“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge” –Daniel J. Boorstin
When Sakuta Azusagawa meets actress Mai Sakurajima, who is clad in naught but a bunny girl outfit, he is simultaneously drawn to her and begins to wonder about the mysterious phenomenon that afflicts youth. He eventually learns that no one can see Mai, and that this is related to how people remember her. Sakuta eventually confesses his love for her in front of the entire school, burning her existence into everyone’s memories, and sets about helping those around him with their own challenges in adolescence. Sakuta helps Tomoe Koga overcome her anxiety about being accepted and pretends to date her, forcing her to come to terms with her feelings for him. He next aids Rio Futaba, the sole member of the school’s science club who believes Sakuta’s experiences have scientific backgrounds until she manifests two bodies as a result of lacking confidence in herself. Sakuta manages to rectify this, and later, helps Nodoka Toyohama, Mai’s younger half-sister who felt as though she was living under Mai’s shadows, after Nodoka switches bodies with Mai. Sakuta’s younger sister, spurred on by Sakuta, decides to set goals for herself: she suffered from memory loss as a result of the trama from being bullied and reverted to a more infantile personality. After Sakuta’s efforts to help her reach her goals, Kaede reverts to her old personality, and a distraught Sakuta regrets not being able to do more for her until a mysterious visit from Shōko helps him recover from his melancholy so that he can fully support Kaede, who feels ready to pick up her life from where they’d left off. This is Seishun Buta Yarō (literally “Young Asshole”, but officially translated as “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai”, an obvious reference to Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner and Aobuta for brevity), an adaptation of a 2014 light novel about the challenges and turbulence that youth face as they struggle to learn of their place in the world. At its core, Sakuta is portrayed as a unique protagonist, being strictly mundane in manner and appearance. Unlike other light novel protagonists, Sakuta is not uncommonly intelligent or lucky; instead, he is exceedingly kind, has a particular way with words and is exceptionally faithful. The sum of these elements creates a highly focused story where audiences are confident that Sakuta will work out a solution without creating situations that typical light novels push towards, and his genuine concern for those around him results in a protagonist who is exceedingly likeable, giving viewers incentive to follow his story and root him on as he strives to help each of Mai, Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede move beyond their situations.
For its exceptional presentation of what the struggles of youth may manifest as in a visceral manner, it is unsurprising that Aobuta immediately became a favourite among viewers when it aired. Aobuta has heart, capturing the problems that adolescents see in their lives and giving them memorable metaphors that really describe what being young is like; as an adult, we tend to see problems as having a rational, logical answer, but as youth, what is obvious to us may not be so apparent, creating this chaos and conflict. However, as Sakuta demonstrates, the solution lies not in a reasoned process, but through compassion: for each of Mai, Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede, he works to understand their situation and then determines how to help the individual in question overcome their insecurities and doubts. Aobuta shows that Hajime Kamoshida evidently has a strong grasp on how to visualise youth and their struggles in a compelling manner, and this is ultimately Aobuta‘s main draw. However, while it is sufficient to focus on the human aspects of Aobuta, Kamoshida’s inclusion of quantum theory into his work as the metaphor has given the impression that a functional knowledge of matters as varied as wave function collapse, or free will versus determinism. However, these references weaken with time within the anime, and this suggests a deliberate choice on Kamoshida’s part. Taken at face value, these are ultimately are ill representations of the phenomenon that Sakuta and the others experience and end up being a minor distraction. While poorly-applied references to quantum mechanics may have had the potential to decimate the emotional impact and strength of Aobuta‘s narrative, it speaks to Kamoshida’s understanding of the human aspects that allows Aobuta to remain immensely engaging and enjoyable. Simply, knowledge of existential philosophy and quantum theory are completely unnecessary towards finding the strengths in Aobuta, a series whose emotional and interpersonal pieces far exceeded my expectations coming in.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Because this is a Terrible Anime Challenge, I won’t be discussing Aobuta in my typical manner. I open by remarking that Terrible Anime Challenge shows fall into three categories (“was as good as expected”, “did not meet expectations” or “as poor as described”): Aobuta falls squarely into the “was as good as expected” group, impressing me with its likable characters. Both Mai and Sakuta bounce off one another in reasonable and entertaining ways. Asami Setō performs Mai’s voice: I know her best from Tari Tari‘s Konatsu Miyamoto and Kinuyo Nishi of Girls und Panzer.
- For the remainder of this post, I will be dealing with misconceptions surrounding quantum mechanics, either within Aobuta itself or from the community at large. The first deals with Schrödinger’s cat, which is a description of quantum superposition where an object may simultaneously exist in two states, and which state cannot be determined until it is observed: this is only vaguely related to Mai’s situation, which is strictly a matter of how Mai sees herself. It has nothing to do with probability, but rather, stems from Mai’s doubts about herself. she therefore feels that she has become invisible to the world, and the story then goes about presenting this in a literal fashion.
- While I enjoy considering the applicability of real-world phenomenon in fiction, ultimately, fiction exists to tell a particular story, and so, I am not particularly fond of treating intrapersonal problems as a matter analogous with science. One particularly poorly-written case argues that Mai exists in a single reality, but with multiple states as described by Schrödinger’s cat, which is supposedly rectified by pushing her towards the probability of existing or the observer. However, this explanation, besides being a pointless exercise in verbosity, does not account for why Sakuta is able to interact with Mai normally. Before I continue, here’s a lighter moment in Aobuta where Tomoe gives Sakuta a free kick after a misunderstanding occurs while he’s en route to a date with Mai; Tomoe’s perfectly-formed arse is the butt of many of Sakuta’s jokes.
- Schrödinger’s cat is about how something cannot be known until it is observed – it has nothing to do with probabilities, and therefore, is a completely inadequate representation of Mai’s situation. This is the limitation of attempting to analyse series early into its run: without more information, it is very easy to commit fallacies because the bigger picture is not known. Early discussions suggest that Aobuta‘s theme is that “perception defines reality…and existence, as well”, which is false in light of the events that Sakuta experiences.
- Rio Futaba is presented as being well-read, but her metaphors are lukewarm at best and outright incorrect at worse. This is by design: being quite shy around others, it is not surprising that she’s not exactly versed with social convention, and as such, analogies she raises do not match. She dispenses with them as Aobuta progresses, which is a powerful indicator that viewers were never meant to take the quantum mechanics comparisons seriously to begin with, and therefore, there is no meaningful discussion to be had by bringing such matters to the table. By comparison, Sakuta manages to distill out enough to determine what needs to be done to help the individual in question and invariably solves the problem by compassion, rather than logic.
- Tomoe’s situation is similarly mentioned to involve a “Laplace’s Dæmon”: after Sakuta experiences a time loop akin to that of Endless Eight, Rio suggests this as the cause. This concept supposes that the outcome of any situation is known given a sufficiently large amount of information. The original concept assumed this to mean “the position of the atoms”, but this concept has been dismissed for its inability to conform with the Laws of Thermodynamics, namely, that some processes are irreversible, so no Laplace’s Dæmon could exist to reconstruct a state at time t-1 given a set of parameters at time t.
- Determinism is most certainly not the theme of Tomoe’s arc; this is a principle that supposes that all events exist independently of human consciousness (i.e. free will). The matter of whether or not free will exists is a topic I will not cover for the present, and in the context of Aobuta, determinism has no place in discussion because the time loop’s cause is ultimately Tomoe’s inability to let go of a certain outcome and desires to keep rolling the dice until a desirable result arises. Rather than philosophy, understanding of human nature here explains why a time loop was chosen to represent feelings of longing and regret.
- Because humans are involved, human solutions end up being what breaks the time loop. Sakuta manages to get the truth out of Tomoe: she’s fallen in love with him and cannot bear to let go. After a heart-to-heart talk, Sakuta manages to help her accept that they can still remain friends, allowing her to remain connected with her other friends without alienating them. The same folks who asserted Schrödinger’s cat needed analysis for Mai’s arc to be understood subsequently had trouble with figuring out where the Laplace’s Dæmon could hold for Tomoe’s arc. Tomoe is voiced by Nao Tōyama (Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujo and Kantai Collection‘s Kongo).
