When I saw the title Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai and the advertisement of an anime girl dressed as a Playboy bunny, I groaned. It looked bad. Like exploitative-of-women-and-badly-stereotyped-dense-devoid-of-personality-guy bad. But because I write for JP, I decided to endure an episode or two. At the least it could offer more fodder for another article.
Surprisingly, the anime turned out to be decent. At times, more than decent.
I’ve only seen three episodes so far, but the story builds on the idea of Shrodinger’s Cat. If you haven’t heard of it, Shrodinger’s Cat is a thought experiment used to explain the superposition in physics. Superposition is the idea that the general state of a quantum system is the combination of all possibilities. In other words, a cat stuffed in a box with poison that is triggered by the radioactive decay of a material is both alive and dead until we open the box’s lid to determine which took hold.
Rascal takes this idea and applies it to people. Unless a person and remembered by people, they become invisible yet still exist. Essentially, they are both alive and dead. It’s an outlandish idea for a story, but I’m a science nerd so it grabbed my attention immediately.
Mai Sakurajima is the cat in this box. Over the three episodes, she and the main guy Sakuta develop a relationship. Sakuta is one of the few who can see Mai, and he also understands a little about the mysterious supernatural event called Adolescence Syndrome. His little sister suffers from it, but hers manifests like a poltergeist that cuts people. Because of this, he feels for Mai and her loneliness.
Sakuta isn’t the typical anime protagonist. You know the one. The dense, relationship blind, insensitive guy who makes you groan and facepalm. Sakuta comes off as sensitive, assertive, confident, and even asks Mai for a date. Although the story labels as a delinquent, he doesn’t disrespect Mai. He jokes around, but so far he hasn’t tried to get a panty glimpse or stare at her breasts. It is refreshing. Although in the third episode I rolled my eyes at a key scene.
Mai’s loneliness speaks to the isolation many feel nowadays. She actually fades from the sight and memory of nearly everyone. Despite social media, people report high levels of loneliness in most surveys I’ve read. She is a childhood star, which again underlines the lack of true relating she has. People had seen her, but they didn’t know her. Sakuta comes to know her as few do.
I don’t normally write first impressions, but this anime surprised me. There’s still quite a few episodes left. It can still go off the rails. But I found substance where I expected the usual ecchi drivel that corrupts anime nowadays. It’s fine if you like ecchi, but not every story needs fan service and other foolery. Rascal lacks fan service too. At least, in the three episodes I’ve seen. The show respects Mai.
As I watched, I wondered why the author felt a title like Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (learn more about honorifics and senpai-kohai relationships) was warranted. It is a light novel–if the long title didn’t give you the hint. The title plays a little on Shrodinger’s Cat. Rascal (Sakuta) does and does not dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (Mai). I have to spoil a little in order to explain: whenever people fall asleep, Mai is wiped from their memories and awareness. The lid closes on the cat in the box, so to speak. So when Sakuta finally sleeps after staying awake for nearly three days, he doesn’t dream of Mai. He can’t. Yet when he wakes he finds something is missing, something is wrong. He has waking dreams of Mai. The title is goofy, but it has a hidden layer of sophistication that Crunchyroll’s marketing fails to convey. I would’ve preferred a better title, but marketing is marketing.
It doesn’t reflect well on the community that the show has to be advertised as an ecchi romp instead of a fairly in-depth romantic drama with a whiff of science fiction tossed in. The scene where Mai dresses as a Playboy bunny is short. Of all the scenes available in the episodes I’ve watched, I found it sad that they have to use that one. It jives with the title, but Mai still may don the bunny tights in future episodes. I just hope the story doesn’t go off the rails and into ecchi tropes. Sakuta’s confidence is great to see. The anime needs to continue to respect Mai and not fall into fan service.
So far this autumn season, Rascal has surprised me more than any other anime. There’s a strong showing so far with Rascal and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (which is interesting). I hope they won’t implode into anime’s usual, tired tropes and nonsense.