigans?
It by all means is trying a hell of a lot harder to work out its concepts and characters than a lot of, well, “normal” romance manga often manage to push themselves to touch on.
“I thought it’d be easier to move forward if I just cut the picture to pieces…”
These matters of relationships, normalcy, and all the rest do in a very roundabout way bring me back to where I started this post.
A long running manga series came to an end, after ninety two monthly chapters. Something others had built up a relationship with over years.
Without spoiling anything about the ending itself, I feel if one views the entire work as a whole from start to finish, the character developments which get us to that point do provide it an appropriate tone. As a collected array of volumes, what are at first very strange if not outright mysterious relationship vectors slowly transform into something relatable if somewhat abstract. The inherent weirdness of the drool bond practice as visual metaphor and two characters who barely understand who each other are as people, over time dealing more towards intimacy issues, holidays, fears, days out, and so on. To where the initial offputting saliva activity barely registers as a focus anymore.
Not to say the road is ever entirely without tonal hiccups. The Idol Arc for instance (chapters 37 – 48), wherein the series tests dialing into a more romantic comedy slapstick misunderstanding mode for several chapters before becoming more serious again, is often regarded as a low point. It was not adapted for the television series, despite being published for a couple years already and Ayumu Watanabe could have selected the chapters to do so.
Then one thinks about the implications of all this for a few too many seconds, and something becomes alarmingly clear.
If Mysterious Girlfriend X wanted to just be a jamboree for some hyper-niche sexual fetish group to gawk at, there are numerous ways that would have been far easier to do as a serialized title. Had the series banked on the sillier tones of the Idol Arc, it would have had far more freedom to engage in greater baseline fanservice or ridiculous antics, with less foresight or attention needed to their implications. It would be a comparatively easy creative decision to submit to, as opposed to a more generally grounded (the drool aside) slice of life romance work and its higher difficulty. Yet, those who were already reading the manga by and up to that point, many of them were not enchanted by the Idol Arc. They had been engaging with the series more for the potentials of its character relationship dynamics and personal explorations.
Take this incredibly outlandish drool setup to bring two people together. Keep trying to deal with it and its symbolic interpretations of teenagers trying to get a handle on intimacy issues. And do so as normally as would be possible, given the setup of the series. Not that it would need to be devoid of funny moments, but, in a sense to take responsibility. There was a perceived value in what the series could touch on as a more straightly sweet work of two people opening up to each other over time and considering their relationship boundaries. Which, after the Idol Arc wrapped up, is what it proceeded to place its trust in for the rest of its run of chapters. It was rewarded with dozens and dozens more over years.
Mysterious Girlfriend X is still something which frustrates me on a certain level.
As a media product, it is a very hard sell. I feel my reflections of how I originally viewed and reacted to the concept of the work speak for themselves. For what is commonly reduced to being “the drool manga / anime”, by all accounts, it should on most days be one of the easiest things in the industry to be able to mentally mark off in the same bin as so many disposable fanservice works the entertainment merchandising machine cranks out one after another. And to reiterate: the finger-to-mouth-to-other-mouth drool mechanic may well be an insurmountable front loaded squick wall to some folks, even if its initial gratuity is downplayed over time to make more room for all the other things the series comes to want to handle. It is a wholly valid reaction to have.
But, especially now that the manga version of events is over, I feel at the end of the day both versions of the story are indeed a lot smarter in about how it tries to go about itself than it may receive credit for on synopsis appearance alone. It takes on more difficult character explorations more tonally seriously than “the drool manga / anime” would ever be expected to have.
It can not be a universal recommendation. It by all means will not click with everyone.
But, if someone feels like they have a good idea of where my viewpoint is coming from, what qualities I see in it, and the series still sounds somehow appealing on some level? I think they could maybe get something out of opening up to Mysterious Girlfriend X.
Then, maybe, it will not be so mysterious any more.