Rascal Does Not Dream Of Bunny Girl Senpai is, surprisingly, not the ecchi-filled anime its promotional visual quietly suggests. The first episode may be quick in serving up a senpai in a bunny suit, but you’d be surprised (or not if you’ve watched it already) to know that the outfit isn’t featured much throughout the course of the show. While I’m intrigued by the thought of a quirkier and (slightly) more fanservice-centric product, I’m glad that Rascal Does Not Dream didn’t turn out the way I expected. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a show with such entertaining dialogue and charming characters that it constantly topped Anime Trending’s Fall 2018 charts.
Rascal Does Not Dream centers on Sakuta Azusagawa, a second-year high school student who meets various girls with “Puberty Syndrome” problems. These problems are supernatural-ish phenomena that are mainly believed to be mere rumors, but are very real for Sakuta and the girls he encounters, leading to cases like time loops and the sudden appearance of a doppelganger. If you’re familiar with the Monogatari series, this is slightly reminiscent of that show as Sakuta helps girl after girl across several arcs. Sakuta even gets romantically involved with the one he helps in the first arc, much like Monogatari’s Araragi and Senjougahara.
That girl is third-year student Mai Sakurajima, the titular bunny girl senpai of the show. An actress who went on hiatus before the start of the show, this escape from the limelight leads to her gradually fade from everyone’s consciousness. Even walking around a library wearing a bunny girl outfit doesn’t attract anyone’s eyes, except for Sakuta of course. It’s hinted at the start, however, that he would eventually forget her as well, which lends her arc a somewhat heavy but apt atmosphere. For a show I’d expected to be unabashedly ecchi to feel so melancholic was another big surprise, and it quickly altered my skeptical view from the get-go.
Mai’s arc isn’t all gloom and doom though, as it introduces us to the verbal exchanges and snarky comments that will continue to delight later on; in this arc, they are in top form. “There isn’t a guy out there who wouldn’t enjoy being bullied by such a hot older girl,” Sakuta tells Mai in one scene. “Is that a compliment?” she asks. “A shower of praise,” he replies. I can’t think of any other show that had me taking screenshots every episode due to the dialogue. The dialogue may not necessarily be realistic in a real-world context, but it works here and proves to be utterly delightful.
The rapport between the humorous but caring kouhai and the serious but affectionate senpai is a definite strong point, and even in later arcs their forthright relationship remains a highlight. Their mutual trust and understanding is such that, while they do encounter obstructions and bumps in their relationship, there aren’t annoying misunderstandings that drag on, which is relieving. Then there are the silly but endearing aspects of their relationship, like how Sakuta ascertains Mai’s identity by being stepped on in one episode. But what really helps is that they feel like individuals rather than archetypes. This is especially true for Mai as she exhibits some tsundere and kuudere traits, but she ultimately feels like a unique character rather than a stereotypical dere.
Mai is obviously my favorite girl in the show, but an interesting bit about Rascal Does Not Dream is that it introduces the main girls of later arcs before their proper debut, creating a small but welcome sense of connectivity. For instance, Sakuta has a brief and humorous encounter with Koga Tomoe, a first-year whom the second arc focuses on, during Mai’s arc. Meanwhile, the mysterious Shoko Makinohara is present throughout the second half of the show, despite her arc being reserved for a feature release.
Much like Mai, every girl’s supernatural phenomena comes bundled with real-world-rooted issues. Tomoe’s time-looping is initially caused by her wanting to reject the confession of a popular student without impacting her social standing. For Rio Futaba, a close friend of Sakuta’s and frequent wearer of lab coats, it’s an internal conflict involving risque pictures and body image lead to her splitting into two versions of herself. Meanwhile, a mix of admiration and envy causes Mai’s younger half-sister, the up-and-coming idol Nodoka Toyohama, to body swap with the former. Things are a bit unique in the case of Sakuta’s younger, socially anxious sister, Kaede, but it’s best that I leave her arc unexplained lest I spoil too much.
The first arc distinguishes itself as drama entwined with romance. The others, however, separate the show’s romantic arc from their respective central conflicts. This makes sense as Mai is no longer at the center, but these conflicts – with the exception of Nodoka’s – are for the most part rendered less compelling as a result. Indeed, I often found the romance and dialogue to be bigger draws, which is a bit concerning when drama is the ostensible core of the show. I actually felt a little guilty for getting more emotional satisfaction from the last episode’s romantic relationship bits than the entirety of Kaede’s arc. That said, the show’s drama isn’t bad, even if I usually like it best when it acts as the catalyst to the dialogue I love.
Despite all my praise for the dialogue thus far, I do have one issue with it. Sakuta has a tradition of heading to Rio for advice about each Puberty Syndrome case, leading to lengthy explanations that relate to theories such as Schrödinger’s Cat and Laplace’s Demon. The idea of these supernatural instances being connected to real-life theories is intriguing, but unfortunately, Rio’s explanations end up feeling dreary rather than mentally-stimulating.
Also leaving something to be desired are the visuals, especially in the second half of the show. They aren’t awful or overly distracting, but they definitely feel a little average. Hopefully, this aspect gets noticeably improved for the movie. As for the audio, the music isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s effective. What is memorable is the opening theme, Kimi no Sei, as well as the ending, Fukashigi no Carte. But the most memorable part of Rascal Does Not Dream is of course its main content, and I hope to enjoy more of it when the movie releases.