More often than not, the new anime season has a surprise. It could be a highly anticipated show that ends up dropping the ball in unexpected ways; it could also be a show no one was paying much attention to that ended up being unexpectedly funny, thoughtful, or otherwise high quality. Last year had a number of the latter sort, such as Osomatsu-san and Maria the Virgin Witch. Winter 2016 has been going pretty much as expected – the shows everyone expected to be good are good, and the ones generally expected to be crap are. This season’s biggest surprise is Please Tell Me! Galko-chan, a short series made up of seven-minute episodes. Based on the promotional art – specifically, the main character’s enormous breasts vacuum-packed into her cardigan – it looked to be an unremarkable fan service show. However, the positive word of mouth it was getting after the first episode intrigued me, and I decided to check it out despite my better judgment. I’m glad I did, because rather than perverse, male-oriented comedy, I got a charming series about three teenage girls frankly discussing their bodies without shying away from the grosser parts of the human experience.
The show focuses on three friends named Galko, Otako, and Ojou chatting about various things, often of an anatomical nature. The girls are all named after the personality types they more or less fall into: Galko is named for the flashy fashion-oriented gyaru subculture, wears bright makeup, and is friendly and outgoing; Otako is quiet and loves to read and watch anime; and Ojou is sweet but sheltered by her wealthy parents, so she often seems naive. The three, given their disparate personalities, seem unlikely friends, but there is more to all of them that meets the eye. Galko, for all that she’s pretty and popular, often stays up late to watch anime and will happily chat openly about it. She’ll even happily discuss mecha anime, the nerdiest genre, in front of her peers. It’s not hard to figure out how she and Otako hit it off, and as she reveals in the third episode, Otako is still a bit shocked at how she got to be best friends with a girl like Galko. Otako, in turn, brings up most of their more anatomical discussions. She and Galko have totally different body types, and she’s quite curious about the differences, asking about things like areola size and inverted nipples. Ojou currently hasn’t gotten as much development as the other two, and isn’t as close to them as they are to each other.
The show covers a number of bodily topics, mostly pertaining to the female body. In fact, in the very first minute, a narrator (played by veteran voice actor Mamiko Noto) asks, “Do large breasts have large areolas?” Galko denies it, but Otako has her draw two circles on the tip of a balloon to illustrate how the nipples and areolae might grow proportionately to the breast. In the second episode, the intro queries, “Is it true that virgins use pads and non-virgins use tampons?” Otako and Galko discuss their nervousness about using tampons instead of pads, such as they might be harder to remove once they’re filled with blood and get stuck, and how intimidating the idea of using an applicator to insert them into their vaginas is. I remember having the same hesitance as a teenager, but I rarely heard them voiced. I don’t know how many teenage girls would end up watching a short airing at 10:30pm, but I can’t shake the feeling that this show has a distinctly educational bent to it. After all, periods or the burning sensation you get in your butthole after eating spicy food aren’t generally the sort of thing that men like hearing about from women unless they have a very specific fetish – in fact, it’s the sort of thing that makes the “3D, pig disgusting” crowd prefer two-dimensional women to real women with bodily functions. The opening even has little Venus symbols around the frame, implying this is a show about girls, for girls.
Unlike many shows about teenage girls hanging around, they do interact with boys in their class. Most prominently, there’s a trio of teenage boys who resemble the girls. Their first appearance is in the first episode, when the one who looks like Galko comes up and asks her if it’s true that massaging breasts makes them larger. His curiosity has a gross, sexist bent that Otako’s lacks, and assumes that Galko got her large breasts by being sexually active. Galko’s reaction – to wave her hand dismissively and tell him, “Go away, loser” – was one of the first things that endeared the show to me. She’s confident enough to shoo him away without being embarrassed by his question, but doesn’t feel the need to indulge him when she can tell he’s being an ass. She remains friendly with the male trio, since she’s the kind of girl who’s friends with everyone, but also doesn’t put up with their crap. The show occasionally shifts to the boys’ point of view, often focusing on what they think of Galko and her friends. In one segment, they discuss what color panties they think the girls wear, assuming that virgins wear white underwear and girls who “play around” wear colored underwear. They assume Ojou wears underwear, Otako wears childish underwear with cartoon characters, and Galko wears red or black. One of them, however, was lucky enough to be around when Galko dropped a pencil and picked it up, and knows that she wears white. He chooses to keep that knowledge to himself.
Girls who develop early or have particularly hourglass-shaped figures often say that people automatically view them as more sexual, and Please Tell Me! Galko-chan shows that principle in action. Because of her hourglass shape, outgoing demeanor, and colorful makeup, Galko’s classmates tend to assume she’s promiscuous. When she mentions her “Papa” giving her money, her classmates suspect she’s talking about “compensated dating”. She’s frequently late to school, but that’s because she stays up late watching anime and just isn’t a morning person, not because she’s out clubbing. As described above, her male classmates speculate she wears colored underwear because she must be sexually active. However, as her discussion with Otako about tampons revealed, she’s not experienced at all and just as nervous about sex as her much shyer friend. Having a character with Galko’s particular combination of traits is valuable, since large-busted anime girls tend to be shy yet constantly the subject of sexual attention, or themselves sexually aggressive. Galko is neither – she’s confident and engaging, yet still inexperienced and slightly uneasy in matters of sex. Since she is more or less the point of view character, we can see how wrongheaded the assumptions can be, even relatively innocent ones such as the three boys all assuming she’s in love with them because of her friendliness.
The third episode is the first episode that has a plot beyond a series of brief segments. Otako, it turns out, has been getting ideas about what to ask Galko from a book of erotic stories. She brings up inverted nipples and Galko, rather than giving her usual frank response, acts detached and aloof as Otako explains that inverted nipples tend to occur in women with large breasts. Otako grows increasingly agitated at Galko’s response, and begins to yell that it could lead to mastitis and means Galko can never be a mother, since she wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. Galko, who Mamiko Noto revealed in the episode’s opening wants nothing more than to be a mother, starts crying and runs out of the classroom. When she doesn’t return to school for the next few days, Otako begins to speculate that she’s at a hot spring with some dude, probably pretending to be virginal when she isn’t. Ojou gently chides her, saying, “You of all people know she’s not that kind of girl.” Otako’s attitude shows just how harmful the assumptions about Galko – and thus curvy girls in general – are and how easily they are weaponized. Otako only says these things about her friend out of anger, implying a moral judgment against sexually active girls. She knows Galko isn’t promiscuous, but her willingness to buy into the gossip when she’s upset shows just how dangerous these attitudes can be. Otako ends up going to Galko’s house to apologize and tell her how inverted nipples can be compensated for when having children. Once again, there’s a sense that she’s speaking to any viewers who might be affected by this issue as she monologues about massaging the breasts, or even using formula and bottles when it comes down to it. Inverted nipples aren’t a barrier to motherhood, she tells Galko and everyone else watching. When Galko doesn’t answer, Otako cries and bangs on the door, saying how she was shocked at how a girl like Galko could want to be friends with a girl like Otako… and then Galko opens the door, revealing that she’s been home sick the entire time.
Much like the short Comical Psychosomatic Medicine before it, Please Tell Me! Galko-chan is a show with something to say. It’s about the surprising and often unspoken quirks of the functioning human body. It’s about how you shouldn’t make assumptions based on people’s appearances. It’s about unlikely friendships between young women. It covers all those things in such a short time – only about 20 minutes so far! – and does it with aplomb and charm.