Content warning: Fanservice, harassment, sexualization of minors
Golden Boy is an ecchi comedy anime where all women are queens and the main character, Oe Kintaro, considers himself lucky to be able to lick their boots—figuratively and literally. I found it sometime in middle school, most likely through an AMV Hell compilation. A friend and I watched it together and added our commentary via AIM, mostly laughing at how ridiculous everything was. We tried to make light of the motorcycle babe in episode five and how weird we thought it was, and I know I was definitely covering up the impressions she left on my young brain.
If mentioning AMV Hell or AIM didn’t date everything well enough, this was also the time that other wildly horny OVAs were namedropped and “recommended” as tests of courage (the gore, assault, and tentacle-filled Urotsukidoji comes to mind). By comparison, Golden Boy was far from the worst thing I could have been watching as a child in the ‘00s with unrestricted internet access. Although Kintaro’s respect for women toes (and occasionally crosses) the line into objectification and some of them get more respectful treatment than others, the series overall gives these female characters more agency and regard than other anime of the same genre.
The plot revolves around Oe Kintaro, a twenty-five-year-old law school dropout who decides to travel around Japan on his bike doing odd jobs and absorbing what life can teach him. It’s important to note that he dropped out after completing what his school curriculum had to offer. He’s adaptable, and hungry for knowledge and confident women, especially if they’re hot. He lives very simply and freely, taking notes on new experiences and putting a lot of time and effort into his jobs.
All of these jobs just happen to involve some of the loveliest ‘90s anime women you’ve ever seen, and despite any initial disdain, they all end up falling for Kintaro’s earnestness just before he moves on to his next temp job—though there’s a sense that they move on too, rather than being left to pine for him eternally. Either because of outside circumstances or his own sense of respect, he never takes advantage of this affection, at least not in the way you might expect. The series is only six episodes and follows the same formula, but each episode is packed full of charm (and a healthy bit of vulgarity).
One thing that this series and a lot of other anime of the same time have in common is the overall aesthetic. Cell painted animations laid over watercolor backgrounds feel nostalgic and grounded in a bygone era. The muted colors and ‘90s ‘fits are comforting and honestly, quite a good look. An additional part of the charm of Golden Boy comes from its bright and brassy little opening. It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s classy, and it’s just some nice detail shots of Kintaro’s trusty bike before he sets off on his information-gathering journey.
Some explanation for the absolutely choice ‘90s vibes of this anime are seen in those opening credits. You may recognize that the sound director (and storyboarder), Tatsuya Kushida, also had a hand in the background art for Akira and some Evangelion movies, as well as The Wind Rises. Hiroyuki Kitakubo, the sound director, also worked on key animation for Akira and a Lupin III movie, and as animation direction for Blood: The Last Vampire (as well as Cream Lemon, a very early hentai series that, unlike Golden Boy, heavily slanted toward depicting young characters). Toshihiro Kawamoto did character designs for Cowboy Bebop as well as Golden Boy, and also went on to co-found studio Bones.
The ecchi genre is a disclaimer in itself, and Golden Boy sits comfortably in its position on the lower rungs of the anime taste ladder. There’re scantily clad and heavily-boobed women with defined nipples everywhere, panty shots aplenty, a few boner tent shots, crude jokes, a few lengthy scenes about masturbating; you really don’t want your mom to walk into the room with this thing on.
The women depicted in ecchi anime are there to be ogled—they rarely have agency, especially if there’s a viewer-insert character they’re meant to be dependent on, and any worth they have is filtered through their looks and what type or fetish they’re meant to cater to. Kintaro spends a not-insignificant amount of time ogling these women, and sometimes it turns more creepy than silly. He isn’t above a little stalking and voyeurism, and his love and respect for women ungracefully straddles the line between respect and a (nonconsensual) femdom fetish. His kind personality can make up for it… sometimes. It really keeps viewers on their toes when he’s listening and taking notes from women who know what they’re doing in one scene and then rubbing his face against the seat of a toilet they’ve used in the next one. The guy is not the classiest, and not every one of these gags lands well—especially since these women are often legitimately creeped out rather than playful denigrating him.
Golden Boy is also not above the weird exoticism-cum-racism that was in a lot of older anime. Episode 4’s first internal monologue about the beautiful woman of the episode is laced with language (and jungle cat sound effects) relating to her darker skin tone, which does make the rest of the episode feel off even if all of the same types of gags from other episodes are used. Episode 2’s high-school-aged main girl is also a source of teeth-gritting. It’s hard to avoid the schoolgirl character in anime, especially ecchi titles, and the focus on purity, deflowering, and abuse of authority that comes naturally with the aesthetic. As much as I’d like to say this anime subverts these things, it skates around them at best, and leans into them at worst. Kintaro might not have sex with the teenager he’s tutoring, but the episode still ends with her giving him her panties.
Most of the downsides to this anime are more reflective of the genre as a whole rather than this specific example. I believe that Golden Boy’s strengths outshine its weaknesses. First and foremost, this anime is funny. The comedic timing of every line and reaction is done with surgical precision in both English and Japanese. The sub is incredible, but the dub is astoundingly funny. The corniness that a lot of ‘90’s anime dubs have is definitely here, and it breathes extra life into the OVA. The visual humor is always there, but Doug Smith’s English dubbing makes Kintaro come off more dopey and a little pervier, if that’s what you’re into.
