Don’t get too confused! This series is about survival games that use airsoft guns for sport. But since I like making things a little more complicated, there’s more to it than fun and games. After all, this series explores the psychology of these kinds of games as well as a critique on the assumptions of gender roles for those who play them.
I will be discussing these aspects of the series, but my main focus will be about passion and determination that is involved in hobbies like survival games. After all, simply enjoying what you do gets messier when other people with different ideas are involved, kind of like discovering other people’s opinions about anime, right? Sigh.
But I’m not that heartless. This is a comedy series, so I will continue to keep this review fun. And if you don’t like what I have to say, then go back to reading your erotic fictions or something.
Aoharu x Machinegun (Aoharu x Kikanjū) follows the life of Hotaru Tachibana, a high school girl who prefers dressing like a boy. Always following her own sense of justice, she feels empowered enough to challenge the boys at everything, even if she’s bound to lose. But when she discovers that her obnoxious neighbor Masamune Matsuoka has been mistreating one of her friends, Hotaru’s life will change when she challenges him.
Matsuoka may be a professional host who makes the ladies swoon all the time, but he’s got another interest. And when Hotaru duels Matsuoka in a survival game of their own, she’s hooked!
Masamune Matsuoka and their erotic fiction writing neighbor Tōru Yukimura have a survival game team called Toy Gun Gun, and Hotaru wants to join. But joining them isn’t so easy, for they have very high standards for their members. For one, no girls are allowed on their team, which is already a problem. But in the world of survival games, Toy Gun Gun aims to be on top. And even though Matsuoka and Yukimura are convinced that Hotaru’s a boy, there’s no doubting that she is still… well… a novice.
If the names I’ve mentioned somehow bring you back to whatever you learned from the Sengoku period which I have talked extensively about in many other anime reviews, that isn’t an accident. The anime even goes so far as to tell an inside joke in one line about it!
It’s no secret then that Hotaru (Ginchiyo) Tachibana, Masamune (Date) Matsuoka, Tōru Yukimura (Sanada), Nagamasa (Azai) Midori, Takatora (Tōdō) Fujimoto, and Ichi (Oda) Akabane, as well as a few Bakumatsu period samurai like Sōji (Okita) Kamenashi or Toshizō (Hijikata) Usagi, have their namesakes.
While all of those names are joke references to the characters and their personalities as portrayed in other samurai dramas, it has another effect on what’s at stake in Aoharu x Machinegun. Either these survival game combatants are fighting with the highest of bushidō honors, or they are just batshit crazy to fight each other!
Now I don’t know very much about airsoft tournaments, but I do have friends who play. From what I understand, the rules are pretty much based on an honor system. You run, you hide, you shoot, and when you get hit by one of the many BBs out there, you announce that you’ve been hit and go back to the safety zone or whatever. But when your adrenaline is pumping and there’s a lot going on as it is, chances are that you might not even notice that you got hit or you refuse to give up anyway.
Maybe having an honor system works when your main purpose in playing survival games is to have fun. But these players aren’t just in it for fun. This is a competition after all. So to ensure that the casuals are separated from the hardcore players, psychological trauma is totally fair play.
This becomes the biggest challenge for Hotaru, but also for Matsuoka. After all, the whole reason Toy Gun Gun was in retirement for the past couple of years (and why they have a grudge against Hoshishiro) was because their previous member had quit playing survival games after she suffered from a traumatic experience. To add insult to injury, this is also why Matsuoka made up some bogus rule that girls aren’t allowed to join their team.
I suppose it’s understandable why Matsuoka seems to have a soft spot for the ladies. He makes a living off of being a host after all. But where Matsuoka seems to be very nice to girls, he refuses to see them get hurt the same way that his teammate did.
I’ll try not to spoil what Matsuoka’s reason is, but it ultimately boils down to saving face. Matsuoka wants to make a good impression on girls, so he doesn’t want them to see that he is kind of cowardly. For the most part, he’s pretty good at maintaining his image, but there is one thing that he wasn’t counting on.
We may know that Hotaru Tachibana is a girl, but Matsuoka and Yukimura don’t. And even though Hotaru is still a novice, they let her join simply because she’s tolerable enough to fight against Dr. Midori and his team. She has the spirit, the passion, the determination to win, and who could say “no” to that demonic look in her eyes?
But like many other harsh lessons in life, having spirit isn’t enough. Toy Gun Gun is still not ready to fight against a team like Hoshishiro, and it seems like Hotaru takes the brunt of this fact in their one battle against them.
But where Matsuoka failed to see Hotaru’s potential, she notices his weakness. And after learning about the truth of what happened to Toy Gun Gun from her enemies, she found a way to convince them that she is the only one that can be on their team.
Like Matsuoka, Hotaru has multiple sides as well. But unlike Matsuoka, she’s not afraid to hide them (well, sometimes). Hotaru may be a demon in combat, but she’s still fighting for her own sense of justice, particularly against misogyny. But rather than exploit Matsuoka by destroying his so-called “manhood,” her solution is to show that there is nothing to hide. And perhaps if Matsuoka wasn’t so adamant about saving face, maybe he would have a fighting chance!
But of course, this isn’t some heart warming romance or whatever. This is comedy. And even though she has her ways to subtly expose others’ weaknesses, Hotaru’s kind of a hypocrite about it, too. But rather than that being a fault in her character, she slowly musters the courage to let her teammates know that she’s a girl… maybe.
Then again, it’s possible that Matsuoka and Yukimura have already picked up on the signs and just haven’t realized it yet. Who knows? Maybe if you read the manga, it’ll be different. But this is a review for the anime adaptation, so I’ll just leave you wondering with a clever punchline instead.
So if you’re looking for another series about survival games that plays with gender roles in a funny way, check out Aoharu x Machinegun.