Normally when a new series debuts I’m ready to jump right in for a first look, but opinions were so brutally split on Mysterious Girlfriend X (Nazo no Kanojo X) that I decided to wait for the second episode. Turns out that wasn’t necessary, because I was more or less sold on the first, but the second continues to show that an interesting series is forming itself out of a very, very bizarre concept.
Akira Tsubaki is a pretty normal dude dealing with budding interest in the opposite sex and the natural desire to explore their bodies. Or maybe he just wants a girlfriend. Either way, the kid is growing up, and we know this because the series opens with the oh-so-subtle imagery of flower petals overflowing with oozing honey. Tsubaki’s eyes soon open to this world when his class meets transfer student Mikoto Urabe. She slinks in, introduces herself, and sits down next to Tsubaki. Despite the fact that she’s quiet and tends to sleep with her face planted on the desk during breaks, she’s fairly unremarkable. That is, of course, until she starts drooling.
One day, when returning to the classroom after school, Tsubaki discovers Urabe asleep on her desk again. He wakes her and she gets up, leaving behind a stunning, sparkling puddle of drool on the desk. We’ve all been there before, no biggie. Except for some reason Tsubaki is compelled to dab his finger in the drool and taste it, thus kicking off the show’s gooey hook. Tsubaki quickly develops a nasty cold and misses out on school for a couple weeks, until Urabe arrives at his home to reveal why he’s sick. He’s addicted to her drool, and is going through withdrawal. Urabe solves this problem by collecting a fingertip coated in spit and sticking it in Tsubaki’s mouth to taste. All better.
Here’s where a lot of viewers flip their desks over in disgust, and I can’t say I blame them. If that concept makes you dry heave, I wouldn’t recommend continuing, because this show is loaded with drool. It even feels weird typing that. How can I be disgusted by Upotte!! and hardly bat an eye at this? Maybe I just don’t find drool that gross, but there’s more to it than that. If Mysterious Girlfriend X played it purely for titillation—and it almost does, what with the way spit is lovingly rendered and glistening in the light—it would be a different case, but there’s always something kind of twisted and sinister bubbling under the surface.
A mix of little things, like Urabe’s UFO-tipped pen, as well as the general atmosphere and often creepy soundtrack, grant the series an air of uneasiness and a dash of tension. It seems like things could do a complete 180 at any moment, and they kind of do in sudden flashes of Urabe’s unstable nature, like when we find out she keeps scissors in her panties and wields them with a swordsman’s precision. Episode two has Tsubaki trying to come up with ways to make his and Urabe’s relationship feel more like, well, a relationship, and she continues to surprise both him and us just when it seems she’s simply going through the drool-feeding motions.
After two episodes it’s still tough to see what path Mysterious Girlfriend X will follow. Riichi Ueshiba’s manga has been running in Kodansha’s Afternoon magazine since 2006, so one would assume there’s enough to the story to keep things interesting for so long. The series is directed by Doraemon veteran and Space Brothers director Ayumu Watanabe, but it’s character designer Kenichi Konishi’s take on Ueshiba’s cast that fuels a lot of my initial fondness. Mysterious Girlfriend X has a very ’90s style to it, which kind of ends up adding to the looming mystique of it all. It almost seems displaced in time, though Hoods Entertainment’s production is purely modern.
I guess it’s ok if you came to this series for the spit—for those who heard about Urabe’s tendency to explode with drool when something makes her really happy, this show has your “money shot”—but there’s more to it than that. The only time I really thought “alright, enough” with the series’ salivary gland obsession was during the the end credits, which look like drool-laced American Apparel ads. Other than that, I’m ready to see where the series goes from here. It’s completely possible it’ll just end up being a soaking wet “slice of life,” but somehow I doubt it.