The Show In My Head

Hey all. The Podcast is still dead, but I’ve been contemplating a blog called “the show in my head,” so called because so often I’ll be watching an anime and just go, “Why did you waste a perfectly good plot that I could see coming a mile away!?”

I’m not sure if there will be any followup to this, but I figured I’d post the first column I wrote on that topic here. It’s on a contemporary show, “And You Thought There Is Never A Girl Online.” Enjoy!

THE SHOW IN MY HEAD #1: AND YOU THOUGHT THERE IS NEVER A GIRL ONLINE

On the surface, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that to try shows like And You Thought There Is Never A Girl Online? I almost never enjoy them, but on the rare occasions where I do, it’s very rewarding. The World God Only Knows was a show that I had avoided for years because its premise (a guy is so good at video games that he’s recruited to use his skills to catch demons trapped in girls’ hearts) sounded completely hopeless. It’s now one of my all-time favorites, and after that experience I decided to give shows with similarly dumb premises the old college try. The success rate has been less than stellar, but it at least gives me something to complain about with my friends. That slim chance of finding another The World God Only Knows makes it all the more rewarding, and bad anime is fun to talk about.

Speaking of…

I’ll admit that I tried this one versus the other new Spring anime on Funimation because of a misunderstanding about the title. In Funimation’s new “Funimation Now” app, the title of the show was clipped off to “And You Thou…”, which I took to be the entire title. It was such a bizarre title that I just had to see what it was. After clicking in, a closer look at the cover immediately screamed Light Novel adaptation, which is already a red flag, but I was bored and I didn’t feel like finding another show.

(There’s a lot of “eh, I got nothing better to do” in this story, isn’t there? I promise, future review targets will be based on more solid foundations.)

Now, I’ll admit that this one managed to get my hopes up a little bit. Our hero, Nerd Protagonist Serial Number 8391, is offered marriage in the first moments of the show by a girl in a ridiculous JRPG outfit in a generic JRPG looking setting. He says no. “I’ve made up my mind never to fall in love again.” She then seems to understand, and then offers to fix the problem by getting married, which leads to a bit more sorta funny back and forth about how she clearly wasn’t listening.

I was intrigued by two things at this point. He’s clearly a younger guy, so the fact that he’d had his heart broken made me wonder what that was about. Second, I hadn’t looked closely enough at the box art to notice that they were clearly in a real world high school, so I was operating under the misapprehension that it was a real fantasy series. A real fantasy series dealing with love, heartbreak and an insistent fanservice girl trying to get past a hero’s hang-ups is a solid enough foundation for a show.

That is not what “And You Thought” is about.

There’s immediately a fight scene where we’re introduced to two more members of Fanservice Girl (aka Ako) and Nerd Protagonist’s adventuring guild. After a fight against some very generic orcs, we learn for certain that it’s set in a free to play RPG with graphics that I’d probably peg somewhere around Sega Dreamcast levels. We also learn that somewhere between the failed proposal and the first scene, Ako and Nerd Protagonist got married in the game. We then cut to Nerd Protagonist at school, talking about nerd stuff with his not quite so nerdy friends.

Right around where he starts to talk about his online wife, he’s immediately verbally attacked by a girl in his class. This girl is basically straight out of central casting for a tsundere character. Slim body, blonde, two pigtails, short, tall forehead. It’s clear that she completely hates him and his otaku ways. At this point, I said to myself, “Aha! I see where this is going. She’s clearly his online wife. There’s going to be this amusing disconnect between how she looks and acts in the game and how she looks and acts in real life. The show is going to be about them bridging the gap between their online and real life personas, with lots of tsundere behavior from her and lots of annoying nerdery from him.” I’m sure it’s been done before, but it’s a fun enough premise. For a romantic story about boring people who play online games a lot, that sort of conflict would spice things up. It’s might not be something I’d keep watching to the end, but I could respect the direction it was going.

