「乙女心のいろいろは」 (Otomegokoro no Iroiro wa)
“The Colors of the Hearts of Maidens”
With a hostage situation that transforms into vandalism overnight, the finale for Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo. was destined to be a unruly free-for-all. But while this was the central focus of this episode, it aimed to rectify many of the concerns that continued to pile up throughout the series by giving the characters a platform to unpack their issues and create a semi-fulfilling ending for everyone.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the hostage situation was destined to quickly escalate into a chaotic dumpster fire. Having all of these girls under the same roof trying to deal with each other after everything that’s happened between them is already rough enough as it is. But adding Izumi in the equation made it worse. Far worse. From there, anything that happens this night is ripped straight from the messiest J-drama storyline you could imagine. In a twist of events, Momoko went absolutely off-the-rails as soon as Niina let it slip that she was going to confess to Izumi with Kazusa’s consent. It’s understandably cruddy to see Niina straight-up let Momoko know that she rejected her to shoot her shot with Izumi. It’s not so understandable when Momoko gives her an ultimatum to get with her or remain single forever. In the ensuing chaos, Izumi comes in through the window right when Niina tries to defend her interest in Izumi to Momoko. From there, we get the stupidest line from Izumi where he opens up directly to all of the girls that he emotionally loves Kazusa, but wants to have sex with Niina. This is followed up with Niina being happy that Izumi wants to have sex her since the feeling is mutual. Everyone is taken aback and it’s such a ludicrous comment that everyone is caught off-guard into letting more of their outburst to blurt out, but it is to be expected from a show like this.
Thankfully, a game of tag helps the girls diffuse their personal conflicts, but it’s not exactly going to be a smooth transition based on some of the girls’ struggles. Kazusa might be happier knowing that Izumi doesn’t want to rush into things and is scared to move too fast, but how do you fix Momoko’s raging jealousy? Everyone is well-off by the end of the show with the finale wrapping up our main two couple’s stories with a fine bow. Rika is still with Shun and is in-contact with Jujo, who delivered her baby with her boyfriend by her side. Kazusa is able to get on a train with her boyfriend Izumi, bringing everything in full-circle when she is able to comfortably enter the tunnel that previously passed through her legs in Episode 01. Hongou may have lost against Tomita-sensei, but she’s secure and comfortable knowing that she can keep the Literature Club alive along with Milo-sensei and make a wedding play for the two. Momoko and Niina, however, are completely lost in the equation. Niina may have a friend that values her existence, but is it healthier if Momoko’s development hasn’t emphasized that she’s made enough emotional changes to not remain possessive of Niina? They are friendly with one another, but they haven’t given us enough time with an out-and-proud Momoko to see how she handles rejection or friendship after her fallout with Niina. The ending does save the anime from being a complete mess, but with so much of the focus on Niina and her attempts to wedge herself between Kazusa and Izumi, it really causes the show to unravel and gets in the way of being able to develop the girls as they handle their struggles with puberty, love, and intercourse.
Much like Niina allegorical prison within Saegusa’s nose hairs, there is a good show that is trapped, left to watch a chaotic runaway train barreling down the tracks. It had all of the pieces of a puzzle that could have painted a cohesive coming-of-age story that hits as close to home as it could. But by focusing too hard on reveling in the absurdity of the girls’ decisions instead of letting the girls naturally progress through puberty by their own accord, the show operates much like Being John Malkovich, trapping its viewers into the psyche of a power-hungry menace using its visage to wreak havoc and abuse the beautiful vessel that we were once entranced by.
