Image source: 「はじめてのギャル」TVアニメ公式☆‏ on Twitter

In Japanese society almost everyone puts on two faces. But it’s not because Japanese people are insincere. It’s because they want to maintain group harmony. And My First Girlfriend is a Gal shows us why.

The high school boy Junichi Hashiba really wants to lose his virginity. As a final measure by his close friends, Junichi is forced to ask the girl Yukana Yame to date him. Believing the answer will be no, he’s surprised when she accepts. But, their relationship is no cakewalk, as Junichi and Yukana put on very different faces depending on who they’re interacting with.

In My First Girlfriend is a Gal we see many of the characters have two different faces. In other words, depending on who they’re talking to, they have very different personalities. Yet, the idea of two faces isn’t uncommon in Japanese society. In fact there are specific terms associated with it: honne and tatemae (one’s private and public face). It can be confusing navigating this at first, but honne and tatemae actually severe a vital purpose within Japanese society. They maintain the harmony of the group. And all throughout the series, we see these principles come to light.

We need look no further than the protagonist and heroine Junichi and Yukana to see honne and tatemae at play. With Junichi his honne is him wanting to lose his virginity. We see this consistently play out on screen when the personifications of his different personalities duke it out in his imagination. Often it climaxes with his libido saying, “Give in to your urges.” This gives us an easy grasp of Junichi’s true feelings; it’s our baseline in understanding him. Yet, even Junichi realizes giving into his urges ruins the atmosphere of a group dynamic. So, he takes on a tatemae that’s acceptable by broader society.

Image source: 「はじめてのギャル」TVアニメ公式☆‏ on Twitter

For instance, in the sixth episode he and his group of friends are playing a party game called King Game. The rules are simple: everybody draws numbered lots and the King lot commands one of the other lots to do something. In this scenario Junichi’s male friends realize he wants to kiss Yukana. So, they rig the game in their favor so they all get the chance to kiss one of the girls. But, rather than give into his temptations, Junichi recognizes his personal wants—his honne—aren’t what’s best for the group. So, he mixes up the planned order of the lots. This action isn’t done out of spite, but rather to maintain the party atmosphere of the group. More importantly, though, it makes sure the girls aren’t doing something they really don’t want to do. Although this means Junichi suffers some consequences, the mood and harmony of the group is never disturbed. And in Japanese society, this is very important.

Image source: 「はじめてのギャル」TVアニメ公式☆‏ on Twitter

Yukana’s, in turn, is actually very different from Junichi’s display of honne and tatemae. For her, it’s actually very subtle in that she puts on the façade of a headstrong and mood-making “gal,” but has an innocent personal side hidden beneath that comes out every so often. Thus, for Yukana the tatemae she presents is tied up in the appearance and stigma of a “gal,” but her honne is radically different.

One of the best examples of this is the third episode. We see Yukana put up the front of a “gal” with her interactions with her close friend Ranko Honjō and Junichi by setting a cheerful mood. Yukana is in essence creating and maintaining the harmony between the three characters. But, in the final few minutes of the episode, we actually see Yukana’s honne when she becomes pouty at the fact Ranko has been invited to Junichi’s house and she still hasn’t. It’s a carefully crafted scene because without seeing Yukana’s tatemae beforehand, seeing the group dynamic and harmony fall apart loses its impact.

For a series about a high school boy who wants to lose his virginity, My First Girlfriend is a Gal does an amazing job of showing the Japanese principles of honne and tatemae and its relation to group harmony.

My First Girlfriend is a Gal is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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