Background: Every once in awhile, I ponder the vast variety of anime shows that never make it over here for fans to enjoy. I know that some of you obtain these by various means anyway but I'm talking about extras laden, decently subtitled anime that simply doesn't have a company willing to champion it since it involves some small niche that the creators don't think will translate or sell very well in the USA. Considering how much more diversified our culture is than theirs, I always find this a weak argument; especially given the recent popularity of Gender Bending anime of high quality so shows like the subject of today's review of Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl: Role Reversal. Given the apparent majority of the current anime fanbase is demographically far more difficult to pin down than it was when companies like ADV Films started up, it shouldn't surprise anyone that a show about a gender changing character would eventually find it's way here (and it isn't the first by any means with shows like Ranma so popular years ago). With that, here's a look at the first volume of the series that poked fun at sexual stereotypes and societal norms, all within the confines of your usual school comedy.
Series: Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl: Role Reversal started off by showing the simple life of high school student Hazumu. He likes to garden, he lets his emotions get away with him, and he generally shows how effeminate he is. He has a secret crush on a gal named Yasuna and it is obvious that it is an unrequited love while another classmate, Tomari secretly pines away for him. Tomari is a tomboy type that is more masculine than Hazumu, standing up to bullies that pick on him for years. Hazumu is pushed by Tomari to tell Yasuna how he feels and the resulting rejection throws the weird little guy into a deep depression. He runs off to the hills when, in typical anime style, he is gravely injured by an alien presence.
Well, the aliens are studying Earth and don't have a template to go on but are required, ala Prime Directive, to put things back as closely as possible so they scan nearby life forms and soon enough, a relatively healthy Hazumu is returned home after nearly dying. Much to his surprise, he is returned as a busty female; the aliens jumping on every media frequency and apologizing for the mishap and to let everyone know that Hazumu is now a girl. Needless to say, the media go crazy trying to get pictures and treat this like a circus act, with poor Hazumu trying his...errr, her best to cope with his changed circumstances. The aliens explain that it is an irreversible process so he has to make due with his life as a female, confusing just about everyone else around her. Her mother is the most level headed of the family and tries her best to accept this while perverted father keeps trying to bathe with his new girl; especially gross because Hazumu is a teenager.
The anime itself started off like so many other shows as a manga in the monthly comic Dengeki-Daioh in Japan, with the primary focus being the love triangle continuing despite the gender change the lead went through. Much of it can be taken at face value solely because of the contemporary setting where Hazumu was practically a broad anyway but like so many other aspects of confused teenage sexuality, the role reversal was almost a cop out by how feminine the guy was to begin with. In any case, the first five episodes were present here and the general theme was as much about those around the boy/girl learning to deal with it as anything else. There wasn't a dub so the so-called purists that hate dubs should be okay with it and the comedic elements of the show, especially in the form of the aliens that stay with Hazumu's family, were sometimes over the top but it was an interesting little diversion nonetheless.
The back cover said it like this: "On a warm, cloudy afternoon, Tomari bursts in on two girls from her class, Hazumu and Yasuna, sharing a tender first kiss. Her heart breaks... from jealousy. Hazumu was born a boy, but he certainly doesn't act it. He's sensitive, delicate, and loves gardening. Lucky for him, he grew up with the tomboy Tomari, who is always there to protect him. Despite her own feelings, she pushes Hazumu to confess his love to the elegant Yasuna. After Yasuna rejects him, he retreats into the mountains in despair. This begins the strange series of events that changes him into a her, and earns her the love of both Yasuna and Tomari." Director Nobuaki Nakanishi took the work by Satoru Akahori and Yukimaru Katsura in a relatively straightforward manner without really exploring most of the issues that could come up by staying with the usual anime dynamic of the social interactions, though there was a slight nod to the character's few masculine traits like sitting with his legs spread open and how freely he was with showing off his newfound goodies. This is met with stunning anger on the part of Tomari who insists that the only way to act under such circumstances is to become fully female in all ways; setting the stage for the usual "education as a female" plots.
It wasn't really heady stuff as it could have been but it was certainly cute enough to watch a time or two so I gave it a rating of Rent It. The initial volume is usually the one stuck with setting the stage and outlining the major characters so even after the half way point, there was some fumbling going on; almost as if the series was trying to do too much, too quickly and it showed. By the end of the fifth episode, there was a modest pacing going on that could work better in later volumes though so I hope to keep an eye out to make sure it doesn't become just another routine exercise as other shows of late have proven to fall into.
Picture: Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl: was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as it aired in Japan not too long ago. Director Nobuaki Nakanishi is no stranger to anime projects and the colorful series fit in well with the usual romance anime most of us think are geared towards young female audiences but there was enough fan service and sexual innuendo that males will have plenty to appreciate too. There were some compression artifacts observed and it wasn't the most fluid of anime series I've seen of late but it was likely made to appeal to a specific type of audience that likes the softer edges of this kind of art work, a limited amount of it found online in a quick search (I figured it made sense to compare it to the manga release to see how faithful it was; proving it to be closer in many ways than other contemporary shows coming out at this time to the source material). The picture did freeze up on me a few times but that was likely due to a disc problem, not a mastering problem but keep this in the back of your mind when looking at return policies.
Sound: The audio of the show was a basic, barebones 2.0 Dolby Digital with a 192 Kbps bitrate that really did little to stand out in any way. I heard almost no directionality outside of a few grander events and the music, while pleasant, was not as refined sounding as similar shows have proven to be in recent years. I would have hoped that the company might have done more with it overall but the tonal quality of the voices was right on (as expected given some of the actors used) and the English language subtitles were not painfully bad to read, even if they sometimes went by far too fast to keep up with at times.
Extras: Given that there were five full episodes, I wasn't expecting a whole lot of extras on the DVD; especially these days when the big name companies treat extras like they were impossible or a waste of time. Thankfully, aside from the usual trailers, a clean opening, and TV spots from Japan, there were also a number of voice actor interviews. The down side of the interviews was that they had very little substance so those of you who worry about spoilers may be relieved to know this was simply a means for the cast to reach out to fans and say hi (for the most part). I hope future volumes will have more of them and in greater detail to the concepts behind the show but it was still better than I thought there would be so that was worth something.
Final Thoughts: Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl: was on several levels just anther high school romance triangle show (albeit with a twist). It really didn't break any new ground or show a lot of thoughtful writing on the subjects at hand but it did manage to add in some entertainment value by focusing most of the action on the characters surrounding Hazumu instead of Hazumu him/herself. That gives the writers a lot of maneuvering room in the future to truly flesh out the story, although I get the feeling that rather than make bold social statements, the series will take the easy way out and stick to keeping the kids happy. In a sense though, the technical values were well handled (if unimpressive) and the thematic elements certainly had left the writers with a lot to work with so check it out and let me know if you enjoy it.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.