Content Warning: Adult/teenager romance, pseudo-incest between guardian and child
What’s it about? When Isaku’s parents were killed in a car crash, she moved in with her grandfather, a yakuza boss. However, a man in his position is far too busy to be the primary guardian of a young child, so his underling Keiya took over the job. Ten years later, Isaku is about to start at a new high school where she can get away from her scary reputation, not to mention her not-really-familial feelings toward the man who raised her. The problem? Keiya, now 26 years old, has enrolled right alongside her as a student himself!
Here is a ranked list of reasons watching A Girl and Her Guard Dog was a stultifying experience:
- It was boring.
- It was ugly.
- It was problematic.
Leading up to its premiere, most of the chatter around this ~problematic shoujo~ adaptation was about its central relationship between Isaku, a 15-year-old girl who grew up in a yakuza house after her parents were killed in a car crash, and Keiya, her 26-year-old guardian.
It’s like a perfect storm of taboo shoujo: a romance between a teenage girl and a fully-grown adult man! Pseudo-incest between people who are basically family but not blood relatives! An overprotective to the point of controlling love interest!! Social media was sure to become a bloodbath as all-out war broke out between those who believe all fictional relationships should be models of healthy dynamics and those who believe that no fiction should ever be criticized as glorifying harmful cultural norms.
Now that the first episode is out, however, I can’t really see that happening. Not because it depicted the material in a nuanced or sensitive way that would keep both sides happy (lol like that’s even possible), but because it was so dreadfully, agonizingly boring that I don’t imagine much of anyone is going to bother watching anything more. Isaku and Keiya have all the personality of a sack of plain oatmeal and the chemistry of two inert gasses. With so little sizzle, there’s nothing really to feel scandalized about, especially in a world where Hot Gimmick and Black Bird exist.
Isaku wanders through the episode with a permanently concussed expression as Keiya looms over their teenaged classmates. The episode’s big conflict revolved around her practicing volleyball with the world’s cuddliest yakuza gangsters and the girls in her class being impressed with her hard work, enabling her to make friends. Yay. Woo-hoo.
There isn’t even the small pleasure of watching hot people wander across the screen, because A Girl and Her Guard Dog is… well, not the ugliest anime I’ve ever seen, because I have watched some truly dogshit productions. However, the studio, No. 9, is making three series this season, and it shows. The animation is stiff, the color palette is muted, and there is something terribly wrong with every single character’s face. Their pupils are outright malformed, which is highlighted multiple times via closeups of Isaku’s profile. Someone get that girl to an ophthalmologist, because there is something deeply wrong with her cornea.
I did appreciate that Keiya is noticeably built differently from the actual teenagers, not just taller but broader through the chest and shoulders, with a more defined jaw and neck… and that’s about all the good things I can say about the animation. Well, except for the unintentionally hilarious shot when Isaku goes to dive for the volleyball, and instead of animating her hitting the floor, she just flops out of the frame. Like, that’s the only word I can think of to describe the motion she makes. I thought for a second she had fallen over.
And now, I suppose I can no longer avoid talking about the thing I’m sure you’re all waiting to hear about: the very weird dynamic between Isaku and Keiya. I thought maybe I’d be able to finally return home from the “criticizing girls’ fantasies” wars, but I’ve been called back to the battlefield once again.
I really and truly have very little interest in relitigating this argument, but let’s face it: “Fiction is a safe space to explore unsafe fantasies and can be completely unrelated to real-life preferences” and “Fiction can normalize and reinforce harmful cultural norms” are two statements that can stand side-by-side and both be true. If this kind of pseudo-incestuous, uneven power dynamic turns your crank, I’m happy that A Girl and Her Guard Dog is out here for you. If you understand what does and does not constitute a healthy relationship in reality and this is a fantasy you wish to explore in a safe environment, then have fun, even though I sincerely believe you deserve better than this.
However, I am obligated as an Anime Feminist reviewer to point out that it’s pretty fucked up. At this point, Keiya appears to truly only see Isaku as his charge, and not a romantic prospect. He’s not actively grooming her, so hey, he gets the teeniest, tiniest bit of credit. I’d even buy that the way he chases off the two boys who try to talk to Isaku has more to do with his position as her guardian than any sense of romantic possessiveness, though it is pretty ambiguous, and also has to do with how men tend to see any girls they’re connected to as their possessions.
However, we all know where this is going, and once it gets there, the issues become myriad. Quite simply, Isaku cannot meaningfully consent to a relationship with a man in this position. He’s much older and in a position of authority over her. In fact, it’s pretty weird that she sees him that way to begin with, considering he’s raised her for the last ten years!
But there are echoes to the age-gap in real life in how girls are culturally conditioned to believe that relationships with older, more experienced men are desirable despite how vulnerable to abuse and control that makes them. Any kind of non-platonic contact between Keiya and Isaku would be inherently exploitative.
Well, except that they’re fictional characters and fiction isn’t reality. I would never have enjoyed A Girl and Her Guard Dog, even if it wasn’t a clusterfuck of terrible production choices, because it just isn’t my thing. However, if you’re going to have problematic media, you might as well make it completely and obviously based in fantasy, with no resemblance to human interaction whatsoever. I just wish it had leaned into its own trashiness more.