Unlovely Complex: Social Justice, Misogyny, and the Lovely Complex Dub

By: Caitlin Moore February 21, 20240 Comments
A cartoonish, exaggerated picture of Ohtani punching Risa in the face

I had never heard of Brendan “JelloApocalypse” Blaber before February 11, 2024. Until that day, he was best known by the general public for the webseries Epithet Erased, plus his “So This is Basically…” Youtube series commenting on and parodying nerd media culture tentpoles like Tumblr and Pokemon and had a burgeoning career as a voice actor. However, my introduction to his work was a lengthy public Patreon post he made entitled, “Marissa and I Wrote an Anime Dub,” in which he wrote 5,000 words about the localization process for the official Discotek English dub of Lovely Complex, which he allegedly was heavily involved in writing and directing. This post included significant in-depth discussion of his hatred for the series, the protagonist Koizumi Risa, and the artist, Nakahara Aya.

Frankly, Blaber’s post infuriated me. It started with him stating confidently that Lovely Complex, a series I’ve loved since it first aired in 2007, “is considered a grandmother of the shoujo genre, mostly because it’s old,” and only got worse from there. Each paragraph brought a fresh insult as he revealed details about the dubbing process that doubtless was never meant to be public knowledge and insulted the characters, story, and artist, and threw fuel onto the blazing tire fire that is current localization discourse with his brags about how he had altered the characters. Most baffling of all was his inability to understand the story and heroine of this fairly straightforward romantic comedy, who he proclaimed to be “psychotic.” The way Blaber talked about the show and his inability or refusal to unpack even its most basic themes spoke to the sort of misogyny that pervades critical analysis, in which female characters and creators don’t get even the slightest grace for being messy, imperfect beings.

Ohtani looking exasperated. Subtitle: What's your problem... you're STILL crying?

Lovely Complex is not, by any means, a challenging series. Osakan high school student Risa sticks out–at 5’7”, she’s well above average height for a Japanese girl. She desperately wants to fall in love, and her only requirement is that any potential suitors be taller than her. Her classmate, Otani Atsushi, is five inches shorter than her, and ever since the first day of school, the two have been shoved together as a comedy duo thanks to their squabbling. When Suzuki, a cute boy who is taller than Risa joins their class, Otani reveals that he’s taken notice of Risa’s petite friend Chiharu and offers to make a pact: the two of them will help set the other one up. Of course, by the law of rom-coms, the two end up falling in love with one another.

I fell in love with Risa from the show’s first minutes, when she fell asleep standing up in the middle of an assembly because she was up all night playing video games. She’s insecure about her height, which has made it impossible for her to be seen as feminine. Most boys her age wouldn’t consider dating a girl taller than them, so she’s never had much of a romantic life. She’s also a loud, weird dork who would rather go down the waterslide on a trip to the pool than sit around with the boy she has a crush on.

The character Blaber describes only vaguely resembles the Risa I know and love. He says, “Risa is an inconsistently written, awful character who does nothing but miscommunicate and cause problems.” It’s true, Risa is messy. She’s self-centered and not particularly in touch with her feelings, doing things like sublimating them into a crush on a teacher who looks like her favorite video game boyfriend. She compares herself to other girls and makes herself insecure. She makes poor, selfish decisions.

Risa looking nervous as Kazuki celebrates. Subtitle: I'm such a moron!

One particularly telling line from the post comes after Blaber describes a plot beat where Risa falls asleep and her young coworker, Kazuki, tries to kiss her. Otani catches him and gets mad at both of them, Kazuki apologizes to both of them, and all is forgiven. Later, he tells Risa he has hard-to-get tickets to an exclusive performance by Umibozu, Risa’s favorite singer. Otani had declined to go to his last concert because he was studying for exams, so Risa agrees to go as friends. Blaber describes this by saying “Risa decides to go on a date with her assaulter out of… pity?” As if he can’t fathom why she would make a choice like that! 

To anyone willing to even try to understand Risa’s motivations, to comprehend the series at all, I would think it’s crystal clear. Risa is bored and lonely because her boyfriend is devoting all of his time to studying, to the point he won’t even take a break for the first common interest they bonded over. Then her work friend asks her to go with him. And sure, maybe he has a crush on her, but she’s made it clear to him that she loves her boyfriend, so it’s going to be totally platonic. So she rationalizes away all her misgivings and hopes she won’t get caught. It’s pretty much the exact choice I would have made at her age! But because Blaber has zero interest in trying to understand the developmentally-appropriate thought processes of a teenage girl, he acts as if it was totally inscrutable.

Risa making an ugly face in profile while Ohtani fiddles with his bangs.

Since that post went up, there’s been a lot of statements from people who worked on the release assuring fans that Blaber and Lenti’s scripts would have to go through multiple levels of approval, including by people who did care about Lovely Complex. The script wasn’t 1-to-1 faithful, but any egregious attempts to change it would not have been accepted. Both Discotek and Sound Cadence’s statements have since been taken down, for any number of possible reasons I won’t speculate on.

