It’s playtime! Today’s game is Word of the Day! And today’s word is: REPROBATE. Asobi Asobase is about three middle school girls and their daily lives in the inaptly named Pastimer’s Club. Except, this anime is definitely not aimed at middle and high school audiences! This is the weird side of seinen! Fun to watch, but hide the kids! This […]
It’s playtime! Today’s game is Word of the Day! And today’s word is: REPROBATE.
Asobi Asobase is about three middle school girls and their daily lives in the inaptly named Pastimer’s Club. Except, this anime is definitely not aimed at middle and high school audiences! This is the weird side of seinen! Fun to watch, but hide the kids!
This review has some mature content, so you know going in.
You know I love it when there’s just a few characters. It’s a lot harder to write, and the result is a lot easier to ingest as an audience. You’ve got the three protagonists and then basically four or five other people who appear and reappear periodically, and usually no more than two or three of these appear per episode. It works really well for this setting.
What is wrong with these kids? You’ve got Hanako Honda, outwardly a total idiot but otherwise the ideal student. You’ve got Olivia, and Olivia likes to pretend she’s Amerikajin. She fakes her poor Japanese and pretends she speaks English. Only, when she’s around her friends, her Japanese is fine, and she acknowledges that she can’t speak a word of English! Then of course there’s Kasumi. Poor Kasumi. She grew up being bullied by her sister, particularly while playing games, so there’s no love lost between her and these pastimes, making it odd that she’d take part in this particular club. She’s awkward and shy, short hair and glasses to go with it.
All of this sounds fairly normal, if hinting at being slightly edgy, until you get down into the weeds. Kasumi hates men (trauma of the past) but loves all things fujoshi. Olivia constantly gets in trouble with other students who want her to help them with English, and she has to rely on her friends to get her out of these scrapes without exposing her lie. Hanako is immature and doltish, often making awkward situations much worse with her mindless chatter.
Okay, so they have some embarrassing issues. They’re a little out of the ordinary. So what?
These kids talk about the weirdest ass things!
Sometimes it’s the subjects. But most of the time, it’s just how they talk about things. Usually this is extremely sexual. Hanako in particular is said to have a “dirty mouth,” but most of the girls have these tendencies! It’s not R-rated all the time, but it’s close enough! Whether it’s that INSANE storyline with Hanako’s “butler” Maeda embarrassing the life out of her with his laser butt or the girls’ encounter with the mystery of Aozora (a guy attending their all-girls school—as a girl) or Kasumi thinking she has to go and kill virgins, it’s completely ridiculous and heinously obscene!
Not all the characters do this. Most of the ancillary characters don’t speak this way ever. But all of them have individual oddities that are portrayed very overtly. Maeda is a good example. The Occult Club’s founder, Oka, is overtly spooky and ridiculous looking. A couple of the female teachers at the school have body builder muscles, and are portrayed in a very masculine way. The student council president is mild mannered, and only won her election because her vice-presidential candidate threatened everyone in her candidacy speech. The vice-president herself is shamelessly promiscuous, regularly making trips to the corresponding boys-only school across the street on “official business” or whatever. Somehow we got back around to characters’ sexual innuendos.
So yeah, that’s basically all there is to the characters. I should mention they’re kind of fun to watch as they go through these trials, but if you don’t prefer this brand of comedy, you won’t like these characters. That’s perfectly understandable. I don’t love it myself, as the content is rather raunchy and the characters are supposed to be middle schoolers. But if you get past all that, it’s a lot of zany craziness!
I’m guessing the artists had something really specific in mind that they were going for with this bizarre art style. Trouble is, I don’t have any idea what that goal is.
I do know two things. One, the artwork is very unique. Two, it adds another layer of discomfort to the show. Between these two things, it works really well for this anime.
