Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai celebrate the 69th episode of Chatty AF with Yamada’s First Time: B Gata H Kei! Can an ecchi comedy treat its female characters with respect? The team is gonna find out—and hopefully have a (ah-hem) nice time doing it.
Recorded: Monday 3rd September 2018
Hosts: Caitlin, Vrai, Dee
0:01:02 About Yamada’s
0:05:23 First impressions
0:08:30 Ecchi comedy
0:13:48 Thirsty girls
0:23:35 Heteronormative middle arc
0:25:49 Consensual relationships
0:28:51 Teen sexuality vs sexualizing teens
0:42:35 Highs and lows
DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. I’m Dee, the managing editor at AniFem, and I also run the anime blog The Josei Next Door. You can find me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. And today I am joined by my fellow AniFem staffers, Caitlin and Vrai.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I am an editor and writer for Anime Feminist as well as writing for the Daily Dot and writing for my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem, and you can find me on Twitter @alltsun_nodere.
VRAI: Hey I’m Vrai, I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. I’m also a freelancer. If you go to my Twitter @writervrai and check out my pinned tweet you can find all of the places I write and do stuff across the internet.
DEE: And we have got a nice podcast for you today, AniFam, as we are celebrating our Very Special Episode 69 by getting down and dirty with the bawdy comedy, Yamada’s First Time: B Gata H Kei.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Nice.
VRAI: ‘Cause it’s the sex number!
DEE: [emphatically] Do you get the joke, AniFam? Do you get it?
This is the story of one thirsty high school girl’s quest to lose her V card and bang 100 dudes before she graduates high school.
So, the reason we’re doing this is that, basically, about two weeks ago, I crashed into our team chat screaming about how episode 69 was a couple weeks away, and it was very important—of vital importance—that we do a sexpisode. And y’all were kind enough to humor my inner 12-year-old, so here we are.
And we have had contributors and commenters talk about Yamada’s First Time as an example of an ecchi or bawdy anime that doesn’t treat its female characters like dirt. So I think it was on our radar anyway and this felt like a good excuse to dig into it, as it were.
Okay, so, a few production notes stuff before we get into it. As noted, the full English title is Yamada’s First Time: B Gata K Hei. They don’t translate that part and I had to do some digging to find out what it means, so I thought I’d get that out there for folks who were curious.
It technically just translates to “Type B, Style H.” The easy part is the H: it’s pronounced “ecchi” and it just means dirty or perverse. It’s derived from the term hentai because it’s spelled with an H when it’s romanized. So H becomes ecchi, and it’s kind of a shorthand for bawdy fiction; doesn’t quite lean into porn, but kind of flirts with that line.
The B Gata part is a little bit weirder. Usually it means your blood type, like type B, but according to the various forums I looked at there was an official explanation of the title in one of the volumes of the magazine that the manga ran in that the B stood for bousou, which means acting rashly or rampaging. But there’s also some speculation that it’s probably a pun on the fact that Yamada is a B-cup. So, it’s got a couple of different levels there.
VRAI: Yeah, when I was looking it up on Wikipedia, I just assumed that it was a pun on her cup size and the fact that, I think, B blood types are supposed to be really rambunctious and ambitious and that like, [crosstalk] y’know—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, I figured that it was blood types too.
DEE: Yeah, so did I, but I wanted to see if I could get an official explanation and that was what I was able to pull up. So, would’ve translated weird, so the English title went for Yamada’s First Time, which I think is a nice compromise there.
It is adapted from the manga by Yoko Sanri. She has not been published in the U.S. to my knowledge other than, uh… she has a comic in a one-shot Evangelion comical anthology that did make it to the U.S., but her other stuff isn’t in English. She mostly writes comedies for seinen magazines, which is what Yamada is, but she’s also dabbled in some yuri and hentai works as well.
The anime adaptation is through Hal Film Maker. They’re a smaller studio. They’re probably best known for Aria, but since Caitlin and Vrai are on the call with me for this one, I do feel obligated to mention that they also did the Angel Sanctuary OVA.
VRAI: Ha! Oh my God, that thing is hideous.
DEE: So that was a thing that existed, and I think blew a lot of young teenagers’ minds when it was floating around video stores in the early aughts.
CAITLIN: I don’t think I ever saw the OAV.
VRAI: Oh it’s bad. It maintains none of the semi-defensible-to-read Angel Sanctuary, which is that it’s very pretty. The anime is hideous.
CAITLIN: Oh dear.
DEE: And a mess of plot points, but it felt worth mentioning here.
VRAI: Yes, thank you.
DEE: Yeah, of course. And the anime is directed by Yusuke Yamamoto. He’s done quite a bit. Highlights include Sergeant Frog and Welcome to the NHK, and he’s currently working on Encouragement of Climb.
CAITLIN: That’s an interesting shift.
DEE: A lot of comedy focus, but he seems like he’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades; like he’s messed around with a lot of different things along the way. So yeah, that’s just a little bit of background information on the show itself.
I guess we’ll slide into the background information on us! You guys—just sorta general feelings about what we’ve seen; personal history; have you seen it before now, or did you know about it? Coming into this, what were you expecting?
CAITLIN: Y’know, it was pretty much the same as what you said. I hadn’t seen it. I wasn’t really too familiar with it other than the basic concept and people being like “Oh no, that’s a really good sex comedy,” and I’m just like [dismissive] “Yeah, okay guys, sure.”