Overall, it is a good dub in most ways that matter. The performances are consistently strong, and Risa for the most part comes across as a messy goofball, and not an abusive psychopath incapable of empathy. The dialogue is snappy and slangy, and the humor is funny for the most part, although there are a few too many jokes that break the fourth wall, including a couple of rather mean-spirited ones.

Ohtani on the ground like he has fallen over. Risa is standing over him and yelling.


There are some changes where, even if Blaber’s outright hatred of the series doesn’t come through, do reflect his and Lenti’s belief that it needed to be fixed. These so-called fixes for the most part take the implicit and make it explicit. Risa tends to state the lessons she’s learned instead of just making different choices and spends a lot more time self-flagellating and apologizing to Otani. Any subtext, any character growth that isn’t stated clearly, is totally eliminated. Compare the dialog in a climactic scene, when Risa is taking Otani to his entrance exam on her bicycle:


But you spent so much time and sacrificed so much to study for this test. I don’t want it all to be in vain! I don’t care if you pass or fail, I just want you to give it your best shot! Please, don’t let all your hard work go to waste!


You told me your dream and I laughed at you! I’m a terrible girlfriend! And now, I have a chance to make it up to you! I’m going to support you no matter what it takes!

Close up on Risa's face looking determined. Subtitles: I don't care if you pass or fail, I just want you to give it your best shot!

This comes shortly after Risa and Otani reconcile following her misstep with Kazuki. Instead of pouting about Otani not spending enough time with her, Risa is showing her support and change in outlook through acknowledging his hard work and helping him get to the exam, no matter what it takes. However, since people who wield the language of therapy and social justice for selfish purposes place great weight on apologies, Risa must explicitly acknowledge her own wrongdoing. Ironically, this makes the moment about herself, instead of the repair work she’s actually doing.

Love may not mean never having to say you’re sorry, but it does mean sometimes quietly noticing your partner’s attempts to learn and grow and forgive them instead of demanding repentance.

This extends to other characters’ dialogue as well. In one plot arc, Risa develops a crush on a new teacher, nicknamed Maity, who looks like her favorite character in an otome game as a way of coping with Otani’s rejection. Her friend Nobuko hates him instantly. The two have this conversation about the matter:


Risa: Though it might be easier to just fall for him.

Nobu: Over my dead body: I won’t let you date an ice man! 

Risa: If only there were a “Continue” option in real life…

Nobu: That may have been poetry to you, but to me it was gamer psychobabble. Scowling only makes ya less appealing!

Risa leaning against the windowsill pouting cutely while Nobu glares.

The dub, however, adds a layer of didacticism, where Nobuko lectures Risa about how it’s unethical for teachers to date students. 


Risa: Though maybe I should just go for him.

Nobu: Over my dead body! He’s a teacher! 

Risa: I guess… But the teacher route is pretty common in visual novels… 

Nobu: Oh cool. But in real life, that’s gross, and those video game boys of yours would go to jail. Pout at me all you want, you know I’m right.

Maity was never a serious romantic prospect for her; he was just a crush to pass the time and distract her from the emotional pain of Otani refusing her advances. This is clear from the original dialogue, when Risa mentions the “continue” option. However, the dub was written with the mentality that any problematic content must be explicitly addressed, in case some young, impressionable viewer sees… a teenage girl developing a crush on a teacher, who doesn’t even return her feelings? There’s no faith in the audience to read between the lines, which reflects back on the inability of the person who wrote that conversation to read between the lines.

What really makes the misogyny shine here is how he characterizes Otani compared to how he describes Risa. Otani is no less messy than Risa, after all. He, too, is insecure about his height, which leads him to reject her but still get mad when other guys flirt with her. He gives her a necklace for her birthday, but then gets mad when she wears it in public the next day. His antagonism toward Risa, while usually meant playfully, crosses the line into cruelty on several occasions, and his words and actions often contradict one another. He expects Risa to give him chocolate for Valentine’s Day, only to refuse it when he realizes it’s “love chocolate” instead of “obligation chocolate.” To sum up, he’s just as much of an idiot and a realistically flawed teenager as Risa is.

Ohtani looking nauseous and sweating. Subtitle: C-can we call it obligatory chocolate?

Blaber, however, states that his version of Otani “starts kinda annoying, but by the end of the series I think I would call him genuinely pretty cute… Risa’s unsalvageable tho.” Why did Blaber think he was able to “fix” Otani with a few adjustments to his dialogue and find room in his heart for this loud, rude teenage boy, while completely writing off the loud, rude teenage girl who goes through about the same amount of growth? The answer may surprise you!

(It’s misogyny. You are probably not surprised.)

