Kae Serinuma is a hardcore fujoshi, and is only interested in seeing male love flourish, both in anime/manga/video games and at school. When one of her favourite anime characters is killed off, she goes into a deep depression, locking herself away for a week. By doing so, she loses a lot of weight and ends up catching the eyes of 4 popular boys at her school. However, she isn’t interested in that, as all she wants is for these boys to romance each other instead.
Kiss Him, Not Me! aired with 12 episodes between October and December 2016. Produced by Brain’s Base (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, One Week Friends, My Little Monster) and directed by Hiroshi Ishiodori (Peach Girl), Kiss Him, Not Me! is the adaptation of the manga Watashi ga Motete Dosunda written and illustrated by Junko. I have watched all sorts of anime shows, but this one initially caught my eye as I was writing a simulcast column for another blog in 2016 when the show originally aired. I had never really watched a reverse harem show before, and as I watched the opening episode, I laughed quite a bit, although the flaws in the show were clear to see, although some can dismiss my concerns, or laugh them off and call them harmless.
More on those later, though…
…in the meantime, let’s have a look at these 4 boys. Yusuke Igarashi is the most well-rounded out of all of them; on the football team, polite and amicable to Kae before she lost weight, but he only became interested in her when she changed her appearance. Nozomu Nanashima, the bad boy tsundere in the class who frequently clashes with Yusuke, and also changes his opinion of Kae completely when she comes back to school after a week. Hayato Shinomiya, first year and on the health committee (as Kae is); also regarded as a bit of a tsundere, and previously had an issue with Kae. And finally, Asuma Mutsumi, third year and president of the History club, the most open-minded and mature of all of them, who was already friends with Kae and gets very aggressive when he sees her in trouble. All four of these boys all fall for Kae when she returns to school after a week, but their ways of getting to know her are all very different. While Asuma plays the peacekeeper and does not care about what Kae was before, both Nozomu and Hayato find themselves scrambling to get with her after the change, as they were both initially very gruff and uncaring towards her. Later on a fifth person, first-year Shima Nishina arrives on the scene, and soon enough Kae finds an androgynous girl after her heart as well.
One thing that can be said while watching Kiss Him, Not Me! (as well as reading the manga) is that the story does not really take itself too seriously. As Kae’s harem all compete for her heart, they are all led on to doing things that they (as jocks and preps of the school) would not normally find themselves doing. The show has its atypical Christmas episode, beach episode, Valentine’s Day episode, inn/hot springs episode, as well as a Comiket episode. And while Shima is ‘added’ to the harem, she acts as someone who is more interested in geeking out with Kae instead of trying to beat the boys. The characters are all fun to watch; not revolutionary or even that original, but not dull or uninteresting either. We like to see Asuma play the peacekeeper and golden boy, Hayato being the adorable tsundere kid who gets flustered all the time, and Nozomu be that ‘bad boy’ that is in every Japanese classroom.
If we watch Kiss Him, Not Me! and don’t look into it too deeply, we can laugh at the jokes and enjoy the potential pairings fine enough. But as I watched, there was one thing that was getting to me: how the show portrays Kae as a beautiful girl that all the kids swoon over only after she loses weight.
A literal translation of Watashi ga Motete Dosunda is “What’s the Point in Getting Popular?”, and this is exactly how Kae feels. She doesn’t care about hanging out with the jocks, preps or the top students…she is happy with indulging in her fujoshi hobby and being around like-minded people at school, and I think the hidden messages in this show and attitudes some of the boys have with Kae when she was larger are what concerns me. Shows that laugh at otaku fandom and portray it as some kind of cursed thing aren’t anything new, and these boys (2 of which are top athletes/jocks) seem content in converting her somehow from some ‘loser girl’ to a shining beauty. As well as this is something else that can be seen as more troubling. Obesity is very low in Japan, and is not seen as much of an issue like it is in Western countries, and as a result of this, body-shaming is more common in Japanese media. In the original Japanese version, the larger Kae is given a deep throaty voice, while the slimmer Kae has a clearer-sounding one (the English version notably avoids this, and sticks with one voice style for Kae). In episode 1, all 4 of these boys know who Kae is and think of her as that large girl with weird otaku habits, but all of their attitudes suddenly do a 180 when they see a slimmer Kae arrive back at school after a week absent. Also, in episode 5 (the Valentine’s Day episode), Kae goes back to her larger self when she ends up eating all the leftover chocolate after an anime event. As a result of this, both Nozomu and Hayato resort to unorthodox and unhealthy methods to get her to lose this weight. This alone shows that these boys value Kae’s appearance far more than her personality. As the show goes on, the boys realise that Kae’s personality is really what drove them after all, however the show still keeps on drawing a line between girls who are beautiful and girls who are overweight…which is just not right.
Yu Kobayashi (Attack on Titan, Maria Holic) plays the role of Kae, with Jeannie Tirado (Masamune-kun’s Revenge, Orange) as her English counterpart, who does a pretty fine job playing someone conflicted whether to become the apple of 4 boys’ eyes, or to stay loyal to her fujoshi hobby. The English dub has a lot of voices I am, again, unfamilar with (blame my general lack of knowledge of the English dub community), but the team have managed to turn this story into a fun one to watch. Sure enough, we can cringe at lines that don’t quite sound right, but I honestly was not expecting anything revolutionary here. The opening theme is “PrincexPrince” by From4to7, and the ending theme is “Dokidoki no Kaze” by Rie Murakawa.
Whether you see the body-shaming themes as a problem in this show is up to you though, as Kiss Him, Not Me! is still fun to watch. We as the audience can relate to Kae and her nerdy hobbies, and can relate when 4 pretty kids (who normally take little or no notice of you) competing for affections can be something one can’t quite handle or even understand completely. It is also a very accessible show for those who don’t really know what a reverse harem is, or have not seen what one looks like. We have seen so many rom com shows with large harems of females swooning over the sole male lead, so when a harem show comes along and swaps the genders around, it becomes quite an interesting watch. I only pick up on the eyebrow-raising topics in this show because I have a habit of reading into shows deeply; Kiss Him, Not Me! can be quite the enjoyable watch, if you don’t see the issues raised as reflections of real-life.
The negative themes of body image and unhealthy fandom in Kiss Him, Not Me! raises a lot of eyebrows, and highlights the fact that some people only like other people for how they look on the outside, and not on the inside. Whether this is something that can be overlooked or something that can be seen as a problem is up to the viewer though, as this is still a fun show with plenty of reverse harem humour.