Iroha Igarashi is a beautiful, rude schoolgirl who's seen as a delinquent. She says she doesn't want friends.
Hikari Tsutsui is the kind of otaku who's doing well to have close-ish relationships with two people... and one of those is the heroine of a magical girl anime. (Hence the title. Two-dimensional he can handle. Three-dimensional makes his brain shut down.) Hikari's in a sort of Losers' Alliance with fellow nerd Yuuto Itou, who's the kind of boy who'll wear cat ears in public. They've sworn never to get girlfriends, which: (a) seems almost guaranteed anyway by real life, and (b) would betray the mutual purity of their self-hatred and damaging lack of esteem.
In ep.1, Igarashi asks Tsutsui to be her boyfriend. He absolutely can't handle it and in any case has pigeon-holed her as the kind of person he hates. She kisses him anyway, twice. His reaction to that is even uglier, being pre-emptively rude to the point of making her cry, trying to drive her away as a means of psychological self-defence. He's not healthy.
In ep.2, she offers him sex. That doesn't work either. The guy's practically a eunuch. There's one horrified moralising maiden in this relationship and it's not Igarashi. (A lot of this show is flipping expected gender roles by projecting stereotypically feminine traits on to male otaku, forcing the girls to take more sexually aggressive roles.)
This is an adaptation of a romance manga for adult women, incidentally, not the male otaku bait you might expect. Tsutsui isn't an audience identification figure. He's a human disaster area and Igarashi's got weird taste. (Even Tsutsui's own family think so.) She helps him grow, but he's starting out from a prickly, hostile position of zero confidence and absolutely no social skills. "Actually, I stay alive because looking down on those who don't study keeps my spirit in balance."
It's a sweet show and I'm looking forward to the 2018 live-action movie, but it can be frustrating. Dating these otaku is hard work. They're made of glass. Tsutsui can overreact to the slightest thing, then unthinkingly do exactly the same in response but a thousand times worse. He's an idiot who can dangerously overthink anything. He can be rude to people who were simply trying to talk to him. Having a positive thought shocks him in ep.13. Trying to take a relationship with him at any speed at all might shock him into complete withdrawal. His reaction to a love confession might be "Where did I mishear? What part of that sentence have I misunderstood?"
Igurashi must be a saint (although she's capable of her own brain fades). In large part, this is a story of two outcasts healing each other.
Other characters include:
ARISA ISHINO = often my favourite character, for her merciless, trashy attitude and lack of tact. She's actually a bit like Tsutsui in having poor social skills, except that Ishino's also a loud, vulgar girl who's desperate for a boyfriend and has appalling taste. She has no time for otaku. All this makes her a fantastic friend for Tsutsui, because she'll say exactly what needs saying in any situation. TRANSLATION: she'll call him a no-life loser and dissect his failings at the top of her voice. I'm also tempted to say that she's incapable of lying. She doesn't have the mental capacity for anything but in-your-face directness.
MITSUYA TAKANASHI = listing his character flaws would take a while. His nastiest episode deserved jail time, if you ask me, but even that's somehow less unappealing than him telling Ishino she's not sexy because she doesn't comply with the demure Japanese cliches of femininity. Ishino thinks he's hot and repeatedly asks him out.
SUMI AYADO = yet another nerd, but this time a female one. Ouch ouch. Scenes with other otaku can turn into a nuclear chain reaction of damaged psychology. Doing ordinary things can cause the two of them to collapse, rendered physically incapable by emotional exhaustion. Her backstory, when we eventually see it, is shocking in how ordinary it is, with no Big Dramatic Episode that made her as she is today. This show can be shocking in how well it shows why these people are so short of confidence and why all the things we'll see them do are such a big deal for them.
Brothers tend to be appalling. Your heart will go out for these poor, damaged nerds, but you'd need to be tough to date one of them. At the same time, though, the show's often funny. I got the most laughs from Tsutsui and Ishino, but anyone's capable of creating humour.
The ending is mixed. There's a tragic obstacle. I've no problem with how well it's been foreshadowed, but there are some bugs with the implementation. Igurashi's Relationship Obstacle Brainfade (ep.22) annoyed me a little, even though I'd been okay with Tsutsui's many earlier ones that felt more like character exploration. This one's more plot-driven and is also really stupid, since Tsutsui's reaction is so predictable that you could see it from space. Later, you'll be wondering why she didn't keep a diary. (Presumably she chose not to, but the show could at least have raised the question and then explained.) That said, though, the final resolution worked for me emotionally and made me happy.
The art and animation look cheap, but they're also a lot like the original manga. I'm fine with that.
This is a charming, often funny show. You might want to shake the otaku until their teeth rattle, but that's deliberate and indeed the main purpose of the show. It's a character dissection. It's ripping apart their flaws and then slowly healing these walking disasters, step by step.
At least Tsutsui's less hopeless than his father, though.