He follows this up with even more bizarre misreadings of the Otani and Risa’s dynamic: 

Fun fact! We canonically wrote and directed Risa as a psychopath who doesn’t understand empathy and Otani being in a cycle of abuse without realizing it. Because that’s the only way their highly inconsistent actions make any kind of sense! At one point Otani literally tells Risa he, quote, ‘Bought a gift for her in preparation for the next time she got mad at him’, which is what resolves their current tiff. Thaaaat’s a trauma response! And it’s in the sub! Uh oh, sisters!!!

This is an outright lie. Blaber is quoting either Lenti’s or his own writing, which has a completely different meaning in the context of the scene than the sub: Otani says “I don’t want’cha complaining later that I didn’t get ya anything,” as he hands her a souvenir, defusing her anger, which was really more of a pout anyhow. It’s such an active mischaracterization of what happens that I’m honestly a little confused at how he could have read the scene that way, assuming it was a genuine misreading and not a lie borne of malice.

Risa making a truly ugly face

One thing that has always made Lovely Complex stand out to me is how equitable Risa and Otani’s relationship is. Whether or not you find their antagonistic flirting and petty squabbling healthy, both of them give just as much as they get. I’ve read too many romances where one party–in most cases, the male love interest–heaps actual verbal abuse on the other, while the other one quietly takes it; or, they strike back but only one party is ever the aggressor. Risa and Otani’s teasing is usually playful and affectionate, but both are just as likely as the other to cross a line. When they do, they take steps to make it up, either through their words, actions or, yes, buying the other a gift. That’s what you do when you hurt someone you care about.

However, Blaber only sees it as abusive when Risa does it, while Otani is the hapless victim. There’s not really any way to explain this other than implicit bias. At one point in the dub, Risa even turns Otani’s apology back on him and makes it into her own apology! 


What are you sorry about? Are you sorry for forgetting you kissed me? Or is it that you’ll never see me as girlfriend material, no matter what I do? Really… You don’t have to look so perplexed over it. It’s fine.


You’re apologizing? What for though? I’m the one who kissed you without your permission. And I’m the one who keeps pushing for an answer, no matter how many times you say no, so what are you sorry for? You’re just trying to patch things up between us like you always do. But you don’t have to. Not this time. Because I’m fine.

Risa is worse, because Risa is a girl, and girls aren’t supposed to act this way. When girls make bad choices, yell at their boyfriends unfairly, or are otherwise irrational and illogical, it’s because they’re abusive. They are either paragons of social justice, or villains. Boys don’t get held to the same standard, because they’re boys, and boys are just dumb. They can’t help it! I don’t think Blaber consciously believes this; if anything, he probably believes he thinks the opposite. However, in social justice spaces, members of marginalized groups tend to be perceived more harshly when they make mistakes.

Risa making an ugly face with buckteeth and the katakana "Hohohohoho" coming out of her mouth

The last straw comes when Blaber actively attacks Nakahara. He writes, 

This is one of those series that was written by a very strange person, kinda like 50 Shades of Grey, and it just gets stranger and stranger the longer you look into it. The way all the characters talk and interact is wrong. The way Risa is painted as the good guy despite makes [sic] exclusively bad decisions makes everything feel like it’s written by a woman with “I HATE drama!!!” in her Twitter bio and then five separate callout tweets right below it. You get the sense the author sees the world the same way Risa Koizumi does, and Risa Koizumi as a character only makes sense if she is a psychopath who does not understand human empathy.

Even if I had been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt up until this point, this is unconscionable. It actually makes me so angry that I shake a little every time I read it. Calling someone a “psychopath who does not understand human empathy” because you don’t like the main character of their story, someone you have never met or read a personal statement by, is just fucking mean. Fiction is filled with problematic protagonists and messy main characters who aren’t just the writer putting themself on the page, even when they’re written as sympathetic. He is blind to the fact that whether you like or hate Risa, Nakahara is writing about a flawed person who makes a lot of mistakes. Even if Risa sucked as much as he said she did, would the simpler explanation not be that Nakahara just isn’t a very good writer? The fact that his assumptions are reminiscent of the misogynistic stereotype of the “cool girl” says more than I ever could.

 I can get not liking Lovely Complex. It’s often frustrating, as Risa and Otani move around in circles for two years, only to get together and immediately have more rivals appear out of the ether. But still, when Blaber brags about “shaving off the rough edges” of Lovely Complex, I can’t help but feel that the rough edges are what makes it special. They’re what make Risa feel human, and the romance feel real, as opposed to the sterile, didactic “Actual Good Romance” that he arrogantly claims “nobody else on earth seems to know how to write.” To cast an unconventional heroine, created for weirdo girls to relate to, as an abuser just for being irrational and making mistakes, is misogyny, plain and simple.

We Need Your Help!

We’re dedicated to paying our contributors and staff members fairly for their work—but we can’t do it alone.

You can become a patron for as little as $1 a month, and every single penny goes to the people and services that keep Anime Feminist running. Please help us pay more people to make great content!

Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

%d bloggers like this: