Yow ow ow. It's great, but I kind of dreaded it. Marathoning it would probably kill me. I'd be on the floor every episode, either dying or laughing.
It's funny, painful, truthful, taking the piss and extremely personal, even for Mari Okada. I died repeatedly just watching Sonezaki. It's full of dirty jokes, teenagers and their extremely bad decisions... in a literature club. Five teenage girls with no sexual experience meet regularly at school to read filth to each other, then discuss it. (It's literature. Anything's okay if it's literature.) Our train wreck heroines are:
1. SONEZAKI = oh God oh God oh God, no no no. She's killingly funny, but ouch. She's a tall, overbearing prude who lectures the world and hasn't realised what a monster she is. She sees girls who have sex as shallow, superficial sluts. She's got a 19th century worldview (but weirder) and her head would explode if she started liking a boy. When that happens, she'll become a tower of bad decisions on legs.
2. KAZUSA = she has a male childhood friend. She can't think of him that way. She overloads with embarrassment if sex starts crawling out of her nice safe novels. She's terrified of dirty things and capable of blowing her mind at almost anything, but unfortunately she and her friends are growing up. With everything that entails.
3. SUGAWARA = beautiful, cool, damaged. Not a safe person to be around.
4. MOMOKO = SPOILERS
5. HONGOU = my favourite. Good grief. Hongou's a fierce, stomping gremlin who's determined to be a professional author and already has a literary agent. She also has the show's best facial expressions. Unfortunately, she's doing dodgy late night internet sexting as the research for her dirty writing. Throughout the show, she stays around that level of "inappropriate".
This show is painfully sincere, self-examining and hard work to watch... but it's also charming and explosively funny. I liked all the girls, even when they were acting for the most wrong-headed reasons. It feels true, even when the plotting's going gloriously mental. It's saying things about weird girls and sex that you don't normally hear, some of which is so counter-intuitive that you might occasionally find it hard to process. (What Hongou says in ep.11, for instance.) I admire it.
WARNING: there's also a 2020 live-action TV series adaptation, which I foolishly inflicted on myself for five minutes. Don't make my mistake.
Has Mari Okada written anything else in this mode? Hmmm, Aquarion Evol. Watching this show made me hunt down that. As it happens, though, I watched this alongside Nagi no Asukara, which is much calmer and family-friendly but just as strong on the tumult of adolescent feelings.
Both shows also refuse to tie everything up neatly at the end. Some couples happen, but others don't and others are left mysterious.
This is a mighty series, one of the few shows you might get in a year that busts open the anime industry's comfortable patterns. It's too funny, playful and rude to look like the work of literature it probably is. (On one level, the ending's pretty silly.) It's a bawdy sex comedy, but with beautiful character writing. I need to watch more Okada shows.