Anime Series Impressions – Bernard-jou Iwaku

What can be said about the short series, Bernard-jou Iwaku (What Miss Bernard Said) that I haven’t really mentioned previously? In the past few months, I have had all the time to finish this series, but it was not until recently that I finally finished the series. The titular Miss Bernard (real name – Machida Sawako) is an ordinary schoolgirl who is an avid reader – or that’s what she wants others to think. In reality, she’s a stand-in for every person who has once said, ‘Yeah, that book, man the ending was quite unexpected’ despite only looking up the synopsis on Wikipedia or other internet sites.

I was quite harsh in my review of episode 1 of this short anime, feeling that not only was just continuously throwing book/author names out into tiny unreadable text boxes disingenuous to the literary works themselves, there was barely any characterization to the characters themselves. Alas, although we never find out why Machida is nicknamed Miss Bernard (or even see her being called by that nickname at all, though this point is alluded to), I’ve since then attributed some of the shortcomings to its format as a three-minute diversion and accepted it for what it is.

After doing that, this series isn’t too bad, although still quite average. There are four characters who show up in this series, Machida; Kanbayashi, a serious SF-fan who represents the stereotypical book elitist; Endou-kun, the straight-faced boy who just wants to read silently in the library, and Hasegawa, the librarian.  Despite Endou-kun being the only male character in the show, and the person who narrates the opening scene of Episode 1, and while Hasegawa holds a crush on Endou-kun, together they are quickly forgotten in favor of focusing on Machida and Kanbayashi’s friendship. They are so superficial to the show that it’s hilarious to see them appear in the final few seconds of the final episode as if this show really cared about them at all.

(It really brings to mind the continuously dwindling screentime of the ‘main character’ of another gag series, Daily School of High School Boys.)

However, the show was right to focus on Machida and Kanbayashi as soon as it realized that an ensemble cast was not going to work out. There is a genuine friendship formed in the later episodes where Machida does end up reading a few books recommended by Kanbayashi, although she keeps her non-committal attitude; Kanbayashi on the other hand accepts that not everyone is as serious about reading as she is and accepts Machida’s company for what it is. Their friendship is also helped by the fact that most of the show’s constrained budget is used in these last few episodes, jumping up from the ‘talking mouth slideshow’ of the first half.

Beyond the characters, there’s also the sort of personalities of people they represent. I wonder how many people are watching this series from a Machida perspective? How about from Kanbayashi’s? Certainly, I flip-flopped between both – books like Grapes of Wrath and poems like ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ and Sturgeon’s Law, I read and was quite fully passionate about, much like Kanbayashi. I recommended books I liked very much quite fervently to secondary school friends, who would end up just not talking to me about books, much like her as well. Yet, I was more like Machida in university, somehow coasting into a 2:1 degree result half through the help of Wikipedia and online book discussion boards… Either way, SF books were hard for me to get into and I’ve not read quite a significant amount, so while I imagine that knowing every reference would have been its own kind of pleasure, I just let the references I didn’t know breeze by, which alleviated some of my issues with the show just throwing out references.

In the end, the show has quite a bit to like. While the show focused on the more ugly sides of passionate readers in Kanbayashi early on, thankfully she brings some heart to the show, so that references feel more like a loving nod rather than a stock joke. Machida is a perfect foil to her and seeing them become close friends made for a rather touching short series. It would have been better for them to be the only characters in the show though, as the bait-and-switch of Endou and Hasegawa’s love story was quite jarring. I ended up feeling quite strongly their lack of presence as a result. Still, no matter what perspective you’re coming into this show from, Machida’s or Kanbayashi’s, for it’s total runtime (a bit longer than half an hour) it’s quite the fun character-based short series.

Any person who loves books has been here.

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