I initially had no plans of picking up Sanrio Boys anytime soon.
The first episode premiered about a week ago, and regardless of my habit of starting series only when they’re over, I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy watching twenty-five minutes worth of Sanrio commercials. Yes, this, despite myself. The trailer didn’t reveal much in terms of premise, and even then, it struck me as a hard sell. Are they meant to be personifications of Sanrio characters, or would this series take an otome game turned anime approach?
It was only when my sister – my sister who, for those of you who know her, barely acknowledges my existence let alone blood relationship to her – asked me, outright asked me, to watch it that I actually decided to give it a shot. Pagbigyan, so to speak.
Well, color me surprised – or, in this case, multiple shades of pastel.
There are spoilers for the first episode from here on end! (But, just the first episode. I have yet to watch the second, which has just been released at the time of this writing, but I’ll definitely avail of it soon!)
The first few minutes gave me strong Ouran High School Host Club vibes. I loved that series with a strong and sometimes disproportionate love, with all its fourth wall breaking and self-deprecating self-reflexivity, and Sanrio Boys piqued my interest on this approach alone. The series knows what it is, might as well capitalize on it.
The first episode centers on Kouta Hasegawa. He is in high school, and a boy, but holds a particular fondness for Sanrio’s Pom Pom Purin. But, because he is in high school, and a boy, this is something that he feels the need to keep on the down low.
The episode reveals his Sanrio origin story, so to speak, showing how his love for the little yellow dog is deeply intertwined with his close relationship with his grandmother.
The first episode was a sucker punch to the throat, depicting through juxtaposition the stark and polarizing differences between the warmth and acceptance of Kouta’s family versus the judgment and bullying he experienced in the public eye, all because he, as a boy, happened to enjoy the cute comfort of a stuffed toy. As Kouta entered his turbulent teen years, we, the audience, experience heartbreak when we realize that societal pressures finally gets the better of him. He reaches the age where he feels the need to fit in and belong, and he rejects all his Pom Pom Purin and isolates himself from his grandmother, blaming her for getting him into it in the first place.
We see Kouta struggle with his pride and his shame, his need to apologize versus his need to keep a front. Both feelings are valid and extremely understandable; anyone who’s liked anything they’re “not supposed to” like knows these conflicting sides very well. He wants to apologize, he wants to make amends, but how and where to start? He negotiates with himself, telling himself that he’s ready and, a few minutes later, reneges. This goes on for an extended period of time, until, one day, she passes away. There is no resolution, only a ten minute reprieve in which I pause the watching and live tweeting process because I did not sign up for this emotional blackmail.
Of course, the episode cuts to a fan service shot of a too-ripped-for-his-age high school boy in a shower with a strategically placed shampoo bottle, so all is well.
The first episode introduces two more characters, Yuu Mizuno in greater detail and Shunsuke Yushino more briefly. They are brought into Kouta’s life when he happens upon a dropped keychain in the slats of the locker room floor.
Yuu is a lover of My Melody and proud of it. The pink and purple keychain he carries around features the little hooded bunny in the front and a photo of himself and Shunsuke on the back – obligatory yihee, because that’s it, that’s the show.
I kid, it’s not.
Yuu is shown as a social butterfly who isn’t at all shy about his love for My Melody. Shunsuke, it is soon revealed, harbors the same love bordering on reverence for Hello Kitty.
They call themselves the Sanrio Boys, and in that moment, Kouta finds his people.
The first episode closes emotional montage of beautiful boys in various states of struggle and sadness, with all the running into sunsets and falling of glistening tears that anime is known for. “I’m pretty sure this was the moment, the moment my youth began to be colored by a shining light that it didn’t have before,” narrates Kouta. “Our story begins.”
This narrative of coming together is, if you can get past the product placement and fan service that rival each other in shamelessness, what I believe to be the core of Sanrio Boys.
Sanrio Boys is surprisingly substantial for what it is, surprisingly more substantial than how it initially presents itself. I am reminded, however mildly, of the initial draw of Yuri!!! on ICE. The first three episodes roped the audience in with typical flirtation tropes and Victor Nikiforov’s bare bottom, only to be gutted with complexities and depth episode after episode after that. If they play their cards right, – and let’s be real, when does Sanrio ever get anything wrong – Sanrio Boys can very much well be a heartwarming story of self-love and self-acceptance, and of finding those who help bring you closer to the truest, most authentic expression of yourself.
And, if it helps tap into the highly lucrative and relatively affluent market of fujoshi and female otaku and sell a ludicrous, record-breaking amount of Sanrio merchandise along the way, why not, right?
(Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an episode two to watch and live tweet about. When it comes to social media, I’m most active on Twitter!)