It’s sad because there are so many ideas in the series that are salvageable and would have definitely worked if they were executed properly by the middle of the series. You had a girl who had to come to terms with the idea that her crush/childhood friend has sexual desires, a girl who places herself in risky situations so that she could know how to write erotic fiction, a girl whose puritanical concept of love and preconceived notions of sexuality are challenged when a boy falls in love with her, and a girl grappling with her sexual orientation in high school. In the right hands, any one of these ideas could have been adapted into one of the best coming-of-age TV anime of the 2010s. Heck, if an elevator pitch for a TV show about puberty was delivered by just describing these beginning stages of the main girls’ storylines, I would understand throwing money behind funding the entire project from top-to-bottom. But so many of these storylines are left flagging because it is far more exhilarating to tell a story with shock factor than nuance. It is too simple to blame creator Okada Mari when she’s done the series composition for some classic coming-of-age anime, but she is also the type of writer that revels in melodrama. This isn’t normally a problem when she elevates the problems happening within the lives of normal kids, but half of the cast in Araburu is tailor-made to be far from the norm. Eccentric schemers are a godsend for this show since it’s easier to be indulgent in embracing the worst qualities of characters who are out-of-this-world and go out of their way to take advantage of those around them.
These flirtations with side-show antics come out in full-force with the driving factor behind the plot’s advancement: Niina. Niina exists not only to force the Literature Club to try to make sense of sexuality but to drive wedges between the rest of the girls by sowing the seeds of discord within the group. Her brazen approach towards taking what she wants allows her to worm her way into the friend circle to bring her self-destructive habits with her. She’s the type of character to feel bad for herself and picture herself as a victim while she’s plotting to betray her “best friend” and steal the boy she’s been in love with this entire time. It’s that frustrating kind of person who tries to prove you wrong about being awful by doing something even worse. But because she’s a lightning rod for the show’s messiest drama by bringing her pedophile acting coach into the plot, having the desire to steal Izumi from Kazusa, and causing Momoko to go full-incel on her, she’s given the most leniency and leeway to bring such unneeded soapy drama to the show. Hongou’s storyline is also regrettable because the initially interesting idea of someone who feels like they need to experience sex to be able to write about sexuality is quickly tossed out when she and her teacher Milo accidentally catfish each other. From there, we get a series of terrible decisions to have Hongou regularly forcing herself on her teacher Milo as he dares her into erotic situations. It’s moments like these in the show where you have to take a step back and ask yourselves, “Is this how it feels to grow up?”
It’s frustrating to constantly repeat that it could have been a normal series because the greater ideas encapsulate the feeling of growing up while puberty and raging hormones are driving you insane. Scenes like Kazusa sprinting after finding Izumi fapping, Niina walking through the street to reflect on her feelings of inadequacy to the sounds of a drunken karaoke singer, and Hongou tearfully propositioning an anonymous chat member to a real-life sexual encounter are easily scenes that you could imagine being in a more meaningful story. And I know that the anime had the potential to be all-around amazing because Rika’s storyline is perfect from start-to-finish. Her growth from being a prudish girl who chastises her classmates for their sexual lifestyles to being in a romantic relationship and sympathizing with a popular girl who got pregnant is worthwhile, heartfelt, and sincere. To see her build up her self-confidence and overcome her personal insecurities she’s grown up with about feeling unattractive is all the more rewarding when the boy who loves her is genuine about his feelings and brings out her best qualities. It’s hard not to tear up when they’re both on-screen because the developments in their relationship are so adorable and really feel like the budding feelings that would come from two teenagers that are in love with each other for reasons beyond wanting to get hot and heavy. It would’ve been Shun had opened up about his past relationships, but the closure she received is the most heart-warming as she got to see Shun later on as she pursued her studies with him and was able to see that Jujo and her boyfriend successfully had their baby together. It says something about a story focused on teenage sexuality when the best thing about the show is the one pairing that is in no rush to have sex. Had it not been for its final moments that gave all of the girls a better-defined ending without too many loose ends, it would be difficult to recommend Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo. The beginning and ending were very well-done and its realistic moments are relatable for anyone who grew up trying to consolidate what love and sex mean in high school, but it gets too indulgent in its wild side to be able to look back at all of this and say that it was an amazing coming-of-age story. For better or worse, the series truly is a train without brakes. Though to its credit, it made it through the tunnel in one piece.