Aoharu x Machinegun – Anime Review
Synopsis: Hotaru Tachibana gets forced into participating in toy gun “Survival Games” with an overzealous host and an apathetic ero-manga artist. The problem: Tachibana can’t let them find out she’s really a girl! (Official HIDIVE Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: So here we have yet another take on the BB/Airsoft battle category of anime that had a surge of popularity between 2013 and 2015. For fans who were disappointed by previous efforts (Sabagebu, Stella Girl’s Academy) to create an engaging story around BB game culture, you get a fresh start as Aoharu x Machinegun does things differently from its predecessors. To start, it includes more realism compared to the others, as it handles BB battle tactics and discussions as well as battle scenes more seriously and in more detail than the past. Its anime status still shows through as battles and dialogue are extremely exaggerated, but this feels more likely to appeal to viewers who found Stella too phantasmal and Sabagebu too silly.
Tom: Despite Aoharu x Machinegun’s more serious take on airsoft, Aoharu is still quirky, presenting plenty of light-hearted comedy that drives the show in between the intense airsoft spectacle. In actuality the light-hearted character sequences are far more common than the airsoft battles, which do pop up episode to episode, but Aoharu feels more centered around the character drama surrounding the Toy Gun Gun team. But when we do focus on airsoft, it’s delivered with such over the top flare that it can’t help but be enjoyable, even for those of us who don’t suffer from the burgeoning airsoft obsession Japan seemingly went through from 2013-2015.
Linny: Something that might appeal to viewers is the gender bender story line surrounding Tachibana and how the show handles her. Tachibana is the Student Council President of her high school, known for her brute strength, fast reflexes, and innate sense of justice. Through a series of mishaps Tachibana becomes indebted to Masamune, a young man working as a host, who mistakes her for a boy and seeks to have her join his Toy Gun Gun airsoft team due to her ability and to repay him for damages she caused inside his host club. Unfortunately there’s a rule “No girls on the team” forcing Tachibana to keep her true gender a secret. While it plays a pivotal role, it’s also never exploited solely and overtly for cheap laughs. And for those tired of gender bender harems where a crossdressing heroine becomes attracted to one/all of the members of the opposite sex immediately, there is absolutely zero harem content in Aoharu x Machinegun. Nor is there any ‘the men/boys falling for the gender bender either shamelessly or struggling with their sexual identity because of it.’ Sure, there is an allusion to it ONCE but it’s thankfully left at that. The true sexual identity of Tachibana isn’t treated as the central plot line/gag of the show which should also help make Aoharu x Machinegun feel refreshing to those tired of that cliche. That said, there are still plenty of moments and gags that arise out of it.
Tom: It’s that main cast that keeps Aoharu interesting, even when the airsoft revenge plot against Toy Gun Gun’s rival team starts to wear thin. Tachibana is a wonderfully complex character who constantly yacks on and on about standing up for justice, but at the heart of it all suffers from an intense, and often frightening bloodlust. Masamune Matsuoka is, in general, a very light-hearted and enjoyable character, but when he delves into the more melodramatic aspects of his character he gets a bit too depressing for my tastes. Yukimura, the third member of the team and their resident pervert, keeps the show alive thanks to his morbid demeanor and eccentric perversions. It’s the interactions and friendship between these three that allow Aoharu to work as well as it does and while the ending doesn’t actually give any significant closure to the revenge plotline (The manga is, shockingly, still ongoing even today,) it does give a hugely satisfying conclusion to the struggle these three have surrounding their ongoing friendship.
Linny: It’s not all friendship and sunshine though, as the main plot deals with the emotional trauma Matsuoka underwent prior to the first episode itself and his resulting struggle with it. The main problem I noticed was that all the drama and trauma gets really heavy handed and is laid on thick to the point where it almost feels ludicrous.These moments of intense emotion and mental issues are then followed or interjected by gags or quirky characters that end up making Aoharu feel unbalanced and jittery, instead of alleviating the dramatics. The show tries too hard to milk the trauma for all its worth and by the bazillionth discussion of it all, some viewers will find themselves mentally tuning out. The presence of the depression and trauma storyline itself isn’t an issue in and of itself but Aoharu needed to do a better job of portraying and explaining it.
Tom: When the show gets melodramatic it really loses itself. The drama isn’t peppered evenly or used to great effect, with much thrown all around like an overwhelming spice that eliminates the taste of all other ingredients. It’s frustrating because you can tell there’s something to like beneath the melodrama, but the sheer wealth of dark and edgy content holds Aoharu back. The villains themselves, Toy Gun Gun’s rival airsoft team, could’ve helped give more weight to the airsoft sequences, but are so underused that they take a backseat to the oppressive melodrama. But, maybe that’s another issue entirely, as the primary villains are dropped within the final two episodes and their story line abandoned in favor of an emotional rekindling between Tachibana and Matsuoka. There’s no closure to their plot line (perhaps unsurprising as the anime came into being just over two years into the manga’s run.) My final issue comes back to the very reason Tachibana gets wrapped up in all this in the first place. Tachibana was initially forced to join in order to pay off the damage she did to Matsuoka’s host club. It made for a compelling reason to keep Tachibana on the team, but got resolved by episode three in favor of Tachibana’s addiction to airsoft. While I agree it was the right to gradually make Tachibana enjoy airsoft, removing the compensation angle reduced the tension later on when Tachibana is finally kicked from the team. I can’t help but think how much stronger a moment that would’ve been with a double threat like that, loss of friendship and financial ruin. It could’ve been played off as a hilarious gag considering the bouts of light-hearted comedy already peppered throughout and might’ve gone a long way to easing on the melodrama.
Linny: Aoharu is all over the place, from people popping in and out randomly, to plot lines introduced and dropped abruptly without proper foreshadowing or handling. And even though I started the review saying this might appeal to fans who want a more serious BB-centric show, at the end of it all, the show is more about dealing with depression/alienation and ‘the magic of friendship’. There really aren’t that many impressive BB battles and just like a lot of its more promising story lines, a lot of those fights are resolved off screen. I’m honestly struggling to decide who I’d suggest this show to. Not comedy lovers, as the show gets progressively less cheery. Not drama lovers, as the drama is forced and clumsy. And definitely not those who want to watch amazing BB battles unfold as most battles end up getting resolved off screen or in a flash. Aoharu x Machinegun has enjoyable elements but I feel like one has to navigate through a lot of struggling material to get to them, ultimately dooming it to a forgettable existence for most audiences.
Tom: Aoharu x Machinegun misrepresents itself with its opening episodes. It seems like it’s going to be about BB gun mayhem, but it’s actually all about melodramatic friendship, abandonment issues, and the struggles of forming and keeping relationships. For people looking for character drama, even if a bit forced and melodramatic, Aoharu might be something to check out, but if you’re looking for a hardcore Airsoft anime, Aoharu just won’t deliver. Seems to be a curse with the Airsoft genre, either it gets painfully melodramatic or it’s all comedy.