Episode 5 is… hard to watch, largely because Ayako’s story feels drawn out of real-world struggles with disordered eating and diet culture that are afflicting teenagers both in Japan and across the world, which are often born from institutions that seek to regulate and discipline female bodies. I cried when I read this arc in the prequel manga that Kageki Shojo!! draws from, and I teared up here as Ayako tried to do her best, but the floodgates well and truly opened when Mr. Onodera knocked on Ayako’s door and reminded her of her worth because… who hasn’t needed to be told that they matter, that they have something to be proud of, in spite of their body?
It’s not often that you see such a candid exploration of abuse in anime: it’s even less often that you see someone actually have to pay penance of sorts for being a problem. And like I said, it’s definitely not perfect: Ai is still living with her trauma, Mr. Stalker Otaku still retriggered her and ultimately can’t undo stalking her even if it was for an apology, and there’s a ways to go before Ai is able to reconcile with her own past and ongoing trauma.
I have high hopes for Kageki Shoujo!!, and feel confident that my gut feeling that this will be Summer 2021’s strongest show will play out like a grand ballet: fluidly, thrillingly, and beautifully week to week. That’s thanks to PINE JAM‘s animation, as well as the stellar voice acting from Sayaka Senbongi (Sarasa) and Yumiri Hanamori (Ai), both of whom convey just who these two girls are at their core. Those elements, combined with the other voice actresses, the music, animation, and sound design, really elevated Kageki Shoujo!! in my eyes, and make it an easy, “Why aren’t you watching this?!” kind of recommendation.