Please Teacher is one of those series that I remember being popular (or at least well-known) years back, but sounded so uninteresting that I completely ignored it. Recently, a friend added it to our playlist because it was on sale and he was wondering if the hubbub was justified. Answer: I can see why it was popular and/or why it stood out from the crowd, but boy is this a mess of a fanboy romance.
The sad part is that a lot of the characters and concepts are appealing to me. The concept is an unlikely but genuine romance between a high school student with a weird disorder (Kei) who accidentally ends up married to his teacher (Mizuho, though he never calls her anything but “Sensei”). Kei’s group of friends includes a quiet girl with legitimate problems, a straightforward friend in understated romantic competition, and an awkward but substantive romance between two other friends. Even the main guy’s random problem is passably interesting—his mind and body freeze up in the face of emotional stress.
It really seems like I should like the series—unlikely romance is my favorite type. It’s even a good emotional hook to have the main character being “out of synch” on account of essentially having been in a coma for 3 years, which he hides in order to live normally as the age he appears and thinks, but technically isn’t. Interesting in part because he’s decided instead of whining (the usual anime solution) he’s going to face it head-on and vows to keep moving forward in life, no matter what. Heck, even the backstory, which it doesn’t bother to even hint at until a weird info-dump in the next-to-last episode, has some good dramatic punch—certainly reason enough for Kei to be seriously messed up. (Frankly, more messed-up than he is, which you never get to credit him for as a character, since you don’t know about it.)
I can see why people would take note of the show—it deviates widely from the norm in the anime romance department, to be sure.
Most notably, it actually goes somewhere with the romance—both the main couple and the secondary one spend time together as couples, gradually deepen their relationships, and even have actual (offscreen) sex, which you pretty much never see in these high school romantic comedies. Heck, the final montage even has Kei admiring his wife’s backside in the bath, with neither blushing nor violence—I can’t think of that ever happening in anime.
The problem is that the execution is a disaster if you care even slightly about logic and character development. The most obvious botches are that the character logic stops making any sense when it tries to up the drama in the last few episodes—it’s like the writers had a list of things that were supposed to happen, but absolutely no idea how to get them to occur. So, they just made the characters do and say things that make no internal sense, even by the already low standards of the genre.
Yes, they’re 15/16-year-olds, and teenagers are stupid, but they’re not that stupid, and even that excuse isn’t available after hammering away for almost the entire series about how Kei is mature enough to pull off a genuine marriage to an adult. Honestly, all three of us in the room when I watched it were smacking our foreheads in dismay and trying to come up with excuses to do anything but laugh at the embarrassing writing.
And then there’s the big next-to-last episode plot twist. It’s bad enough that the show didn’t bother to bring out Kei’s actual emotional hook until then—backstory dramatic enough that you might have been willing to forgive his being a simpering loser who develops some cheesy spine. And then it pulls a ridiculous, large-scale targeted amnesia twist in the last episode. I don’t know which is worse—the pathetically contrived attempt to set up a final re-committment, or that they only did anything with it for three quarters of an episode, and even then didn’t ham it up enough for it to feel like Kei was hurting inside.
Incidentally, Kei is also a terrible son—big spoiler here, but if you think about his backstory, his parents lost their daughter and their son was in a coma for 3 years, and as soon as he wakes up he abandons them to go live with an uncle and aunt because going back to school near home would be awkward. Yeah, real sensitive. We don’t even get an offhanded mention of them. Nor did he invite them to the wedding, or, so far as I can remember, even call them to tell them he got married.
The main couple in general are the series’ biggest liability.
I admit, the secondary romance is actually pretty appealing—it caught me entirely off guard for both how forthright it was and that the characters involved—the loudmouthed class clown and the meek friend—aren’t the sort who usually get any romantic drama. Even the friend who’s competing for Kei’s attention makes sense internally and acts in a relatively realistic, emotionally effective way—remarkably reserved for both the genre and this show.
The main couple, however, are paint-by-numbers fanboy fodder. Kei has interesting backstory but only slightly more personality than a simpering plushie—he’s so obviously a stand-in for the male viewer it’s pathetic. And the titular Teacher is even worse—she has absolutely no backstory or personality whatsoever, other than “alien half-breed” and “pleasant.” They do have a little chemistry, but only because they’re both paper thin and generically cute and shy. The whole “she’s an alien” thing is particularly pointless—apparently “wears glasses” and “mature” didn’t meet the quota of random fanboy fetish categories.
It’s pretty annoying when several secondary characters are far more interesting than the leads, even more so when at least one—the short, without-affect friend—gets some interesting backstory but almost no real follow-through. That added insult to injury after the incoherent stuff the screenplay forces her to do.
Don’t even get me started on the alien sub-plot: “well, she doesn’t actually have any personality, and we need a mascot, so let’s maker her an alien and give her a stupid little ship AI to make cloying noises or something.” Or that she uses the series’ catchphrase—”this is priority one” or some similar nonsense—incessantly. Or that the main couple have lived together for moths and are sleeping together, in the Biblical sense, but he still calls her “Sensei” and she addresses him like he’s a student, with -kun. Even Kyousuke in KOR wasn’t that bad. It’s obviously just to fulfill the teacher fetish, which is the point of the whole thing, but it sounds particularly absurd in some of the big romantic bits when he’s shouting “Sensei! Sensei! Sensei!”
I also liked that they show us that the aliens have the technology to precision mind-wipe an entire school to remove a single person from their memory while leaving everything else intact, yet in the first episode, when their observer is accidentally spotted while landing, the only solution she can think of is to ask him not to mention it, and then marry him when that doesn’t work. Admittedly, based on our sample, they’re all idiots and their technology is, as advertised, completely incompetent, but that’s a plot hole the show almost literally flies a spaceship through.
So far as I can tell, the whole show basically runs on Kikuko Inoue being the voice of the teacher. Combined with the attractive, cute-but-mature character design, her honey-sweet voice is so incredibly pleasant and likable that you’re almost willing to forgive the fact that the character she’s working with is essentially a tarted-up brick, and the script sounds like a badly-written dating sim.
That helped a lot, but the only thing I ended up caring about wer the secondary characters. The humor also would have been a total wash if it wasn’t for Kei’s uncle and aunt, who are offhandedly hilarious when they’re onscreen. Which isn’t nearly often enough. Heck, they’re funny enough to make you buy some of the preposterous situation comedy (or the whole marriage of convenience premise).
I did note two interesting parallels:
One is with Toradora. It’s also a series about a group of friends who develop substantive romantic relationships and have more personality than they seem to on the surface. Except everywhere Please Teacher goes bobbing for fanservice Toradora does something emotionally substantive, and where the former does ridiculously out-of-character things to force the plot along the later gets you to believe that caricatures are real people inside. The only functional similarity ends up being actual long-term romantic commitment.
The other is Strawberry Panic, which is a surprisingly similar series given how different the story is. Both have concepts and characters that sound interesting in theory, both have actual romantic plot progression and physical relationships, both save the backstory until it’s too late to make you care about the characters, both bungle the overall narrative arc, and both do completely incoherent things with the characters to get them where the writers want them. Heck, both even have the same preposterous plot twist at the same inappropriate point—they both do a random, laser-targeted amnesia drama-bomb in the last few episodes that is quickly reversed to supply a cheap-thrill romantic finale.
Bottom line is that I’ll give Please Teacher ample credit for doing unusual things with high-school romantic comedy, and having some likable and/or funny characters, but the execution is otherwise embarrassingly bad, and it feels like what it is—twelve-plus-one episodes of Hot for Teacher fanboy-fodder. (There, I finally worked in my Van Halen reference.)