It’s back to school for Mahiro, which results in some of the most wholesome moments in the series yet. At first, I wasn’t keen on this plot development, even if it was the logical next step in the story, if only because I’ve seen a million slice of life anime about a quartet of cute girls in a school before. But even as this series treads familiar ground, it does so with a firm focus on Mahiro’s identity-related baggage, lending these episodes their unique comedic flavor.
So far, Onimai has dealt mainly with the gender aspect of Mahiro’s altered identity, but reverting to a younger age is also a key part of his return to school. Mahiro was implied to be university-aged or older before the transition, but in terms of his emotional maturity, middle school seems about right for him. He fits in quickly with Momiji’s group of friends, and an amusing skit at the start of episode 7 reveals that he’s not breezing through the tests either. It’s ironic that Studio Bind‘s previous series, Mushoku Tensei, also featured a de-aged protagonist; nevertheless, Onimai comes across entirely differently because Mahiro’s adult mind does not grant him any precocious mannerisms.
There’s one joke in episode 7 where Mahiro’s actual age comes into play, and amusingly it takes place in a scene where he completely misreads the social cues like an actual 13-year-old. When he spots two boys talking about Lost Quest (an obvious riff on Dragon Quest), he eagerly gushes about his favorite entry in the series… which came out before the boys were even born. What makes this scene for me is how uncomfortable the boys were even before the age punchline. Because of his masculine-coded interests, Mahiro thinks boys are “easier” to converse with when he’s really just talking at them rather than with them. It’s an unexpectedly accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be a socially awkward geek girl. The fact that the boys end up crushing on Mahiro even after all that is also hilariously true to life—everyone is fumbling through life at that age.
Admittedly, not all the jokes in these two episodes are creative or make sense on a characterization level. For example, it was a little nonsensical to see Mahiro instinctively try to use a urinal in the boys’ toilets in episode 6 when he was shown using a female public toilet in an earlier episode. Momiji’s friends Asahi and Miyo also don’t have particularly memorable personalities. The final segment in episode 7 revolves around Miyo’s catastrophically bad cooking—a played-out anime trope if I’ve ever seen one.
Unexpectedly, what could have been a series of stereotypical jokes becomes the episode highlight. The girls work together to prevent Miyo’s dark matter cooking from manifesting, and it is a sweet demonstration of friendship and personal growth. Mahiro made cookies with his friends, and they tasted good! The simple joy of the accomplishment radiates off him at the end; it’s hard not to go “D’awww” at something like that.