Perhaps it is a little cliché, but the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” finds a way to be applicable when it comes to entertainment. Continuing a trend of seeking out anime that I have seen ridiculous clips of in passing, I watched Mayo Chiki on HIDIVE. In the clip I saw, a high-octane little sister character was given a dominating voice in the dub:
Now, the show has all of the hallmarks of a trash ecchi-harem show on its surface: high school boy gets nosebleeds when women touch him, he finds himself in compromised situations with a colorful cast of women constantly, and hilarity ensues. Where the old cliche I led off with shines is from just how unlike the genre it truly is. Kinjirou Sakamachi is a boy who is terrified of women, but it is because his mother and sister are both avid professional wrestling fanatics. Further, Kinjirou meets Subaru Konoe, a girl who is disguising herself as a male to serve as the butler for her life-long friend, Kanade Suzutsuki. By his luck, Kinjirou is the only person besides Kanade to know of this secret.
The “weird social situation secret” is not something revolutionary, but the series that unfolds is remarkably charming. I found myself heavily invested in seeing a relationship between Subaru and Kinjirou blossom and, further, watch them support themselves, each other, and their friends and family. Today, I would like to highlight how the series handles the delicate subject matter of trauma. Then, I will explore how individuality is an important element to the writing. Finally, I will gush about just how stellar the execution of the development of the main duo’s relationship is and where I rank this among other RomComs. I know this isn’t the first time a writer here found something profound from an ecchi-harem comedy (and, to be fair, TheMamaLuigi’s analysis of The Quintessential Quintuplets is much better), but I hope this allows readers to have a fresh perspective on not writing off shows simply because of their genres.
While, for the most part, I consider myself capable of having some suspension of disbelief in anime storytelling, I sometimes scratch my head at how character arcs are in dramas. Typically, a character gets 3-4 episodes that we can explore some traumatic event/relationship issue they have troubling them, the main characters help this individual, and the problem is resolved. While I am not usually picky about this, it makes the journey predictable. At the end of the day, sure, it does not impact the quality or enjoyment of the show, but it does not do it any favors in being memorable, either. A prime offender of this can be found in the various Key studio works- Kanon, Little Busters!, and Clannad all suffer from this to some extent.
The conflict within Mayo Chiki is stemmed from trauma that the characters experience that result in their social dysfunctions, however they are not short-term explorations. Even as the season ends (and, from my understanding, much of the source material), the characters are still slowly coming around to leading lives unaffected by their traumas. Kinjirou’s in particular is fascinating since it can be written off as a simple device and it would be nothing more than a vehicle for comedy. Instead, we learn that his fear of women is a considerable source of anxiety and prevents him from establishing relationships with half of the people in the world. This is explored considerably and, entwined with the beginning of many friendships with enthusiastic individuals, we see “Jiro” open up.
The other individual in the main couple, Subaru, has a trauma that is initially addressed in a manner that made me assume it was falling into the trap discussed at the beginning of this section. A situation occurs where she must face danger to save her friends and that makes her remember a very traumatic experience. As the show goes on, however, there is depth to this experience, as it becomes clearer that this instance established a sense of duty that is driven by guilt in Subaru. Like Jiro, this is something that is not immediately solved, and it adds a layer to her relationship with Jiro later on as the couple overcomes their traumas.
While opening theme songs and their lyrics don’t always have any relation to the anime they accompany, I really like the opening for this one since it captures something crucial to the story- individuality. The opening “Be Starters!” highlights the main duo and how they are embarking on this journey to change who they are. Unexpectedly, they end up being the greatest source of inspiration/support for one another.
Subaru’s quest for individuality is delivered by her slow realization that she is more than a simple duty-bound butler. She begins to find things that are important to her as an individual and grapples with listening to her heart instead of relying on a role that she has known her whole life. As she tries new things with Jiro and the others, these feelings mound. An over-correction at the end of the anime almost brings her giving up on everything altogether in the spur of a moment, but her friends convince her she can be an individual and still serve her passion as a butler. Later in the novels, as I have read, this takes a further change, but for the sake of here all that needs to be addressed is the journey to individuality. Truly, it is far more in-depth than something of this genre has any business being.
Jiro’s journey is greatly supported by Subaru, as she motivates him both emotionally and by encouraging him to tackle difficult scenarios. After the death of his father, Jiro finds himself in a subconscious conflict to be responsible and reliable for his family and friends while also feeling inferior to the women in his family (who use him literally like Mr. Sandbag from Super Smash Bros.). By meeting Subaru, Kanade, and the others, he begins to realize he has more strengths as an individual than he gives himself credit for. It is a great character arc, and it makes the romance so much more rewarding later on.
Finally, the most important part of what makes this anime simply special, and an 8/10 in my book, comes from the romance between the main couple. Indeed, Jiro and Subaru have a relationship that is ridiculously charming and, for all of the reasons discussed to this point, see two very likable individuals slowly falling in love. One of the most important aspects to a romance that is often overlooked in anime, I believe, is how characters are written. If the duo does not have any chemistry developed through writing, it is not rewarding at the end of the day. Thankfully, this is not the case here.
What makes this couple so likable and rich in chemistry comes from how “romance” is more than just attraction. Real relationships are built on support, and are not simply steamy, complicated feelings. Maybe you’ve heard someone tell you at some point “you need someone who is a friend you can rely on” and scoffed at them. In the case of this anime, this facet to Jiro and Subaru’s relationship is fantastic. We see them taking care of one another when they’re sick, counseling each other at late hours outside, and sticking side-by-side during hardships. This all sounds like routine drama in a romance, but their presence in each other’s lives feels far more organic. It isn’t oversaturated with inner monologues about feelings or individual thoughts and, rather, we are an audience to what feels like a developing relationship driven by communication and support. Mayo Chiki defies expectations and this is entirely thanks to such a charming main couple.
When I weigh a romance anime for a score, I put it up against the most “7.5/10" score romance I know- Toradora. A romance with a “fine” main couple and a supporting cast that was far more endearing than the duo it trotted out on the field. A couple of really good comedy moments and an interesting third act that just barely messes up its landing. When I put Mayo Chiki up against this, I can’t help but to feel like it is more on the “8" side of the fence in comparison. It is an anime that is carried hard by the main couple, with “fine” other characters, funny moments, and an ending that teases just enough for someone to go read the novels (but it doesn’t ruin the experience if you leave it where it is at the end of the anime). Ultimately, I think that the main couple was so likable that it edges out Toradora and, as a result, lands a solid “8" score for me. I usually don’t share my scores for anime (it usually only results in arguments over what someone rated it), but it was important to bring up here since a genre as crowded as romance needs comparisons.
Was there a romance that caught you by surprise? Or just an anime you went into expecting it to be a bad time and you ended up loving? Let me know! Have a wonderful day.