But yeah, it was a really sweet show. I really enjoyed it. I watched the dub version, which was incredible and honestly how comedy should be dubbed. They don’t try to keep the same jokes, but rather try to keep the same moods and the same character, but write different jokes, because comedy is cultural. It was a lot of fun, and it was super sweet, and I never felt gross about watching it.
VRAI: Yeah, this show is just ridiculously adorable. It was kinda semi-on my radar in the same way that all of the shows I’m going to watch (but maybe never going to watch) are, so I was kinda glad to do the podcast and have an excuse to actually sit down and watch it.
I watched it subbed. I did try the dub and it didn’t really click with me, but I don’t think that’s the dub’s fault. I think with comedy shows you kinda have to pick a language track and just stick with it because the tones are different. I think the sub is a little bit sweeter and gentler, which was vibing for me.
I really liked the Aggretsuko dub, and I know a lot of people were really sticking with the sub and the dub didn’t click with them, so, same kind of mood. In the dub’s defense, the episode I switched over and tried to watch in English is what I can now retroactively say is the worst episode of the show. [chuckling] So, yeah. Boy, episode six is not good, huh?
DEE: Oh yeah, we’ll talk.
DEE: Yeah, I think all of our experiences were pretty similar. I definitely did have my skepticals on going into this. I suggested it as the one we do for this Very Special Episode, but I was like “I’m gonna watch the first episode before we commit.” ‘Cause I’ve tried ecchi comedies before, and sometimes I like them, but a lot of the time they just do not vibe with me at all.
I ended up liking it a lot. I watched the dub because I couldn’t track [the sub] down at first, because it having two names confused a lot of systems, so I didn’t realize it was on Crunchyroll right away.
CAITLIN: Yeah same. [laughs] That’s the same thing that happened to me!
DEE: Yeah, but then I ended up really enjoying the dub. It definitely has sharper edges than the subtitled version, but I laughed a lot at the way they tweaked the lines and gave it a modern, fun sort of vibe. So yeah, I would recommend either one for folks at home, definitely.
And [I] was, like you guys, pleasantly surprised. Really had a good time all the way through. I mean, there are definitely some weak links which we will talk about, but this was so much better than I expected it to be by a long, long shot. So, yeah let’s dig into that a bit.
So this is an ecchi comedy, which is the term I keep using, and I tend to translate it as “bawdy.” There’s “perverse,” “dirty,” however you want to word it. To me it falls into this category of a bawdy comedy. It’s kind of its own subgenre, especially the rom-com version. I’m sure folks at home have caught at least a few episodes of one or two of them along the way.
They tend to fall into a pattern of—and I am by no means an expert on the genre—but one of the reasons I don’t watch a lot of them is because they tend to fall into a pattern where a lot of the humor comes out of non-consensual actions or embarrassment and shame. For the girl specifically.
And I think Yamada avoids that very well, and I think that’s one of its strengths, is this way it takes a lot of these well-worn beats of the genre, and kinda twists them and makes them really fun and sort of indulges in the awkwardness of being a horny teenager in a way that, I think, pretty much all of the characters are having a good time.
CAITLIN: I think there’s some parts early in the run where Yamada kinda pushes Kosuda’s boundaries a little bit. Y’know, kinda like grabbing for him when he’s like, “Wait a second, what? What is going on here?” But I think as the show goes… those are only brief moments, and as the show goes, everyone involved wants to be there, if that makes sense?
VRAI: Yeah, even early on there’s not too much of a sense of “I must wear this person down so that they will give in to having sex with me,” which is a lot of what turns me off of anime sex comedies, usually. This profound sense of: “I don’t think this girl is into this. I don’t think she likes you, actually. I want her to go away and do something else she enjoys!”
CAITLIN: Or someone else!
DEE: Yeah, I think that’s one of the big positives of this show. With Yamada as our protagonist—and we get into some of the other characters’ heads and thoughts as we go, but she is our primary perspective character—so there’s never any question that what’s going on is what Yamada wants. Even when she’s not 100% sure, it’s her decision to press forward even when she’s nervous. Y’know what I mean?
I think that perspective helps to frame the story in such a way that, like you said, where everyone seems like they’re here—like, Kosuda’s shy, but he’s into Yamada. He’s just always like, “Oh, is this what she wants? Is this what I’m supposed to do?” That kind of thing. And so it’s more that sense of just “awkward teenage feelings” than it is that sense of “somebody’s being forced into a situation they don’t want to be in,” which is always my big drawback on this genre.
VRAI: Yeah, and just looking at the premise, the thing I was worried might happen going into it was that Yamada might end up on the other side of that thing, which is the “oh no no no, she dresses like this because it’s empowering” kind of thing, where it’s allegedly “their choice,” but it’s just a different kind of exploitation for the male gaze. But I feel like it sidestepped that fairly neatly in that, despite this being kind of a cheesecake show, the cheesecake isn’t really emphasized.
CAITLIN: It’s very low-key about it. Like she obviously dresses sexy, but whenever there are shots of her body, it’s her thinking about it.
VRAI: Right, or there are super-brief panty shots, but they’re just like “Oh”—there’s not like crash-zooms, kind of thing.
DEE: Yeah, it’s relatively restrained. And again, I think because so much of the story is from her perspective, when it’s shown it’s because she’s instigating contact, or it’s as a way to show how she’s feeling about the situation.
Because when they get later and deeper into the series and they do start to have more intimate interactions with each other, you do see more of her. But a lot of it is, again, still from her perspective of “oh, I’m really into this,” and so it’s more about how she’s feeling. And I think that goes a long way in making this feel like a fun show that’s not just skeeving on its main character.
