Review for Kiss Him, Not Me
The reverse harem genre hasn’t really inspired me of late. Long past are the days of Ouran High School Host Club, and even further in the mists of history lies Fruits Basket. Nowadays it seems the romantic comedy genre where a girl is surrounded by her pick of boys, is defined by the otome game, and tends to a rather bland uniformity of character and cliché. It didn’t help that when I stuck the first disc of this collection in, it autoplayed with a trailer for one of the worst of the genre, Brothers Conflict. This could be even worse; it could be another Amnesia, although it seems the best that we can hope for these days is Hakuoki. But then I learned that Kiss Him, Not Me reinvents the premise. There may be life in the reverse harem genre yet.
Kae Serinuma is a full on otaku. She’s more interested in investing in boys’ love relationships in the anime and the manga she enjoys, to the point where she’s imagining the cute boys in her school together. She’s also overweight and the last girl who guys in her school notice, which suits her just fine when it comes to investing in her fantasies.
Then one day, her favourite anime character is killed off in the show. The shock is so great that she locks herself away, refusing even to eat. When she next ventures back to school, she’s lost the excess weight, revealing the cutest girl in the school. Suddenly she has more male attention than she ever dreamt of, particularly the four hottest guys in school, Nozumu Nanashima, Asuma Mutsumi, Hayato Shinomiya, and Yusuke Igarashi. They keep asking her out; only she’d much rather see them dating each other.
The twelve episodes of Kiss Him, Not Me are presented across two Blu-rays from All the Anime.
1. Can She Do It? A Real-Life Otome Game
2. The Strange Room and the Four High School Boys
3. The Clear and Blue Autumn Sky, and Passionate Otome
4. Christmas in the Holy Land
5. Back to My Original Self! What Should I Do?
6. Let the Shipping Wars Begin!
7. On a Journey to the Holy Land of Kachu Rabu
8. I’m at a Disadvantage
9. The Beach! Bathing Suits! Time to Get Serious!
10. Brother Invasion
11. Forward!! Guard the Castle!!
12. Kiss Him, Not Me
Kiss Him, Not Me gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. The image is clear and sharp throughout, and the colours are consistent and strong. It’s a comedy show, so the emphasis is on bright colours, while the character designs are appealing and memorable, if sticking to the usual anime aesthetic. The animation is smooth and fluid, if not overtly detailed, but the show is fun to watch. Compression and aliasing are absent, and I didn’t even see any sign of digital banding during the few darker scenes.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by All the Anime.
Kiss Him, Not Me comes with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with English subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track. I was happy enough with the Japanese audio, although for an odd reason, the ‘normal’ voice of Kae grated a little. I say normal as she goes through quite the spectrum of voices depending on weight, and on level of otaku fervour. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos, although this is another victim of the bizarre practice of changing English words spoken in the Japanese audio into different English words in the subtitles. Apparently ‘couple’ translates as ‘pairing’.
This is the next Crunchymation/Funiroll mash-up to reach UK shores following Testament of Sister New Devil. The discs present their content with static menus.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Brothers Conflict.
Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for Touken Ranbu Hanamaru.
Here you’ll also find a minute of Promo Videos, the textless credits, and trailers for Fruits Basket, Cheer Boys!! and Handa-kun!!
That was a pleasant surprise. Kiss Him, Not Me looks woefully run of the mill on the surface, especially when it comes to its character designs, and the clichéd situations that the characters find themselves in. The swimsuit episode is present and correct, the haunted location, the school culture festival, the Christmas party, Valentine’s Day and so on and so forth. It’s as if it’s ticking boxes on a harem comedy checklist. Only Kiss Him, Not Me begins by subverting the genre, and then ups the ante by making the writing and the characterisations strong enough to hold the attention. Best of all, the comedy is of the good-natured, likeable sort which doesn’t need to offend, or be especially crass. The bottom line is that despite its deceptive familiarity, I laughed more at Kiss Him, Not Me than I have done in quite some time for a harem comedy, reverse or otherwise.
Entertainment is replete with stories of ugly ducklings that become swans, and in Kiss Him, Not Me, pudgy Kae Serinuma becomes the cutest girl in class, after an anime character bereavement and grief causes her to go off her food. What’s different about this show is that she only becomes a swan on the outside, her personality and her otaku interests remain the same. She’s a fujoshi, a fan of boys’ love romance, particularly the elegant boys that she fantasises about in anime and in manga. So when she’s suddenly being courted by four of the hottest guys in school, guys she would usually dream about in love with each other, she isn’t quick to register their interest in her.
Actually, one of the boys is her friend to begin with. Asuma Mutsumi is president of the history club, of which Kae is a member, and he is even denser to emotional intent than she is (it takes him most of the series until he understands his own feelings for Kae), and for most of the series he’s the amiable if absent minded upperclassman. Two members of the basketball team, who are also in Kae’s second year class have been objects of her BL fantasies, Yusuke Igarashi is level-headed but with a slightly sadistic playful side, while Nozumu Nanashima is more of a hot-head, quick to fly off the handle. The fourth boy is first year Hayato Shinomiya, something of a stickler for the rules, but cutely klutzy in his own way. They wind up competing for Kae’s affections, but more importantly continue to do so when it becomes clear that she is never going to stop being an otaku. They accept her for what she is.
That gets doubled down when the show injects a note of realism, in that those who lose weight have difficulty keeping it off. The Valentine’s Day episode usually involves taste-testing a lot of chocolate, although for Kae, the chocolate is for an anime contest, not for any of the boys, and after taste-testing the chocolate, she winds up back where she started. Cue the boys teaming up to get her on a diet and exercise regime. But what makes this arc different is that Igarashi realises that he’s attracted to Kae regardless of her appearance. Yay for positive role models!
As if dealing with each other as rivals for Kae’s affection isn’t enough of a challenge for the boys, by episode 4 they have a new rival in Shima Nishina, a girl who’s just as much of an otaku as Kae, only she’s rich (her family’s summerhouse in the beach episode cliché box ticked), and she’s famous for drawing doujins. Kae’s a fan and is naturally drawn to Shima, but once again she’s blissfully unaware that Shima is sweet on her romantically.
Kiss Him, Not Me is a delightful show that has an important message about acceptance and tolerance beneath the usual relationship hijinks. The characters fall for Kae Serinuma based on physical attraction at first, but they quickly accept her for who she is, rather than try to change her. The only weak point in the story comes towards the end of the show, with the introduction of Asuma’s older brother Kazuma who shows up as a student teacher, and acts like a slimeball during his stint. Certainly he’s there to get Asuma to realise his own feelings, but it does tend to drag the story down. Also, the show has to end on the big question, just who will Kae Serinuma choose. It’s a question that didn’t really need to be asked, but I am glad to say that Kae follows her heart.
The reverse harem genre needed a little kick in its complacency, a reminder that there is more than just the otome game adaptation to tell in terms of stories, and Kiss Him, Not Me does more than enough to subvert the genre to make it entertaining and exciting again. Hopefully it’s the start of a trend for more imaginative and creative stories.