"Girls Bravo" Complete Series: Sins of the Flesh
Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room here. Girls Bravo is a jack-off show. If you’re not there to get titillated by the fanservice, it’s rather pointless. It’s like Jim Gaffigan’s joke about watching The Food Network: When you’re hungry, it’s like porn. But when you’ve eaten, the reaction is: “This is stupid.”
Now, I’m not going to make a value judgment on you whether you get turned on by animated flesh. To each his or her own. And in truth, we all have our guilty pleasures to some extent. But even guilty pleasures aren’t above criticism, despite its champions labeling them as “critic proof”.
Our first main problem is the male lead, the timid, short Yukinari, who lives alone. Aside from the gimmick that he breaks out in a rash whenever he’s around girls (triggered by his fear of them because they all inexplicably pick on him), there’s literally nothing unique about him. He’s Anime Copy & Paste Protagonist 101, who you can place into interchangeable situations and the results will be the same. I’ve seen his kind in too many shows, and I’m sick of it.
Our next problem comes from the fact that it wastes an opportunity; specifically, its setting. You see, one day, Yukinari falls through his tub and ends up on another planet, Seiren, where he meets Miharu, a sweet pink-haired girl waiting for the perfect man, and whose naive nature about Earth’s customs provides much of the comedy. On Seiren, only about 10% of the population is male, and so Yukinari is chased by rabid, horny women. The two quickly escape and make it back to Earth. Call me crazy, but I actually wanted to see more of Seiren. It’s only featured in a handful of episodes, with the rest taking place in Generic Japanese Neighborhood.
What about the other characters, you might ask? Well, there’s Yukinari’s “friend” Kirie, who’s apparently defended him since childhood from bullies but beats on him herself, even in instances where he’s not at fault (hit first, ask questions later). She’s the typical tsundere anime archetype, really nothing you haven’t seen before. Well, except that when she gets mad, she seriously wallops Yukinari. In the very first episode, she knees him in the face at full force over a simple miscommunication. And it doesn’t end there. Unfortunately, Kirie’s character is a classic example of a double standard; if the genders were reversed, there’s no way the violence would be portrayed as comedic. To her credit, she does soften up to Yukinari in season 2 (almost as if the writers subtly acknowledged her nastiness and toned it down), but she still carries the tsundere traits. A breathy, perpetually frightened Koyomi (also from Seiren, and sent to bring Miharu back) joins the cast in episode 6, and she carries the moe traits to a T. In tow with Koyomi is the hyperactive token loli, Tomoka, who gets irritated when anyone treats her like a child. She also has a voice which can break monocles. There’s also an aggressive blonde named Lisa who practices black magic and uses that to her advantage in getting into Yukinari’s pants, although the black magic often backfires and unleashes explosions or octopi (cue the naughty tentacles). Haven’t seen that before. Last and, in my opinion, least, is a lech named Fukuyama, a classmate of Yukinari’s and Kirie’s who constantly, and I mean constantly, gropes female classmates and in general has sex on the mind. It’s funny because he’s horny, right? Sorry, no. His shtick gets old before the second episode is up. And he’s pretty unlikeable to boot, especially in Koyomi’s debut episode when he chases her all about town with the intention of sleeping with her, despite her repeated objections. No means no, you creep.
So we know the characters are unoriginal and fall into categories; how about the plots? Sadly, they’re very run-of-the-mill too. You’ve got the pool episode, the hot springs resort episode, the wrestling episode, the body switching episode, the part time job episode, the school festival episode, the first date episode, all the usual suspects. To its credit, there are a few original premises, such as a ton of duplicate Miharus eating everything in sight; a student film starring Miharu, Kirie, and Koyomi as bandits, and a plot about an amateur superhero school janitor. But for the most part, everything’s very old hat and merely an excuse for the T&A. Some episodes just abandon all pretenses entirely; one episode has the group playing strip mahjong to combat Tomoya’s boredom. That’s using the ol’ writing noodle.
There are also a few plots which attempt to pull at the heartstrings (such as Koyomi searching for her father, Fukuyama bonding with Tomoka, and the three-part finale), which is undermined when you objectify the characters the rest of the time; it feels forced, like the show is trying to have its cake and eat it too. Much like the recently-released To Love Ru, each outing is more or less a separate entity, with little carrying over from episode to episode. Now, I have no beef with episodic series. In fact, I prefer them because they are easier to rewatch in small doses and not have to worry about the order. But in Girls Bravo, there’s a conflict hanging in the air: Miharu inevitably having to return to Seiren. Because of this, the whole series feels like padding until they finally get back to addressing this in the last three episodes. Additionally, a villain is introduced in the last two episodes, an aspect that comes out of nowhere.
