Seiji Sawamura is a violent schoolboy who's always beating people up and has thus never had a girlfriend. It's not for want of trying. He's asked out lots of girls. However his romantic technique involves marching up to someone in the street and asking them out on a date without even introducing himself. They'd be refusing even if his manner and reputation weren't scaring the living daylights out of them.
His only girlfriend is his right hand... until, one day, that becomes literally true. Seiji wakes up to find his hand replaced by a girl called Midori. She's the size of a hand puppet, she knows Seiji and until yesterday she was a normal-sized human girl. She'd had a crush on him for ages, but she'd never been able to pluck up the courage to approach him.
Seiji freaks. Midori, though, couldn't be happier.
This is an insane premise that for many people might well be nightmare fuel. It's a magical girlfriend show, if you think it's possible to have a girlfriend you can put in your pocket. (Seiji doesn't make that connection. He'll come to care a great deal about Midori, but that's not helping his love life.) However weird things can also be charming and I fell in love with this show. I'm a sucker for romance and this one's adorable. Seiji is violent, but he's no bully and all that brawling was mainly due to hooligans picking fights with him due to his reputation. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, although he does have a bit of a temper.
Meanwhile Midori is so happy to be with Seiji that it's infectious. You enjoy seeing them together. They're lovely. What's more, Midori is the principal embodiment of the show's theme, which is of people who love from afar and can't bring themselves to say anything. That was the old Midori. Now, though, she's completely open about everything. She's had a confidence infusion and she has no filters on what she's prepared to tell him. It's physically impossible for two people to be more attached to each other, after all. She often tells Seiji that she loves him, she wears embarrassing T-shirts ("I heart Seiji") and she keeps finding happiness in the simplest things. She's full-on to a degree that might almost have been alarming from a normal girl, but nothing about Midori's new life is normal.
Besides, it's partly a front. She's shy. This show is clear about its theme, with characters time and again wrestling with the difficulty of making the first move. Sometimes they're too nervous. Sometimes they're too proud. Seiji's classmate Ayase is a haughty bitch who considers it a matter of pride never to say two civil words to him... but then one day he saves her from thugs and she reassesses. She falls for him, perhaps almost as hard as Midori did, but she comes up with endless schemes and ties herself in knots trying to ensnare Seiji without cracking her public facade. A good slice of this show's fandom are cheerleaders for Ayase, not Midori, and you'll see why. She's sincere. Her pain is real. She tries really, really hard and her schemes aren't absurd, even if her worst enemy is herself. She doesn't know that she doesn't stand a chance, because she's trapped herself behind a wall. Even as you're happy for Midori, you'll end up bleeding for Ayase.
There's more than you'd think of that kind of thing. Magical girlfriend shows are wish fulfilment, but this one has unexpected maturity. Midori's family are in agonies, for instance. Her real body went to sleep one day and didn't wake up. It hasn't died yet, but it's comatose. The show never lets us forget that and I'm afraid I didn't quite buy Midori's refusal to reveal herself to her mother. It would be a shock, but not telling her is cruel. For me, that needed more justification.
Crucially, the show's also not pretending that confessions always succeed. People confess and get rejected. As well as Ayase, there's an eleven-year-old girl with a crush on Seiji and an otaku (Takamizawa) so freaky that at one point Seiji starts deliberately sabotaging the guy's love life because he's worried about the girl. Gyaaaah. That episode melted my brain. Anyway, Takamizawa thinks dolls are better than girls and treats a hand puppet as his girlfriend. (There really are people like this in Japan, by the way. Daru in Steins;Gate was a toned-down version. They'll devote their lives to an anime character, go on 'dates' with a cardboard cut-out of her and say things like "3D girls are disgusting; 2D girls are the greatest.")
Unsurprisingly, the show's also drawing careful lines between fantasy and reality. There's Takamizawa and his otaku culture, obviously, but Midori is similarly living in a bubble. She wants to think of herself as Seiji's girlfriend, but she's the size of a TV remote control. This show's characters sometimes have fantasy sequences, but underlined as such by doing them as pastiches of other media (movie, manga, silent film, etc. complete with their own closing credits). The message is that fantasy is an abdication from reality, just like people who never say what they really feel. At some point, Midori will have to stop being Seiji's right hand. Otaku should embrace life. You get the idea.
That applies to the audience, too. There's a smidgin of what I get from Beauty and the Beast, with the supernatural curse being funnier and more adorable than conventional reality. You wouldn't do it to someone deliberately, but... wow. Most of the show is heartwarming, cute and endlessly watchable, whereas the finale is stepping back from the fantasy, but that's the point. If our gut prefers the former, then our gut is wrong and we're Takamizawa.
These aren't original or controversial sentiments, but there's thoughtfulness and maturity in how they're being explored. It's just that that doesn't tend to get noticed, since this is a goofy comedy about a boy called Mad Dog Sawamura with a girl in place of his right hand.
The original manga sounds very different, by the way. It has more characters, enough of whom have a crush on Seiji that it's practically a harem manga. (Not all of those are even all female.) This sounds potentially premise-breaking, given that Seiji supposedly can't get a date to save his life, but I could imagine it working given the story's theme of people bottling up what they feel. If everyone's doing that... well, maybe that's the black irony?
There's occasional nudity (with nipples) but I don't see this as a fanservice show. The nudity always fulfils a story or character purpose, even if I can't believe that Midori's family wouldn't have put her sleeping body in nightclothes. To its credit, the show also avoids the dirty humour you'd almost expect with this premise... unlike the English-language dub outtakes in the R1 DVD extras. The latter are less funny than I'd been hoping, to be honest, but they have at least one good laugh in them. The DVDs extras also include a Japanese audio episode, which is charming even if the DVD's unwittingly turned it into a ghost story by playing these disembodied voices over images of an empty house, an empty restaurant, etc.
The show's execution of its concept includes some fun wrinkles. Pint-sized Midori can control Seiji's right arm and can sometimes drag Seiji around, even if he's asleep, unconscious or trying to resist. This brings some equality into what might otherwise have been an uncomfortably one-sided power relationship. There's also a body-swap episode, in which Seiji becomes Midori's hand. (Alas, this doesn't involve infinite fractal recursion of hands of hands of hands. Midori becomes human-sized again.)
Episode 5 - one-armed press-ups and chin-ups? Have you ever attempted those? Great Scott, Seiji must be superhuman.
I loved this show. It's joined my list of favourites and I've since read the manga too. Midori and Seiji are adorable together, with Midori looking after Seiji almost as much as he looks after her. Sometimes she's practically his mother. She's also more intelligent than him, especially with schoolwork. That said, though, characters like Ayase and Shiori are crucial too. They need to find themselves, just as Midori has and will need to again.
"I am not a doll."