I was interested in you back when you hadn’t even aired yet, Mysterious Girlfriend X. I read your source material, a one-shot and a serialized manga back in ’04 and ’06 respectively, and loved it for your uniqueness, your daring, and the old-school art style. I especially loved what that one-shot did with its story, and I think to this day that the serialization holds its own weight too, but it was that one-shot that hooked me into the series in the first place.
So, when I heard that you were getting an anime adaptation, my body was ready for the most fascinating experience to hit anime this year. Because, besides the oddness and the quirkiness that made you special, you also addressed something that many romances either omit, joke about, or skirt with very little mention, and that was sex. It wasn’t actual sex, but it was a kind of sex that was barely acceptable to society, and that was your concept of drool bonds. Sharing drool with the right person caused an immediate, chaotic reaction within the body. One good taste was enough to get hooked, and when deprived of the precious fluid the recipient underwent withdrawal, with symptoms such as a high fever. The bond ends up being increasingly physical, carnal, and at some points touchy-feely. If this isn’t the most obvious metaphor for sex, I don’t know what is. And I’m okay with that, because no one else will address the issue other than you, Mysterious Girlfriend X.
So what if it was Studio Hoods that was going to animate you? The manga was basically borderline fetish/smut material anyway, so who else to animate that than people who have obviously done it before? Additionally, your director had been in the dark this whole time doing only Doraemon movies before tackling both you and Space Bros. at the same time. You had expectations to become great, and your circumstances had that mysterious air that you’re known so well for. Everything was going to be as planned.
And you know what? Your first episode nailed almost everything that an anime adaptation should be. Merely copying the panels onto the screen would have been enough, but you went above and beyond with the additional imagery and the subtle changes to the character interactions. The dreaded exchange of spit was spot-on, and sounded as disgusting and repulsive as one would imagine the activity to be. Urabe managed to land the best seiyuu for her droll, reclusive, and whimsical personality. The carnival-esque soundtrack captured the dreaminess, the magic, of Tsubaki’s adolescence and his undying curiosity with startling accuracy. The changes that were made not only brought the manga to life, but also breathed newer life by having all of that original imagery intertwined into the story as well. I was more than impressed with what you turned out to be back then. I can think of a few other bloggers who were certainly impressed by the first episode as well. Look at that, Mysterious Girlfriend X. Everyone loved you at this point. You had everything going for you.
Then I finished the anime and ended up giving you a 7 on my MAL. Not a bad score, but less than what I initially wanted to give. What happened to compel me to give you a lower rating? I only have one answer for you, Mysterious Girlfriend X: somewhere in between that first episode and the rest of the series, you chickened out. Hard.
Remember when I said that I loved the source material? Despite my praise for it, I wish the story had gone down the way the one-shot implied, and not how the manga turned out to be. Yet you still did. What was supposed to make you special was the drool, the bond between Tsubaki and Urabe. Their actions would be defined, perhaps guided, by that bond. And in a way you still managed to do that past the first episode. But you changed it up. As soon as the second episode hit, the drool no longer became a metaphor for sex; it became a device to understand a partner’s feelings. The story meandered away from sex territory and went into fetishland, with bits and pieces of awkward teens touching each other in weird places and getting embarrassed by it. The addiction, and the withdrawals, were soon forgotten. Urabe would never throw up another bucket of saliva again. You lost your bite, Mysterious Girlfriend X, and you suffered because of it.
Is there anything inherently wrong with this change, though? Not really. I sound as if I hate the rest of the anime past the first episode, but I don’t. I just consider the two parts separate, in their own respective universe, just with the first part being superior to the second.
In one, the couple’s drool bond is treated as a real addiction, derived by the inherent pleasure and psychological highs that the drool exchange caused. Saliva could have been used to represent the sexual relationship in much more creative ways, meaning that I wanted more instances where Urabe had to fill a test tube with her own saliva for Tsubaki to subsist upon when she couldn’t be around to do it personally. The story, the way I see it, could have gone in a much different and more controversial direction, and that would have been great.
In the other, the story that Mysterious Girlfriend X turned out to be, the drool bond became a rather blatant device for character development. The urgency of Tsubaki needing to partake in Urabe’s saliva became a non-issue in exchange for establishing a fledgling relationship and illustrating the bumps along the way. I still liked because, well, stories in anime still didn’t go as far as Mysterious Girlfriend X did. Aside from the “fetish of the week” format, the relationship between Tsubaki and Urabe developed slowly and steadily, yet ultimately in a fulfilling way. Tsubaki was still as curious and clueless as ever and Urabe remained a mystery to every eye, but their relationship throughout the series turned from a strict, sexually frustrated, no-touching policy into a more open and honest relationship that wasn’t defined by their bond of drool anymore. They weren’t together because their drool dictated it to be, but instead because they truly and deeply love each other. It may have been executed a bit more ungracefully than I wanted, but when the story took this direction I was expecting much, much worse.
Some of the blame goes to Hoods trying to establish a connection between the one-shot and the serialization, which the first episode and the rest of the series have been adapted from, perhaps not realizing that the drool served two wildly different purposes in each one. Mysterious Girlfriend X had an excellent adaptation, but it turned out to be too faithful to be consistently good. It ended up being much tamer than the first episode implied it was going to be, but at the same time, I wonder if they would even be allowed to go down that route if given the choice to adapt away from the source material. Given its niche nature, I doubt I will ever get that answer.