VRAI: Yeah, actually what it made me think of was—oh God, what’s the full fucking title?—Shobitch. My Girlfriend is a Shobitch, which I ended up really wanting to like but ended up really disappointed in. This show is really what I wanted that show to be.
DEE: Mm-hm, yeah, I can see what you mean about that.
VRAI: Whereas that one kind of fell into the “What is this mysterious, crazy girl? What is she thinking? She wants The Sex, but girls aren’t supposed to want The Sex!” And it’s just alienating and othering in a different way as a fantasy scenario. Whereas this is very much about Yamada, even if it occasionally pulls some cheesecake shots of her.
DEE: Yeah, and I think Yamada being so very thirsty is—just immediately, was so refreshing for me, to have a character who’s just ready to go and so open about it. You just don’t see that very often in anime. And to kinda play with that idea of “oh no, girls don’t actually want to have sex.” It’s like: no, there are lots of girls out there who are just as thirsty as boys are.
CAITLIN: The girls in general are very thirsty.
DEE: There’s a really good balance in this show, I think, between, like—you’ll see the boys talk about the girls in class and who’s hot and, y’know, what they’re into; and then you’ll switch over to a few of the girls in class doing the same thing. And I think that balances out, that sense of “Yeah no, high schoolers, it’s pretty evenly balanced as far as”—[stumbles over words] ugh—“in terms of there are some people who, that is the only thing they’re thinking about most of the time.” [laughs] Who’s the side character? Misato, I think it is?
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Ugh.
DEE: Who just climbs the Kanejo Brother towards the end of the series? She is ridiculous. But again, it’s that sense of: “Yeah, no, it’s everyone. It’s equal opportunity.”
VRAI: I called her Miaka through the entire viewing experience [crosstalk] ‘cause of the odango—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; chuckles] Oh, ‘cause of the two buns?
DEE: [crosstalk] ‘Cause of the hair?
VRAI: ‘Cause of the odango and the thirst.
VRAI: I was just sitting there like, “Don’t worry sweetie, someday you’re gonna have the best boyfriend.”
CAITLIN: And the ones most obsessed with sex are the ones who haven’t had it.
DEE and VRAI: Mm-hm.
CAITLIN: ‘Cause I think it’s really interesting that a couple of the girls, they have had sex, and the other girls are all super curious about it and wanna be: “No, but like, what was it like?” And they’re seriously like, “Guys, please. First of all, boundaries…”
CAITLIN: “Second of all: not that big a deal. Please.” The scene where they were all on the school trip and the girls were all trying to sit there and talk about sex while the teacher just came in and yelled at them [laughing] to shut up? Very real.
DEE: Yeah, that was really well done. And again, it’s that sense of: not only is there a gender balance in terms of the characters who are obsessed with sex, or very focused on appearances, or gettin’ a hot boyfriend or girlfriend; there’s also a nice balance within the genders of characters who are maybe not as excited about it.
Like, Takashi is very grounded. And then even—I just call him KaneBro—Kanejo’s brother; I don’t remember his name. I should look that up probably. [short pause] Keiichi! Thank you!
CAITLIN: [chuckling] I have the Wiki open, so…
DEE: Thank you. Appreciate it. He’s also on that side where he’s like, “I’m not super excited about sex; I want it to be with someone special.” He’s got that “I’m okay with waiting” thing. And so I think that also helps keep the show balanced and fun in a lot of ways, where it could have very easily slid into some implications about “Oh, look at these awful, shallow people” or something like that. And I think that helps keep it very upbeat and fun and I… Sorry, what were you going to say?
VRAI: Oh, just that it never feels mean, y’know? The shenanigans that keep them from getting together or progressing are usually just, honestly, very mostly non-contrived. Awkward teen miscommunications, or boundary issues.
DEE: Well, and I think it plays with a lot of—what’s the word?—typical ecchi character beats and comedy notes, but in a way that’s really fun. I think it’s episode 2, when they go the amusement park—the water park—and Kosuda grabs her. And that’s a pretty typical “Ohhh, they hugged each other.”
And usually the girl freaks out because “Oh, why are you gettin’ so up in my business?” and the guy’s like “No, it’s a misunderstanding, I was just afraid of heights,” or something. That’s usually how that would go.
And the way they flip it so Yamada’s into it—she’s like, “Yes, he made a move! Way to go, Kosuda!” And then she gets annoyed when it turns out that wasn’t what was going on. I think that also keeps the tone fresh, because it’s more that sense of: this is something they both want and neither knows how they’re supposed to go about doing it.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s unexpectedly smart in the low-key moments where none of these kids have… You mentioned it on the midseason podcast that Asobi Asobase touches on the fact that sex education in schools is terrible, and there’s this subtext of that here. Yamada knows everything she knows because of dirty magazines and sex manuals, but then when she sees a bulge—a boner bulge—for the first time, she freaks the fuck out—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] She’s like: “Aggggh!”
VRAI: [crosstalk] —and is just like [shocked] “What is thaaaat?”
DEE: Yeah, there’s very much this sense, especially with Yamada, this sense of—and again, it’s really cool that they did this with a female character instead of a guy—this sense of “Oh, I’ve been fed all these stories and myths, and sex has become this big, exciting, grownup thing that you do.” And so she has this goal of banging 100 people and it’s going to be this whole epic quest.
But that’s not necessarily what she actually wants. As she starts to dig into the realities of it, she realizes: “Oh, this is maybe a bigger deal, and maybe not exactly what I thought I wanted.” And I think—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Right.
