The following has spoilers for a twelve-episode series you can probably watch in an hour or two depending on how you pace yourself. Anyway, be advised, I guess.
Against my better judgment, I ended up watching all twelve episodes of Japanese web-anime series Oshiete! Gyaruko-chan or Please tell me, Galko! Against all logic, I ended up enjoying all twelve episodes of Japanese web-anime series Oshiete! Gyaruko-chan or Please tell me, Galko!
I think it’s because, back in the dark days of high school, I was super-into this one Japanese cartoonime called Azumanga Daioh, a show adapted from a newspaper comic about six high school girls and three of their teachers embarking on oddball – but still somewhat grounded in reality – adventures together. I liked it because it was a breath of fresh air for popular high school-based anime series that seemed to focus on either power levels and long-winded fights or one boy’s quest to never get a girlfriend despite having multiple options. Azumanga was just about six kids goofing around, playing off of each other’s quirks, and trying to make sense of the world, and that was refreshing.
Let me be clear: I don’t believe Oshiete! Gyaruko-chan has inherited that fire from Azumanga. That, in my opinion, would be something like Turning Girls, a show about four women facing the onset of their thirties and figuring out what kind of adults they are. What’s more, much unlike Azumanga, Oshiete! Gyaruko-chan does its damndest to pack in as much cheesecake as possible.
That said, I found something fun about Oshiete and the way it messed around with the idea of how a character is perceived versus who they really are. Challenging stereotypes is the name of Oshiete’s game, illustrated well with the main protagonists. Title character Galko is kinder and more empathetic than the spray-tanned airheads she’s modelled after, and her comrades Otako and Ojou – the nerd girl and the rich girl in any other series – are similarly well-realized. Otako is a biting intellectual who teases and criticizes everyone around her rather than be the subject of ridicule herself; and Ojou, despite being wealthy beyond compare, is far from an erudite and is in fact quite vapid and clueless.
There’s also the matter of what these characters are often discussing, which leads to the biggest misdirection the pastel-coloured web-toon has to offer. Oshiete! Gyaruko-chan is – to the show’s benefit and detriment – unbelievably frank and lurid. The main characters are always talking about extremely personal topics that wouldn’t be touched in any other show about girls-being-girls, such as period cramps, comfortable toilet paper, and, uh, “shaving.”
Immediately, I was recalling another series of this stripe that I didn’t think I’d enjoy, and that was HBO’s Girls. I thought the first season was tight enough for me to not give a shit about anything after it, and while I’m not sure I’d give it a re-watch, I appreciate the fact that Season One exists at all.* It served as a nice counter-balance to shows like Sex In The City, which are notoriously bloodless and safe and tell a story from the perspective of four upper-class working women. HBO’s Girls, meanwhile, showed four middle class white women getting drunk, doing drugs, having awkward on-screen sex, and trying to figure themselves out. One of the protagonists even catches HPV, something that would never be addressed in any given Julia Roberts rom-com.
That’s why Oshiete left me so interested, really. I’ve been in it for a minute as far as anime goes, and over the years I grew increasingly vexed by the “throngs of cute girls servicing one guy” series that were in excess. Shows like Kanon or Hanankyo Maid Tai always presented their female leads as stylized archetypes and objects of desire rather than real people, and the series I’ve caught glimpses of that tried to ride Azumanga’s coat-tails did little but present their audience with cute archetypes but cut out the lead males to make them more “available” to the audience, as it were.
While Oshiete! Gyaruko-chan does this to some extent, it has the courtesy to be, well, uncourteous in its characters’ conversations, while being sure to have fun along the way. I take comfort in knowing that some of the teen boys and manbabies watching this will cringe when the protagonists end up discussing whether they prefer pads to tampons.
Really, the biggest slight against Oshiete is the fact that all these characters are in high school. I mean, I get that many anime series are set in high school because that’s largely the target audience because they’re more likely to have the most time and disposable income in a work-‘til-you-die country like Japan, but it’s still an unnerving trend and I can’t shake the feeling that all this is somehow feeding into someone’s weird fetish. Especially when the characters are talking about their hypothetical sex habits. Like, ugh, send the animators home to their wives, please.
That being said, this Bridesmaids-meets-Breakfast Club combination was not something I expected out of a show like Oshiete. I appreciate it for what it is, even though I can’t wholly recommend it to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the “young ladies hanging around” subgenre. It is, as I said, a far cry from Turning Girls (WHERE’S SEASON TWO, YOU MONSTERS?!), but as far as these kinds of anime series go, it’s a welcome needle against the balloon.
* It was a shame that the story of Girls chose to focus on four white protagonists rather than mix-and-match the characters’ ethnicities and sexualities, since doing so would open up some super-interesting discussion points about, say, being Black or Asian or Gay in modern-day New York. Maybe HBO could tap Ava DuVernay or Shona Rhimes for their next project? I dunno who’s free.
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