Hey, it’s my birthday! Well, capitalism stops for no man, so here is your daily post!
By now it should be clear that I’m a fan of all forms of narrative. Specifically, I like series and I like concept music. The world of anime is not new to me, I was a huge follower of Japanese art during my adolescence, starting around the age of ten when I watched Bleach, and then age eleven when I finished all three Dragonball series.
Since my younger days, two things have happened. I’ve found I have far less time for TV and far more time for books, as I am an artist, I can pass reading manga off as “research.” Actually, aside from the terrifically paced Death Note (which I dropped after Near and Mellow showed up), I don’t really like manga.
That’s why Hajimete no Gyaru stands out so much. It took me into a medium I don’t particularly enjoy, and gave me enjoyment.
What is a Gyaru?
What is a “gal?” Well, a gal or gyaru (what I will be referring to it as for the rest of this article) is a form of fashion based rebellion in Japan. At least, it started as a form of rebellion back in the late twentieth century. Now it’s mostly a fashion trend.
The Gyaru or Ganguro style originally came about in the 1970s and hit its top in the 80s. It shows a stark contrast to what was and still is traditionally fashionable in Japan. Like all cultures in the world, pale skin is valued above all. I’m not sure why, maybe I’ll write about that odd mentality in the future, as I am not pale myself, but instead a mixed person. Anyway, gyaru artificially darkened their skin with something similar to rub-on or spray-on tan. This darkening is less common nowadays. Black hair is nearly universal in Japan, so obviously, the gyaru had to ditch that too. They wear a lot of make-up usually, and certain branches go for a younger look, enlarging the appearance of eyes with liner.
Gyaru are considered both immature and also slutty. It seems that people assume that like other bleach-blonde girls, the gyaru are “easy.” This viewpoint is repeated in most of the anime that I’ve seen gyaru in, that they makeout as easily as they breathe, that they’re a good place to go for easy sex. Whether this is true or not, well you’d have to ask a gyaru.
In my mind, I like to parallel the gyaru style with the gothic style. They’re both looked at as odd in their respective cultures, and they both tend to group together, as sort of purposeful outcasts. Gyaru has heavy western influence, and so sometimes the two actually meet. it’s pretty cool, if you have tastes like mine anyway.
The Ecchi Anime
Ecchi is a term that just means “sexy,” or “dirty” in Japan. In western culture, it basically means “fanservice” or “tits.” An ecchi anime usually doesn’t feature any nipples (heaven forbid!) but will often show off 90% of a breast, most of an ass, and so on. Some Ecchi get really crazy, as plot generally falls to the wayside in favour of fanservice.
Generally, in a series like this, you have a beautiful and endearing girl with a face of pure innocence, paired with a worthless boy who is good at nothing and never tries to improve. That’s actually fairly standard ecchi/harem based-on-a-visual-novel fair. In fact, it’s so common that about 30% of these carbon-copy, worthless, self-insert main characters have the exact same name, Keita.
I’ve watched enough anime to know when something isn’t worth my time.
The first sign is 5+ girls interested in one guy. Why? Because he never ends up with any of them. It closes unresolved. It’s actually just an ad for their visual novel, where you can go out with your favourite. (For those who don’t know what a visual novel is, it’s essentially a choose-your-own adventure/picture book that you read on a computer. Usually it features a lot of girls who you can have sex with. This is one of the reasons Japan has a NEET problem. (NEET stands for “Not in Education, Employment, or Training”. It’s a term used a lot in Japan, because it’s a real problem there. NEET was term originally used in the UK. (which stands for the United Kingdom.)))
Edit: Apparently the number of NEETs in Japan has been declining since 2015, so that’s good.
The second sign is if it’s based on a visual novel, again this usually means that it will feature an inconclusive ending that can only be resolved if you play the VN.
The third sign is the tags. Ecchi/harem is generally a great pair of tags if all you’re looking for is fanservice. If you want a romance, stay away!