DEE: —like you were saying, it’s a really good play on cultural expectations versus individual realities.
VRAI: Which impressively, at least emotionally, doesn’t feel like it’s falling into the morality of lesson of “here’s a character who thought she wanted to have lots of sex but really she just wants to settle down into monogamy.” Because she does end up getting feelings for Kosuda, and they feel very much like a couple that’s going to be very sweet and then break up after high school, and that’s fine. But it doesn’t feel like [deadpan] “Oh, I have learned my lesson that having lots of sex is not a good thing to want.”
CAITLIN: I think the fact that they don’t directly address it is part of what makes that work so well. That’s what keeps it from being a morality thing. ‘Cause it’s like, “Well, that’s Yamada’s point of view,” and it’s not really trying to force the whole… It seems like most of the people on the show who have sex are monogamous, but at the same time it’s not like, “Oh, Kosuda’s little sister has dated all these super-hot guys and broken their hearts, what a hoebag.”
Even though she never had sex in it, it feels like that is what’s right for Yamada and that she figures that out as the show goes in a way, I think, works really, really well without having to sit down and be like, “Listen kids, having a lot of sex is great…”
CAITLIN: “…but have you thought about having a lot of sex with one person?”
DEE: Yeah, it never really gets into any kind of moralizing or—like you said, the people who are sexually active, there’s no sense of anybody being shamed. It’s just like, “Yeah, no, they have and these folks haven’t and that’s fine; they’re all at their own pace.”
And Yamada’s story isn’t necessarily: “Oh it’s so much better to be truly and deeply in love with someone before you have sex with them.” It’s just like: “Yamada, you do like this guy, and it’s okay to admit that!” So yeah, I agree with you guys. I think the way it plays on that character beat is really nice.
CAITLIN: Sex comedies a lot of the time, or harem comedies or whatever—the male character will be super boring and bland and surrounded by all these hot girls who want to do him and he’s like, [panicked] “Aaah, all these girls wanting to do me, aaah!” And you’re like… why do they like this guy?
And I think it’s really interesting how this show side-steps that by being like, “Oh yeah, no, she just picks him because he’s boring-looking,” and then once she gets to know him she realizes he’s actually pretty cool. It covers, like: “Why is she into him? Why is she into this really boring-looking dude?” “Because she thought it would be easy.”
But then she gets to know him, and we get to know him, and we end up rooting for him. And while he is not a creep about it, he also very sincerely wants to have sex with her and wants to try to make it happen after his initial confusion of “What is Yamada doing, here?”
DEE: Yeah, the way they wrote Kosuda, is—I think he’s a good boy—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] He is.
VRAI: [crosstalk] He’s a nice boy.
DEE: —and there’s always this focus—when we do get his thoughts—there’s always this combination of “Wow, she’s so hot” or “Wow, I can’t believe I’m touching her boob,” and then also like, “This is what she wants, right? She’s happy, she’s enjoying this too, right?”
And that constant combination of—yeah, he is horny also, but he genuinely cares about her and is concerned about her at the same time. I think that also continues to make their relationship very sweet and makes it feel like an authentic “teenagers fumbling around, trying to figure out how physical relationships work” kind of thing.
VRAI: Yeah. Really late in the game, when they almost do have sex, he stops and checks in with her. And I’m like, “Holy shit, I’ve never seen that happen in an anime before.”
CAITLIN: [laughs dryly]
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, I thought that was—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; sarcastically] You mean the boy doesn’t have to get swept away by his boner and lose all control?
DEE: [crosstalk; bummed] Yeah…
CAITLIN: ‘Cause that’s what I was taught.
VRAI: I did really like Kosuda for the most part, because he’s nice but he’s not a “Nice Guy,” y’know? He’s sweet; he has interests and a personality. I did occasionally get bummed out that the middle arc of the show—which I think is its weakest part—lays it on, like: “You need to behave like a man” thing, which kinda bummed me out.
‘Cause for the most part, Yamada chooses to hang with him because he’s shy and she thinks that’ll make it easier for her to have sex with him. But then as she starts to realize she likes him, there’s this parallel track of “I need to be more proactive, I need to be more like a man, I need to take charge in this relationship!” And I’m like, “Please don’t.”
I don’t think it’s an aggressive enough thing that taints the show particularly, because they don’t go too hard on it and Yamada doesn’t completely become this very shy, blushing, retiring girl—
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, not at all.
VRAI: —Because that’s what she’s “supposed” to do now that she likes him. But there is that heteronormative undercurrent that bummed me out just a little bit. Like, when they have the one passing “Yamada is grossed out by lesbians” joke and I’m kinda like, “Well, that bums me out. All right, it’s gone now. I can enjoy things again.”
DEE: Yeah, it definitely has its moments. The one thing I will say—’cause I was worried about that too when that started to come up in the middle arc, of Kosuda feeling like “Oh, maybe I should be more active and take charge and more”—otoko-rashii, I think (because I did watch that scene in English and Japanese)—more “like a man.” And I was worried they were really going to go somewhere with that in the show, and the show was gonna go that direction.
But then it didn’t? ‘Cause you get to the final episode when the two of them are—they haven’t had sex yet, but they have entered into a pretty openly physical realtionship—and it’s still a lot of: Yamada showing up in a towel, or in a nurse’s outfit, or whatever. She’s still taking the lead a lot of the time. And they trade off.
