What's better than being a hardcore otaku? Having a hardcore otaku bestie, that's what. This is the exact blessing of Kai Nakamura, who spends his weekday afternoons playing video games and reading manga with Jun Miyakawa for company. It's a good thing he's got going, but plenty of people in their circle don't think the same. They disapprove heavily of how close they are and will go as far as beating up Kai or putting Jun under house arrest to pry them apart, all because Jun's one hot tamale of a gal.
Two types of scenes exist inside She's the Cutest, But We're Just Friends: Jun and Kai hanging out and Jun and Kai mingling with other human beings, and both give me mixed feelings. Starting with the former, it's strangely refreshing to see a main character just chilling and playing games. In a medium where otaku reign as kings and queens, most of their otakuness is referential, and while characters like Fumiya Tomozaki do play video games on a daily basis, his talks on his favorite title are analytical rather than passionate. Kai and Jun, on the other hand, will compose love songs on this manga and that anime, and in just one scene they show more love for a video game than most protagonists do across entire series.
The fun even leaks into the prose, with the narration delivering fun witticisms in response to what the characters are doing. For instance, Jun at one point reads a manga with a pillow beneath her stomach, and the text quips that she's engaged maximum comfy mode. It's not the same cheer and fun that Sexiled has, where even the characters are in on the nonsensical shenanigans, but it does inject life into the story when it might otherwise stagnant.
For all the boundless adoration the pair devote to their hobbies, listening to them exchange rapid-fire repartee on a title I've never played makes me feel like an awkward third wheel sitting forgotten in the corner. Watching a Let's Play or a Twitch stream is equally as passive, but there's a quality of hanging out with a buddy with either of those platforms that She's the Cutest, But We're Just Pals lacks. I did say that Kai and Jun's passion comes out in spades, but I can't help but shake the feeling that their conversations aren't just trying to convince me that they're passionate. My dialogues with pals over mutually enjoyed titles consist mostly of exchanging stories of our experiences rather than zealous declarations of wanting to wife a particular loli.
Moving on to the other half of the content now, which is where all the conflict sits. Since Kai has a penis and Jun has a vagina, everybody in their social circle assumes they're using their differing genitals to engage in maximum crotch stimulation mode, and nobody approves. The number of opponents is pretty vast, with the antagonist rotating out just about each chapter, and the book does an adequate job of coercing you into booing them as they prove to be an earnest threat to the pair's relationship. It was always a legitimate question of mine as to how someone as lacking in social capital as Kai would fend off all the cool kids.
However, my reasons for disliking the antagonists stems from them being nothing more than a cast of knobheads. Their beef with Kai is that they think he's shoving his beef inside Jun, but anytime either of them denies such meat storage, they plug their fingertips in their ears and go, “I can't hear you lalalalalalalalala!” If the story had stopped at the bullies hating on Kai out of jealously, I would've settled with that, but when her friends and older brother show the same disapproval, it demands serious discussions pertaining to their lack of intellect and warped perceptions on women.
Jun's got this haughty friend whom I'll call Bitch McQueen, and Bitch McQueen's whole quibble with Kai is that he “doesn't deserve” Jun because [insert arbitrarily contrived reason here]. She tests him by observing his behavior when he joins her friend group for karaoke and then chides him when he doesn't have fun. I'm sorry, Bitch McQueen, but you were the host. Isn't it up to you to entertain your guests? “You should've pretended that you were having fun even though you were bored out of your skull,” she essentially tells Kai. What kind of sense is that? That's like when a comedian gets mad at an audience because they didn't laugh at his unfunny joke.
What's worse is when Jun's eldest brother comes between them. At first, he's cool with Kai, but as soon as he catches them in a brief hug, suddenly, he wants to castrate him. The story paints him as just an “overprotective” older sibling, and there's nothing wrong with looking out for a sibling and being weary of their love life, but his overbearingness basically says, “I place no trust in my little sister's romantic judgment.” Yet any hypocrisy from his having a wife, who has relatives of her own, is lost on him.
A surprising trait of Kai's is that, despite his exorbitant devotion to games and such, there's some wit bouncing round in his brain-box. However, he only puts this wit on display when debating Jun's brother, breaking down his arguments and revealing them for the hot air they are. It wasn't the best deconstruction of a stance I've seen, but it was a certainly a show worth a ticket. Yet, despite this hidden talent, he doesn't whip it out when Bitch McQueen's hounding him or when he's dealing with bullies behind the school. For that latter, he comes off as just the opposite, obstinately bellowing “'I refuse!” every time he gets decked in the eyebrow.
Now that I've gotten all the side characters out of the way, let's discuss Jun and Kai, because their relationship is interesting, or could be interesting. While I'll threateningly wave a steel-cast baseball bat at anyone who accuses the duo of touring the Down Under, they don't make it easy to defend them when they go cuddling beneath the blankets. Despite being one soul inhabiting two bodies, Kai and Jun have their moments where they get physically intimate like lovers would. In one scene, Jun turns to Kai and asks, “Wanna touch my boobies?” and consensus is met under the pretense that they're “friends.” Maybe I just have the habit of befriending nuns, but none of my pals go around feeling each other up, and if they do, I'm never invited.
Unresolved sexual tension is a theme I had my fingers crossed for going into this volume. It's easy enough for two people to proclaim to be the best of buddies and nothing more, but at some point, nature is likely to sidle up to one of them and whisper in their ear, “Ya see that fine specimen of human being over there? Wouldn't you just love to strip them naked and hop on/in their junk?” Human relationships can be remarkably simple or remarkably complicated, and part of the territory of teenagehood is contending with burgeoning sexuality. What I want from future installments is for Kai and Jun to eventually question their occasional bouts of softcore friskiness, because there's a good conversation to be had there, when you've got a boy and a girl looking to keep their boundaries in the friendzone but who might want to shatter through that into a more intimate zone. Otherwise, these fondlings aren't likely to be more than the series being unable to control its own sexual urges.
She's the Cutest, But We're Just Compadres is fun when it's bestowing a character with the moniker of Annoying AF Momoko but annoying in its own right when it comes to character writing. It doesn't have a complete handle on its couple of great traits, so the quality flip-flops, and it gives me chills that the nonstop opposition to their relationship might be a series theme rather than a volume theme. Despite its imperfections, it accomplished a rare feat, which is to make me look forward to the next volume by placing Kai on a precipice after an associate asks him out. Can't wait to review it, when I complain about everybody accusing Kai of cheating on Jun because they've shoved their fingers so far into their ears that they've impaled their brains, dropping their collective IQ to about 47.