What’s it about? Tomoshibi Arajin is hoping to meet some cuties at his new school, and in a student body mostly composed of delinquents, the adorable Jin Mahoro is like an oasis in the desert. But even with her around, the desert is full of traps! For most of his classmates, the school is a battleground between two feuding gang factions, not a place for education. His childhood friend Asamine, who Arajin never wanted to run into again, is there and excited to see him. To top it all off, he accidentally releases a djinn when trying to defend himself from bullies!
This is a MAPPA anime. As in, the studio that has come under fire recently for its working conditions that are unusually horrible even for the historically exploitative anime industry. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism; everything we touch is tinged with suffering. I’m not saying that you should just throw up your hands and give up, but that we all have to pick our battles or we’ll drive ourselves insane. I avoid shopping on Amazon and follow the BDS boycott list; it’s up to you to decide whether or not to divest yourself of MAPPA’s productions.
If you do choose to watch MAPPA productions (and I do), BUCCHIGIRI!?! is an incredible amount of fun. With Sk8 the Infinity, the first production where she had true creative freedom, Utsumi Hiroko established herself as a vibrant, much-needed voice in an industry where work by and for women tends to end up disregarded. It took the typical structures of sports anime and made something wild, weird, and unabashedly appealing to girls who like muscular, masculine bodies. BUCCHIGIRI!?! ramps up the weirdness in a big way, from a relatively (heavy emphasis on “relatively” there) grounded sports story to a delinquent comedy that goes in some truly bonkers directions.
I get the feeling that when Utsumi makes an anime, she’s making it pretty much for Utsumi and if anyone else is into it, that’s great. This comes from all the recurring aesthetic elements that you just don’t see too often in anime except for hers: facial piercings, gratuitous shots of muscular men’s backs, large sweet men, Okinawa as a setting, allusions to 1001 Nights, a particular riotous aesthetic sensibility that I’m not yet quite sure how to define… Luckily for me, the overlap between “things Utsumi likes” and “things Caitlin likes” is fairly significant and, if I’m honest, grows every time she directs something new (cough).
Something that will probably never be part of that overlap, however, is little sisters who are really into how strong their brothers are. Didn’t care for it with Rin and Gou, and tragically it seems to be a thing yet again. This time, it’s Mahoro, who watches gleefully as her older brother bashes the shit out of Arajin. It’s not quite the same as your average imouto fetish series, because it doesn’t feel like it’s presenting a fantasy of an adoring little sister. I’m not sure what it’s trying to do, and it still has a weird incestuous vibe… Plus, Utsumi isn’t exactly known for her incredible female characters, so Mahoro is probably going to be the only girl we’re going to get: a hyper-feminine love interest who serves as a contrast against the hyper-masculine, delinquent-dominated cast.
A fascinating element of the setting is that it’s Okinawa, but a version with the international elements ramped up, especially a Middle Eastern influence. The graceful curves of onion domes dot the skyline, and shrines are decorated with geometrical Islamic art and Arabic script. Marito snacks on a kebab, and the “honki people” (not a fantastic translation choice, let’s be real) are clearly djinn. Even Arajin’s name is a Japanese spin of “Aladdin.” It’s not really my call whether or not this is problematic or appropriation or not since I’m not MENA, and I would love to hear the opinions of anyone who is. Without considering those issues, it’s a great look for the show, unlike anything else that’s really out there.
There are a few other small things: Arajin gets stripped and chased through the streets by gang members, which does count as sexual assault played for laughs; one of his old friend’s buddies wears a skirt and has his hair in pigtails; and so on. The thing is, BUCCHIGIRI!?! has so much going on that it’s hard to really nail down anything except that I had a ton of fun watching the first episode, and I can’t wait to see more, problematic or not.