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December 24, 2013 / Bradley

Honey & I Are Doing Just Fine: Mysterious Girlfriend X (Secret Santa Review)

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I had a distracting physical reaction to early episodes of Mysterious Girlfriend X: I salivated a lot. This reaction didn’t come out of hunger or fetishistic pleasure, but because I was watching an anime about drool-swapping lovers, which made me conscious of how much saliva my own body was passively generating, like feeling the need to blink while watching a staring contest. This created a cycle where watching a new episode meant swigging down a lot of my own spit, and feeling increasingly nauseous each time more saliva welled up in mouth. This was novel, not only because I’ve never felt nausea in reaction to much of anything I’ve watched before, but also because it was the first time I could recall having a strong physical reaction to something onscreen separate from any emotional state. And that felt weird, and discomforting, and made me consider watching my Secret Santa’s other recommendation, a generic-looking harem comedy called Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi, but I kept going. Not only because I really don’t like harem anime comedies, but also because I was just interested in what I was watching, even as my body took four episodes to normalize.

Mysterious Girlfriend X’s premise is perfect fodder for any Weird Movie blog, fitting easily alongside posts detailing the bizarre spectacles of 70’s Eurospy films or erratic plotting of Bollywood movies. Without any criticism or analysis, a raw description of the story and a few screenshots would more than enough to entertain. And crazy, outrageous stories like this are part of why I enjoy watching anime, though this one also features a novel fetish. Transfer student Urabe is immediately pegged as a weirdo by her peers, but that doesn’t stop Tsubaki from licking the drool she leaves behind from a long nap on her desk. He quickly becomes sick, but not with any traditional disease. As Urabe explains, he has become “lovesick,” because he has fallen in love with her, and now must regularly suck her drool from her finger in order to avoid being bedridden. And Urabe is happy about this: she’s never had a boyfriend before, and, she confesses, she had a heard a voice tell her in the middle of class that he was destined to be the first boy to have sex with her. And Tsubaki- who is aware that all this is very strange- really is smitten with her, and eagerly dates her.

And what follows, for all its strange trappings, is actually a really traditional, conservative high school dating story, with some nudity. My Secret Santa wrote in his recommendation to me that if I get past the drool aspect, the core of the series is actually “a great story of two young people exploring a relationship that’s really not that far out of the ordinary,” which is true in some sense. There are certainly lots of people out there whose idea of a dating relationship is to gradually go from holding hands to fucking, especially when they’re young and haven’t figured out what they physically want in a relationship, or they are constrained by religion or culture from going beyond rubbing each other in the back of a dark theater. But Mysterious Girlfriend X isn’t quite like that, or more specifically, it only shows one aspect of that, and that’s the boyfriend’s perspective. Every episode after the first is about Tsubaki wanting to do some traditional boyfriend-girlfriend activity, and Urabe blocking any attempts to hug or even hold her hand. “Drool is our bond,” she says, “it should be enough.” Inevitably by the end of the episode she’ll give ground in some respect, or have some kind of weird bodily reaction that affirms that he’s special to her. So licking her drool every day is where their relationship starts, and it gradually expands into other, more normal activities. This story sometimes really feels like it’s about an extended cockblock, not a relationship. It’s all a series of signposts gradually, presumably leading to sex, and that as the basis for so many of their interactions makes me feel icky in a way that watching people suck thick, shiny sticky drool off each other’s fingers does not. It also doesn’t help that we never get inside of Urabe’s head, so we never get her perspective on things, only Tsubaki’s, who is essentially another bland Main Male Character with no distinguishing characteristics outside of a fetish for drool. So in that respect, if you have a thing for drool and women who tell you “no” a lot, he’s a great self-insertion. By the end of the story they’ve barely even hugged, let alone kissed.

Now to be fair, that is more an undertone of the series than it is the text, and I’d bet that if their relationship hadn’t started with Urabe essentially laying out prophecy of where their relationship was headed, it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s clearly intended to be a saccharine-sweet story about two very young and new and uncertain lovers, and the gradual pace of the story supports that, giving what relationship there is an almost tangible sense of fragility. I’ll talk more about that in minute, but I want to press pause on that observation, and talk about Urabe, the object of that fragile, ephemeral puppy love that Tsubaki exudes for her.

