If there’s any anime genre that’s far rarer than it should be, it’s the serious, adult romance genre – even fewer get officially translated and released here in the West. In fact, the only relatively recent title that springs to mind is the rather excellent Scum’s Wish! But now we have a new release to consider with the release of Domestic Girlfriend, adapted from the manga by Kei Susuga. Time to put the kids to bed whilst we see if there’s love to be found in the midst of a perfect storm of teen angst, high school and sex.
Natsuo doesn’t exactly have the most exciting of lives. An aspiring novelist he’s not in any clubs, he’s not especially popular and there’s certainly no line of young women lining up seeking his attention. So he’s certainly more than a little bemused (not to mention thrilled) when a girl at a mixer invites him home for a one night stand.
He doesn’t get to revel in his success for long however, as when he returns home his father reveals his sudden intent to re-marry, which leads Natsuo to the shocking revelation that his new step-mother’s two daughters are the young woman he slept with and the teacher he’s secretly in love with! Now Natsuo must balance his increasingly complicated home and school lives and try to work out where his feelings lie! Can he have any kind of relationship with either girl without destroying everything?
The step-sister romance trope is rather well-worn at this point so it’s nice to see that there’s been an attempt here to breathe some new life into proceedings. The combination of making this a serious, adult drama rather than a comedy romance certainly helps as does the fact that the protagonist encounters and develops his bonds with his step-siblings-to-be prior to his knowledge that they're entering the family. As the story develops, the situation becomes as angst-y as you could ever wish for as the various relationships twist around through numerous permutations, while managing to mostly avoid being overly predictable in terms of how things are going to play out in the end.
As tends to be the case in these shows Natsuo, Hina and Rui aren’t exactly likeable characters per say, but that’s as it should be in this kind of show. We aren’t rooting for one of the romances to work out after all – we want to see just how deep a hole the characters can put themselves into and things certainly work out in that regard! A bunch of actually likeable (if stereotypical) side characters help flesh out matters and keep the story moving at a pretty brisk pace.
There are really only two niggles with the show. The first is that this is based on a small part of a manga series that ran for 28 volumes, and frankly all the best material happens well after the point where the series tries to twist things into a semblance of a satisfactory resolution.
Secondly, well, it’s fantastic that this is an adult series and it pushes the sex scenes further than most other shows but... did they really have to include the suppository scene? Yes this series is supposed to be a bit uncomfortable to watch but not in that way! Sexualising a scene in which a character is treated for an illness was never going to be the high point of this series, and like the equally unpleasant egg-laying scene from Monster Musume it should really have been quietly skipped over (and preferably then excised from all copies of the manga and buried under a rock somewhere).
On the technical side, Diomedea (no strangers to doing shows with awkward content given that their second ever production was the loli Kodomo no Jikan….), do a fantastic job and the show looks great throughout; from the brilliant opening credits to the photographs that serve as next episode previews. This is definitely one of the better looking shows I've sen in some time, and director Shota Ihata clearly knows what he’s doing, deftly balancing the series’ content (well, apart from the aforementioned sequence that is….) to prevent it from tilting into full-on porn or comedy.
Overall, if you’re over 18 and looking for something that contains more subtlety and nuance than your average anime, being ready to let it’s characters be grown up’s and understands that boobs can be used for more than just random fan service (all lessons we wish more series would learn) then you’ll want to check out Domestic Girlfriend.
It’s a refreshing, adult show we can admire before we go back to watching Shounen shows made for young teenagers…..