What’s it about? Masamune Makabe was a fat kid who fell for a mean girl who called him Pig’s Foot and said she could never fall in love with him. A bunch of years and a lot of calorie restriction and home gym expenditure later, Masamune is finally attractive enough to have his revenge: making the mean girl fall for him, revealing his identity and childhood grudge then dumping her to cause maximum humiliation.
In many ways this was harder to like than yesterday’s Akiba’s Trip, but at least this time I was prepared enough to have a glass of wine before I even started watching. This season so far is bad for the feminist liver.
The first and most important note on this show: if you have any history of disordered eating or obsessive exercise you may want to skip this one. Masamune believes the keys to a girl’s heart are to 1) be attractive, 2) don’t be unattractive, and has apparently spent years cutting out his favourite foods and building up an impressive home gym to sculpt himself into just the right vessel for VENGEANCE via ripped abs and emotional manipulation.
Moments like turning down food for its high calorie count or considering the amount of exercise it will take to balance out high calorie foods come up a few times, as does Masamune’s personal philosophy: everything depends on whether you’re hot or not. He’s a teenager and this is a plausible way for teenagers to think, but if you’re an adult who has spent years trying to get away from this kind of inner monologue considering giving this one a miss.
Masamune is a mean-spirited schemer, while his target Aki is aggressive and cruel. The background characters are flat to the point of absurd, from Masamune’s unnaturally childlike mother to his new friend Kojuurou, apparently known as the “designated uke” amongst the school fujoshi. These are not likeable characters, but nor are they dislikeable in a satirical or even relatable way.
In fact, while Aki’s cruelty is awful, it is at least cartoony – standing in front of the entire school and announcing the results of a background check on a student who asked her out, then to drop down a sign revealing his new nickname based on the hair on a mole on his body is too extreme to take seriously. Masamune, on the other hand, is rooted in reality a little more than is comfortable.
For all his focus on his looks, the show establishes early on that Masamune has top grades and excels at sports. That would probably be enough to get some positive attention in high school, but on top of that he has honed a calculated charisma designed to be attractive to women. We see his true vanity and vindictiveness in asides and at home, but in front of classmates he makes sure to maintain a gentle modesty that will best make him friends.
Some of the favourable treatment he receives can possibly be attributed only to his looks, but why wouldn’t high school girls be interested in a new student who is smart, athletic and kind? It suggests they have better taste than the guys falling for Aki, a girl who should by rights be a social pariah for the way she treats people, the same way she has always treated people, not the most coveted potential girlfriend in school.
Late in the episode Masamune finds out that a classmate who asked Aki out only for her to brutally turn him down is furious. Being as manipulative as he is, Masamune thinks, “That’s really annoying, but I can use that to my advantage.” He then follows Aki until this classmate confronts her – for the crime of rejecting him but potentially being open to date someone more conventionally attractive. “You think you’re such a princess, looking down on everyone else,” he says, then tries to cut her hair against her will to take her down a peg or two.
Aki tells him that looks don’t matter, and even in the context of the show she’s right. Again, Masamune is deliberately presenting himself as having plenty of redeeming qualities besides his looks, while the fact that this classmate is a bit chubby pales in comparison to the fact that he has waited until his supposed crush is alone to confront her with a pair of scissors. Why don’t women ever go for nice guys? Why do they always fall for jerks? Step 1, be attractive, step 2, don’t be unattractive. He’s like if the worst parts of Reddit were a person.
And we have all this presented to us in the despicable package of Masamune’s over-the-top classmate, temporarily obscuring the fact that this is what Masamune believes too. The difference is that the classmate says this out loud to Aki’s face while grabbing her hair, while Masamune protects her from the attack then walks away thinking about how he has the upper hand in their power dynamic now. You know, because he saved her and is therefore entitled to superior treatment, which will better enable him to emotionally manipulate then humiliate her as punishment for things she said to him as a child.
Perhaps the most repellent moment of all comes when Masamune’s classmate apologises to Masamune for injuring him with the scissors he used to attack someone else. Masamune’s like, “Hey, it’s all good. Don’t worry about it.”
As in, that’s literally what he says.
This is as obnoxious as a guy apologising to a girl’s boyfriend after flirting with her while thinking she was single. That classmate is awful to begin with, but his awfulness caricature is in keeping with the flat nature of all the secondary characters. For the protagonist to show what a great guy he is by forgiving the classmate for an act of violence not even intended for him, instead of, say, telling the guy that he could legitimately call the police and press charges, is one endorsement too many of this toxic brand of masculinity.
Actually, the part where Masamune suggested being attacked with scissors was Aki’s own fault was probably one endorsement too many.
The most positive things I can say about this show are largely hypothetical. Masamune’s “If you’re not a hot guy, you’re not human” attitude (again, literally what he says) have so far not been backed up. If anything, Aki’s lack of interest in Masamune despite his hotness suggests they may be hitting this note so hard in its earliest episodes in order to subvert it later.
An easy point of comparison is last season’s Kiss Him, Not Me!, which also featured a protagonist who became attractive after losing lots of weight and had its own issues with representations of masculinity. Kiss Him, Not Me is inconsistently subversive, but does challenge this point directly by having Kae regain her weight and exploring how the various love interests respond to it. There is scope here for Masamune to observe how differently people treat him when he’s fat than when he’s not. This episode touches on it a little, but there is more they could do here, especially with a protagonist who has such a scathing internal monologue.
The other series this brought to mind was, to my surprise, Princess Jellyfish. The idea that clothes, hairstyles and make-up can be considered armour in the battle to get what you want out of life is one that Princess Jellyfish has mined extensively. There are a couple of moments in Masamune-kun’s Revenge so far where it seems like they could explore this theme with masculine characters.
That would be an interesting conversation worth having. I don’t necessarily trust this particular show to host that conversation, especially not with the charm, humour and sensitivity of Princess Jellyfish, but it may address it from time to time.
In terms of positives that already exist, I’m not a fan of Aki’s character by any means but the show’s greatest strength so far is that she doesn’t seem to be falling for Masamune’s looks or lines. She treats him as badly as she treats every guy in school, which seems to be with general disdain for all and overwhelming disgust for those who ask her out. One servant character aside though, she is mysteriously kind to her female friends and beloved by all of them. Masamune is confused; how can a smart and beautiful girl who is mean to guys be at all popular with women? What is this sorcery?
If Aki turns out to be a lesbian, instantly dooming all of Masamune’s scheming from the start, I will be back in a heartbeat. As it is, Akiba’s Trip is potentially the more feminist-friendly show and probably the one I’d watch again if I had to, and I can’t believe I just said that.
This is a rough start to the season for feminist anime fans.