Sunday, December 16, 2012

Inu x Boku Secret Service, Season 1 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Inu x Boku Secret Service (aka Inu x Boku SS) mixes comedy, romance, and the supernatural with a bit of drama. It's 12 episodes long and is based on a manga series.

There are some slight spoilers in this post.

Synopsis:

In the world of this series, there are certain families which are partially descended from supernatural beings. In each of these families there is one member who is a "throwback" - the blood of their supernatural ancestor runs more strongly in them than anyone else, and they are essentially a reincarnation of that ancestor. Ririchiyo is a throwback and has spent her whole life well-cared for, but unloved. Her parents do not view her as their child, and her family as a whole takes care of her primarily because legend has it that throwbacks bring their families prosperity.

Ririchiyo's defense mechanism against all of this has been to act like a haughty, stuck-up princess. Her prickly behavior is designed to keep others from getting too close and potentially hurting her, and yet she hates herself for hurting those around her. When she reaches high school age, she decides to live on her own at Maison de Ayakashi. Outwardly, Maison de Ayakashi is a home for the super-rich, with each resident rating a personal bodyguard. In reality, all the residents, including their Secret Service bodyguards, are descended from supernatural beings.

Ririchiyo intends to keep to herself, but this become impossible almost immediately. Despite not requesting one, she finds herself with a super-loyal bodyguard named Soushi, who asks that she make him her dog. No matter what she says to him, he smiles and stays by her side. As the series progresses, Ririchiyo makes friends and finds herself wishing to become closer to Soushi. Unfortunately, between her prickly-ness and his overly-formal behavior, becoming closer is not an easy task. An arranged marriage and darkness in Soushi's past complicate things further.

Review:

This is a tough review to write. On the one hand, I liked this series, a lot more than I expected to. On the other hand, aspects of it made me feel icky.

I'll get the “made me feel icky” stuff out of the way first. I don't think Ririchiyo's exact age is ever stated, but I'm guessing she was maybe 15 or 16 years old. Her physical appearance made her seem a few years younger even than that. Soushi was stated as being 7 years her senior. The depth of Soushi's focus on and obsession with Ririchiyo would have been off-putting regardless, but Ririchiyo's young age made it worse. It didn't help that the age difference was emphasized every time Ririchiyo and Soushi were anywhere near each other – Soushi was, what, a foot or two taller than her?

Then there was the fan service. Granted, there's worse out there – High School of the Dead and Dance in the Vampire Bund come instantly to mind. Still, I could have done without the shots of Ririchiyo's butt and mostly open night shirt, and the monster attack scene had me gnashing my teeth. I guess it says something about my anime viewing habits that Nobara's lesbian perviness mostly didn't faze me. And Kagerou's obsession with S&M was so over-the-top it was hard to take him seriously, although I admit to being a little uncomfortable with the idea of Karuta in his clutches for any length of time. Again, though, it's hard to take seriously a guy who runs around categorizing inanimate objects as either “sadist” or “masochist.” (By the way, elevators are sadists because they make you wait. Yeah, Kagerou is weird.)

I wish that Ririchiyo had been a few years older, or even just that the final episode had scaled things back a tad – Soushi's “I want kids” comment was a bit much for me. The “Ririchiyo's a minor” thing marred what was otherwise a fabulous last couple episodes.

I spent much of this series expecting some sort of dark supernatural plot to be shoehorned in at the last second and was pleasantly surprised when this did not happen. While I would have liked it if the world-building had gotten more attention, I appreciated the decision to focus on Ririchiyo and Soushi, their romance, their emotional stuntedness, and the secrets Soushi was keeping hidden from Ririchiyo. I've got a soft spot for damaged characters, and Ririchiyo and Soushi definitely qualified.

The world-building, as I said, could have used some work. I wasn't sure how the whole reincarnation thing was supposed to work. I'm pretty sure it was mentioned that the “throwbacks” sometimes had memories of their previous lives. Were Ririchiyo and Soushi a couple in their past life? Why were some characters Secret Service members when all of them appeared equally capable of defending themselves and when each of them faced the same risk of being attacked by supernatural creatures?

All in all, I enjoyed the humor and the romance and liked that this show had a better idea of its focus than many similar short series. The last couple episodes were wonderful and uncovered a lot of interesting facets to Soushi's character. It didn't even matter that I was able to guess at some of it well before the final revelations. Despite all of that, I really hesitate to recommend this series, just because of Ririchiyo's age as compared to Soushi. This is especially annoying, because Ririchiyo could easily have been a few years older with very little effect on the plot or characters, and the show would have had significantly less ick factor.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Black Butler (manga) by Yana Toboso; Black Butler (anime TV series) - In this supernatural historical series, the main characters are an arrogant young boy looking for vengeance and his demon butler. Those who loved the "mistress and servant" aspect of Inu x Boku Secret Service might want to give this a shot. Just be aware that this series has similar objectionable content, plus occasional violence/bloodiness. I've written about both seasons of the anime and the first five volumes of the manga.
  • Gosick (light novels) story by Kazuki Sakuraba, art by Hinata Takeda; Gosick (anime TV series) - This historical mystery series has supernatural elements and a bit of romance and stars a character named Victorique, who looks like a beautiful doll and has a brilliant mind. Those who liked Ririchiyo's blend of abrasiveness and vulnerability might also like Victorique. I've written about the anime and the first light novel.
  • The Earl and the Fairy (manga) story by Mizue Tani, art by Ayuko - Those who liked Soushi's over-the-top flirtatiousness might enjoy Edgar, one of the main characters in this series that mixes supernatural elements, adventure, and romance. I've written about the anime.
  • The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga) by Hotaru Odagiri; Uraboku (anime TV series) - Those who liked Soushi's single-minded focus on Ririchiyo and would love another supernatural series featuring reincarnation and romance might want to give this a try. I've written about the anime.
  • Shugo Chara! (manga) by Peach-Pit; Shugo Chara! (anime TV series) - This is another series starring a girl wants to change her character and how she behaves. Like Inu x Boku Secret Service, there is romance with a bit of an age/maturity mismatch, although the mismatch isn't as great, I don't think.
  • Daughter of the Blood (book) by Anne Bishop - During the final two episodes of Inu x Boku Secret Service, I was repeatedly reminded of Daemon Sadi, a character from Anne Bishop's Black Jewels books. Like Soushi, Daemon spent years wanting to meet and be by the side of the person he considered his emotional savior.
  • Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga; Loveless (anime TV series) - Another series featuring an uncomfortable age mismatch and starring very damaged characters. The focus on the mystery elements and the recognition, on Soubi's part, that Ritsuka was a minor and that certain behaviors would therefore not be appropriate (not that that always stopped him) made this series hit my "ick" buttons less forcefully than Inu x Boku Secret Service. However, there is still a definite ick factor, so be aware of that.

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