And I think that that undercurrent is definitely there, but I don’t think the show is pushing for it. Does that make sense? I think the show is maybe noting the way that these pressures are felt, and then sidestepping it almost to say: “That’s okay, you don’t have to if that’s not your thing.”
VRAI: Yeah, I was so delighted by the last episode. It’s not a thing that the show could’ve kept up for more than one episode—that one single joke of “Oh God we just want to have sex and things keep getting in the way.”
DEE: [laughs] Yeah.
VRAI: But it’s really nice, because I think one of the things that’s really annoying about a lot of harem shows or ecchi rom-coms is that, by rights, you can’t—status quo to some extent has to still be there at the end of the show. And, yeah they still haven’t managed to have sex by the end, but their relationship has progressed to: “All right, we have both gauged each other’s status of horny, and we’re both in the same place with that. We’re going to proceed forward!” And I’m just like [tearfully] “I’m so proud of these kids!”
DEE: I also love… we’ll probably slide into some other conversation in a minute here, but as long as we’re talking about that last episode… I also love that Kosuda asked his sister for advice, and the advice she gave him was very much about—there’s a line in the dub where she’s like: “She’s more than just boobs and a butt.” Basically being like “remember to check in on her and make sure she’s having a good time” and “don’t treat her like an object,” functionally.
And again, I like that that’s a consistent undercurrent of this show, is that these are two people entering a relationship as two people. And so it helps avoid a lot of the sexualization/objectification-type stuff you see in shows like these.
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely.
VRAI: Kinda just a last point of the general horniness discussion: I’m guessing this probably happened just because it’s still such a major taboo, but I’m really surprised masturbation didn’t come up at all.
DEE: It didn’t. There’s a couple of jokes—there’s one joke… the episode where Yamada decides to not wear underwear and immediately regrets it…
CAITLIN: [laughs] That was actually a pretty good episode.
DEE: Yeah… that’s as close as the show ever gets to that kind of “embarrassment comedy” I was saying I don’t care for, because it’s not on her terms when she flashes him, but at the same time she did come to school without underwear for that purpose. So, to me, it keeps it from moving into that really unpleasant realm that a lot of these kinds of bawdy comedies tend to slide into.
In that episode, there is a moment where she has to pee really bad, but she doesn’t want to get up, and her friend looks over, and it definitely looks like she’s masturbating in the middle of class.
DEE: And I think that was what the joke was supposed to be. But you’re right, they don’t ever directly address it. Which is kind of—
CAITLIN: Yeah, there’s definitely not a lot of stuff that really addresses female masturbation in general, and it would have been nice to see in a show like this, because, yeah.
DEE: [unintelligible due to crosstalk]
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s like, “Look, I know that you want to have sex, hun, but there’s options for you in the meantime! It’s okay!”
CAITLIN: You don’t have to just sit around and be horny.
DEE: This is probably a good time to talk about this, because this is a conversation that comes up a lot—and one of these days maybe we just need to just have a roundtable about it as well—but it’s this very fine line between “talking about teen sexuality” and then also “sexualizing teens”?
I figure it’s a subject we should definitely discuss in this. Because, obviously, we’ve been pretty positive about this show, and I am still positive about it, but… I guess I just wanted to get your thoughts on that, as far as the way Yamada handles the fact that we’re dealing with 17-year-olds entering a physical relationship. And the show is… it runs in a seinen magazine, but it was Weekly Young Jump, which runs stuff like—seinen is a big, big umbrella, you guys—but some of their popular series are Golden Kamuy, or Himouto! Umaru-chan, or they did Tokyo Ghoul.
So, it’s seinen, but to me the titles I’m aware of that ran in it skew more towards older high school, younger college age—so around the age of the characters themselves—and I guess I just wanted your thoughts on how you thought the series handled that fine line between writing a thirsty show for thirsty young adults without falling into creepiness.
CAITLIN: I mean, I think it helps that it was written by a woman, right?
DEE: Yeah, and I don’t think that guarantees that a story’s going to be perfect, but…
CAITLIN: Right, but having a female main character written by a woman who presumably has been through that whole stage of development, where it’s figuring out your body, figuring out wanting to be intimate with other people… I think that really helps, because it gives a much more real perspective.
And yeah, the framing very, very rarely focused on Yamada’s body. And like we said earlier, when it does, it’s usually, like, when she’s looking at herself in the mirror after she’s shaved. She’s just like, “Yeah, my legs look great, my armpits look great…” Even when it shows her smooth shiny legs, she’s thinking about how sexy her legs look.
CAITLIN: And then even in those moments, I think a lot of times it is defused by a joke, because then she gets out the mirror and she’s like, “Okay, what the heck do I do with this.”
CAITLIN: And it’s also talking about shaving, and it’s talking about the process of making herself feel sexy. It’s so from Yamada’s point of view that it’s very easy to think of it as being her perspective. I, as Caitlin, am not supposed to be thinking about this teenager; I’m thinking about how this teenager feels sexy to herself.
VRAI: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of factors that really work in this show’s favor. First of all that the camera—like Caitlin was saying—the camera doesn’t really feel voyeuristic much—almost never—because there’s a lot of emphasis on Yamada’s or whoever’s thoughts and feelings. It’s very internal.
It’ll focus on her face or on what her hands are doing… there’s not a lot of camera dismemberment, just isolated shots on the breasts or the butt or whatever. And a lot of times the would-be erotic moments are broken up by teen awkwardness, like when she’s looking at herself in the mirror and then she shaves and she’s just like, “Oh fuck, I tried to shave my pubes and it did not work.”
