Let’s give credit where it’s due: Masamune-kun’s Revenge lives on the strength of its premise. I’ve spent more of my time watching high school romantic comedies than I actually spent in high school, so when the concept reveal caught me by surprise, it was already worth the cost of admission. Why this premise works–of our main character trying to seduce a brutally stoic classmate as a way of getting revenge for her rejecting him back when he was fat–is that it’s couched in the specific and powerful emotion of spite; one which, when justified, is satisfying beyond all others to act upon–and here, the spite is narratively justified (if not so much morally).
We get to indulge in this play of spite because all of the writing’s on the wall for how this will eventuate. Immediately we know that our protagonist is a conceited and misguided asshole without a full grasp of what his adversary was really feeling on that fateful night all those years ago; while said opponent is much the same, treating others with inhumane levels of disdain and reveling in her dominion over their emotions. Knowing that these characters are assholes takes the edge off of getting to see them get what’s coming to them; but knowing the reasons that they act that way also means that we can empathize, and to get into their corner on a narrative level even if we know that what they’re doing is wrong or misguided; especially because the overall tone and our tropic knowledge assures us that it’s all going to work out in the end anyways (assuming the unlikely event that an ending is anywhere in sight).
Emotions aside, Masamune-kun’s other major strength is in worldview. Each of its two main characters has a well-realized one, which the show readily presents as perhaps misguided, yet couched in some degree of observable truth–one which the characters themselves have observed for good reasons. Masamune is sort of a lighthearted take on the concept of being “red-pilled;” he’s recognized the ways that people treat him differently depending on the attitude which he projects and his physical appearance, which has lead him to develop a manipulative attitude, and to project an image of cool graciousness, like some kind of false Sakamoto.
Masamune attempts to form a cult of personality around himself, but while utilizing a personality which isn’t actually his. He doesn’t think too hard about the way that Adagaki Aki has actually formed one around herself without pretending to be anyone that she isn’t. Weirdly, though, I don’t think it’s really the case that Masamune is lacking in self-awareness, or in understanding on some level that people will respect him for other reasons than just projecting an image of coolness. In fact, this is kind of how the premise of the series started to fall apart for me as it went along, because Masamune’s crucial flaw almost isn’t even that he’s wrong about himself–it’s more the case that he simply misunderstood Adagaki once in the past, and hasn’t had it cleared up for him.
It certainly isn’t a bad thing that Adagaki accidentally crushing his feelings led him on the path to self-betterment. In fact, Masamune’s story is incredibly true to life–youtuber Jaxblade often talks about how he was bullied as a kid for being fat, so he decided to become jacked as a way of getting emotional revenge–and now he works professionally as a personal trainer. If anything, this is what we would usually call a happy ending to this brand of dark childhood, and Masamune is imminently likable because of it–and for eschewing the usually wimpy, weak-minded nerd archetype so common to this genre in favor of a confident, even narcissistic alpha dude.
If Masamune’s problem was that his supposedly true knowledge of human nature caused him to distrust everyone around him, or to reject the advances of the people who’ve come to admire him now because he sees them as fake, then that might be an interesting conflict and character flaw; but really Masamune seems to enjoy his own popularity. He likes these cute girls who are into him, and he likes the fact that they’re into him–but he rejects them because of his obsession with misguided revenge. Really, Masamune has every opportunity to be happy throughout the series, and even seems to understand this fact himself, but he’s dragged away by his dedication to this fool’s errand.
Masamune is at his most interesting when his self-doubt comes creeping back in and corrupts his narcissistic facade. There’s a type of fat which never really leaves you–a feeling that you’ve been that way once before, and could become that way again at any time–because it’s within your nature to do so; and this feeling is only kept at bay with constant self-reassurance. The best scene in the show for me is when Fujinomiya Neko tells Masamune that it’s okay to be himself, and he is struck on such a personal level by that phrase that it nearly completely destroys his guard. At heart, all Masamune has ever wanted is to be accepted–but in particular, by this one person, whom he believes would never do so.
And that’s the problem. The entire dramatic irony of this series, which is made clear from episode one, is that Adagaki was in love with the fat, ugly version of Masamune, and totally did accept him for who he was. But the arc between these two doesn’t end with Masamune realizing that others will accept him or that his facade is unnecessary–he keeps going with his revenge plan not out of a misunderstanding about himself or human nature, but just because there’s one single thing which he misunderstood that Adagaki said to him all those years ago; and if he knew the truth, then this entire conflict would go away.
