On the seventh day of Christmas, the fairies gave to me…
Seven Mysterious Girlfriends (With Scissors): Mysterious Girlfriend X
(warning: probably not safe for work)
The more I think about it, the more I realize that 2012 was really the year that anime was simultaneously better and much worse than it should have been. On one hand, we had the continuation of Guilty Crown, the horror of Sword Art Online and the relative disappointments of Psycho Pass, which has been more revealing to me of Gen Urobuchi’s particular weaknesses than anything else. On the other hand, you also had a number of seriously quirky anime adapted from manga released this year that, by all rights, shouldn’t have made the transition from manga to television intact. Somehow, Mysterious Girlfriend X managed to harness the power of its unique source material, brilliant direction by Ayumu Watanabe (best known for his work on Doraemon and the currently airing Space Brothers) and an classy efforts of Hoods Studio (most notable for making Seikon no Qwaser and other titles that are basically softcore porn) to become one of the best romantic comedies of the year, and probably the best anime series about the male adolescent psyche since FLCL.
It’s obviously not a show for everyone: the story revolves around a girl and a boy swapping drool every day after school, after all. Many were grossed out by the premise, including pretty much the entire reviewing staff at Anime News Network. But those who stuck with the series were rewarded with a story that refused to gloss over the weirder bits of adolescent romance. Most anime stop at the central couple clutching their hearts and going “my heart is beating so fast! It must be love!” But MGX dove far, far deeper into its premise, examining love and lust, petty sexual desire and deep, overwhelming affection with a fearlessness that is very rare in the animated medium. Most impressive were the moments where the show took advantage of the visual medium itself, conveying information and meaning through visual metaphors and analogies. An example:
Some context: Urabe, the titular mysterious girlfriend, takes the protagonist into an abandoned building. The sun is setting, the music is creepy and unsettling, Urabe asks him to close his eyes and suddenly the “camera” cuts to the beetle above, being dismantled by ants. You recoil in horror as the tension mounts and you realize something terrible is happening, that the corpse of this beetle cannot be meaningless and something fundamental is rotting somewhere the fundamental framework of Mysterious Girlfriend X. But then Urabe gives the protagonist drool, his nose starts bleeding and then the camera pulls out.
The beetle wasn’t decomposing, it was being disrobed. In an instant sheer horror is transmitted into a moment of realization, even transcendent beauty. It’s that sudden shift between the gorgeous and the strange that I think defines MGX in a nutshell.