“What am I supposed to do?”
“What are these feelings?”
“Is this really okay?”
These kinds of thoughts are nothing particularly unique. Most every teenager gets confused by their first experiences of love and lust. Being new to their bodies, new to relationships, and new to lust, teenage sexuality is incredibly tough. The teenage experience, as a whole, is one of transience, and alienation, and when these feelings involves another there is a whole other layer of mystery.
Teenage sexuality is simply a mess. When everything about sex is treated as being this super special and unique thing, the very idea of it can often feel overbearing and scary. You have no clue what you should be doing and are very certain there is a single correct way that you are missing out on. Media in general has a very rose coloured depiction of romance and sex. Often depicting them as opposing ideals in a relationship and as something everyone is supposed to just get. You are supposed to get into a relationship at this age. You are supposed to go on these kinds of dates. You are supposed to act like this. When teenagers experience and feel things even slightly different from these narratives it can often leave them feeling frustrated, inhuman and gross.
Mysterious Girlfriend X is a manga about these adolescent feelings of sexuality. More than that, Mysterious Girlfriend X is a manga denying that ‘correct romance’ narrative. There is no proper confession, no hand holding and no ultimate kiss to encapsulate the pinnacle of fictional adolescent romance. Everything about that standard expected romance arc is looked at and then torn down. While consent, distance, and empathy are still valued and important parts of the relationships depicted in this manga everything else is somewhat abstracted. This isn’t a story about clunky and confusing sex, this is a story about clunky and confusing saliva tasting.
Tsubaki Akira, like any other teenage boy, is curious about sex. The introduction to this manga, and from that our protagonist, states this. He wants to know what kind of girl he’ll have his first time with. We are then introduced to a transfer student, Urabe Mikoto. A girl with long bangs covering her eyes. An unknowable girl. Within these first few pages we have the core relationship and focus of the manga presented to us. This is a manga about this boy’s first sexual experiences with this enigmatic girl. This girl who falls out her chair laughing in the middle of class. This girl who sleeps through lunch and refuses to talk to her classmates. If Tsubaki is presented to us as the Normal, she is very much the Abnormal. What ends up binding these two together is when Tsubaki finds her asleep at her desk after school and then proceeds to wake her up. He sees her face properly for the first time, and ends up tasting her drool. Its sweet.
Tsubaki is aware his actions are wrong and gross. But like a teenager’s first sexual experience he also finds them thrilling. That night Tsubaki dreams of him being with Urabe. It’s a fantastical dream, depicted by in a two page spread. Children’s toys fuse with sprawling architecture. Sexually charged billboards litter the bottom of the page, whilst a singular train carriage runs across the top. Blending modern and traditional structures expresses the transient nature of Tsubaki’s crush. For now it is both childish and adult in nature. Tiny rabbits wander the streets dressed ready for work. One holds the disembodied head of a doll. Scifi satellite dishes adorn the walls of the archaic skyscrapers. The town is alive and in motion: it, like Tsubaki, will not remain as it is for long.
It is from this starting point that they start dating. They don’t kiss to affirm this, instead Tsubaki cuts up a picture of a past crush. They are moving forward in their own way. They share their physical feelings with one and other through drool. Urabe gives her drool to Tsubaki whilst she’s naked in front of him, and he can feel her arousal, her fear, and her thrills. It’s raw. It’s alien. And it’s undeniably sexual. Whilst Urabe remains as confusing as ever to Tsubaki they are still dating. He doesn’t know why she keeps scissors in her underwear, why she’s so athletic and antisocial, or even what her family is like. But that’s okay. They aren’t doing anything a boyfriend and girlfriend are supposed to do but they are still learning and exploring each other. As they share their feelings with each other via drool they learn as much about themselves as they do each other. Urabe blushes and feels embarrassed after ‘feeling’ Tsubaki’s sex dream about her. Tsubaki learns to not second guess himself and their relationship as he ‘feels’ her happiness and embarrassment over his compliments. They have each other to help them understand and appreciate their feelings.
For a manga so dedicated to exploring teenage sexuality it is perhaps quite surprising that they never go beyond tasting each other’s drool. Their relationship does develop from a raw physical one of drool tasting into one of mutual emotional support, it is still a high-school relationship. They have all the time in the world to experience all the wonders of physical intimacy when they are older. But this shared time, of teenage high-school dabbling is something they can only have now. The mangaka, Ueshiba Riichi, spent over ten years creating this relationship and developing it, yet, in the manga itself, only a year passes. Mysterious Girlfriend X may have disappointed me by not exploring more than it did, but in exploring that single precise moment of teenagers being teenagers it has certainly distinguished itself as quite the special manga.
Mysterious Girlfriend X is available to read on Crunchyroll.com, all screenshots were taken from there.