- When Rio’s arc arrives, and it turns out that two simultaneous versions of Rio exist, the individuals above assert that the two incarnations of Rio represent id and ego, principles from Sigmund Freud. I was wondering when Freud would appear in discussions. In this Freudian model of the psyche, id is supposed to represent the baser aspects of human nature, and then ego is a more rational element that maximises some goal function for the future and for satisfying the id. I’m not sure why anime fans generally hold Freudian concepts as being valid – some of his theories have proven to be cripplingly incomplete and catastrophically wrong, failing to account for why people act the way they do. In particular, id and ego are not credible concepts in any way given the complete lack of evidence to suggest that they hold true.
- Instead, Rio splitting into two manifestations is much simpler explained as a character versus self conflict, made visceral by having her develop two physical selves. There is a side of Rio who wants to use her physical attributes to increase the attention people are paying to her, especially Yūma Kunimi, Sakuta’s best friend, who is dating Saki Kamisato, and another side who is content with the status quo but longs for more. Reconciling this internal struggle involves a human solution: Sakuta engineers a chance for Rio to come to terms with her feelings and has both Rios invite one another to the summer festival, merging the two personas back into one.
- Throughout Aobuta, I’ve noticed a recurring trend in that as the series progresses, the focus on the philosophical and scientific aspects in discussions elsewhere diminishes in lockstep with the decreasing emphasis within Aobuta itself, and curiously, as these elements dissipate, so did some individual’s enjoyment. I’m not sure why some people demand convoluted narratives with quasi-academic elements in them to motivate their discussion, especially when it’s clear that such topics are not their area of expertise. While there is nothing wrong in learning about other disciplines, it is problematic if individuals asset to be authorities where they are not. This is what motivates the page quote: I’ve long felt that folks who act as though they are experts in a matter are more harmful to a discussion than those who are unfamiliar with the topic, and this is why I’m always mindful to not overstep what I know.
- By the time Nodoka’s arc appears, even the most ardent efforts to force a scientific explanation on things prove ineffectual: in Aobuta itself, Rio speculates the body switching is some form of quantum teleportation and leaves Sakuta to work out a solution, indicating that science and philosophy are irrelevant. Nodoka’s problem manifests as body switching: resentful of Mai’s successes, Nodoka longs for her mother’s approval. She’s voiced by Maaya Uchida (GochiUsa‘s Sharo Kirima, Rui Tachibana of Domestic na Kanojo and Rei from VividRed Operation). The body switching exposes to Nodoka how difficult Mai’s job is, further increasing her dislike of Mai, whom she feels is flawless and a natural at whatever she does.
- Nodoka is pushed over the edge after a concert Mai performs in, but when Mai reveals that she kept Nodoka’s letters to motivate herself, Nodoka comes to terms with who she is. Conscious transfer is a topic strictly consigned to the realm of science fiction: because the machinations of the mind remain poorly characterised, there is no satisfactory hypothesis for how a conscious manifests itself.
- I join the ranks of many others before me in saying that the interactions between Mai and Sakuta are remarkably refreshing and genuine. While Sakuta has a predisposition for the lewd, at heart, he is trying to inject humour into what would otherwise be a fairly serious situation. As a protagonist, Sakuta is very likeable: unlike Oregairu‘s Hachiman, who comes across as being a smartass with no understanding of social structure, Sakuta does his best to relate those who are around him. Aobuta does outwardly resemble Oregairu, in terms of art style and its focus on youth, but Aobuta is ultimately more optimistic and better written, since Sakuta has clear motivations to help those around him.
- This motivation stems from Sakuta’s fear of being unable to help his sister, and as it turns out, having been unable to prevent Kaede from suffering amnesia was what led to the scars on his chest. After Sakuta explains Kaede’s situation to Mai and Nodoka, Kaede decides to set goals for herself with the eventual aim of going back to school. In her state throughout Aobuta, Kaede is cheerful, somewhat dimwitted and fearful of strangers. However, the original Kaede was more reserved and taciturn: when Kaede recovers her memories, the time she’d spent with Sakuta and the others vanish from her memories.
- While coming out from the shadows of something like Oregairu, Aobuta stands out because it ultimately has a more optimistic tone, and Sakuta’s actions have a clear benefit for him, as well as those around him. By comparison, Oregairu‘s portrayal of Hachiman leaves him feeling like an apathetic misanthrope whose story ends up carrying no weight regardless of who his actions benefit: I am not particularly fond of Hachiman, and Oregairu‘s enjoyment factor came from his interactions with Yui and Yukino.