VRAI: Or when she’s climbing on Kosuda and it’s like, “All right, here’s an ecchi scene,” and then she sees him start to get a boner and freaks out and runs away.
I feel like the awkwardness is a huge part in depicting teen sexuality without sexualizing teens. It’s something John Waters does very well, for example. Or stuff like when they tongue-kiss for the first time, it’s either in very brief shots or it’s shot from a distance, and again, we’re in their internal monologue. So I feel like those are all huge.
Every time there is sex stuff happening, we are encouraged to think of them like characters, not as meat-puppets that the audience is there to stare at. And I think sometimes it wavers on that a little bit, specifically when she is showing off, but it’s really pretty rare.
CAITLIN: And to add to that, I was talking about it being written by a woman helping, because she’ll know what will make a teenage girl feel sexy or what would be intimidating to a teenage girl, as opposed to George R. R. Martin writing about women thinking about their nipples all the time.
CAITLIN: [laughing] Women don’t think about their nipples all that much unless there’s something going on with them.
VRAI: Yeah, or… I don’t really want to talk about this show anymore, but I’ll point out that After the Rain was written by a woman. [clearing throat uncomfortably] And then we can just move on from that.
DEE: Yeah, that’s why I said that doesn’t guarantee it, but you would hope it would at least lend a level of authenticity to the female character’s perspective, if nothing else. And in this case, I think that definitely helps, because I do think this feels more sincere than a lot of ecchi comedies do as far as the perspective of the female characters. Especially Yamada, but also the other girls we see. And I think it brings up—this is something, Vrai, you were…
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; laughing] Oh, I’m sorry, I just remembered something tangentially related; but thinking about the female characters’ perspectives about sex. Like, you guys know Tamora Pierce.
CAITLIN: And how her characters—when she’s writing about young women growing up, it looks at their perspectives on sex and their feelings about sex… And the book about Numair, when he is going through puberty, she asked her husband what it was like for boys and he goes “I don’t remember, that was a long time ago.” So she went to her friend, fellow young adult author Bruce Coville, and apparently he laughed for like ten minutes before… [laughs]
DEE: [crosstalk] Before giving her an answer?
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Helping her out. Huh?
DEE: I said: “before finally giving her some kind of answer?”
CAITLIN: [laughing] Before giving her an answer. Because we’re so trained to think about boys’ perspectives, but men are not trained to think about women’s perspectives. It’s interesting trying to write the other side from what you’re used to and read about the other side from what you’re usually presented with. Anyway, sorry for that tangent.
DEE: No, it’s okay. And obviously not everybody’s experiences are going to be the same. As an extremely asexual teenager, I was not nearly as thirsty as Yamada.
Caitlyn: [crosstalk] No, neither was I.
DEE: But I can still relate to her awkward fumbling. Truthfully, the most relatable moments for me with Yamada were like—I loved her character, and I can get into the headspace of characters who aren’t like me; that’s not an issue I have—but some of the more relatable moments for me would be when she would be like, “Yeah, let’s do this!” and then she’d be like, “Wait, nope, nope! Just kidding! Nope, don’t want this, turns out.”
DEE: And that I can feel. It’s that sense of: “Here are all these things I’ve heard and been taught, and now here’s the reality of it with this other person who has probably heard and been taught similar things, and how do we bridge that divide and figure out what we do next?”
And I think there are moments in this show where there is very much that feeling of “Here’s a series for teenagers that’s about sex.” And this moment—like, again, it immediately tends to get undercut with something being goofy—but there are a couple moments where it’s supposed to be kinda sexy for the audience. Which doesn’t really bother me, because I think the target audience is supposed to be the age of the characters, and I do think it’s important that teenagers do have thirsty shows, because there are a lot of thirsty teenagers out there.
But I do think the show does—let me know if you disagree with this, because I’m sure there’s some debate about this—I do think there’s somewhat of a difference between sexualizing and objectifying someone, in fiction, and it’s that difference of “This is a sexy thing” versus… Sorry.
“This is a sexy person” versus “This is not a person.” Does that make sense?
CAITLIN: Right, yeah. I think of it as: the difference is “sexual versus sexualized,” because sexualized implies being a passive object, as opposed to being sexual is an active trait for someone to have?
DEE: Okay, yeah, that tracks.
CAITLIN: We’re saying the same thing, we’re just using different words.
DEE: Yeah, ‘cause I think Yamada’s First Time does a really good job throughout of—even when one character is maybe objectifying another—and I do think we get that sometimes with these teenagers, where you see the boys talk about the girls just in terms of how hot they are, or you see the girls doing the same thing.
I do think you get characters objectifying people, but I think the narrative overall, because it keeps bouncing into different people’s heads, avoids ever turning anyone into just a sex object. There are moments where they’re talking about sexuality or something that might be kinda sexy, but you never lose track of the fact that these are individuals with their own wants, needs, concerns, interacting with one another. And I think that—
CAITLIN: I 100% agree.
DEE: Yeah. [crosstalk] And I think that goes a long way.
CAITLIN: And to build on that, I’m not asexual, but I definitely had a lot of hangups as a teen, going into my early twenties and my first sexual experiences. So I definitely could relate when she was like, “Oh God, it’s a boner! Aaah!”
CAITLIN: She wants sex but she’s also very intimidated by it, which I think is normal.
DEE: Yeah, I think the show does a good job of mining comedy from that without ever laughing at Yamada. Every once in a while, when she’s definitely going a little too far into it, and Takeshita—being another girl really helps—will pull her back.
