What’s it about? Tsubaki has spent her whole life studying ninjitsu in an isolated women-only school. She and her fellow students have never so much as seen a man, and must make do with rumors about how fierce, weird, and gross they are. But steadfast, responsible Tsubaki has a secret—she’s completely obsessed with the idea of men.
Y’know, for a long time there’s been something about yuri and BL series with single-gender casts that’s bothered me: there’s a pervasive subtext that these relationships are purely situational and, in the case of school settings, transitory (see also the western concept of the LUG). How does a series expect me to root for a relationship that’s so fragile it would crumble at the mere whiff of potential heterosexuality? In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki takes that subtext, turns it up to twelve, and then breaks the dial off.
Where do I even start? With the fact that Tsubaki’s teacher is a veritable strawman who lectures her students about how men are violent and dangerous but is afraid to let them ever get even a glance at one, presumably because then they’d realize that Not All Men? The fact that when Tsubaki does get a shadowy man in the woods and later dreams about the encounter, the dude looks about 35 rather than the boy her age you might expect?
How about the weird “reverse discrimination” vibes when Tsubaki brightens at the possibility that one of her classmates might also be interested in men before wilting when it turns out they’re just making fun of them? The fact that I can’t actually tell what age this girl is supposed to be, and it’s only the central plot’s inescapable assurances that tell me she’s even puberty-age at all? Or an outside curveball, like the fact that the only notably darker-skinned character is the gluttonous (comparatively) big-boobed airhead, a trope I thought we left to die around 2002?
What makes this feel tough to get a bead on is the fact that it’s fairly inauspicious on a production level. The ninja bits are fine and there aren’t any panty shots to speak of, though the eternal curse of Weirdly Glistening Lips rears its ugly head. But…look, have y’all ever made a zombie brain? It’s a shot where you take peach schnapps and a melon liquor (and some grenadine for blood spookiness if you like), and then you dump Irish cream liqueur on top. Because the latter is made with milk products, it immediately starts curdling and floats on the top—thus, “brains.” Then you gulp it down before you can think about what you’re putting in your mouth. It turns several very tasty alcoholic beverages into one of the single worst textural experiences on Earth.
In Kunoichi’s case, our melon liqueur is a moe comedy about ninja girls hanging out and getting into various shenanigans; our Irish cream liqueur is jokes about how awkward puberty and sex are. Put them together, and I am once more 22 and clinging to a toilet with an unshakable urge for death. I’m sorry, I don’t want to watch a character who looks like she’s ten stare at the kanji for “men” and think about how it seems “firm, thick, and hard,” before the scene ends and we cut to a field full of eggplants (especially given the “adult man” curveball). Tsubaki is also thoroughly unaware of what’s going on with her—not just in terms of being attracted to men, but because there seems to be the kind of women-only society that can’t conceive of sex happening if there aren’t any man. Oh, Tsubaki’s underclassman crawls into her bed and bites her ear at one point, but it’s rife with patronizing vibes that treat it as lesser than Tsubaki’s attraction to men.
That simultaneous sexual maturity and sexual innocence comes across skeevy as hell, simultaneously making the character sexual while also denying them any ability to own that journey. And yeah, I know that this is the first episode, but Tsubaki’s ignorance is also basically the central joke, so I have a hard time seeing it vanish any time soon. If parts of this concept appealed to you, I have good news! Jokes about a female character’s ignorance of men was done better as a subplot in Kaguya-sama. Girls going through puberty and flailing in the face of sex jokes had a lot more nuance (and a female writer) in O Maidens in Your Savage Season. And Yamada’s First Time is a far superior comedy about the pitfalls of being a horny teenager. If you want cute girls hanging out, Nichijou is on Crunchyroll now. There’s basically nothing that merits touching this series with a ten-foot-pole.