(Note: This post was written after intentionally only watching 4/12 episodes)
I was feeling conflicted after watching the first few episodes of Masamune-kun no Revenge because, even though I didn’t think that the show was very good, I’ve been enjoying it nonetheless. And as someone who judges anime based on their first episodes, I had to question the reliability of my first impressions. Even as I watched each consequent episodes, I was struggling to determine whether my frustrations about the anime were warranted if I was enjoying it. I’ll be exploring the answers to these questions by discussing Masamune-kun’s harem, tsundere, and romance narratives.
Masamune-kun no Revenge, from Silver Link., is a currently airing Winter 2017 anime. MAL lists it as Harem, Comedy, Romance, School, and Shounen, and there are certain expectations to be had with this set of genres. Without a doubt, we can expect to encounter a story about a boy and his struggle to navigate through the drama and misunderstandings that come with having multiple girls like him at once. I understand that this premise is quite prevalent in anime, but for the purpose of this discussion, I won’t be drawing comparisons to its contemporaries (but Nisekoi is probably the most apparent).
The intentional reason why I had decided to write this review after watching only the first 4 episodes is because the harem plot had just started at the very end of episode 4, when a rival/competing girl arrives and halts what seemed like a guaranteed relationship development between the two main characters. Frankly, I would have been perfectly happy to have the show ended right there before this had happened because the promise of their relationship had been establish enough. But the fact that a new girl character was introduced exactly at this point is a clear indication of its frustrating purpose. The problem with harem genres, other than it being a fanservice device pandering to the male audience (watching girls fight over a guy), is that it usually takes precedent over the show’s romantic narrative. The harem plot decides the length of the show by introducing new girls after each arc and have the main couple go through yet another drama and misunderstandings. And you can see how this quickly becomes uninteresting and rather annoying.
But I think the reason why many people, including myself, stick through this drama is because we’ve become invested in the characters. And to be fair, the establishment of connection with the characters was executed well in Masamune-kun, and this should be praised. And the essential component to this success, I think, is by having the main girl character be a tsundere character. Nearly all the harem series has a ‘tsun’ to ‘dere’ plot, which is when a girl with trust issues eventually falls in love with the guy because of his willingness and kindness. I think it’s unfortunate that tsundere characters are mostly exclusive to the harem genre because I find it easy to engage myself with tsundere characters. I find myself naturally empathizing with these characters because their brokenness and inability to trust feel incredibly human. But let me make it clear that there is a distinction between realistic tsundere characters and tsundere characters that were written just for the plot.
Unfortunately for Masamune-kun, it’s more of the latter. The main girl, Adagaki Aki, is incomprehensibly and inconsistently warm and cold towards the MC, Makabe Masamune. And as a result, Adagaki’s character loses authenticity and becomes annoying, to the point where the show became frustrating to watch. But — just when I thought I was done with the show — they introduced the tsundere hook, which is the “sad” backstory of why she is the way she is: she had her heart broken by a boy when she was a kid. And even though I realized the emotionally manipulative nature of this device, it was effective because the flawed actions of someone with a trust issue is just as understandable as it is frustrating. The fact is, a lot of us live our lives by doing what we think is the best for our happiness. And this is Adagaki’s inner monologue:
“I’m such a terrible person. I’ve always hurt other people so I wouldn’t get hurt. [But] if it means never having to go through that again, I’d rather be hated and have people keep their distance from me.”
Although my explanation of the show’s conventions have been pretty standard up to this point, there was something that made Masamune-kun different. Normally, the MC of a harem series is heart-warmingly (and impossibly) nice. They are altruistic, kind, and would easily sacrifice themselves to help another person. The twist in Masamune-kun’s story is that Makabe draws his intentions from wanting revenge (hence the title). It’s revealed to us that he had been planning this revenge, for the past 8 years of his life, because a girl had rejected him when he was a kid. This single event motivates him to change his name, move, and to “get hot”, in hopes that one day, he finds her and makes her fall in love with him, only to dump her afterwards. The show makes it clear that Makabe is a petty character.
