What’s it about? What do you do when your crush is unattainable? Do you pine silently while waiting for the crush to pass? Or do you have anonymous sex with the first girl who offers? Natsuo Fujii, hopelessly in love with his teacher Hina, goes with the latter option and sleeps with the emotionally withdrawn Rui after meeting her at a mixer. But when his dad abruptly announces that he’s getting remarried, Natsuo discovers his new stepmother is both Rui and Hina’s mother, and they’ll all be living under one roof.
It wouldn’t be a winter anime season without a salacious melodrama, and here comes Domestic Girlfriend, happy to fill that slot. With a plot that would be right at home on the CW network, it promises lots of scandalized gasps and cries of, “No, don’t do that!”
There’s a lot of factors that go into the quality of a sexy melodrama, from who’s the subject versus who’s the object, how consensual the encounters are, what motivates the villain, and many others. More than anything else, it depends on how badly it wants to be shocking and scandalous as opposed to telling a human story about people having sex and not thinking things through.
Domestic Girlfriend seems like it’s more interested in the human story. Natsuo, the point-of-view character, seems like he’s generally a pretty sweet kid. He spends a lot of time on the school roof writing and is only just figuring out that he might be considered attractive. When he feels emotionally conflicted or confused, he consults with his nerdy best friend and talks out his feelings. He doesn’t seem to have a manipulative bone in his body.
He is, in a word, inoffensive, and might seem out of place in a show like this if it weren’t for his apparent penchant for making poor decisions.
But poor decisions he sure does make. Both he and Rui come out of their hookup unsatisfied and confused; he wanted to get over Hina, and she wanted the experience so people would stop talking down to her. As one would expect from sex between two emotionally unattached virgins, it seems like it was pretty bad, and offered neither party the earth-shattering results they were hoping for. No emotional revelations, no personal transformations, just a new stepsibling who awkwardly avoids eye contact when you encounter each other in the stairwell.
And then there’s Hina. The “sexy teacher” trope is a veritable landmine, and when Natsuo’s friends were gossiping about their new teacher who was allegedly transferred after having an inappropriate relationship with a student at his last school, I feared the worst.
I can actually buy Hina, though, as a young teacher who doesn’t really understand what is and isn’t appropriate behavior around her students. I suspect she gets some extra leeway as a female teacher, since women sexually abusing boys isn’t taken as seriously as the other way around. I’m curious if the script was setting up deliberate parallels between her and her colleague and intends to directly address this harmful double-standard, or if it’s more of a background element.
Hina crosses the line a few times herself. She slaps a student on the butt as she walks by, and her gentle teasing of Natsuo definitely has a flirty energy. This could be due to Natsuo being an unreliable narrator, or it could just be Hina’s lack of self-awareness, which is definitely a trait of her character. Teachers need to be aware of how they act around their students lest things get misinterpreted; I’ve had coworkers who don’t even drink in public for fear of running into one of their students.
So, it’s a tricky situation when they’re living together. Hina needs to be able to relax and let off steam at home, but she now shares this home with a student. Used to an all-woman living situation, she wanders out of the bath in nothing but a towel.
It’s after she changes that the red flags start coming up. She changes into a tank top and shorts, perfectly practical pajamas, but the episode still presents them as too skimpy around the hormonal teenager.
But the biggest flag comes up at the end of the episode, when Natsuo finds himself sitting on the couch next to her. She’s drunk and borderline unconscious and totally vulnerable. He ogles her, especially her exposed sideboob and underbutt; then, to my horrified screeches, he leans in to kiss her with the excuse that he can let her go after this one sexual assault.
The scene carries an implication that she just let her guard down too much and left herself vulnerable to a hormonal teenager. It might not be right, but he’s lovesick and horny, so he can’t be expected to control himself! She should have been more careful! Even if she’s working a stressful job and desperately needs a way to let off steam!
This is, of course, bunk. Teenagers should be taught that being horny doesn’t mean you can treat another person like an object or override their boundaries. That’s what I liked about Natsuo’s encounter with Rui—it may have been a poor decision that they both regretted, but it was a mutual poor decision with the full consent of both parties involved.
There are ways to be salacious without veering into sexual assault and victim-blaming. Scum’s Wish walked that line two years ago. Hopefully Domestic Girlfriend will find its way back to the right side of it and stay there, but it’s off to a shaky start.