The problem with having a harem series where you really explore meaningful connections between the protagonist and each of the girls is that you’re left with a lead who either needs to be characterized as clueless beyond belief (see Nisekoi’s Raku), one that’s hard to root for because he’s walking a line between being faithful to the main girl and flirting with the rest (see Monogatari’s Arararararagi), or a guy who is simply a jerk (see Suzuka’s Yamato). It’s difficult to write a character who is kind enough to invest himself in others, real enough to succumb at least somewhat to temptation, and faithful enough to keep his eyes ultimately on one girl—but in Sakuta of Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, the trick seems to have been accomplished, with a focus right where it should be for a harem protagonist, and maybe where our own hearts should be as well.
In episode five of the series, Sakuta continues a plan to have a fake relationship with Tomoe, partly because he feels for her but also because she reminds him of his own sister, Kaede. The idea is really, really stupid. He’s risking his (almost) relationship with Mai to be in a pretend one. Yes, it makes sense in an anime world (and maybe according to the weird time situation he finds himself in), but not at all in reality. His care should be with Mai, someone he is already invested in and whom he’s fallen for, but he makes a decision that could jeopardize that while going along with a plan that seems sure to fail.
In other words, Sakuta’s whole plan is problematic. Thankfully, Mai is understanding of the situation, even if she has her worries. Why? Because she’s seen Sakuta’s character first hand and because he exhibits that rarest of qualities for a high schooler—he is authentic and sincere.
Episode five shows Sakuta’s quality over and over again. He plainly tells the truth without regard to how it might get him in trouble (a side that frustrates Mai but which she also seems to love). There’s one scene in particular that I thought was telling, when Sakuta tells Tomoe that he probably wouldn’t have helped her if she wasn’t cute—he’s being completely honest here, whether or not saying so will be beneficial to him.
Later in the episode, after rumors about Tomoe being easy have spread, Sakuta turns the tables on an athletic rumormonger, courageously using both his brains and brawn to help change opinions about Tomoe at school. Again, his integrity shines through, and I think that’s inextricably connected to his authenticity. Sakuta is a person of character and honesty. He is truthworthy, even when he’s not. You get the real Sakuta, both in success and failure, in good decisions and bad.
I think Sakuta made a bad decision to get involved with Tomoe, and worse was how he decided to go along with her. But there’s no question that him choosing to do so is the only way Sakuta knows how to do things, and that there’s goodness there, enough to maybe (DEFINITELY) turn the tide and take a weird situation and make it into something good. Without that authenticity, I couldn’t believe in him as a viewer and Tomoe and others couldn’t believe in him as a friend/classmate/fake boyfriend. But what we see is what we get, and so we can.
If only we all could make mistakes as authentic as Sakuta’s.
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai can be streamed on Crunchyroll.