Monday, July 23, 2018

REVIEW: Kiss Him, Not Me! (anime TV series)

Kiss Him, Not Me! is a romantic comedy series, sort of. It's best to view it primarily as a comedy series, since the potential romance is never resolved, just used for laughs in the end.

The series stars Kae, an overweight high school girl who's a member of her school's history club and secretly a fujoshi (from my understanding, this refers to female fans of yaoi or BL manga and anime and generally has negative connotations). She has zero interest in ending up with someone. Instead, she prefers to wallow in her favorite ships (romantic pairings) and imagine hot guys, real or fictional, falling for each other.

After her favorite anime character dies, Kae becomes deeply depressed and hides in her room for a week, refusing to eat. When she finally emerges, she is magically thin and beautiful. As a result, four different hot guys at her school ask her out. Unable to choose between them and unwilling to tell them that she'd rather seem them paired off with each other, she agrees to go out with all of them at once. They find out about her secret fujoshi nature pretty quickly, but - surprise! - they still want to date her. Later on in the series, Kae's list of suitors expands to include a handsome and flirtatious girl.

I bought this against my better judgment. The character designs looked nice, but the series premise sounded like a disaster. I say this as someone who reads m/m fiction and yaoi/BL manga. I could empathize with Kae's excitement about her favorite anime and manga ships and horror at the thought of a bunch of real-life guys walking into her room and seeing all her yaoi manga and merchandise. However, her habit of constantly pairing off real guys was gross. Every time she did that it made it difficult for me to believe that she saw them as real people, rather than just another set of fictional characters. She literally drooled over the thought of them being together. And if any of them had actually been gay, she'd probably have behaved even more disgustingly.

I'm really torn on this series. On the one hand, I found it to be compulsively watchable, I enjoyed quite a bit of the humor, and I had opinions about who I wanted to see Kae paired off with, if she was paired off with anyone. On the other hand, the writer couldn't seem to decide what to do with her. Should she be allowed to grow a bit and become better at keeping fantasies and reality separate? Or should she be a one-note comedy heroine? Ha ha, look at those guys trying to romance a fujoshi!

There were times when I thought she was growing a bit. For example, in a later episode, one of the guys attempted to force himself on Kae while he was under the grip of a fever-induced hallucination. Afterward, in tears, Kae said something like "It's so good when it happens in BL. But when it happens in real life it's scary." Did this lesson stick? Unfortunately, I'm not sure it did. She continued to squeal over her favorite real people pairings, including one between two brothers.

A lot of the humor was based on the question "What would these guys do to try to get a fujoshi to love them?" The guys posed for BL reference photos, went on a kind of fujoshi pilgrimage, and shopped for yaoi manga in pairs. The secondhand embarrassment was at times very strong, although not as frequent as I expected.

Quite a bit of the series was devoted to romance. Unfortunately, several of Kae's romantic options were very weak, and yet all of them were given approximately equal time. For example, in the Valentine's Day episode, Kae regained all the weight she'd lost. She didn't care one bit about this, but for viewers it served as a test of her suitors' true feelings. Two of the guys were utterly horrified and determined to get her to lose the weight again, no matter what - Shinomiya and Nanashima didn't even deserve to be in the running after the way they behaved in that episode. Igarashi's feelings initially seemed to be as shallow as Shinomiya and Nanashima's, but in this episode he paused, really evaluated how he felt, and decided that he loved Kae whether she was thin or fat.

Nishina and Mutsumi were my top favorite possible pairings with Kae. Mutsumi cared for Kae right from the start of the series, and he was the only guy in the group who genuinely supported Kae's interests and just wanted her to enjoy herself. They were both history buffs, although for different reasons (Kae enjoyed pairing off male historical figures, and Mutsumi seemed to like castles). He and Igarashi were the most interesting of the guys, Igarashi because he actually gave his feelings for Kae some serious thought, and Mutsumi because his sexuality seemed to be less rigid than the other guys' (FYI, he could be considered canon demisexual). I really liked his determination to be honest and direct with Kae once he'd finally realized his feelings. Compared to everyone else, he was a breath of fresh air.

Nishina was, like Kae, a fujoshi, but rather than just consuming BL she also created it. After an initial "but she's a girl?! Kae would never pick her" reaction, the guys viewed her as a fellow rival for Kae's affections, just as likely to end up with her as any of the rest of them. I really liked the episode that revealed a little of her past and how she originally fell in love with Kae. Like Mutsumi, she and Kae had shared interests, and her feelings for Kae didn't start the day Kae became skinny. I did find it a little frustrating, though, that the writer couldn't seem to decide whether to have her be romantically or platonically interested in Kae. She seemed to lean towards platonic interest, but there were notable moments that didn't fit.

I'll wrap this up with a note about sub vs. dub. As usual, I watched the entire series in Japanese with English subtitles. I then watched a few select episodes with the English dub turned on. I preferred most of the Japanese language cast over the English dub cast, with the exception of Kae. In Japanese, Kae literally had a fat voice vs. a thin voice. Her thin voice was, of course, cute and feminine. In English, Kae just talked - her voice sounded the same whether she was fat or thin and only changed when she was in the grip of fujoshi mania. If Japanese Kae's "fat voice" bothers you, I highly suggest switching to the English dub, although be aware that some of the lines are quite different in the dub vs. the sub.

All in all, this was...okay. I'd have liked it a lot more if Kae had quit mentally pairing the guys off, but she never stopped doing this, right up to the end of the series.

Additional Comments:

I couldn't figure out how to fit this in, but I wanted to mention it. Near the end of the series, yet another gross character is added: Mutsumi's brother, a teacher who heavily flirts with students, male and female alike. He seemed to think that flirting with them was fine because 1) he was still a student teacher and 2) he didn't go beyond flirting. Although I realized that some of his behavior was inspired by a desire to goad his younger brother into action, he still made my skin crawl a bit. Teachers flirting with deeply uncomfortable students isn't funny.


The selection of extras is very skimpy, just a textless opening and closing (I didn't like either one) and a promo video.

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