The article you’re about to read isn’t the article I planned to write about this arc.
First, let me provide some context. More than a month ago, Twwk and myself wrote a series of posts on the arcs of Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, a show that both of us have mixed feelings about. When the series shines, it addresses deep issues with incredible emotional clarity and sheds light on the complexities of life in a world where there are no easy answers. When the series flickers, it normalizes hurtful language, piles up contrivances, and otherwise discomforts and unsettles.
That paragraph was going to be the introduction of my article. After musing for an extended moment on the highs and lows of Bunny Girl Senpai, and the highs and lows of its titular rascal, Sakuta, I was going to write an article about Sakuta’s character, why he does the things he does, and what we can learn from that. It’s formulaic stuff: something I could really write in my sleep, if I’m being honest. We’ve already hit on much of that in this series, so I’d encourage you to read the previous articles if you’re interested.
Now, it’s not bad to write about stuff that’s been written about before.1 But as I continued to write, I began to reflect on the show. And as I reflected on the show, I began to realize that I wasn’t being fair in my writing. Not that I was bashing on the show or anything. Rather, I was using it for my own purposes. I wasn’t genuinely trying to write about Kaede’s arc of Bunny Girl Senpai; I was trying to write about what I felt like writing about, and using Kaede’s arc of Bunny Girl Senpai as an excuse to do that.
Does that make sense? I think the best thing I can do as someone who writes about anime is to interact genuinely with the story that a show is telling. I look at the events and the characters and the settings and the animation and the directing and try to piece together a clear picture of the story the writers had in mind when they penned the scripts. Then I comment on that story. That’s my goal. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what the writers that I admire most do.2 They lay aside their own assumptions and ideas and intentions. They meet people as they really are through the stories that they tell. And they speak to those stories with wisdom, humility, and grace.
And as I continued to reflect on my failure to do that, I realized that I was committing a sin that Kaede’s arc of Bunny Girl Senpai speaks to: the sin of lovelessness. Kaede was so affected by cyberbullying that she received her classmates’ hurtful jabs as physical wounds, and then erased the memory of those jabs in an effort to protect herself. And even after all that, she feels crushed by the way people perceive her. “Everyone is looking at Kaede-san,” she whispers at one point, and it’s true. Everyone’s looking for the Kaede that they’re used to—the old Kaede. Her doctors are looking for a Kaede whose condition they can diagnose. Her family is looking for the Kaede they lived with. Her friends are looking for the Kaede who loved them.
Meanwhile, Kaede struggles to find her own identity beneath the pressure of those expectations. She doesn’t even know who she is, and yet people expect her to be herself. She doesn’t know how she used to act, and yet people expect her to act “like normal.” Once again, she’s cut by the piercing words of others, even though those words aren’t expressed.
In each case, Kaede is hurt by a lack of love. In the first, that lack of love expresses itself as clear animosity. Her classmates hate her, so they isolate and demean her. It’s all out in the open; the perpetrators are clearly guilty. In the second one, however, that lack of love expresses itself in unspoken expectations. Her family doesn’t know who the new her is, so they tacitly pressure the new her to act like the old her. This, too, is lovelessness, but of a more insidious sort. It’s not out in the open, and the motivations are more sympathetic. Of course Sakuta would be sad that his beloved sister is, for all intents and purposes, gone. Of course he’d be confused and frustrated by her new behavior. Yet he’s still guilty. He’s still being unfair to Kaede. He’s still seeing the Kaede he wants to see, and ignoring the Kaede that’s right in front of him.
The ironic twist? In my effort to write about Kaede, I myself was being loveless. In my effort to write about Bunny Girl Senpai, I was being unfair, writing about what I felt like writing about rather than the show right in front of me. I saw what I wanted to see, rather than what I ought to have seen.3 I may not have been bashing the show with my words, but I was demeaning it in my heart by neglecting to let it speak on its own terms.
I was trying to write about Sakuta’s failings, but I needed to learn from him more than I needed to criticize. Sakuta himself learns to show kindness to Kaede, to give her space to process the absurdities of her situation, to see her for who she is. Have I learned the same kindness? Have I learned to be charitable to the shows I’m watching? Have I learned to give them the stage to speak for themselves? Have I seen them for what they are, for what they’re trying to say?
I’m grateful for this arc of Bunny Girl Senpai. Not because it fits my sensibilities for what a good arc should be, but because it deeply challenged me when I allowed it to tell its story. When I humbled myself and turned from my lovelessness, my lack of charity, I found that I learned more about the show and about myself. When I saw Kaede for who she was, I became convicted about who I was. And, truly, isn’t that more than enough?
Dear reader, before I conclude these meandering musings, may I make two final points?
First, you and I should spend some serious time thinking about the ways that we engage with anime, and media in general. Are we guilty of the sin of lovelessness? Perhaps it’s of the first kind I noted: We’re prone to tear apart shows we don’t like with ravenous pleasure, tossing aside love in our anger. That’s not something to rule out, especially on social media platforms that value curt, off-the-cuff responses rather than reasoned, gentle takes.
However, I’m more inclined to think that many of us fall prone to the second kind of lovelessness: the insidious, internal kind. Like I’ve described, we can compliment or critique a show for doing the sorts of things we like or dislike shows to do, and ignore what the show’s trying to say: what the storytellers hoped to convey in the media they gave us. What if we humbled ourselves to approach anime on its own terms? What if we were slow to speak, and slow to anger? What would we learn? Who would we become?
Second, you and I should remember that we’re obliged to the same kindness that Sakuta shows Kaede. We’re obliged to show love not only to shows or to storytellers but to people: people on social media, people in our schools, people in our churches, people in our cities. We simply cannot lash out in anger against those with whom we disagree. We cannot lace our speech with hurtful jabs; we might find that our witty comebacks are wounding the confused and vulnerable. Consider that everyone who is angry with his brother is liable to judgement. Ponder your intentions. Act accordingly.
But again, even if we’re not lashing out in anger, we’re still not off the hook. Like Sakuta, we might be crushing others under the weight of unspoken expectations. We’re still being unfair if we avoid people who aren’t like us, who don’t share our moral or political or religious sensibilities. We still lack love if we don’t give others the space to speak for themselves. What if we humbled ourselves to hear new stories: the stories of those we don’t normally associate with? What if we counted others as more significant than ourselves? What would we learn? Who would we become?
One thing’s for certain: we’d become kinder people. And isn’t that what Bunny Girl Senpai wants us to be, anyway?
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai can be streamed on Funimation.
1 There’s a quote by C.S. Lewis somewhere where he talks about how writing about something that’s been written about before can actually lead to new insights if one’s brave enough to tackle the endeavor. So I’m not criticizing repetition: just the way that I was going about it.
2 I obviously can’t list all the anibloggers I love here, so I just picked a sample that stuck out to me. I only hope that these articles characterize the sort of writing I enjoy most: works that seek to portray an author’s intentions faithfully, and then to respond to those intentions charitably.
3 To clarify, I think that in some sense, we always see what we want to see. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t obliged to see things a certain way. Just like Sakuta isn’t off the hook for being kind to new Kaede because he misses old Kaede, we aren’t off the hook for reading a show to fit our perspective just because we’re always locked into our perspective.