Review for Mysterious Girlfriend X Complete Collection
For quite a few people, the simple medium of anime is a red flag issue. They’ll probably have clicked here by mistake, and as soon as they saw the first screenshot or the cover image they’ll click away again. But even for anime fans there are red flag issues. Just like any medium, there are some things that people enjoy, some things that they don’t, and with the added complication that this stuff is actually made for another culture, oft-time warning bells can go off even for long time anime fans. This summer, I have mostly been rolling my eyes at the continuing glut of fan service shows coming to the UK. For some people it might be tentacles that put the fear of Tezuka into them, for others it might be giant robots, for others still it might be those endless action shows that stretch for hundreds and hundreds of episodes.
And then we have Mysterious Girlfriend X. It’s a romantic comedy anime, just thirteen episodes in length. That’s safe enough; some of the most popular anime have been rom-coms. It’s also got something of a unique visual style, harking back to more vintage character designs when characters were shorter, with more expressive faces, and not all tall, elegant and exaggerated of proportion. That’s pretty interesting. And it’s about a boy who gets addicted to a girl’s drool... No wait! Don’t leave! I know right now the phrase “Those crazy Japanese!” is going through your minds, as red flags rise and warning klaxons blare out in unison. But I’m going to spend the next few paragraphs trying to convince you why this show really is worth watching. And it is. In fact it might just be the best show that I watched streamed last year, and while MVM may have released it on DVD, I simply had to get this US Blu-ray version.
Akira Tsubaki has reached that tender age where thoughts are easily diverted by the opposite sex. That isn’t helped by the gateway to adulthood as presented by the school’s sex education classes, evoking unexpectedly strange dreams. But his life is about to get a whole lot stranger when a new student transfers to Kazamidai Metropolitan High School. Mikoto Urabe is an odd girl, who keeps herself to herself, isn’t all that talkative, hides her eyes under her bangs, and can suddenly burst out laughing in the middle of class for no discernible reason. And she’s sitting right next to Tsubaki. It isn’t long before she’s labelled the weird one in class. She also has a habit of falling asleep at her desk, and she’s the kind of person who drools in her sleep.
With Tsubaki’s thoughts constantly drifting the way they do, it isn’t long before he’s tempted by that nectar... and it is surprisingly sweet. It also has a very odd effect on him, leaving him bedbound and suffering from a fever. Urabe pays him a visit after too many days absent from school so as to explain why. Tsubaki is lovesick, he’s literally addicted to Urabe’s drool after just one taste, and he’s now suffering from withdrawal. The only solution is to get a regular fix of the drug, and it is indeed a substance with very strange properties. So now Urabe and Tsubaki walk home together each day after school. I guess that makes them boyfriend and girlfriend. But all of Tsubaki’s expectations of a relationship are subverted, as Urabe is no ordinary girlfriend. She’s not talkative, or demonstrative. Holding hands is a no-no, kissing is out, and any attempt at physical contact, beyond a saliva soaked finger, is met with retribution. She keeps a pair of scissors in her panties for just such occasions with which she has Jedi master like abilities. And she has some rather odd expectations of her own from a relationship. Tsubaki’s going to have a tough time fathoming his mysterious girlfriend.
Thirteen episodes of Mysterious Girlfriend X are presented across 2 Blu-rays from Sentai Filmworks.
1. Mysterious Girlfriend
2. Mysterious Bond
3. Mysterious Test Tube
4. Mysterious Girl Meets Girl
5. Mysterious First Date
6. Mysterious Step Up
7. Mysterious Flu
8. Mysterious Sensation
9. Mysterious “This is just, I dunno...”
10. Mysterious Affair
11. Mysterious Cultural Festival
12. Mysterious Hug
13. Mysterious Girlfriend and Boyfriend
Mysterious Girlfriend X gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p on these Blu-ray discs. Once again, it’s a chance to wax lyrical on the benefits of an HD presentation, with clear, well defined lines, gorgeous and rich colours, and impressive detail levels. The only issue would be the perennial one of digital banding, which rears its head usually on scene fade-ins and fade-outs. Mysterious Girlfriend X certainly benefits from the HD presentation, despite its comparatively simplistic aesthetic. The lack of compression and aliasing means a very clean, agreeable image, while the progressive playback means that the animation is always smooth and fluid.
The real benefit is in the colour reproduction, as the show really does rely on atmospheric visuals to sell its unique style. When its main characters usually walk home from school together each evening, you can expect a lot in the way of warm golds and reds populating the scenes, and it looks fantastic. Mysterious Girlfriend X does have something of a vintage style when it comes to the character designs, generally shorter, and with rounder, more expressive faces than the character designs that have exemplified anime in recent decades, this could be a show from the eighties. There’s also an older feel to how colours are applied, with a cross-hatch shading style that really makes the show feel unique among its peers. The production values and animation quality are up there though, lest you feel that it looks too much like a Rumiko Takahashi adaptation.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional subtitles and signs in Sentai’s usual big yellow font. The dub is another one of the careless Sentai conveyor belt dubs and really should be avoided. Urabe’s voice is a tedious monotone, while they don’t even bother with maintaining consistency for name pronunciations. When Hayakawa’s dub actress constantly mispronounces the suffix ‘-kun’, you start to get the impression that no one at Sentai actually cares about what it is they are selling.
So the original Japanese is very much the way to go, with actors well cast for the characters, and Urabe’s staccato delivery a very charming quirky deadpan (not tedious monotone), Oka actually sounding closer to 17 than 40, and the emotion of the characters come through. The show’s music too is quirky and engaging, with plenty of uncanny accordions, and a music box feel for the dream sequences. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typographical error.
