B Gata H Kei: Yamada's First Time
B Gata H Kei revolves around fifteen year-old high school student Yamada, who's more than a bit obsessed with sex and doesn't exactly have the most realistic expectations: her dream is to one day have sex with 100 different boys. In spite of this, she's still a virgin; she's insecure and prone to social anxiety, and because of this she compulsively rejects anybody who tries to date her, even though she's generally popular and highly sought-after.
To get around this, she decides to search for a "cherry boy" who can be her "first time" as well. While at a bookstore one day, she accidentally falls on her awkward and rather plain-looking classmate Takashi Kosuda. She decides that Kosuda is the "cherry boy" she needs and starts to go way out of her way to attract his attention.
B Gata H Kei is one of the raunchiest anime comedies I've ever seen, and while it's a funny one, it's also something of a strange beast. Refreshingly to me (from a feminist perspective), it's one of the very few series to chuck any pretension of quote-unquote "feminine modesty" in its lead character, a tired double standard that even many harem and ecchi series quietly embrace. It instead revolves around an unabashedly sexual character, its humor entirely consisting of dirty jokes and its dialogue frequently permeated by lewd fantasies. I personally thought that it was hysterical, if sometimes on the juvenile side, but frankly, you aren't going to enjoy it if you don't like your comedy seasoned with a strong dose of sex, libido, and innuendo. And yet B Gata H Kei is something of an oddity in the world of sex comedies in that it makes what feels like a sincere effort to comment on the fragile nature of the budding sexuality of teenagers, and on the insecurity that makes sex and understanding one's sexuality so difficult. It's an attempt to discuss human sexuality through satire, and while in my opinion it doesn't entirely succeed, as the zany antics can sometimes be too distracting for this to fully sink in, it did make me give a little more thought to the series than I had expected to.
In any case, our lead character is the loudmouthed, amazingly tactless, and yet still incredibly endearing Yamada, who in spite of being quite attractive and extremely popular with her male classmates has never had a boyfriend. She's a girl who definitely could benefit having a therapist: she's desperate to "lose her virginity," but she's so clueless about sexuality and so crippled by body-image related anxiety that she compulsively turns down any boy who asks to go out with her. Her solution is to pick the quiet and average-looking Kosuda to be her boyfriend, in spite of the fact that they've never spoken and the only plus to their relationship is that he's also a virgin or "cherry boy" and knows as little about this as she does. For the most part, these antics are played for humor, since Yamada's ridiculously clueless and it's very easy to laugh at that. The fact that she'll say basically anything that comes into her mind doesn't help: no matter how vulgar or explicit it is, she'll blurt it out, leaving her straight-man best friend Miharu to gawk at her tactlessness while the audience (this girl included) bursts into laughter.
You probably won't enjoy this series if you don't end up liking Yamada and being able to embrace her loud, childish, and clueless side. I laughed a lot at her antics, and when I wasn't laughing, I could tell there was something else at work (I'll get to that in a minute); though she's occasionally infuriating, she's a riot to watch, and her voice actress' hilariously melodramatic delivery helps emphasize the ridiculousness. Kosuda doesn't match up, unfortunately, since he's somewhat predestined to mediocrity by the fact that the script deliberately paints him as a bland nobody, and the show misses an opportunity to give him any personality that might not be instantly evident, meaning that he's basically reduced to a sounding board for Yamada's bizarre schemes. In addition, there's one character, a rich transfer student named Kanejo, whose appearance triggers an otherwise amusing rivalry, with a very, very intense brother complex, and this unfortunately commonplace "joke" definitely brought my opinion of the series down a bit. In spite of the weaknesses of a few cast members, however, B Gata H Kei is a fun series, made all the better by one ingenious addition: each character's "eros deity". In keeping with the show's theme, each main character is frequently accompanied by a sprite, usually in SD form, whose sole purpose is to help their counterpart find a sex partner but whose advice is rarely followed, much to their exasperation...maybe this is Jiminy Cricket's "someone inside you that people don't listen to", but this time for one's sex life. It's a clever touch, since sometimes I think we could all use a little more self-reflection on that front.
On a technical scale, B Gata H Kei pulls off a good but somewhat pedestrian effort. The character design is pretty cute but not super distinctive, the art is appropriately bright, cartoonish, and (when the situation calls for it) full of visual gags, and the animation can often look as if it were spliced together with Adobe Flash, but nothing looks out of place. Those who appreciate fanservice have nothing to worry about: the show's sexual scenes are well-drawn and generally very equal-opportunity as fanservice goes, and in spite of there being the odd sparkle or abrupt intrusion I actually found them to be pretty tasteful. The music, meanwhile, sits in the background and does little else, while the opening and closing songs are ridiculously earwormy pieces of J-pop that aren't completely my type of music, but I can't deny they suit the show well. The show doesn't look or sound terrible by any stretch, and that's perfectly fine; considering the type of series it is, it's hardly necessary for it to be a technical masterpiece.
