Look, I’m a sucker for Yakuza Princess tropes and shoujo romances that push some boundaries. Having read the genre for so long, I’ve come to forgive some of the age gap elements so long as they don’t cross a physical line. When it comes to A Girl and Her Guard Dog (Ojou to Banken-kun), an anime based on the manga originally created by Hatsuharu is a weird shoujo romance that bounces between a teenager handling a one-sided crush and trying to become healthy about her relations and weird constant affection between her and her 26-year-old guardian who is also pretending to a high school student to go to school with her and that’s just Episode 1.
It’s weird and somehow not the weirdest manga or anime in the shoujo demographic I’ve experienced, but the animation’s lifeless quality makes it hard to find much to recommend to someone just looking to put on an anime this Fall season.
A Girl and Her Guard Dog Episode 1 introduces audiences to Isaku. The daughter of a yakuza boss, her grandfather takes her in when her parents die in a car accident. Taken into his home, Isaku grows up surrounded by gangsters and as a part of the clan. But one in particular, Keiya, offers to be her father, mother, brother, and friend all in one. And if you know how weird shoujo romances go, yes, Keiya is the romantic interest.
Now in her first year of high school, and after years of being avoided by her schoolmates because of her family ties, Isaku is fixated on changing her social life around. She’s entering high school looking to live a normal life find a “happy romance” and get over her one-sided crush that formed when she was a child with Keiya. But when he bribes a school official and becomes a 26-year-old in a first-year classroom, Isaku can’t escape anything or change.
Not that I expected it to, but A Girl And Her Guard Dog Episode 1 doesn’t change the age gap between the two characters. Anime is known for and filled with bad age gaps and a lot of the time grooming (here’s looking at you, Hitorijime My Hero), but for some reason, A Girl and Her Guard Dog has never bothered me, and I’m not sure why. But when you animate it, well the weirdness and creepiness begin to poke out of all of the narrative seams and do so at awkward times.
The heart of A Girl and Her Guard Dog Episode 1 is about Isaku handling her emotions, not as a Yakuza Princess but as someone who desperately wants to make friends and reach out to people other than Keiya for her emotional needs, platonically and romantically. Recognizing how she’s not prepared for the outside world is a large issue, but her small attempts to try are endearing both for the audience and her new friends at school. This is where the series has potential, Isaku’s adjustments to life on her own away from Keiya. Only, when he steps in or comes to lay down in her bed, you’re reminded that the crush is probably not really one-sided at all.
The series is an embodiment of old shoujo tropes that are best left out of high school settings—I mean, Yakuza Lover is an all-time favorite of mine, but it is josei and features a grown woman who just so happens to be in an age gap relationship with a yakuza boss who also didn’t raise her from childhood. In fact, if that’s any indication, I like age gaps, and as someone who has literally never dated anyone less than four years older than her, I get it. But it’s clear how weird everything will get as it inches closer to the romantic fruition, and I’m sure I’ll be here rooting against it and for some reason, still tuning in.
Even if you do try to sidestep the problem and romance, which is hard in this episode, the series animation is odd in more places than once. Keeping certain manga face proportions, especially Keiya’s mouth animations. Many of the proportion options and heading work in manga, but don’t come across as lively or well in animation. With awkward body animations and eyes that look more dead than reflective of any emotion, the series is off to a rough start outside of its narrative as much as it does. Flat and better when still instead of in motion, it’s hard to compliment from that standpoint alone.
Overall, A Girl and Her Guard Dog doesn’t seem to even be the guilty pleasure anime that the manga is for so many. While this may be pacing choices from the first episode that get resolved, I’m unsure if the quality of the series will be able to outweigh its subject matter.
A Girl And Her Guard Dog Episode 1 — "Spring and Beginnings"
A Girl and Her Guard Dog doesn’t seem to even be the guilty pleasure anime that the manga is for so many. While this may be pacing choices from the first episode that get resolved, I’m unsure if the quality of the series will be able to outweigh its subject matter.