For the most part I don’t think the show is mocking her as: “Look at this horrible person.” I think it’s very sympathetic to her central conflict between something she wants and “how do you go about that?” And then her insecurities and uncertainties about how’s it’s gonna turn out. I think it maintains a lot of sympathy towards her, and all the characters really, which is nice.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s surprising how well they’re able to—‘cause she kinda falls into being a tsundere because the plot needs her to, but it’s surprising how well they’re able to ground that in the immediate turn of: “Oh no, why did I say that dumb thing, I didn’t mean to say that, God, why?”
DEE: Yeah, the tsundere archetype has definitely been overdone, but I think that conflict between “I’m not sure how to express myself” and “Also I get embarrassed and I turn that into being angry”—I think that’s genuine, and I think when done well it can be done very well.
And I think Yamada for the most part—there’s some times where I started getting kind of annoyed, like, “‘Come on, Yamada, now you’re just being kinda mean.” But I think for the most part it does a nice job of maintaining that sense of “I didn’t know what else to say, so I just said the thing that would get him to leave me alone,” basically.
CAITLIN: Right. And she’s got that teenage self-centeredness, where she thinks that what’s going through her head should be obvious to everyone.
DEE: That’s also very true.
CAITLIN: So when she’s going through her whole thing internally, and then Kosuda says something, but where she is in her head is not where she was before comes out of her mouth, and he’s like, “What is going on?” That made a lot more sense to me than your typical tsundere where it’s just like, “Why is she mad now?”
And I’m saying that as someone who has always had a soft spot for the tsundere archetype, and sympathized with the tsundere archetype. It’s not like “Oh, women are so strange”; it’s like “This is what she’s thinking, this is her thought process, and this is how that happened.”
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, she doesn’t feel like—Vrai, I think you said this earlier—she’s not a mystical Other. You can see why she acts the way she does, even if it’s not… I think there’s a lot of times when Yamada does things when we’re not supposed to be rooting for her. We’re supposed to go “No, Yamada, why?” And then she learns and grows from that and slowly becomes more considerate towards the people around her. Which is nice to see, too.
VRAI: Yeah, honestly the show in so many ways… “elevating” might be a strong word, but it has so many fun plays on existing rom-com or ecchi archetypes that I think the weakest moments of the show are when it’s just doing the archetypes? Kanejo gets tolerable by the end when they make her sufficiently weird up to 15, but in the first couple episodes she’s just [sighs] a brother-fucker ojou-san, and I am so tired.
DEE: Yeah, I really did not care for Kanejo, especially ‘cause I thought she brought out a nastiness in the show that I think had been blessedly free in terms of teenage girls competing and being catty with each other.
DEE: Like, before that, all the other girls in the class get along really well. They have their little squabbles, and they’re not going to agree on everything, and Takeshita is very Done with Yamada [laughing], but they all like each other, and they’re all basically rooting for each other in whatever it is that they want to do. And then Kanejo shows up and it’s just pure vitriol between her and Yamada pretty much from the word “go.”
VRAI: Yeah, it’s not fun, it’s just “Women be competing.” And I think those are some of the moments when the show gets the most objectifying, when they’re [snarky] “No, no, they’re putting themselves on display in-universe for male attention and the camera’s ogling a little bit.” And I’m like, “Ugh, I hate everything about this.” And of course that’s the episode I tried to watch dubbed.
DEE: Yeah, and there is a lot of that in that middle arc as well, with the popularity contest, and the swimsuit bit… Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s definitely its weakest stretch, I think.
I think by the end I was okay with Kanejo because she was clearly just there to be… I don’t know, what’s the right word…? Almost like the Team Rocket-style villain, where she’s just as bumbling as they are, and it’s basically watching somebody make a lot of bad choices [and] get her comeuppance. Because there’s not really the sense that Kanejo is deep down a good person. She’s just a mess [laughing] top-to-bottom. So by the end, I didn’t mind her quite as much.
Plus, she allows for the scene of them hiding in the closet after almost banging on her bed, which is maybe one of the most high school things I’ve ever seen in an anime. I was like, [through laughter] “Huh, high school kids, screwing around at their friend’s house, and getting in trouble for it. I’ve never seen that before.”
The stuff with the love hotels is very hard for an American to appreciate because we don’t have that experience, but them screwing around at their friend’s place was very Hashtag Relatable. Especially as the person who often opened the door and went: [scolding] “Knock it off!”
DEE: “We’re hanging out!”
VRAI: I will give a tip of my hat to… I think the moment when I realized that they had learned how to make Kanejo funny was when she was in The Brother Room, which—[resigned] God, fine—but then the camera pans around from her in the bathtub and she has a golden statue of her brother where the faucet is his dick, and I’m just like: “All right. All right.” I laughed.
DEE: They took the “in love with their brother trope” and they just cranked it as high as they could, to the point where—‘cause at first I was like, “Oh, this is so creepy,” but then you’ve also got the maid in the background going “No, honey, you have to stop, this is really, really wrong.”
DEE: And then they just cranked it up so high that it hit a point of absurdity where I wasn’t even really creeped out by it anymore.
VRAI: Yeah, it…
VRAI: Although it takes them way too long to get to the absurdity point. Maybe I’ve just been desensitized by reviewing too many sister-fucker anime, but—
VRAI: —but when she was first introduced I was like, “Yeah, I’ve seen this before.”
DEE: Yeah, no, Kanejo is definitely the weakest link in the series, I think.
