OVA, 3 episodes (~25 minutes each)
Genre(s): Slice of life, comedy, drama
Synopsis: The highs and lows in the lives of fifth-graders who have to cope with the onset of puberty.
The good: Gut-bustingly funny, characters so cute and real you wish you could hug them, breath of fresh original air.
The bad: Not for Ritalin-popping shounen addicts who require ten explosions per minute to stay awake.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t watch super-cute anime very often, at least not unless it’s executed flawlessly and features great characters, some side-splitting jokes, or a great premise. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered Naisho no Tsubomi, an OVA series by Studio Kikan that combines all three elements effortlessly.
Tachibana Tsubomi is your average rosy-cheeked eleven-year-old fifth-grader who still does her hair in pigtails, thinks nothing of wearing a pink hoodie with a yellow skirt, and hangs out with her two best friends, chatty Rea-pi and introverted Yae-chin. All three girls are in the same class and, though their lives look happy on the surface, dark currents have begun stirring underneath that surface. They’ve noticed hair growing on their bodies in places where there wasn’t any before. They’re intrigued by the mysteries of pregnancy. And most alarming, they’re developping an unwilling fascination with the crotches of some of the class’s boys. Three of those boys are of particular interest: Tsubomi has a crush on Nemoto her blue-eyed neighbor, Yae-chin likes aloof You, and Rea-pi does her best to ignore loud-mouthed Futoshi, a childhood friend.
That’s it, in a nutshell. No complex overarching storyline, no great conflict of inter-galactic proportions, no time-traveling aliens: just a bunch of kids trying to make sense of what’s going on as puberty barges into their lives uninvited and begins rearranging the furniture. In the first part (“Babies Are A Secret”), Tsubomi has to deal with the news of her mother’s pregnancy. On the one hand she is thrilled to have a little brother/sister in the works, since she’s an only child and has always wanted a sibling to play with, but on the other hand… how did her mother get pregnant? Was it a result of the mysterious ecchi things, as Rea-pi asserts? But what does ecchi mean? Tsubomi knows it’s a dirty and strange topic, as most eleven-year-olds can intuit, but her knowledge of sexuality is still a couple of pins short of a strike, so to speak, and consulting the dictionary entry for ecchi doesn’t comfort her much. The second episode (“Boys Girls”) goes on to deal with the characters’s burgeoning sexuality and the feelings they’re developping for the opposite gender, while the third episode (“Why People Fall In Love”) wraps up the show’s plot threads: Tsubomi’s mother’s pregnancy, Tsubomi’s feelings for Nemoto, and the mystery about Saya.
Fortunately, Naisho no Tsubomi deals with the physiological side of puberty in such a direct way that you can’t help but sympathize with its characters. The topics of first periods and first wet dreams are broached honestly but also with humor; when it has to do some more serious explaining, the show turns to Saya, the mature transfer student who already looks like a young woman and who seems to know an awful lot about human biology and reproduction. There are no tasteless panty jokes, and even when you see Tsubomi’s class changing after gym, the girls are never sexualized. In fact, I feel a lot dirtier when I see sixteen-year-old girls in any other show with chests so massive their spines should shatter from the weight. Naisho no Tsubomi is definitely not a “show for pedos”, as I read somewhere, but it will appeal to more than just young girls. I went through puberty many years ago, and watching the experience as a detached observer was entertaining in a way that only adult hindsight can afford.
Let me defuse a nagging concern that may have entered your mind: is Naisho no Tsubomi nothing more than a Sex Ed video for the prepubescent disguised as anime? No, no, and no, dear reader. As a matter of fact it boasts some of the funniest laughs I’ve had in a while. For example, when Tsubomi’s class watches an actual sex ed video, the segment that describes male genitals in a dry and clinical tone draws cheers from the boys and blushes from the girls. Cue the teacher who intervenes and tries to calm the class down: “Be quiet! This isn’t something to get excited about!”
El oh el.
Yay or nay?
If you too have already been through puberty, then Naisho no Tsubomi will bring back memories, both fond and foul, of that tumultuous period of your life. If you’re in the middle of the experience (or on its eve) then it may answer some of your questions or at least take some of the pressure off. A show this funny and easy to watch should be required material for anyone who claims they have a sense of humor and an open mind: it earns an earnest yay on my part.