Note: This is a review of the Domestic Girlfriend manga. If you’re looking for a review of the anime, click here.
High schooler Natsuo finds temporary distraction from his crush on his teacher when a girl at a party asks him to help her lose her virginity. She is calm and clear about having no intention of seeing him again, leaving him with mixed feelings. However, when Natsuo’s dad remarries, Natsuo is shocked to learn that the mystery girl is his new stepsister, Rui—and that Rui’s older sister is the teacher he is in love with.
Domestic Girlfriend is Scum’s Wish meets Marmalade Boy and likely to leave fans of either unsatisfied. At its strongest, it weaves authentic emotional expression into unlikely human relationships. At its weakest, it leans on predictable visual gags, involving such staples as “accidentally walking around the house half-dressed” or, in the particularly schticky bonus chapter, “one sister gropes the other in a public bath to see how much her breasts have grown.” Classic.
The opening sequence sets the tone for the former in a mature and sensitive introduction to Natsuo and Rui, showing the aftermath of their sexual encounter. In fact, everything between Natsuo and Rui is stand-out, dramatic and comedic scenes alike. Natsuo is expressive where Rui is deadpan, talking openly through his complicated feelings with close friends while Rui struggles to communicate even with her family. Their initial physical intimacy opens a path to emotional honesty between them, which could just as easily develop into a true friendship, romance, or sibling relationship.
The side characters are generally fun, but the big letdown is Natsuo’s teacher, Tachibana-sensei, who instructs Natsuo to call her “Hina-chan” once the two families move in together. She is unprofessional from the moment we meet her, slapping schoolboy butts and teasing Natsuo about how she might fall for him. There are many scenes where she crosses lines of appropriate behavior for a sister to a brother, an adult to a child, or a teacher to her student, let alone all three at once. Without putting the same level of work into developing her character that the author gives Natsuo and Rui, she ends up the drunken caricature of a teenager’s fantasy.
If Domestic Girlfriend cuts the obvious jokes and gives Hina the same level of character work as Natsuo and Rui, this could end up being a truly rewarding series. It’s just not clear yet whether these early flat notes are missteps or accurately setting our expectations for future volumes.
story and art: Kei Sasuga