Episodes 1-3: Sakuta Azusagawa is your typical sophomore guy – largely disinterested and trying to keep a low profile as he works his way through high school. One day, however, he notices a strange sight: a beautiful girl in a bunny outfit wandering around in a library. He recognizes her as Mai Sakurajima, a girl one year his senior, and a rising star in television and film. After following up with her after the library incident, she explains that something strange is happening: people can’t see or hear her in a lot of the places outside of school. This supernatural occurrence is attributed to “puberty syndrome” – an unexplained phenomenon that typically affects young people going through puberty. Sakuta witnesses Mai’s circumstances firsthand, and over the next few days he attempts to reverse the situation, before Mai disappears from reality forever!
Episodes 4-6: Roughly a month after resolving Mai’s alarming case of puberty syndrome, Sakuta is working on deepening his relationship with the sarcastic actress. When a lunch date secures their future as a couple, he’s elated – but things go sideways after he goes to sleep, and wakes up to find that the day is repeating itself! He soon realizes that he’s been tangled up in someone else’s puberty syndrome: a young lady named Tomoe Koga. He first sees her attempting to decline the advances of an extremely popular basketball player from school, but doesn’t pay it much mind. After going through the same day a few times, however, he finds her hiding out in the classroom. After a brief conversation, he discovers that she’s also stuck in a “time-loop” – which means that Sakuta needs to navigate the mystery of what it will take to free the two of them from their looping timelines.
I have to admit, I’ve been asleep at the wheel on this series until very recently. I’ve seen it on a number of “most popular” lists, and with the Haruhi-like energy, I suppose I should have been drawn to it from the start. The important thing is that I’ve now surrendered myself to its charm and can share my thoughts with all of you!
Rascal Does Not Dream Of Bunny Senpai is, first and foremost, a slice-of-life series. One of the first things that it does exceptionally well is integrate supernatural elements via the “puberty syndrome” mechanic. It’s just enough of an oddity as to not engulf the wider universe with its mystery, nor is it explicitly harmful or dangerous the the public at large. This allows the circumstances, and their resolutions, to be largely personal. In designing it this way, Rascal Does Not Dream Of Bunny Senpai has brilliantly constructed a narrative universe that lends weight to the struggles of teenagers during these formative years.
In the first arc, for example, Mai’s slow disappearance stemmed from her disdain for constantly being called out and recognized by everyone. “‘It’s the famous Mai Sakurajima!’ They would say…” At school, she was able to maintain some semblance of anonymity, which is why it remains the last safe-space for her in the closing arc of her struggle. Buried within this struggle as well was her uncertainty surrounding her future in entertainment. The “overbearing Mother/Manager” archetype comes into play as well, and while that thread of the arc wasn’t my favorite, it did set up an impactful scene when even her mother failed to see her and had forgotten she existed.
The recently concluded arc continued this trend, with Tomoe’s complicated feelings for Sakuta having a corollary effect on the flow of time around her. Mixed into her arc were the familiar struggles of girls in high school: rumors, bullying, striving to fit in, and the pressure that comes with newfound popularity.
While Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Senpai certainly deals out some poignant reflections on the struggles of teenagers, it largely charms through the playful banter of its main protagonists. Sakuta and Mai’s chemistry is magnetic, and the content and delivery of their dialogue has cemented the duo as the darlings of anime fandom in recent weeks. Sakuta does his best to throw Mai off her rhythm with inappropriate (but rarely explicit) talk, while Mai does her best to calmly retort his foolishness. She also delights in taking him down a peg or two from time to time. The key to their relationship is the give-and-take, as it never devolves into either one of them helplessly steamrolling the other.
While there’s hardly any combat or wild action sequences, the animation is lovely. The nuance in expression and body language is captured brilliantly, and the various environments, both inside and outside of the school, are vibrant and engaging.
Overall, Rascal Does Not Dream Of Bunny Senpai is a complete delight. With a relatable and funny protagonist, solid dialogue, great animation, and an impeccable balance between the common struggles of high schoolers with the mysterious “puberty syndrome” phenomenon to lend it an air of mystery and create the opportunity for quality storytelling. Don’t miss it!