This is where the show in my head starts to form. Tsundere (who is so stock she doesn’t deserve a nickname, I’ll just capitalize the word from here) is a stuck up girl who is so focused on being popular that she completely hides her nerdy interests from her friends. Our Nerd Protagonist is a huge nerdlinger who talks about nothing but games and anime. Tsundere likes him in the game, but hates him in reality. In the game, she takes on the role of an easily flustered, incompetent healer with a completely different body type, whereas Nerd Protagonist is a confident, take charge guy that he clearly isn’t in reality. Are they doing those roles just for the fun of it, or is it who they really want to be? There are some some interesting conflicts and hang-ups to explore there.

For example, how do they find out about each other? Perhaps she finds out that he’s her guild member when she recognizes a story he’s telling his friends about their exploits?! Would she tell him right away? Would she disappear from the game and force him to do some sleuthing to track her down? Perhaps he finds out first and then drops the bomb on her. And once they know each other, there are even more chances for interesting stories! Hiding her association and fake marriage from Nerd Protagonist would result in many, many opportunities for Tsundere to do the flustered, angry things that people who like tsunderes look for in anime. Them getting to really know each other in real life has the potential to be funny and, just maybe, heartwarming. Yup, this show is shaping up nicely!

And then Nerd Protagonist bumps into a quiet, shy girl who looks exactly like Ako in the hallway between classes, as Tsundere glares at him. At this point, I was extremely confused. I spent some time during the following scenes wondering what was going on. Was this girl Ako? Then what was going on with Tsundere? Was the identical girl a red herring of some sort? Had Tsundere based her character on this girl from school she wanted to be like for some reason?

No. Nothing so interesting. The girl in the hallways was Ako, but I gave the show too much credit and assumed they were going with some sort of twist. This was the most engaging part of the show for me: trying to decide if the show was going with the more interesting plot with Ako being Tsundere, or if it was so straightforward that the shy girl was clearly Ako and the show had absolutely nothing surprising left.

Long story short, we cut to our guild members in the game talking about why it took so long for Nerd Protagonist to accept Ako’s marriage proposal. It turns out that he’d proposed marriage to a catgirl in the game, only for her to say that she was an older man. In what might be only clever line in the episode, the catgirl says “I mean, girls in real life don’t say ‘nyan,’” (aka meow for gaijin) as though the stereotypical anime affectation was a dead giveaway. Nerd Protagonist had then spent a while being a solo player before joining up with his current guild (featuring a male sorcerer and warrior who are not terribly interesting). Despite being shell-shocked by the catgirl’s true identity, he’d decided that he didn’t care that Ako was probably a dude, since she was so cute in game.

Just before and while all of this is exposition going on, we see what Ako’s role in the show is: she’s a pair of jingling keys designed to keep us entertained during scenes like this. And by jingling keys, I mean jiggling boobs, with ass shots thrown in for variety. By the end of the scene, we see her from every angle as she pathetically begs Nerd Protagonist not to divorce her after he makes an offhand comment. She is pure waifu-bait. We also learn that she hates normal people and people who can function socially; she gets very threatening when she finds out that one of the other guild members had been asked out on a date. The sad thing is, we didn’t necessarily need those jingling keys. We were learning things about the main character that could, in theory, make him interesting. He’s jaded. He doesn’t mind things being false because it’s all just a game anyway and Ako’s sprite is cute. Much like Keima in The World God Only Knows, he’s retreated into virtual worlds, preferring them to real life; unlike Keima, he’s actually been hurt by those virtual worlds. It would be fun to explore how real emotional damage done by fake worlds is simultaneously real and silly, and see him grow up a little bit and let it go. That certainly sounds like an interesting show!

Meanwhile, in the show I was actually watching… the guild members realize they all live close to each other, so they decide to have a meetup. Nerd Protagonist, while waiting at the bus stop, is approached from behind by a girl who sounds exactly like Ako does in the game and surprise, surprise, surprise. Ako is the shy girl from earlier in the show.

I want to just express how completely disappointed I was by this revelation. There is a reason for Ako to be exactly who she is in the game (it’s a stupid reason that’s gone into in the next episode, but there is a reason), and it does, in theory, make her a good contrast to the catgirl. The catgirl was the opposite of what she seemed to be. If the goal of the show is a romance between Nerd Protagonist and Ako, dealing with someone who’s honest about themselves online could go towards healing his (dumb) heartache. However, it also means that the plotline I had in my head about Tsundere being completely different online than she is in reality is gone.