But enough about all that silly plot and character nonsense. You’re probably wondering how the fanservice aspect fares. Well, Girls Bravo does have doe-y eyed faces and skin aplenty. And Fukuyama’s prurient personality and unlimited resources means the ladies are often put into skimpy outfits (or nothing at all). And they even threw in a lesbian in the form of Kosame, one of Lisa’s bodyguards, who has a crush on Kirie. The animation is usually decent enough to accentuate the fanservice-y moments, too. However, there are still some awkwardly-executed bits: Characters’ breast sizes tend to shrink or expand at random, depending on who’s animating the scene. At times, they look comically big (not Eiken ridiculous, but still pretty unrealistic). And sometimes the breast bouncing is unnatural: For instance, one time, Kirie goes into Gainax mode upon merely opening a door, and her jugs keep bouncing a good two seconds after she stops moving. It’s as bad as the first Dead or Alive game. Additionally, there’s a gag in the first hot springs episode which is surprisingly ruined by the removal of censor steam: Kirie stands up to shout to Yukinari on the other side of the hot springs fence. However, she doesn’t realize there is no fence and that Yukinari is mere inches away from her naked body. Without the gradually dissipating steam to reveal her error, this gag makes no sense. Unless Kirie’s ridiculously nearsighted, of course.
But here’s the philosophical problem with shows that rely on fanservice: They become dated pretty fast. Each new anime season tries to one-up the last in terms of boundary-pushing content, so despite the plentiful T&A here, it already looks dated and stale next to some more recent offerings like Queen’s Blade or Yosuga no Sora and such. So if you can get fanservice in any number of other sources, what makes this show stand out from the rest when you strip that element away? Not much. As a result, it’s doubtful this show, and others like it, will stand the test of time, as the fans merely move onto the next fanservice show when a new season starts. To prove my point: Anyone remember Goshuushou-sama Ninomiya-kun? It got some attention from the fan community when it debuted, due to its fanservice. Funny how nobody cares about or remembers it anymore. My point is, you have to have more than T&A for a show to stand out.
The dub by New Generation Pictures (also responsible for Ikki Tousen‘s first season) is pretty good, and while the show isn’t really that inherently funny overall, the dub writers at least gave the characters some amusing dub lines every once in a while (example: In the “first date” episode, Miharu cheerfully and naively says: “Nothing says a tiger in the sack like revealing lingerie!”). Michelle Ruff plays against type in most other shows that I’ve seen her in (Bleach, Gurren Lagann, Haruhi) with her voice for Miharu. Stephanie Sheh also plays against type with the loud, outspoken Kirie. From what I’ve seen her in, she tends to play squeaky and innocent characters, so this was an interesting casting choice that still worked. Yuri Lowenthal provides his typical male protagonist voice for Yukinari, although I think it works better than the Japanese VA, who was actually female. At least the English voice is coming from a guy’s mouth. Liam O’Brien plays Fukuyama and gives him a snooty upper class accent which provides a nice contrast to his puerile demeanor. But as I alluded to above, Tomoya’s voice (by J-Ray Hochfield) can get grating, especially in the mahjong episode where she pretty much shouts every line.
Previously licensed by Geneon, this series has been rescued by FUNimation, which is now releasing the complete series on 4 DVDs, with six episodes per disc. They used a keep case with two double-sided swinging trays to hold the discs (similar to Tiny Toon Adventures), and it works quite well. The cover is also reversible, with Miharu in lingerie on one side and Kirie in a two-piece swimsuit on the other. The only extras on the discs themselves are clean openings/closings and trailers. One thing I should mention: It’s a disappointment that FUNi couldn’t get ahold of better transfers for episodes 1-8. On the Geneon releases, these episodes had some dot crawl. This was rectified with episodes 9-24; the video quality was a bit sharper. So it’s too bad that FUNi couldn’t have one-upped Geneon by getting better masters. Because of this, I really have no reason to recommend this release to those who bought the Geneon singles; there’s no quality upgrade here at all.
If nothing else, Girls Bravo at least is upfront about what it is; as if the cover art isn’t enough of an indication, nearly every episode opens with a shower or bath scene and there are many panty shots, nipples, and bouncing breasts throughout. For some, that will be enough of a recommendation. But if you’re looking for more than that, if you want a quality story with fleshed-out (sorry) characters and writing that isn’t fixated on one thing and doesn’t fall back on tired fanservice tropes, you definitely have to look elsewhere.