Written by Ross Locksley on 06 Jan 2023
It's a funny thing getting old - having just turned 44, I find myself thinking back to my school days from time to time, and let's face it, anime is pretty obsessed as a medium with teenagers, so it's only natural we gravitate towards any series set in a school. My two favourite (current) manga in this genre are Nagatoro and I Belong to the Baddest GIrls at Shcool, so when Crunchyroll offered us a preview of Tomo Chan is a Girl!, I couldn't really refuse.
Our love-story centres around the tomboyish daughter if a Judo instructor named Tomo Aizawa - she's tall, athletic and totally in love with her next door neighbour, Jun. Unfortunately, having grown up together, Jun doesn't really see her as a romantic interest, or even a girl at all really, much to Tomo's irritation. Having declared her love and been blindsided with Jun's "love ya too buddy!" response, Tomo resolves to get in touch with her feminine side. However that's easier said than done.
A not uncommon sight even in just 2 episodes
Each episode is split into 2 story arcs, so we have four to go at on our preview screening. There's a promising cast of characters helping to move things along (or throw wrenches into the works) that include the pretty-boy Misaki, who shares a Judo class with Tomo (all guys) and has a huge crush on her, and Tomo's best female friend, the calculating and vindictive Misuzu Gundo. All you need to know about her is that she and Jun... well they don't get on. Misuzu is constantly messing with Jun, who takes none of of her meddling and often fights back by pushing her into rain, stealing her scrunchie or just flicking her nose. None of this acts as a deterrent however, and Misuzu just can't help herself.
There's a nice dynamic between Tomo and Jun too, it's easy to buy into their lifelong friendship, with Jun's reactions to those instances where he can't help but notice Tomo's feminine traits causing him to panic and fluster. It's nice that he's not totally blind to the fact that she's a girl, it's just an awkward situation that he's not mature enough to handle, which is about right for teenagers new to relationships.
Tomo is equally clueless about what it takes to be feminine, though when you meet characters like Carol, a pink-clad infantalised Barbie doll of a girl who just giggles and acts demure to attract male attention, you have to think Tomo is probably much better off just being who she is. When Misuzu sets up Jun to train Carol and therefore panic Tomo into assuming her man is trying to date her, it's an act of twisted genius designed mainly to amuse Misuzu, no matter how she might twist it to for Tomo's "benefit". Carol, it turns out, is just very lonely and has no social skills, making her another solid addition to the cast with more depth than first meets the eye.
Misuzu Gundo, from the Light Yagami school of calculating sociopaths...
As with any comedy, it's the dialogue that makes or breaks it. Tomo Chan actually has a pretty sharp script - Misuzu's deadpan "Darma" style personality and underhanded machinations steal the show, and while I'm sure Jun's advice that Tomo cover up her legs so as not to attract perverts on trains might irk some viewers, it's actually dealt with in the same episode with Jun admitting he just doesn't know how best to advise her, but that probably wasn't the right take. It makes him a likeable and thoughtful character for Tomo to crush on, and that's always the first major flaw I pick up on some romantic comedies - if the lead male is weak, depraved or clueless then I find it painful to watch. But Jun is a genuinely charismatic young man and Tomo's affections are easy to understand. That gives you a reason to root for them and take an active interest in the drama surrounding them.
Overall, I have to say I was very impressed with Tomo Chan, and I've already added it to my Crunchyroll Watch List. It has the same energy as Kare Kano, and even today I still love that series. Tomo-chan has the same potential to be a classic.
Tomo-chan is a Girl is now streaming weekly on Crunchyroll.
Ross founded the UK Anime Network waaay back in 1995 and works in and around the anime world in his spare time.
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