Yes, it’s gone even when it turns out that Tsundere is one of the male members of the guild. By some cosmic coincidence, everyone in the guild is a student at Nerd Protagonist’s school. The other is the stupid school council president who is a shut-in rich girl who has no friends (and yet was still elected student council president because I DON’T KNOW. I think it’s because her parents own the school). So it turns out that the guild was mostly girls instead of mostly boys, hence the title And You Thought There Is Never A Girl Online? I haven’t been aware in the past decade of anybody seriously thinking there were no girls online (Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook should have killed those notions), so this isn’t a huge twist. See, these other girls don’t really act all that differently than they do in the game, outside some verbal affectations by Tsundere’s character that some poor subtitler at Funimation had no elegant way of expressing. This lack of difference just confused me. The episode ends in mid meeting, and I found myself struggling to think of where the show could possibly be going. They had cut off every interesting angle of attack. The fantasy was fake (fair enough, I could have figured that out if I hadn’t just immediately clicked play), the characters aren’t really different from what they were online and the comedy wasn’t that great. I haven’t seen a lot of shows have so little at stake before, so I decided to try one more episode just to see how they could follow it up.

It turns out, they couldn’t follow it up well. Having tossed out the interesting stuff, the second episode is very quick to sum up. The show lives or dies on whether you find Ako amusing. See, she has two modes: cloyingly cute and crazy. On the cute end, her interactions with Nerd Protagonist are annoying because she’s like a puppy with self esteem issues. As for crazy, she sees absolutely no difference between the game and reality, on top of her rage at “normies.” This explains why she’s the same as her avatar; she didn’t realize that most people don’t use their real name and appearance online. She only refers to Nerd Protagonist by his online handle, and despite Tsundere’s insistence that nobody can know that she likes video games (again, a much better conflict than what we get with Ako), Ako talks openly about the games. They decide that they need to do something to help Ako get a better handle on the whole difference between the real world and games, so they set up a private room at the school to play their online game as part of their new school club (uuuuugh why does every light novel have be about a school club?). Now, this is a dumb way to try and get someone acclimated to real life. If it were me, I’d say that she needs less game time, not more, and certainly doesn’t need game time intruding on her school life, which seems to be the one place she doesn’t play games. (Note to self: never ask that student council president to help me quit drinking. She’d probably lock me in a room with a twenty-four pack of Budweiser until I’d drunk them all.)

So that’s where two episodes of this show gets us. Ako was exactly what she appeared to be, large sections of it (including a big chunk of the second episode I mercifully left out) take place in a glorified iPhone game with no stakes and we have no major conflict. I say no major conflict because there is a bit more hint of the show’s premise in episode 2 than there was in episode 1. Nerd Protagonist is reluctant to have a relationship with Ako because of his past issues and because he wants to keep the real world and the game world separate. He also immediately loses the sympathy of any non-stunted member of his audience, because seriously, any teenage boy who had a girl who looked like Ako fawning all over him and DOESN’T want to reciprocate needs his head examined. Sure, she’s crazy, but teenage boys aren’t exactly renowned for their ability to assess risk.

If I were to be VERY optimistic, there is a tiny, tiny bit of potential here. Ako doesn’t see a difference between the game and reality. Nerd Protagonist puts up such a huge wall between the two that he doesn’t mind being married to a virtual girl who he thinks is probably a guy. They’re presumably going to be a couple (I read a little of the manga out of curiosity and there was talk of him confessing to her in a later chapter), so their extremes would presumably need to be evened out and that COULD be interesting. However, I don’t think that the ride will be worth it. All the bouncing breasts (and this show has a lot of them) and mostly unfunny game humor in the world won’t bring me back to it. The show in my head (focusing on the Nerd Protagonist and Tsundere getting involved in each other’s worlds and sorting through their different relationship dynamics online and at school) isn’t that different in theory, but it’s amazing how much the wrong choices can hamstring a show before it even gets started.

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