Content Warning: Mild fanservice
What’s it about? Naoya recently started dating his childhood friend Saki, who he’s been confessing to regularly since first grade. But then he gets a confession from the adorably earnest Nagisa and finds himself drawn to her. Painfully earnest Naoya can only think of one thing to do: ask if he can date both of them at the same time.
Polyamory! It’s something I yearn to see represented more in fiction, and when it comes to anime and manga I can only reread the ending of Magic Knight Rayearth and that one volume of Kiss and White Lily for My Dearest Girl so many times (since I’m forbidden from watching Star Driver until we get around to it for the podcast some day). It’s worth noting that I don’t really count things like Tenchi Muyo or In Another World with My Smartphone in this search, because those tends of stories are generally framed more as “what if you could just bang every hot chick and none of them got mad about it” without acknowledging that non-monogamy is (if you’re doing it ethically) is extremely emotionally intensive. Communication is crucial in any good relationship, but it gains extra difficulty levels when you’re dealing with more than two people.
The fact that Girlfriend, Girlfriend’s premise hinges on open communication rather than noncommittal waffling or outright cheating definitely caught my eye, but did it pull it off? Well…
I’ll give it credit: with the acknowledgement that this is a broad comedy about total idiots, there were a couple scenes in this premiere that rang true to me. As someone who met my wife when she’d been with her other partner for a very long time, I appreciated the bathing scene of all things (excuse for nudity notwithstanding) and Nagisa’s awkward attempts to figure out what Naoya and Saki’s dynamic is while also worrying that she’s in the way. And as much as the conflict is playing off of Saki’s discomfort (we’ll come back to that), I liked that Naoya is willing to discard the possibility of a threesome as quickly as he brought it up, because Saki pushed back against the idea. As much as my brain instinctively went “OH GOD NO IT’S TOO SOON,” I even liked their group date and the casual montage of them spending the evening together.
Honestly, “wife guy who says whatever shit his single braincell generates and is totally okay with being rebuffed” is about the only approach that could potentially make a comedy like this work. As much as I suspect the joke about Naoya’s character is meant to be “all guys think these things but he’s oblivious enough to say them” I did end up believing that he actually likes these girls rather than just finding them hot. I’m less sure how to feel about the Comedy Bit where Saki is clearly attracted to Nagisa and not really sure how to deal with those feelings.
Look, “non-monogamy” is a big umbrella that can look a lot of ways. And in my experience, there is a huge gulf between how it expresses in queer and trans communities versus heterosexual ones. I know a lot of people who all had a story about specifically some cishet dude they’d met and his long, preprepared speech about how “humans were never meant to be monogamous, man”—followed by the inevitable reveal that he was either spinning this shit to college freshmen specifically because they didn’t yet have the experience to have their own opinions on the subject and/or was an emotionally unavailable shitheel to his girlfriends. That’s not to say being queer or trans makes you intrinsically better at polyamory, just that already being marginalized often comes with slightly more awareness of and eagerness to push back against the toxic parts of heteronormative relationship structures.
Which is a long way of saying that the way this episode treats Saki’s burgeoning crush reminds me of interviews with dudes who wanted to have threesomes with their girlfriends but had absolutely no conception that those women might then have a relationship dynamic that did not include him or performing sexily for him. I think I’d be more earnestly interested in seeing how those dynamics might develop—although not every polyam relationship needs to be one where all parties date each other, mine certainly isn’t—but there’s some red flags suggesting that won’t happen. I was willing to overlook the fact that Minase and Naoya basically pressure Saki into trying out this co-dating scheme (NOT GREAT) in the name of “fine, this gets the premise going and then it’ll be about negotiation going forward,” but the episode is clearly pleased as punch to continue mining her discomfort for at least half of its punchlines. No, show, it doesn’t make it better that she punches Naoya Love Hina-style. We were supposed to leave inflicting comedy abuse on your partner in the 90s.
But the real nail in the coffin is the presence of two other girls in the opening credits, suggesting the show is quickly going to throw out the domestic tension it’s set up in the name of focusing on Naoya and his comic inability to turn down any girl who finds him attractive. Hey, did you know that being polyamorous means you’re literally incapable of deciding not to date someone? That’s because it isn’t true! It’s not like I’m expecting the third act of Chasing Amy or anything, but I’d hoped for something a little more thoughtful than “literally the regular genre beats but this is the hat we’re wearing for the first two episodes.” There’s also the fact that it looks ugly as sin, with the kind of stiff and plasticky sheen that’s all but guaranteed to melt outright by midseason crunch, but I can’t even be bothered by that when there’s so much “what” on my plate already.
I didn’t really hate Girlfriend, Girlfriend. If you want to watch a hetero harem show, I’d call Naoya loudly lavishing affection on these girls a better option than most of the stuff in the genre. But I wouldn’t call it anything but incidental in the representation department, and I personally need to get off this rollercoaster before I get any more whiplash.