Particularly frustrating in all of this is Koiwai Yoshino, a character built to perpetuate the narrative by pushing it in whichever direction it needs to go at any moment. Koiwai is so inconsistent that I couldn’t even tell you the first thing about her character. The objective appears to have been a gap moe between her cold and calculating know-it-all side, and her unfortunate, clumsy, stupid, crybaby side, but these two sides are so incongruous and are shown to us in so many places that I really don’t know if one or both is meant to be “real.” If we only saw her acting one or the other way based on certain circumstances, then it might seem like her other side is a deliberate facade, but instead it’s presented as though these nearly opposite attitudes are just both the real her.
Koiwai is able to predict Adagaki’s emotional responses with absolute accuracy, and yet she perpetuates this entire plot by refusing to simply explain the truth of the situation to Masamune. Her intentions are deliberately left vague so that all of her actions can be justified, but really it’s just that she always knows and says exactly enough so that the show can go on.
As a whole, Masamune-kun’s Revenge indulges in a kind of convenient otherworldliness. While most of the series is decently grounded, it will fly just over the top, or into the realm of the ridiculous just enough that it signposts how none of this should be taken very seriously, and therefore it can do whatever it wants. It’s fine if that’s how the story wants to be, but it also basically instructs us not to try and be too invested, or to expect too much. The Pedantic Romantic accuses the show of figuratively “killing” its characters in his video on the series, wherein he breaks down how the realism and consistency of character interaction is brushed aside at any convenient moment to propel the narrative in whichever direction it wants to go–usually, nowhere.
And that’s fine, I guess. I certainly think that the show knows exactly what it’s doing, what with its over-the-top and hilarious soap opera soundtrack which almost lampshades how ham-handedly it slaps the emotions that wants to convey right in your face. I wouldn’t say that it so much sets the scene as literally telegraphs what kind of scene it’s going to be, and it lends the entire show this odd sense of existing for its own sake as perfectly disposable entertainment.
Masamune-kun’s Revenge is content to rest on its laurels after laying out everything that it’s going to be in the first episode. It doesn’t make any attempt to impress–certainly not in its visuals, which deserve mention because this show has possibly some of the worst high school uniforms which I’ve ever seen. What I hesitate to call a color scheme is just a random mish-mash of clashing contrasts, with pastels and primaries, stripes and patterns all clustered to fuck, and each one looks different somehow anyways. These things look like they must’ve been a nightmare to draw, which is a real shame because they’re also a nightmare to look at. If the girls themselves weren’t actually very cute in spite of it, I really think this would’ve worked against the show.
But no, Masamune-kun is competent enough, if totally boiler-plate. An opportunity is lost early on when Masamune teams up with Koiwai, and the whole thing becomes a one-sided power play on the part of trying to win Adagaki’s affections. Something more balanced, wherein Masamune was less self-aware about everything, or in which Koiwai wasn’t so easily able to predict Adagaki’s emotions, or at least in which Adagaki had a better sense of what was going on and was able to compete on equal footing with the others could have lead us into a more complex narrative with more of a back-and-forth between the characters. It’s not hard to imagine how this could’ve been more like Prison School or even Death Note if there were more focus on the competition of goals between these characters; but instead, Adagaki is quickly watered down when we realize how easily she can be taken advantage of, and how obvious it is that she could be won over in like five seconds if just a few misunderstandings were cleared up.
There are things that this show does which I wish I’d see more often in romantic comedies. I love that Masamune has legitimate reasons to be unsure about Fujinomiya’s advances even from an early point, which go beyond mere misunderstandings or him being wishy-washy about his feelings. He actually has real issues with her personality which come to a head when she almost successfully comes onto him, and I thought that this was one of the better romantic losses I’ve seen in awhile. Still, it’s just a drip in the feed of a long-form romcom that probably could have told the entirety of its story in the twelve episodes which this first season was granted; but instead drags its feet for much of those before deferring us to an ongoing manga series which is eight volumes deep and counting. I can’t say I’m interested in seeing which new ways it can find to chew the fat any longer than it already has, so I don’t think I’ll be reading along. If I forget everything else about this show, though, at least I’ll remember the loli mom.
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