As over the top, ridiculous, and zany as B Gata H Kei is, there is a clear attempt to pick apart teenage sexuality as a serious topic amidst the craziness. You might laugh at Yamada's "stupidity," but a closer look reveals that much of her experience is akin to what many teenagers (and especially teenage girls) experience in real life, even if it's exaggerated for comic effect. It's easy to laugh at her for being both obsessed with sex and completely ignorant about it, but the series frames this as being something understandable, and you end up empathizing with her over the anxiety she experiences. She's capable of being petty, short-sighted, and mean, but she's a budding adult who's overwhelmed by something she wants but doesn't completely understand: she isn't ever shown as an unpleasant or "misguided" person, but as somebody who needs to grow up and chill out so that she can just enjoy sex, approach it more measuredly, and stop agonizing over it. The fact is, nobody really knows anything concrete about sex or the nuances of it before they actually do anything, no matter how much sex-ed they get or how much they think about it. It's something that is extremely difficult to understand when you think about it abstractly, simply because of how emotionally intense and complex it is. Yamada and Kosuda are both painfully aware of how little they actually know about sex, and there's another problem: they're so hung up on it that it gets in the way of their even having much of a relationship. They're two out of the millions of teenagers who can't do anything intimate or have a healthy relationship because they fixate on sex, by itself, to an unhealthy degree.
There're two reasons why I feel that this is important to the series, and the first is that in spite of this show's ostensibly being a teenage sex comedy, it's somewhat grounded in the relatively mature viewpoints of two other characters. The first is Miharu, the only character with a significant other and, likely, the only person that keeps Yamada from spiraling completely out of control. The other, surprisingly, is Kosuda's older sister, who usually just teases her brother; in a surprisingly frank moment, she simply tells him outright what he might try to do if he wants to approach sex as an act of love, so that he doesn't simply get pressured into having loveless, unsatisfying sex he doesn't want to have (of course, some people do have sex without romance, but it's clear that neither Yamada nor Kosuda is aromantic). The other reason is that the characters do undergo small but noticeable progress throughout the show. Yamada, who basically has no concept of the emotional side of a relationship at the start, has just barely begun to grasp that side near the end, and the two of them do agree to move slowly; it's a promise that they have some trouble holding to, but they do try, and it does ease the tension between them enough to allow for a bare handful of tender moments to occur.
But does this part of the series take center stage? No, and in my opinion, not enough progress occurs for this part of the B Gata H Kei to entirely work. I had a feeling that the show would be that way from the start, since it's adapted from a long-running strip that wouldn't want to have its characters "grow up" too soon, and since it's a little too fixated on one's "first time" (hence the secondary title) the show can't really get very far with that aspect, either. We thus have a series that subtly buries a rather sweet coming-of-age story within its endless parade of ridiculous gags, but it buries it deep enough that some casual viewers might not pick up on it, and the show's premise automatically makes it hard for the characters to have the frank discussions about sex and their own preferences that they'll need to get out of this rut. Still, I'm happy that B Gata H Kei delved into this at all, and that it was as frank about female sexuality as it was; I might've liked the characters to be a bit better-developed (I promise, no pun intended!), but even with what we do have, it makes the show much less one-dimensional.
At the end of the day, B Gata H Kei is best for those who like their comedy on the bawdy side; if not, you're going to have to dig through a lot of dirty jokes to see the underpinning coming-of-age story, and it might not be that much fun for you to do so. The antics are impossible to ignore, for good or bad, but it's a more nuanced show than you'd expect just by looking at the premise. I have some reservations about recommending this show, but I won't lie: I thought it was hysterical, and surprisingly poignant when it wanted to be. As trashy as it can be, its treatment of budding teenage sexuality is actually pretty dead-on; if you appreciate comedy for the insight it gives into human behavior, this show might be for you.
It's funny, ever-so-inappropriate, and surprisingly sweet. This is a bit of a weak four stars, and I had this at three stars when I first wrote this review, but my opinion has gone up over time: it's grown on me quite a bit lately. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: You could make a very cruel practical by showing this to your conservative friends after promising them that you're going to put on something "tame".
Version(s) Viewed: Stream Courtesy of Hulu.com (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
B Gata H Kei: Yamada's First Time © 2010 Hal Film Maker/Sanri Yoko
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