What They Say
After Oka changes Urabe hairstyle, Urabe’s popularity skyrockets. The girls call her cute and the boys take hidden pictures of her. This infuriates Tsubaki, will his new possessive nature drive Urabe away or will she surprise him.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
After watching the first episode of Mysterious Girlfriend X, I had a theory about the drool: It was a body horror device for exploring sexuality, making it enticing and gross at the same time. A similar thing was done in David Cronenberg’s Crash, a porn movie deconstruction based on the J. G. Ballard boon wherein people were sexually aroused by car crashes. This is partially right, but the show is really far too chaste to take the drool swapping as a straight-on sex metaphor. The discovery of teenage sexuality is still a major part of this show, but an episode like this makes it clear that another important part is to analyze how the different members of a romantic couple imbue things with meaning.
Romantic comedies and sitcoms are on this all of the time. He forgets her anniversary. She meets an old flame from high school. Because certain arbitrary, yet personally meaningful, boundaries have been crossed there are worries about infidelity, lack of understanding, or incompatibility between the sexes.
To help us take a look at this phenomenon as an outsider, Mysterious Girlfriend X takes a ritual that is outlandish and disgusting and imbues it with romantic meaning. That ritual, of course, is the daily imbibing of Urabe’s drool on Tsubaki’s part. “How disgusting,” we all say, confirming that we ourselves have no emotional attachment to such an act. But Tsubaki and Urabe do.
For Urabe, the meaningfulness of the act is paramount. Her drool chose Urabe. They are boyfriend and girlfriend, and she will eventually lose her virginity to him. The relationship is destined, and it is real. For Urabe to doubt her bond with Tsubaki, for her to doubt the bond of drool, would be similar to her doubting gravity.
For Tsubaki, the act is important, but it does not exist as positive proof in itself. For him, the absence of her drool causes illness. But to prove their relationship, he requires holding hands, kissing, having a photograph, touching her breasts, etc. Tsubaki wonders if Urabe’s feelings are real if she is unwilling to give more. For her part, Urabe is somewhat confused by this neediness. Is the drool not enough, she wonders, and the seeds of doubt are sown.
Thus, the whole show is the confusing game of their relationship, of trying to find and share mutually meaningful symbols, and this episode in particular goes the furthest yet in exploring their confusion.
After waking up with a terrible case of bed-head, Urabe has Oka do her hair. Her hair is pulled back and up into pig-tails, allowing Urabe’s usually hidden eyes and face to be seen. Tsubaki has cherished being able to see Urabe’s eyes and face, as it is one of the privileges of being her boyfriend that he particularly appreciates. Now, every boy can see her face, and the specialness is lost. Furthermore, her attractiveness is inviting new admirers, ones who are taking photos of Urabe to trade and sell. Tsubaki knows well the difficulty of taking such a photo, as Urabe was only willing to provide him with one with her tongue sticking out. These photos are doubly offensive, as they share the privilege of seeing Urabe’s face, but are also non-consensual reproductions of Urabe’s image, something that she feels very strongly about. In concession to this, Tsubaki does not buy a photo. Instead, in a scene with ominous red lighting, she tells Urabe to change her hair back to normal, and restrict her personal freedom in order to restore his privilege.
She is willing to do so, and has Tsubaki mess up her hair. In this, they create a new meaningful symbol: Urabe finds having her hair tousled erotic, and a new ritual is born.
When her face can be seen, Urabe is compared to a new, upcoming idol, Imoi Momoka. The idol from a bottled water commercial is something of Urabe’s doppelganger, although she is far less buxom. To fulfill his need for a picture of Urabe, he decides to go and buy a picture book of Momoka. In a way, he is remaining faithful to Urabe: He is not demanding a photo that she will not consent to. He’s merely using a simulacrum to get the photo of Urabe from his original dream.
Through the machinations of Oka, however, Urabe finds out about Tsubaki’s acquiring this book. She asks Tsubaki his favorite photo, and when it is revealed to be one of Momoka simply smiling, she destroys it with her panty scissors. Was she offended by the concept of Tsubaki turning to another woman for fantasy? Or was she able to see how Tsubaki was using Momoka as a “loophole” to get the photo that Urabe had denied him?
It’s often said that romance anime would be a lot shorter if everyone would just come out and state their feelings outright, instead of reading certain acts or statements symbolically and going from their interpreted meanings. That truism applies here as well. Were Urabe and Tsubaki confident enough in themselves to discuss what about the photos make each other uncomfortable, they would most likely come to a mutual agreement.
In the end, both Tsubaki and Urabe re-assert their possessiveness over largely trivial things. The show’s clever touch is to assign great meaning to absurd things: sharing drool, ruffling hair, and the existence of doppelgangers. Because we can see this absurdity, we are able to understand that so many of the couple’s misunderstandings are tragically due to their inability to share the symbolic meanings of their everyday actions.
A silly, yet somehow strangely affecting look at the meanings we take from the simple things our romantic partners do. Stark lighting in this episode puts more emphasis on the discussions of boundaries, rather than the nostalgic naturalism other episodes have offered. Less fun that before, but still one of the most thoughtful and intelligent fanservice shows in anime.
Streamed By: Crunchyroll
Review Equipment: Sony VAIO 17″ HD screen