This is going to be a bit of a different character dive than my previous ones, in that this is really a response to a excellent post from Yomu at Umai Yomu Anime Blog who has been doing a wonderful series of posts examining each of the girls from the hit anime of last year: Rascal Does not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. More specifically this post is going to talk about the character of Kaede Azusagawa and provide what, I think at least, is a different viewing of the character from a more meta perspective than from the plot itself.
If you haven’t already, I HIGHLY suggest you check out Yomu’s post on Kaede and all the girls from Bunny Girl Senpai, as they are well thought out looks into the characters from frankly, the best show of the year last year. This post wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that excellent piece of work.
Anyway, after the cut let’s take a character dive into one of the main girls of Rascal Does not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai: Kaede Azusagawa.
Looking the character and story of Kaede, I couldn’t help but feel massive similarities to how I felt about the character of Rem from ReZero, in that I felt Rem, while having her own agency and story in the plot of ReZero, also was unintentionally making a commentary on a certain aspect of anime characters and fandom. Now ReZero in my eyes is a masterpiece because it’s story is very much the take-down of the Isekai hero, Rem’s involvement didn’t feel the the writers trying to make a point, but instead a happy coincidence that I felt really stuck a nerve. Yet while Rem seems like a meta commentary on the presence of the “anime waifu girlfriend” Kaede feels very much like that a commentary on something just as popular and just as beloved.
The Anime Little Sister, or “Imouto.”
For those of you who may not know, the little sister character has all but dominated anime in recent years. Little sisters are frankly so insanely popular and beloved, move so much merchandise, and get so much fan love that some have argued it has an unhealthy stranglehold on the medium as a whole. Very much like how Isekai have swept the entire genre, the little sister character has had such an impact that whether you love it or hate it, it’s presence is going to be felt. Simply put, there are many characters who we must always “protect”
So it was interesting to me as I watched Bunny Girl Senpai and the story of Kaede unfold, that it felt very much like a commentary on how the Anime Imouto is inherently a flawed and fictitious concept, or at the very least throwing a bit of shade on the concept. Kaede’s story of retreating into a insulated bubble because of bullying and her overall regression into basically a little girl (which is covered in great depth in the post Yomu has done above) feels like a point was trying to be made (however unintentional) about how that little sister is probably unhealthy for a person.
When we see Kaede throughout the story, she is pretty much the Anime Imouto personified. Insanely cute, meek to a fault, always dressed in cute and kawaii outfits, and speaks only in third person. Before her part in the story comes into the full spotlight, Kaede is basically the stories walking meme generation and the character who all the fans instantly fell in love with and wanted to protect. Like ReZero’s Rem, she felt almost too good to be true, a perfect storm of everything that anime fans want in an Imouto that I felt there had to be SOMETHING up.
I think there was.
By the end of the story of Kaede, we see that she has split herself into two personalities as a result of being unable to deal with the trauma of her bullying, and that this current Kaede (so lovingly called Panda Kaede by Yomu) has been literally pasted over the original Kaede (or Old Kaede) to act as that self defense mechanism. It is only when Sakuta helps her take those first steps back into the real world that we see Panda Kaede vanish and be replaced again with Old Kaede who is a more normal and adjusted human being and begins to return to her old life once again.
I do think, that the story of Kaede was trying to make a point on the Anime Imouto in a sense that Panda Kaede was never a self-sustaining human being, that she was unrealistic and not authentic. That her ability to function completely independently from Sakuta was going to be impossible. Basically having to re-raise his sister all by himself, it was more than evident to me that despite all her cuteness, her adorableness, and her sheer little sister-ness; Kaede or Sakuta were never, EVER going to be able to keep that going and still be real normal people, and that she needed to put it side in order to return to her life.
The Anime Imouto Kaede and the Normal Human Kaede were simply unable to coexist as one person and for her to be fully healed, that side of Kaede had to vanish, to literally die. I think that, Kaede’s transformation from a normal girl, to a Anime Imouto, and back to that normal girl was trying to tell viewers that the Anime little sisters we love are only pieces of fiction and that such a thing cannot really exist in our world. They are only figments of fantasy and imagination and that being one just not feasible, nor is it a really healthy thing at all. I think that if people who wanted Panda Kaede to remain around were in some cases, not aware that that state of being was not allowing her to accept her trauma and re-integrate herself back into the world.
Now is that what Kaede’s story arc is actually about? Some great tear down of the Anime Imouto trope? Honestly? Probably not. It’s more a story about dealing with trauma and moving on from it. Yet I couldn’t help as I watched it to feel that there was a message unintentionally being sent about the Anime Imouto and how we shouldn’t put too much stock in the trope, or at least it was a bit of pie thrown in the fact of a trope that has domainted this industry. Could it be more likely that I am absolutely 100% talking out of my ass? That seems more likely.
Rascal Does not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai was the anime of the year last year for me, because it was able to tell realistic stories about teenagers without coming off as forced, cliched, pandering, or trite. Kaede’s story overall was probably one of the most effective for all those reasons, but I also think there was something else in there that people may have missed. I adore the Anime Imouto and I don’t think that is going to change, but I also enjoy a great examination of a trope when it’s done with love. I don’t know if Kaede Azusagawa was that examination, but it was the vibe I got from it.