Kintaro is awkward, naive, and delusional, so his internal monologues tend to go off the rails quickly and often. In both languages, but especially English, his vocal range adds a dramatic and silly flair that’s just the cherry on top of these already delusional lines. Internally (or sometimes out loud) calling the woman of the episode “my queen” verbatim is common, and is usually accompanied with elaborate BDSM fantasy shots straight from a hentai. This, of course, serves as a perfect setup for him getting snapped out of it right afterwards, or for an immediate tone shift into another scene.
A few clips and screenshots make their way around social media every so often for being so classic. One of the best is from Episode 4, where Kintaro is trying to work as a swimming instructor to get closer to the head coach. He’s always pretty inexperienced with every job he takes on, but his anime-protagonist-confidence really makes this scene shine.
Like many comedy series, there are super detailed and close-up shots of really ugly faces for dramatic effect. A lot of these have a lot of old anime style grit and grime, unpleasant enough to shock you out of the moment for just a second with harsh black hatching and over exaggerated features. Is there a word for the hyper-detailed gross-out shots that Spongebob Squarepants pulls out at odd times? It’s giving that. Some of these scenes are funny, some are just uncomfortable. As with any ecchi or any comedy, your mileage may vary.
In addition to having pleasing designs, the women of this series are also really self-sufficient. Besides high schooler yakuza daughter Naoko, every woman in the anime is an adult (!!) and a working professional or at least confident in her interests. If you’ve watched any ero anime, you know how rare all of these traits are, and if you haven’t, I’m here to tell you that the answer is “extremely”. This cast of ladies includes a team of software engineers and an Olympic gold medalist, among other more modest and everyday occupations. Each of these ladies is good at what they do, and would have been fine with or without Kintaro biking into their lives.
Another positive of the series is Kintaro himself. He’s a humble guy, lacking the ego that too many ecchi or regular anime protagonists have. This humility is also reflected in his love (or, y’know, lust) for the beautiful women he encounters each episode; they’re too good for him, and he knows it. He has little to no experience going into all of his jobs and is eager to learn anything he can.
Some of the jobs he takes on are specifically to help someone in need, such as Episode 3 where he works in an udon shop after the owner was injured. He goes out of his way to protect the owner’s daughter from a seedy guy not because he’s attracted to her, but because he doesn’t want to see a sweet girl like her get her heart broken by a scammer. Unrelated to his job, in the first episode he gives a huge sum of money to the owner of a bicycle repair shop in trouble with the local yakuza. He’s really kind, and this is definitely why all of the women he encounters end up falling for him by the end.
Kintaro going out of his way to learn about these womens’ jobs and skills is already treating them with more respect than other contemporary ecchi anime would have done. While these ladies’ assets are still an important part of the show, they are not reduced to pairs of breasts, and any violence or ill-intent focused on them is shown negatively. Even when the show frames high schooler Naoko’s innocence and virginity as a “forbidden fruit”, Kintaro mainly thinks of her in a “too pure for this world” kind of way.
The length of the anime is another benefit. At only six episodes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Some gags and jokes border on being overused, given their rude and crude nature, but knowing that there’s only so many episodes makes the more egregious toilet worship scenes palatable. The story is simple and each episode follows a pattern, and it would have been easy to continue this anime, but the fact that it wraps up so quickly makes me savor it even more. Golden Boy is a perfect example of a piece of adult animation with a soul, especially compared to other anime with less humor and longer runtimes.
At the risk of comparing apples to oranges, Great Teacher Onizuka comes to mind as a similar anime from the ‘90s. Both are about twenty-something-year-old perverts, but GTO already starts off on a worse foot, making Eikichi Onizuka a high school teacher with his eyes set on high school girls. His reason for chasing his dream is to land a high schooler, as opposed to Oe Kintaro’s love of learning. GTO is a classic series about more than ecchi antics and dirty jokes, but it’s easy to associate these series with each other after watching both.
Golden Boy has an innocent spirit despite it all, and Kintaro never actually comes off as a threat. His femdom kink and worship of women always has a more playful undertone than a creepy one. I’ve had my eye out for ecchi anime that can replicate this tone, and I have yet to find one that does as good of a job. At least one with an adult cast, because as a current adult, I cannot stress enough how little I want to see high school centric horny anime.
Other ecchi lack this succinctness that adds to Golden Boy’s charm. Even titles that are still pretty enjoyable, like Prison School or Oruchuban Ebichu, get stale after a few repetitions of the ecchi-induced violence formula. Worse titles don’t have a pleasant aesthetic or heartfelt core to fall back on when the jokes are worn out. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, or simply disinterest in seeing threads of comments crying out for more seasons of [insert any anime], but stopping while you’re ahead is something I really wish was feasible in today’s industry.
If I were to reach for anything to take away from this boobie anime about learning life lessons—besides the scene in Episode 4 with the very pretty lady grinding on her motorcycle seat and then talking about how men weren’t shit and could never please her more than her bike, which imprinted itself in my subconscious (coincidentally, I’m a lesbian now)—it would be that confidence and competence are sexy. Writing this article is the first time I’ve had that thought about this anime, but watching it at too young an age might have inserted that into my adolescent brain. Watching it as a kid kept it in my memory as a funny anime that looked nice and had sex jokes (because that’s definitely what I was after as a young teen). Watching it again as an adult that’s gone through a few realizations has at least let me finagle some half-assed lessons from it. If nothing else, I find the sex jokes funnier and appreciate the women more. There is value to be found here, for sure, but sometimes it’s also just nice to turn your brain off, and to stop and smell the toilet seats of some pretty anime ladies.