- Mention of a scientific or philosophical concept does not mean a work of fiction intends to use it to advance the narrative further; in stories where the focus is purely on the human element, the gains to viewers are what characters learn from their experiences. Aobuta‘s phenomenon could be justified by constructs like the Infinity Stones, and the anime would still hold all of its weight. I would prefer that discussion focus on what the characters are doing and shown to be doing, rather than seeing people regard quantum tunneling and wave collapse as being literal representations of the emotional turbulence that youth experience.
- One may wonder why I am so vehemently opposed to things that, for the want of a better phrase, “sound smart”. The answer to this is simple: one of the biggest aversions I have is ultracrepidarianism, referring to people who act like they know more than they do. An irritant at best, people who believe themselves to be more qualified than they are have the potential of causing real damage in society; an example is Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, who asserted a (nonexistent) link between vaccinations and autism, resulting in an increasing instance of people who hold his findings as true and refuse to vaccinate their children. Ultracrepidarians are one of the few things I do not tolerate, and while they are unlikely to have the same impact in the realm of discussion on fiction, such individuals can still be disruptive to what constitutes as good discussion.
- In shows such as Aobuta, authentic discussion entails drawing from one’s own experiences, well-established social norms and anecdotal evidence as rationale in justifying (or renouncing) the actions that characters take. Attempting to play philosopher or psychiatrist on the characters is not beneficial, since the individual doing so does not have the same background or assumptions as the author would: I’ve mentioned before that Death of the Author is a very presumptuous way to approach media. The author’s intent matters because it allows audiences to understand a specific perspective on a work, which relates back to the society and its attendant conditions that led to the author expressing their thoughts into a narrative. Excluding this is to dispose of that context, ultimately resulting in a loss of information.
- My final verdict on Aobuta is that it has definitely earned its praises: this is a solid A grade (9 of 10) for being able to vividly portray the human stories to each arc that Sakuta encounters. Aobuta is greatly helped by the fact that Sakuta is more optimistic and friendly, as well as acting as an amusing foil for Mai, with whom his interactions become entertaining to watch. Characters and their experiences drive the thematic elements, and while the series may incorporate elements of quantum theory into its run, Aobuta makes it clear that these elements were feebly presented precisely because the experiences of youth cannot be so readily compared to even more abstract concepts. In short, one does not need to know anything about the particle-wave duality, determinism or quantum tunneling to get the most out of Aobuta.
The inclusion of such abstract concepts in Aobuta as a deliberate choice allows Kamoshida to deal elegantly with one long-standing complaint I have about light novels: their propensity to force pedantic characters into the role of the protagonist. Aobuta has Rio embody this role as a secondary character, and when I began watching the series, I was unimpressed with her role in acting as a resource for seemingly explaining away the phenomenon that Sakuta encounters. However, progressing into Aobuta meant seeing the characters’ true personalities and nature be explored. After Rio herself experiences a manifestation of this phenomenon, her inclination to rationalise it is diminished: Kamoshida appears to suggest, through Rio’s increasingly half-hearted efforts to present Adolescent syndrome as having a scientific basis, that there simply is no effective way to compare something as nuanced and complex as human emotions during youth with thought experiments meant to deal with science. The pseudo-science is thus displaced by genuine, heartfelt moments as Sakuta helps Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede in overcoming their internal struggles. Consequently, this means that viewers have no need to consider the withertos and whyfors behind why things happen: the who and the what are much more valuable. As Aobuta progresses, Rio becomes less of an encyclopaedia and into a fully-fleshed out character. The lessons of Aobuta are that a story’s enjoyability and ability to capture an audience’s interests lies strictly and entirely within its characters, as well as their dynamics. In the complete and total absence of philosophy and science, series that deal with youth can therefore remain incredibly compelling because at its core, they are about the people and how they overcome their challenges, rather than real-world principles that demand dedicated study. Beyond its execution, Aobuta featured solid technical aspects that come together to create an anime that merits praise. Having now seen it for myself, I understand why people consider this to be a strong series, and so, I can readily recommend Aobuta, albeit with one caveat: prospective viewers should not go into Aobuta thinking quantum mechanics and philosophy are requirements, as the series has numerous merits that make it exceptionally engaging and compelling.