Even though the lack of depth for Urabe gives the story some really sexist overtones, not explaining much about her was probably the best decision. She is a pile of bizarre mysteries wrapped in charisma, and any explanation for why, in an otherwise normal 1990’s Tokyo suburbs, she apparently has super powers with scissors, can read feelings and transfer physical states like horniness or a scraped knee through saliva, and do other alien things, would almost certainly make her less interesting. She lives by herself, and though she says she has parents, we never see them. She seems far more mature than any other high schooler, and also very isolated from everyone else and apathetic to a lot of social norms. She’s kind of a bad-ass in how she exerts so much control over Tsubaki. She almost opens up more to her friend Oka than she does Tsubaki, and even that denial seems like a kind of special treatment in and of itself.

There’s a scene at the end of the series that I think neatly encapsulates Mysterious Girlfriend X at its best. Tsubaki’s mother has been dead since he was a child, and he goes with Urabe at her request to visit her grave. After laying a gift on her tombstone, Urabe turns around and suggests that they swap drool while laying hands on Tsubaki’s mother’s tombstone, so they can share their feelings with each other and with Tsubaki’s mother. It was a great moment of empathy from Urabe, and in all its sweetness, weirdness, grossness, and eroticism, is a perfect encapsulation of the series at its best. When that happens, and it happened enough that I ended up liking the series, it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen in a good way. It isn’t a very wise story, but it is a heartfelt one, and it’s only better because it drenches those feelings in some saliva, not worse.

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6 Comments

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  1. ABCB Massage Chair (@ABCBTom) / Dec 24 2013 9:38 pm

    Mysterious Girlfriend X is a weird title because the creator, Riichi Ueshiba is this really visually distinctive artist who draws what is the most mundane magical girlfriend series in Afternoon. And so the only real hook that it seems to have at first glance is the drool thing, which is such a roadblock to a lot of people. I’m actually quite glad I did not have the same reaction as you, as it’s very unpleasant.

    But enough critics have given it its due that there’s obviously something to it that’s super hard to figure out. It is limited in the sexist ways you’ve pointed out in that we never really get into Urabe’s head long enough to figure out her “deal”. But the deal is I guess her whole special appeal, so even now, years into the series, nobody knows what it is. And there’s also the factor that Urabe acts basically as sex police and restricts bodily contact for unknown reasons.

    One of the selling points is the psycho art-school eroticism, with nutso stuff like cardboard robots and a blindfolded Pepsi Challenge drool test. But I guess the appeal is in the emotional honesty, and I think it’s all coming from insecurity and the different ways men and women are socialized to express it. Tsubaki is socialized to want to have sex, so he feels he can’t have a relationship without it and that the relationship is not valid until physical progress is made. Urabe has the conflicting pressures that society puts on women, so her insecurity is more complicated and probably why the author doesn’t put her thoughts into words. She’s sublimating her own desire into the drool and controls the societal expectations that way.

    In other words, it’s totally wack but emotionally true, which is the same conclusion your review comes to. So that has to be what it’s all about in the end.

    • Bradley / Dec 24 2013 9:59 pm

      This review was me trying to reconcile two seemingly polar responses: I found the series intriguing and memorable, but also kind of mundane. Hashing why that was made writing this review- and reading your response, which I think succinctly sumises parts of my reaction I had forgotten- very entertaining to write. I should really write about anime more.

    • DP / Dec 25 2013 12:59 am

      Am I wrong, or isn’t it strongly intimated that Urabe IS an alien (e.g., look at the posters on the wall in her room)?

      • Highway / Dec 26 2013 1:42 am

        I believe the story creator has said that he was imagining it more as a romance approaching the girl as being a giant robot. So Urabe isn’t actually an alien, it’s just that she might as well be to Tsubaki, and he has to learn about her.

  2. Highway / Dec 26 2013 1:51 am

    I’m glad you mostly liked the series. The story is definitely slow (I don’t follow the manga, but I think they’re just getting around to a kiss), but I think it’s still very interesting to watch. I did feel like there was more interest on Urabe’s part about moving their relationship along and exploring her own feelings for Tsubaki than perhaps you found in it. But it’s a shame that it’s so difficult for so many people to get past the drool part of the show, because I think a lot more people would like it if they could.

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