R-15 – Review
As you can see in this picture, R-15 is actually a series about what it means to be a genius.
R-15 is one of the series most of the people out there avoided to watch – understandably. A young boy who has nothing better to do than to be a porno-author but is also genius who doesn’t need to think about his future or his homework since he’s a genius: That sounds like the kind of fantasy that should deliver another boring derivative harem-series. But surprisingly R-15 does have its strengths.
Synopsis: Takuto Akutagawa has a special ability for writing porn novels. He applies to Hirameki Gakuen a high school which only accepts people with “Unique” talent. Now he must chase his dream and direct his classmates to win an interclass competition. All while trying to create the prefect harem.
That’s why they invented make-up, you know…
One of the series probably nearly nobody had watched last season was R-15. A young kid writing porn novels on his journey to eternal love which includes of course building up a harem (it’s a part of puberty, you know, every boy does that at some point, right?). So what makes this show different from any harem-show that came before it, you ask? All things considered, not much apparently… but it does have its moments.
First thing that one probably can think of when hearing the premise of this series is the question how perverted the whole thing is. It isn’t and the whole premise of the series is actually just a kind of running gag. It’s talked about a lot but it doesn’t really become a topic of serious consideration for the plot, it’s a joke, you’re supposed to laugh about it and not think about it. What really nagged me about that was the way the writing was handled. The main-chara was supposed to be a professional novelist (no matter what the genre is) but the series made it seem like it’s enough to just write down his fantasies and with that the story is written in a flashy moment of him scratching something on his sheets of paper (why he doesn’t use a computer is beyond me…) without showing how this is supposed to be ‘work’. But the series has an excuse ready for this stupid exaggeration – he’s a genius. Nearly everything the characters do is explained by them being geniuses.
And that’s the point where the weakness of the series becomes really obvious. On one hand the character-driven episodes really try to be serious about each character’s purpose of life (the series does include the usual “follow your own path”-shounen-message) but on the other hand the whole genius-concept gets mocked by having stuff like a “genius narrator” and a “genius exorcist” which should’ve been a very nice way to mock the typical harem-show but instead it was just used to get some cheap laughs from the audience. The comedy in this series just doesn’t go far enough. Always when you have these ridiculous moments of some “genius” being not so intelligent, you also have these not-so-serious moments of romance/drama that stop the comedy from using its full potential. The story seldom succeeds in combining the crazy comedy with the innocent romance and that way the comedy stays on the same mediocre level throughout the series with exception of the last episode which showed what the humour of this show should’ve been like.
Making a meta-fictional joke doesn’t mean that it’s less derivative!
The romance of this show is definitely the better part and the innocent love is portrayed in a nice manner in this series, it’s nothing deep or extraordinary but it’s probably enough for some short-term-entertainment. It seems kind of odd how romantic and idealistic this series is at its heart with a premise that seems to speak of perverted humour that only teenagers can laugh about. But Taketo, the main-chara, is as innocent and pure-hearted as a shounen-main-chara of that genre could be despite him having these perverted day-dreams and since it’s obvious for him to have such thoughts with his job, the story does a good job of keeping everything together. As long as one doesn’t expect too much out of this series and doesn’t get too nit-picky, the series is a nice little charming story with the exaggerated fanservice-jokes on one hand and the pure-hearted character-driven harem-story on the other hand.
While having a problem to bring comedy and romance together in one scene, another problem is its characterization in some cases. Every character is of course a sort of a running gag in a series that relies that heavily on comedy like this one. But it gets grating when this running gag isn’t part of the characterization but rather one particular act of behaviour that is repeated endlessly. It just becomes a tiring routine at some point to see Ritsu go into his “pink-fluffy modus” only to get “saved” by Taketo telling him to recite pi. This exchange happens a lot during the series, already after the second time you might as well listen to something else or something better until this moment of redundancy passes. Fukune is also one of this characters that in the quest of moe-cuteness became an idiotic naive fool and everyone (even she at some point) questions her capabilities as “genius”. Moe and fanservice are just fine, it’s not something I particularly wish a series to have but I can live with it. What I can’t live with is when it disturbs the storytelling or makes things seem too superficial to still be enjoyable, even as fiction. Fukune wasn’t only shy, she was pretty much too dumb to say anything intelligent (she seemed that way to me at least). She behaved like a frigging nine-year-old! There was nothing genius-like about that and it also didn’t help that she played as “genius clarinettist” only one boring tune, this one:
And like the boring joke with Ritsu you get to hear that one tune a lot, far too often if you aske me and the only time she plays something different is at the end.
But in some cases the series does succeed to characterize its characters in a plausible way like Raika only hating everyone around her because she hated herself so much which made it a secret case of envy and depression (a nice mixture, you have to admit).
And the structure of the story is quite good as in being simple enough for a 12-episode-series. The way the romance over the story is not only good in the way it’s presented but also the way as it’s structured. There’s no ever-doubting whiny main-hero who has to choose between his love-interests but instead it’s made fairly obvious from the start which girl he loves and the main-topic of the romantic plot is instead how Taketo tries to approach Fukune which is an acceptable way of handling the story when it’s established how innocent and romantic Taketo is at heart despite his job. What didn’t work was Utae’s role in creating a love triangle for the last third of the show which was a largely useless part as it was clear to the viewer what would likely happen and one could only sigh seeing Utae running head-on into nothing with her ambitions. The story may have excused it with her love for Taketo but critically as a decision of the writer behind it, it wasn’t that great and the story was fine as it is even without love-triangle. But I can’t deny that the whole story does seem thought through and not like a contest of rehashing stereotypes. And that shows best in the ending as all aspects of the story come together and create a scene that really is the best ending I have seen in a harem-series.
While its story has overall a nice charm to it due to its thought-through structure, it rarely has great moments. Therefore leaving a good impression may be one thing but as soon as one looks closely there’s nothing interesting or new to be found in this shounen-series whose perhaps interesting ideas seem in its by-the-book execution like something one probably has seen before.
And just for reference what for example the series could’ve played with a “genius-clarinettist”:
(Just for info, it’s Schumann’s Op. 132 “Märchenerzählungen” with viola, clarinet and piano)