There’s nothing super remarkable about it, but it is unique. I can’t say I’ve seen any other show quite like it. Not being a student of art in general, I have trouble categorizing the appearance of it. It has that “modern art” feeling to it, for lack of a better description. Not much saturation, broad areas of pale coloring, limited detail, and heavy shadowing are a few of the characteristics that will jump out at you. This is part of what makes it uncomfortable. Everything is a little on the grotesque side, in the truest sense of that word. Definitely there’s lots of moments where we lapse out of even the basic style for the show and into some really weird drawings. These are often grotesquely ugly, usually through their surreality. The human form is warped out of any ordinary realm at these moments! Hence my saying it has that “modern art” feel.
But it works really well here. I try to imagine what I would’ve thought of this show if it had more normal anime style artwork. I can’t see it! So in that way, the art fits the series really well. So whatever the aim of the artists was, I can only say it worked!
So…three girls from the same class find themselves thrown together and end up creating a club which they haplessly name the “Pastimer’s Club,” the purpose of which is to engage in “pastimes” or “playtime” with assorted traditional or modern simple games that younger students might play to “pass the time.” Or, well, that’s how it all starts at least.
There isn’t a story. Just presentations of characters in little snippets of episodic moments. Usually each episode is divided into three or four of these little snippets. One of them almost always has a sexual overtone.
And it wouldn’t matter if it actually was about something explicitly sexual. Yes one of these portions has the girls trying to learn “how babies are made,” with the usual lack of success due to people tiptoeing around the subject. Yes one of these portions has the girls trying to surreptitiously get a peek under Aozara’s skirt to see which genitalia he has. But sometimes, it’s just ordinary situations that devolve into this ecchi world. The worst was probably the robot that Maeda created as a substitute for Olivia. Remember how people are always seeking advice on English from Olivia? Some of the students manage to get her entered in a competition or something where the students use their knowledge of English. They think Olivia won’t have any trouble since she says English is her first language. So in this situation, Hanako and Maeda dream up a scheme where they build a robot that looks like Olivia but actually is programmed to speak English. That’s the other thing about Maeda, somehow he can build anything. Well, he does fire lasers from his butt, so why not? It took me a while to actually believe that in this story by the way, but eventually you’re left with no choice but to believe it.
Anyway, so they make the robot and program it for English. Problem: Maeda only knows the English phrases he’s learned around Hanako’s house, most of which come from her perverted grandfather. So of course the only English the robot really knows is based around bits and pieces of the worst phrases in the English language!
For English-language anime viewers, we often find those moments where the characters speak English charming. Sometimes the Japanese VAs themselves speak in English, and it sounds clunky and the intonation is wrong, but it’s fun nonetheless! Less often, an actual English-speaking VA will do these little bits of dialogue, and you feel like you’re having an American cartoon forced onto your consciousness suddenly! But still it’s kind of fun. Here in this particular scene, the robot speaks English properly enough. But our momentary experience is overwhelmed by the robot’s vocabulary! All it says is “What the f**k?” and so many such phrases over and over again! All pronounced perfectly!
Yeah, that’s a pretty good example of how most of these little scenes go throughout all twelve episodes of this really weird anime!
When we think dirty language anime, we think Shimoneta. And rightly so. That show is cringy and totally hilarious! Its characters and idiotic storyline work together perfectly with its reprobate dialogue. Most people can enjoy Shimoneta without feeling like we’re having adult topics forced upon our viewing experience, even though that show is about as adult in its topics as anything could be!
Asobi Asobase doesn’t quite reach that level. It’s really funny most of the time, but it’s uncomfortably funny. Yeah Shimoneta will make you cringe, but Asobi Asobase will make you reach for the power button on your TV remote. The adult humor feels uncomfortably out of place at times, probably because of the otherwise normal middle school setting. I never could watch this for more than one or two episodes at a time for that very reason. I’d laugh all the way through it, but I’d had enough after 40 minutes!
But I liked this show. As weird and as uncomfortable (and as base!) as it is at times, the characters are engaging and the story and artwork serve to present them effectively. You wouldn’t think such characters would be very memorable, but they end up memorable. That could be just from shock, but that aside!
No really, it’s fun to watch if you can bear the adult nature of it. Definitely don’t turn it on for family night, if for no other reason than you don’t want to answer the uncomfortable and inevitable question “Why are those girls twisting those two rubber dolls around each other?”
Playtime is over now.