Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is a long title, and the amount of emotion in the story rises to meet it. Now, I know what you’re thinking, many people wrote off the anime adaptation of the light novel series written by Hajime Kamoshida after the first episode where a girl in a bunny costume (the playboy kind) meets a prototypical lonely anime boy in a library. What was dismissed initially as straight fanservice by some anime fans, unraveled into a dramatic story of first love, bullying, and the way those around you can make you fade out of existence. And while there is fanservice in the title, that emotional romance and coming of age story is even more on display in the manga adaptation of the anime published in English by Yen Press. This adaptation is illustrated by Tsugumi Nanamiya, with the original story by Hajime Kamoshida, and uses the character designs from the anime which were created by Keji Mizoguchi.
As the title would suggest, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai centers on one chance meeting between our two lead characters: Sakuta Azusagawa and Mai Sakurajima. Dealing with his own rumors at school, Sakuta is doing what he can to deal with them, which is nothing. He goes with the flow, reading the room and acquiescing to the atmosphere of his classmates even if it hurts his image. His life takes a turn for the strange when he meets Mai, a former teen actress, and a third-year at his high school, dressed as a bunny girl wandering through the library and going about completely unnoticed. While her star status should be turning heads alone, the added provocative outfit should be drawing stares but, instead, he’s the only who can see her. When she realizes this, Mai tells Sakuta, “Forget what you saw today.”
Mai, intrigued that Sakuta is the only one who can see her, grows closer to him and begins to use him for help in public situations like grocery shopping. After she voices that in the height of her fame she wished to go to a world where no one knew her, Sakuta begins to connect the dots between the manifestation of her wish and the trauma in his own family. Calling this phenomenon “Adolescence Syndrome,” Sakuta decides to solve this mystery while continuing to get closer to Mai and using his sister’s experience with the syndrome to drive their investigation.
This one phrase, “Forget what you saw today,” echoes through Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai as the reality of everyone in the world forgetting Mai closes in on the pair. As desperation sets in, Sakuta begins to fear losing his memory of Mai. All the while, Mai handles things calmly, holding in her fear and anxiety and only showing it to Sakuta in small moments when he sees through her facade. The heart of this story isn’t about the bunny suit, but the emotions and circumstances that come from and created that meet-cute moment. It’s for that reason that I hesitate to call the bunny suit itself fanservice.
That said, the first critique of this manga from those who don’t read it will be its fanservice because while the bunny suit has a reason, it is still sexualizing a teenage character. While there are moments of pure fanservice, including framing the panel to include Mai’s body in varying ways and the inclusion of sexualized characters and situations, none of it seems vulgar. While some character proportions are sexualized, specifically showing nearly every female character with large breasts, the rest of the fanservice fits in-line with adolescence. Sakuta makes jokes that while fanservicey playoff as awkward bluntness in the context of the dialogue. And while there are moments that get close to ecchi in its sexual-but-not-really nature, this is abandoned by the end of the manga.
Even when the two characters share a hotel room, the focus of the scene is not on the will-they-won’t-they of it all, but instead the escalating fear that Sakuta has of forgetting Mai and his resolve to reverse her situation. In fact, as the story progresses it clings to the themes of being left out, of being erased by the world, and of the love that can heal us. Within the first few chapters, the emotion of the story is at the forefront and the other rom-com tropes exist to make the story digestible for a teen audience. The fanservice works as a spoonful of sugar to help the depressing themes go down. This balance creates a sweet romance and one that progresses naturally.
Overall, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is a wonderful story of finding acceptance, pushing back against the tide of popular opinion, and how love can save us when we’re disappearing. It’s adorable and while its fanservice is never gratuitous or outweighs the narrative there were small moments that could have stood to be left out, primarily Sakuta’s encounter in the park which leads him to be in police custody for a short while. But ultimately, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is a manga filled with heart and emotion and is one of the best titles to have been adapted this year.
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai manga adaptation is available from booksellers now and the anime is available to stream on Funimation and Crunchyroll.
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is a wonderful story of finding acceptance, pushing back against the tide of popular opinion, and how love can save us when we’re disappearing. It’s adorable and, while its fanservice is never gratuitous or outweighs the narrative, there were small moments that could have stood to be left out, primarily Sakuta’s encounter in the park which leads him to be in police custody for a short while. But ultimately, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is a manga filled with heart and emotion and is one of the best titles to have been adapted this year.