CAITLIN: This series was also made before sister-fucker became a normal anime trope. Which, I hate that sentence.
VRAI: [crosstalk; pained] Yeah…
CAITLIN: I hate it so much. I hate it.
DEE: That is true. But honestly, Kanejo to me feels more like she’s playing on some of the tropes from ‘90s shoujo more than the modern sister-fucker genre [crosstalk; amused] as it’s apparently called—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Mm-hm. There are a lot of Rose of Versailles faces.
DEE: There are. She’s got the curly Nanami hair, and the ojou laugh, and… So that was, to me, what I drew on with her character. And then, God, her mansion was just—
VRAI: The mansion is a great design.
DEE: [crosstalk] There are some really—
VRAI: [crosstalk] It felt very much like we shifted into Ouran, too.
DEE: Briefly, yeah. I felt that as well. [crosstalk] No, there are some really good visual touches in this show.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Where are her parents?
DEE: She’s rich. They’re off abroad working like all rich kid’s parents in anime are.
There’s some really good visual touches in this show, like—I think it keeps itself from going into being objectifying with some of the sexuality scenes because of some of the visual touches. The Eros deities are a really nice way to talk about… even non-verbal communication, because the moment when they’re messing around in Kanejo’s room, Kosuda has her dress off and it’s Yamada’s eros deity who is shouting at him to make a move. And I thought that was a nice touch. And then they kept showing camera lenses to talk about dicks, which I thought was really—
DEE: [crosstalk] Like, erections with camera lenses.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; laughing] “Ohh, his camera lense is so big!”
DEE: Yeah! [laughs] It’s a very clever show, and once again I cannot believe that I liked it quite as much as I did. Because I’m fond of bawdy comedies—I have less than zero interest in hentai in general; it makes me actively uncomfortable, I cannot do it—but I’m fond of bawdy comedies in that sort of “Sex is silly and weird, and we’re gonna fumble around with it” sense, and I think this show hits those beats very well.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s just kind of nice and sweet. Even the moments where it stumbles weren’t bad enough to put me off of the show, and I was just really endeared by the characters.
Gosh what’s her name? Is it Miyako? The childhood friend.
DEE: Mayu Miyano.
Vrai. Right , Miyano. [groans] That was the other moment when the show felt a little bit manufactured, like, “Can’t have them get too close too soon,” but even then I really liked her? [crosstalk] She was sweet and nice?
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, she didn’t really seem necessary… Honestly, you said “the childhood friend” and I was not sure who you were talking about.
CAITLIN: Because she’s just kind of a forgettable presence in the show, but she was nice enough. She was sweet.
VRAI: I’ll be honest, when they had her introductory arc and she had the flashback where she had her first childhood crush and it turns out that she was crushing on Kosuda’s sister, I was like, “Oh, this is a tiny lesbian who doesn’t know it yet. All right.” And that’s why she’s crushing on this safe boy who clearly doesn’t like her.
DEE: I really wanted them to lean into that a little bit and…
VRAI: [crosstalk] And they never did, but in my heart, in my headcanon, she’s fine. She turned out fine.
DEE: [crosstalk; disappointed] They never did… That’s a cute headcanon.
DEE: I can get behind that. Kosuda’s sister was pretty great.
VRAI: Oh God, she was so great! And a million claps to the fact that they had the scene where she walks out of the bath naked and Kosuda’s like, “Please stop! I don’t want to see my sister naked!”
DEE: Yeah, it was one of those—again, there were so many moments, in the early episodes especially, where I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and I was like, “Oh God, they’re gonna do the thing that I hate in the anime!” and they didn’t. They kept it fun, and it was a good time, so… so see, kids, you can write a thirsty anime that doesn’t treat its female characters like garbage and is a fun time for all involved parties!
CAITLIN: Right. And I read there was an Answerman column recently that was like, “Why are live-action sex comedies okay, but not animated ones?” And it’s (A) not that live-action sex comedies are okay and animated ones aren’t—or teen sex comedies. Honestly, I’ve never watched Porky’s, but I’m sure I would have some words to say about Porky’s based on what I’ve heard about it.
CAITLIN: Because it is very much voyeuristic. But it’s that most anime teen sex comedies are very objectifying to the female characters in it, and that women just want to be treated like humans. Right?
And so Yamada’s First Time was coming up in the comments a lot: like this was an animated teen sex comedy that is actually very positive and very affirming to male and female characters, that’s not predicated on voyeurism or sexual assault, or humiliation. It’s just about two teens who wanna have sex but are also intimidated by it, figuring things out.
VRAI: Yeah, as somebody who gets really bored by straight rom-coms, this was all I wanted. I know why they like each other; I am endeared by them as people; I like them. This is good. I want to root for them. It’s a low bar!
DEE: [laughs] It is, but it’s a tricky one to clear, I think. And Yamada overall—again, by no means perfect—but overall I think it hits those notes very, very well. So yeah, a pleasant surprise all around, I would say, and a worthy title for our Very Special 69th Episode.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I agree.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Nice.
DEE: Okay, are you guys ready for me to do the outro then?
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Folks, just a quick note: our schedule’s a little wonky right now ‘cause we have folks traveling and there’s been a lot of cons and all that good stuff. We are going to go ahead and take next week off as well, but we will be back the week after that, and our schedule should even out into a weekly podcast after that. We’ll let you know if that changes, but we should be good to go after we take next week off.
Okay, that’s the show! Thanks for listening, AniFam, have a nice day, and we will catch you two weeks from now.