Very rarely is the nudity ever used to enhance the plot in any way. In fact, there’s only one case in all of the anime I’ve watched where this happened. Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai: Under the Innocent Sky used the fanservice and chaos inherent in the ecchi genre to enhance the atmosphere of the anime.
See, Oretachi is about young adults. The kinds of people who walk around filled with repressed sexuallity, searching for decent work, and joining small-time gangs. You know, things typical of 20-25 year-olds. The fanservice is either added as blatant comedy, or very casually and naturally. Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai is actually one of my top anime, despite featuring an almost literal sex scene (Which was really weird to be honest.)
Hajimete no Gyaru
Also known as Hajimete no Gal. In English, it’s called My (Frist) Girlfriend is a Gal. So as you can see, our two main characters are fairly typical Japanese high school students, although one of them has bleached hair and dresses like a gyaru. Something else you might not have noticed is how unusual their expressions are.
I originally found this manga by its anime. The art was nice, and the main female protagonist, Yukana had something about her… something so rare in female anime character expression. Yukana had confidence. This girl is overflowing with confidence, and confidence is sexy! The male character, Junichi (not Keita) is no pushover either. Let’s talk about him first!
Junichi is just a guy, and that’s what makes him so great. He’s not that tired whiner trope like Hope from Final Fantasy XIII, or some crybaby who contributes nothing to the adventure like Yuki of Mirai Nikki. He’s also not an unstoppable omniscient god like Sora from No Game No Life.
He’s just normal. He’s nervous about meeting girls since he and his anti-social friends probably never talk to them, but he’s not petrified. He actually builds up the nerve with some help from the aforementioned friends and asks Yukana out on his own. They meet up outside school, and after a lot of inner dialogue, he musters his nerve and asks her out.
When it comes to personality, Yukana is more than just a pretty face and some tits (although, she is well endowed with both.) Yukana is confident, feminine, and friendly. Like, despite being a gyaru she’s actually pretty friendly. She’s also fairly condescending to the main character, but he’s no slouch! He can take it!
She accepts his request at the end of the first volume and they start going out. She likes shooter arcade games and karaoke.
Yukana also knows how to dress up, which is to be expected of a gyaru. Outside of school, she usually dresses in a fairly normal manner. The gyaru thing might just be to keep people out of her hair.
Hajimete no Gyaru is really awesome when it comes to the main romance. Here’s a breakdown of how romances work, in both eastern and western works of fiction.
- The main two want to get together, or maybe one is pursuing another.
- Something gets in the way.
- They get over it.
- In the last chapter they make up and get together.
- The end.
Well, Hajimete no Gal put step 4 at the beginning. They’re dating for most of the series. It’s great! Why has no one else noticed this? It’s so unique, I mean, name another series like this. Not where they’re chilling from the beginning, but actually actively going out and dating. Love Hina maybe? I can’t think of one. What does that mean? That means something unique is happening here, and unique is good.
If I can think of something to put here, I will. For now, here’s a nice picture.
This panel in particular stood out to me. Why? Because the main character thinks “health committee,” and imagines Yukana as both a doctor and a nurse. No stereotypes. Yame is whatever she wants to be.
Pacing! The pacing in this manga is impeccable! Oh man, I should take notes because this series moves so fast, but still gives you enough time to take everything in! It’s wonderful!
I actually caught up to volume three in one night! For reference, I usually read one volume a day, meaning I covered three times my normal amount. Why? Because I was engrossed. I can only compare the pacing to a Michael Crichton novel.
The characters are very realistic, they truly feel human.
Look, even the side characters contribute something. Even the smallest character manages to eventually gain some relevance. Instead of introducing new people, the author got a clever idea, one that I use in my own works. Why not have old characters do the things I want to have new characters do? Keep the pool of people focused, streamlined.
Yukana’s best friend Ranko? She’s jealous of Junichi because he’s taking all of Yukana’s attention. She sits in on some of their dates, and more often than not actively disrupts them by showing up right when things start to get interesting.
