What’s it about? Hikari Tsutsui doesn’t care for 3D girls, who he finds cruel and superficial. He much prefers the realm of safe, cute 2D girls who will never judge or betray him. When he’s late to school, he gets stuck cleaning the pool with Iroha, a real-life girl who’s infamous around the school for being easy. Despite his expectations, she shows up not only to their punishment, but to defend him when an old bully finds him at a burger joint after school. Could it be that 3D girls aren’t so bad after all?
One time, when I was longing for a series about a nurturing boy helping an emotionally damaged girl (a sort of role-reversal, you see), someone recommended the josei manga Real Girl to me. I never got around to the manga, since my library doesn’t carry it, but I was excited to see the anime. Now that the first episode is out and I’ve gotten to see it for myself, all I can say is, “Really?”
Real Girl has… issues. A lot of them. So much so that it’s hard to figure out exactly where to start.
Let’s start with Tsutsui; particularly, the social context of the 2D-loving otaku. In the series, they don’t entirely state why he dislikes and mistrusts girls. It appears to be because he was bullied by them throughout middle school for liking anime; his friend was similarly teased for being short. I’m not saying girls are never bullies—they’re just as capable of being vicious as anyone else—but that feels like such a vast oversimplification in a world stuffed to the gills with misogyny.
Read the justification of any man who dislikes so-called 3D women, and it never just comes down to “Girls were mean to me.” It often stems more from deep-seated misogyny: the idea that girls are “dirty” by virtue of being humans with bodily functions, or that we’re all superficial money-grubbing bitches that won’t look twice at men who don’t earn enough or have enough social capital. In Real Girl, the otaku are poor victims of those mean, mean girls, and Tsutsui’s misogyny is validated at every turn.
But not Iroha. She’s not like other girls. The other girls hate her because she’s supposedly easy, and boys think they own her because she hooked up with them. She’s got a rude mouth but is kind when it counts. She’s willing to defend Tsutsui from actually mean girls, which shows that she’s a good girl at heart. The boys she hooked up with fight because they’re mean and possessive, unlike the good-hearted otaku who tries to step in and defend her honor.
I desperately want to like Iroha, since I have a soft spot for harsh, temperamental heroines, not to mention romances where the girl is more sexually experienced and assertive than the boy, but it’s just not there. She’s not harsh so much as just doesn’t care about the social rules girls impose on each other, and otherwise is pretty bland.
Oh, and how does Tsutsui learn that she’s actually a good girl? Why, he stalks her, of course! No, seriously. He follows her around incognito the day after cruelly rejecting her in front of his classmates, observing her as she does things like go to the florist and the cafe. You know, living her life. Like a real 3D girl does. This stalking enables him to step in when a clerk at a bookstore accuses her of theft and exonerate her by listing every single thing she’d done up to that point.
Her response is a simple, “Thank you.” Because stalking is apparently totally okay, and not horrifying and creepy, especially after the way he talked to her before, and she was apparently incapable of resolving the situation herself.
Real Girl, despite being written by a woman and running in a female-targeted magazine, feels like the sort of fantasy a nerdy, inexperienced boy would have. The sort of guy who sends you a ton of messages about how beautiful you are, and how he would treat you so much better than that jerk of a boyfriend. The sort of guy who would carry a printer for you across campus in the rain, even if you asked him not to, then call you ungrateful for not appreciating it. I don’t remember who recommended Real Girl to me, but if you’re reading this: thanks, but I’ll pass.