When the mood strikes to watch a feel-good show about the glamour and charm of teenaged girl friendship, absolutely do not watch Asobi Asobase. Stay far away from it. If you want a good laugh at the expense of some gruesome brats, it’s entirely ideal. If you want to see three teen girls revealing themselves to be hilarious brats, this is the show for you.
Middle schoolers can be bored, petty monsters, and comedy anime Asobi Asobase plays that up to high heaven that aspect. It’s a crude and gleefully entertaining hilarious new show about three young girls who seem quite sweet at first glance; they form a “pastimers club” for playing low-stakes games like thumb wars, but soon, these games bring out the girls’ rotten sides. Kids can be pretty shitty when they’re desperate to entertain themselves, and that shittiness is comedic gold.
The show starts with a saccharine introduction in which the girls frolic in a garden. Smash cut to them in a classroom embroiled in a rock, paper, scissors battle. It ends when one girl, a blonde European named Olivia, punctuates her victory with a calm slap to the face of her normie athlete friend Hanako Honda. As Honda screams, this isn’t the usual punishment for losing: “It’s a flick to the forehead, not a slap!” “Hm?” says Olivia, feigning that she doesn’t know Japanese. (She’s convinced her classmates she’s American, even though she can’t speak a word of English—a running gag throughout the show.)
They invite a third classmate to join in, a bookworm named Kasumi Nomura; she agrees with reluctance, then introduces another variant on post-game punishment after getting slapped herself:
Asobi Asobase is about bad girls. They’re not even bad in glamorous ways. They’re scummy, unhinged and funny as hell. A competition over who can throw their shoe farther becomes a brutal war involving Machiavellian schemes. To inch her way into the popular circle of tennis girls, Honda initiates an athletic tennis match against them with novelty wooden paddles. Frustrated over how often these little games escalate, Olivia eventually suggests a more wholesome penalty for losing: making the loser sniff the winner’s armpit. There’s a catch, of course: her pits are rancid. “Now I know why my cat grinds its nose after my dad farts,” says Honda after taking a whiff.
Depending on what you like, the crudeness of Asobi Asobase’s humor could come off as refreshing and unique, or repulsive and asinine. It’s basically a slice-of-life show, without an overarching plot or likable characters, so it’s perfectly poised to turn inconsequential moments into melodramatic comedic fodder. Like Pop Team Epic, last winter’s viral sketch comedy anime about teenage girls, Asobi Asobase can be hit or miss, depending on your sense of humor. For me, it’s consistently a big hit.
The animation style shifts between an airy, shoujo-ish look and moments of artistically gross messiness. The girls only remain cute for short stretches of time. When their crappy personalities show through, they look a little more like this:
Or like this:
Counter-intuitively, Asobi Asobase is relatable. A lot of anime about childhood milks the nostalgic longing for a freer, more whimsical time in our lives. Watching Asobi Asobase is a great way to revisit how stupid we might have been in our anxiety to keep ourselves busy and defeat each other in meaningless activities—and laugh at it.