Place these discs in a Region B Blu-ray player, and they boot up to a Hanabee logo, indicative of the Australian and US companies’ cooperation when it comes to manufacturing and distributing these Blu-rays. The discs are presented in an Amaray style thin eco-case (the kind that gets holes cut in the plastic), with one disc on each inner face. The discs present their content with static, silent menus. Each episode is followed by a translated, white text on black, silent credit reel.
The only extras are on disc 2, and amount to the textless credits, the Japanese Promos, the Japanese Preview, and Sentai Trailers for Bodacious Space Pirates, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Kids on the Slope, and Inu x Boku SS.
If Tim Burton ever made a romantic comedy anime, Mysterious Girlfriend X would be it. This is one very weird show, in the best way possible. It’s charming, likeable, endearing, and quirky, strange and unexpected. It takes the concept of teenage first love and turns it completely on its head, approaching the story from a unique perspective, with rather odd and unlikely characters, not least of which is the Mysterious Girlfriend of the title, Mikoto Urabe herself. It’s so unlikely a story that the BBFC just don’t know how to categorise it, labelling the show as containing, “strong sex references, sexualised nudity, strong horror”. The first is true, the second to a degree, but the third... This is most categorically not a horror anime. It may play with horror clichés (the first time Tsubaki lays hands on his girlfriend’s clothed breasts, she’s lit up in silhouette by a flash of lightning), and it revels in unworldly spookiness, but at no point does this show scare, or horrify or terrify. But I get ahead of myself.
As I said, the show is about first love, and takes a refreshingly honest approach to the subject, ditching the romance and illusions and looking more at the feelings and thoughts of those involved. And there’s spit. Given what kissing entails, it ought to be a non-event, but there really is something fetishistic about licking someone’s saliva from the end of their finger, especially when the kissing is denied. But in Mysterious Girlfriend X, the drool actually has magical powers, not least of which is the initial addiction that draws Tsubaki to Urabe, but also a means of conveying thoughts and feelings. Given that the protagonists are teenagers, and teenagers are hardly paragons of dialogue, it makes for a handy shorthand to get the two communicating and developing their relationship. And yes, it is a bit kinky too, which is always useful in marketing an anime, although Sentai’s disc blurb goes off the deep end playing on it. The show is less about sex as it is about emerging sexuality, and more about feelings and mutual discovery. It’s almost innocent in the way that it explores its two main characters, with their key commonality that they are both naive in matters of the heart and both working things out in their relationship as they go along.
The story also acknowledges the part that physical attraction and lust have to play in relationships. Why else would Tsubaki first be drawn to Urabe’s drool? Initially she appears worldly and all-knowing when she shows up at his door when he’s suffering from drool-withdrawal, and confidently announces that he’s lovesick, and that a regular dose of drool will solve his problems. Later it becomes clear that it’s not so much the drool as it is Tsubaki and Urabe, who’s somehow formed a bond of attraction before even getting to know each other. But it quickly becomes clear that Urabe has her limits set pretty low, and she’s not as worldly as she makes out to be. The drool thing is one thing, but any degree of intimacy leaves Tsubaki wanting more, and kissing or holding hands are definitely not okay by Urabe. When Tsubaki loses his composure and tries to hug her, she reacts by skilfully defending herself with a pair of scissors that she keeps tucked away in her panties... yes there is fan service in the show. Urabe would give Edward Scissorhands a run for his money.
The story would unfold pretty slowly, as the main characters swap spit and gradually grow closer, learn more and more about each other, and about themselves, all of this punctuated by regular dreams for both of them set in a funfair warped version of the city where their fantasies about each other find play. But the pace has to be accelerated, and it also helps to have people for them to talk to and ask advice from. Tsubaki’s best friend in class is Ueno, and naturally he asks him ‘hypothetically’ about girls. In true boy’s best friend tradition, Ueno’s advice is pretty much useless, but the truth comes out that Ueno has a girlfriend in Oka, which gives some of his pronouncements weight. And Oka quickly becomes friends with Urabe too, after she witnesses the drool ritual one evening and becomes curious. While Oka and Ueno are a lot further along in their relationship and both can offer advice to their friends, the odd direction that Urabe and Tsubaki’s relationship takes, and their journey of discovery gives Oka and Ueno a new perspective on their own relationship.
It’s not all plain sailing of course, there are plenty of false starts, miscommunication, guilty feelings and reconciliations on the way, and of course the show has to have the ultimate test for the relationship, the other girl. Tsubaki had an unrequited crush on a girl named Hayakawa in Middle School, and when the two run into each other again, she’s just broken up with her boyfriend, and decides that she wants to try with Tsubaki. Tsubaki being the usual male idiot in these situations, lies about having a girlfriend, and gets in deeper trouble than if he’d just been honest from the off.
Mysterious Girlfriend X is weird in the best possible way. It takes a look at a pretty mundane and well-explored subject from a skewed perspective, and in the process makes it fresh and original. With Mikoto Urabe and the magical powers of drool, it presents a fascinating and utterly charming look at first love. It has a refreshing honesty about its characters, and while the premise may seem kinky, and it isn’t shy of fan service and sexually charged moments, it has a surprising innocence and warmth to it that offsets anything that might offend Middle England. It really is one of the best shows of its genre, and if you don’t want to import this fine looking Blu-ray, MVM’s DVD release should be sought out, reviewed on this site by Stuart McLean.