Imagine waking up with a strange condition that no one can find an explanation for. Weird scars appearing on your body, the ability to walk around unnoticed by those around you, or even having a literal doppelgänger take over half of your tasks. These sorts of situations occur for many of the cast members of the fall anime series Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, a nonsensical title for what is one of the smartest comedies of 2018.
Surrounding student Sakuta Azusagawa (Kaito Ishikawa), Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai places the high schooler into various circumstances with members of the female student body. The main focal woman in his life is Mai Sakaurajima (Asami Seto), a teenage actress who is slowly (and literally) vanishing from the public eye. With the aid of science club member Rio Futaba (Atsumi Tanezaki) and the support of his little sister Kaeda (Yurika Kubo), Sakuta seeks to find out the cause behind all of their strange ailments, which have been labeled as part of something called Puberty Syndrome.
Puberty Syndrome isn't just one certain kind of condition; it's described as various forms of inexplainable injuries and situations. Kaeda has multiple cuts on her body caused by online bullying, of which she accidentally affected Sakuta with via a massive injury on his chest. Rio has another version of herself taking the reins of her life, to the point where it affects the other students' opinions of her. Meanwhile, a lovesick Tomoe Koga (Nao Tōyama) inadvertently keeps times moving forward until she can seemingly build a better friendship with Sakuta. Then there's Mai, who initially goes so far as to dress in a bunny girl outfit to prove that people can't see her.
Each arc takes up roughly 2-3 episodes to complete, and while there's no true solution to why or how these aspects of Puberty Syndrome occur, it instead builds on a strong character development to bring each person out of their funk. Characters hang out, go on dates, and just keep one another company in order to resolve any sort of ailment that's befallen them. And perhaps that's the cure to this mysterious syndrome: companionship, be it friendly or romantically. In a way, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai shows that it takes a solid friend or a compassionate lover to lift someone out of their fog, even if they have to break someone's spirit to get there.
When these characters hang out or date, the conversations that come out of their mouths are some of this year's most hilarious pieces of dialogue. Sakuta has the vernacular of a Paul Rudd/Seth Rogen character, going so far as to say lewd comments with sincerity and deadpan humor. Mai feeds off of his comments with her own snarky and funny comebacks, diving deep into both of their fetishes with a big dose of laughter. (I like to think of her as the Sarah Silverman type, albeit a more hard PG-13 version of her comedy.) Even little sister Kaeda spares no one with her comments, going so far as calling Sakuta a gigalo after bringing one too many female friends to their apartment.
The cast of Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai sounds like they're having a ball playing these roles, with the behind-the-mic chemistry between Ishikawa's Sakuta and Seto's Mai being some of this year's very best. They feed off one another's bantering, building up towards some big laughs and sincere heartfelt moments. Kubo is simply adorable as Kaeda, delivering a performance that pokes fun of many little sister types in past anime while adding a level of snark to her scornful mannerisms. Tanezaki does well as Rio, pretending to have all the answers with confidence until she herself is stricken with the syndrome. When that happens, her tone becomes more doubtful and humanistic instead of the know-it-all attitude she has in the beginning.
CloverWorks (Persona 5: The Animation) delivers top-tiered animation in every frame of this series. How they capture the characters' attitudes through their facial expressions adds another level of comedy to their portrayal. The cityscapes, beaches, and school grounds have a hint of realism in their structures, giving way to some beautiful moments with the lively characters in the foreground. There's also the usage of bright and dark tones that add more to the tone of the situations at hand, giving way to character moods and feelings meshing with their surroundings.
I don't know much about the composer collective known as Fox Capture Plan. All I know is the score they deliver is a stripped-down work of beauty. The sounds that fill the scenes feel more like oxygen rather than filler, giving way to a stronger emotional grab for both the characters and viewers. Opening theme "Kimi no Sei" by the peggies shines as one of this year's best anisongs, delivering a fast-paced rock song with cutesy vocals. Ending theme "Fukashigi no Karte" by the main female cast takes a more soft jazz approach, creating a gorgeous moonlit mood that brings the beauty of the night with its lyrics.
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai throws one wow factor after another. Its storytelling is always surprising, and the dialogue delivered is some of this year's smartest and funniest in anime. Although viewers are nowhere close to figuring out what the cause of Puberty Syndrome is, it nevertheless takes its time explaining with very entertaining results. Very rarely does a rom-com have the brains of a good psychological thriller with the wit of a Judd Apatow production, but Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai makes such a task seem easy.
Final Grade (not an average):
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai can be viewed on Crunchyroll, VRV, FunimationNow, and Hulu. It has been licensed by Aniplex of America. Episodes 1-9 were observed for this review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.