But there’s more.
When Ranko realizes that she’s not going to be successful in breaking the two up, she changes gears. She becomes the badass protector of Junichi and Yukana’s relationship. (While still trying to drive them apart.) How? Why? Well, let’s take a moment to be rational. It seems that Ms Honjo has a very specific set of priorities.
- Keep Yukana all to herself.
- If 1 is not possible, Junichi x Yame is the next best thing.
- If anyone gets in the way of 1 or 2, stop them with physical violence or intimidation.
Ranko is essentially my type, so you go girl! Intimidate that poor deceptive schoolgirl!
This is your typical goody two shoes. The pure girl who the main character is destined to fall for.
Well, this isn’t that kind of story, so instead she gets pushed aside and resorts to deceptive tactics to try and force her way into Junichi’s heart! Does she succeed? Well, read the manga to find out! (Hint, no.)
Actually, she tests Junichi’s outer limits of commitment, and she still gets turned down. Then she tries to force herself on Junichi, and of course, Ranko comes in and saves the day, leaping in from… I don’t know, the sky maybe?
This is our ringleader, the catalyst. He’s the leader of a group of outcasts, the group Junichi finds himself in at the beginning of the story. Some might write him off, but he has clear motivations and a consistent character.
Actually, if it weren’t for Shinpei this story might not have happened. See, he was the one that forced Junichi into asking Yukana out. It was his idea, and he had to basically force it to happen.
Then later he returns to make MORE plot stuff happen! Like, don’t discount this guy, he’s serious!
I’m not a huge fan of this girl, but luckily her arc was short, and way less cringe-inducing than I expected.
Nene is the childhood friend who’s returned to claim her boi. And that boy is Junichi. She makes a lot of advances on him, utilizing handcuffs and nudity and taking advantage of the fact that she knows where Junichi lives.
In the end she claims that she will be competing with Yukana for Jun’s love. Yukana decides that this is both hilarious and adorable, and stops taking her seriously. Good!
Not once, but twice Junichi stops a girl’s advances.
He informs them that he’s already in a relationship, and he’s perfectly happy with it.
Why is this important? Well, consider the typical harem. The main character hasn’t (and might never) decided on a woman, and so he never blatantly turns down a girl. Junichi is and does. His greatest character trait is his resolve, his commitment.
Junichi does more than just pull his weight. He’s a true second half in this relationship, whether his girlfriend is there to babysit his emotions or not.
At first, for both halves, the relationship was sort of a joke, and sort of a test ride.
Yukana wasn’t conceited about it though, she regarded Jun with open eyes, and took it seriously when things got serious.
She dresses up for him, and keeps him at a fair distance. She picks on him, flirts with him, and tests him. She asks Ranko for advice and considers Junichi fairly when he makes an advance. (Although most of the time she turns his advances down. She’s not sure what to do in a relationship either!)
These two are a great match, which is exactly why this series works. Yukana teases Junichi to confuse him, and Junichi spouts his honest thoughts to confuse her. Neither of them has been in a relationship before, it’s new and exciting. This is a prime example of young love!
This is the gold of the series. All the characters, all the situations are so natural. They seem so real, it’s the kind of stuff that happens all over the world, with regular people. It truly is a slice of life, and I love it.
The fact that this series is so grounded, that it invites you to expect a cliche and then instead gives you a natural response, it’s just wonderful. As someone who’s seen over one-hundred anime and is familiar with all the tropes, I was both impressed and refreshed.
If you like realism, and good characterization, this manga is for you. I’m so jealous~!
Hajimete no Gal gets an 8.4 out of 10. I absolutely love it, and if it gets translated officially, I will be supporting this artist by purchasing the manga.
It’s demographic is younger people, so the dialogue and scenarios tend to suffer as a result. Despite this, I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I have to say that it takes way too long to come out.
This is where I read the manga, until it gets an official release anyway: http://mangafox.me/manga/hajimete_no_gal/