I’m going to go talk about the episodes for a bit. The show starts from Makabe’s first day in his newly transferred school. Just as Makabe walks in to the school, he sees Adagaki, who is the very girl that he had been plotting revenge against. She makes this big scene in front of the whole school as she publicly humiliates a guy for asking her out. The first half of episode 1 establishes the fact that Makabe is narcissistically proud of how all the girls (except for Adagaki) think that he is hot while Adagaki is described to “[have] the best grade in [their] year and is really beautiful [but acts stuck up]”.
There is an interesting dynamic at play as I realized that the show benefits — to a certain extent — from being intentionally frustrating. The cycle of frustration and relief, if done well, reels in the audience. And at the same time, when there is a payoff, it just becomes that much bigger. This is probably romantic drama 101 though.
For me, the main appeal of the show was watching Makabe and Adagaki interact. The tension between the two characters hating on each other, in a fun mix of explicit and implicit actions kept the show engaging. I appreciated how Makabe’s efforts to win Adagaki over often highlighted both of their inabilities and flaws. And this is where the heart of the show is revealed: as Makabe invests a lot of time and energy on Adagaki in trying to make the revenge happen, and as Adagaki is thereby shown persistent affection from Makabe, the two start to inadvertently fall for each other. And I think that this progression of closeness when they actively want to be mean to each other creates a certain sense of authenticity in their romance. As well, as the viewers find out more about their flaws, the more it appears that they’re actually perfect for each other. These underlying implications keep the overarching story engaging.
From here, I’m going to switch the tone to a negative one, because, even though the show has been enjoyable, it is hard for me to fully reconcile with the fact the show used cliche romantic plot devices along with a rather flat tsundere character. As the episodes progressed, the show’s push for the romance agenda between Makabe and Adagaki became painfully obvious and at times felt forced. What I mean is that in bringing the two characters to bond, Adagaki was put in vulnerable situations that caused her to need to rely on Makabe, and Makabe, in turn, was given some decent and reasonable characteristics that seems to contradict the pettiness of someone how would harbour hate for 8 years (spoilers):
- Makabe finds out about Adagaki’s secret related to food. Adagaki is deeply embarrassed and tells Makabe not to tell anyone.
- Makabe gets cut while protecting Adagaki from a guy that Adagaki had rejected earlier.
- Makabe is very aware of his good looks and popularity, but he still feels very shy when it comes to him meaningfully interacting with girls.
- Makabe goes out of his way to help bring food to Adagaki.
- Adagaki rejects Makabe, but does so without the usual the public humiliation. Soon after this she’s completely mean to Makabe again. (+1 for tsundere)
- Adagaki finds out that Makabe actually gets good grades and she sees him helping his friend study in a genuinely kind way.
- Adagaki makes a fool out of herself by wearing cosplay to her date because she didn’t know any better. This implies that Adagaki is actually (in anime terms) an “airhead”. (+1 tsundere)
- Makabe conveniently remembers in a flashback that Adagaki was actually quite nice to him 8 years ago, and that she is not all meanness. But only after all these years.
- Adagaki reflects on her past and how she had her trust broken as a child. (+1 tsundere)
- Makabe literally saves Adagaki’s life from an oncoming traffic.
These events weave the characters together and puts them under a sympathetic light, but I feel that there is some artificiality in it. The strange eating disorder, cutting incident, and the car incident especially are clear plot devices — basically the deus ex machina of romance. And I also didn’t like how all of this seemed to be at the expense of Adagaki.
Although Masamune-kun is entertaining and engaging enough as a romanctic comedy anime, it wasn’t much more than what you would have expected from the start. Although this doesn’t mean that the show isn’t worth watching, there were definitely some scenes that made me go, “not this again”. But, of course, the show hasn’t ended yet. Somewhere along the plot, because of his original intentions of wanting a revenge, Makabe is going to have to prove to Adagaki that he really likes her. But in the end, the thing that makes me want to keep watching is because the show has its own emotional plot and integrity.
In closing, here are some of my romance anime recommendations:
Toradora!: romance drama (w/ tsundere)
Bakemonogatari: romance mystery (w/ tsundere)
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun: romance comedy (romance not actually developed)
Image is from Masamune-kun no Revenge