Let’s get this out of the way, one last time: nothing I have to say about A Girl & Her Guard Dog is a moral or ethical judgment against the real humans who made it or the real humans who enjoy it.
Unlike some age-gap or pseudo-incestuous romances, which may blindside readers by appearing as secondary couples (as in Fruits Basket) or showing up out of nowhere at the end (as in the infamous ending of Bunny Drop‘s manga), A Girl & Her Guard Dog is very much a Dead Dove: Do Not Eat situation. It’s right there in the summary: Isaku is a teenage girl in love with her adult male guardian, and if you have even the slightest bit of genre awareness, it’s transparently obvious where things will end up. It’s true that in the real world, this would be unacceptable. If you want your romance series to reflect real-world healthy relationship dynamics, this is not the series for you.
There’s a much greater chance you’ll enjoy it if you like your romances a little taboo. Romances where both characters know it’s wrong and try to fight their feelings, but can’t deny them in the end. The kind of romances where you tell detractors, “It’s just fiction!” If you want love stories that are more spice than sugar, you may be in the audience for A Girl & Her Guard Dog.
The only problem? It’s not very good.
The first issue that makes itself obvious is that it’s a pretty ugly show from the first episode. Isaku’s pupils are weirdly deformed, making me want to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist for her. Keiya’s eyes are similarly deformed, plus they’re a matte black, giving off the impression that he’s brainwashed or dead inside. The color palette is primarily muted browns, grays, and pinks, with the occasional navy blue thrown in for contrast. It’s just not an appealing visual style, and things only get worse from there.
In the first few episodes, there are one or two moments of laughable animation. The way Isaku flops offscreen after a volleyball, or she and Keiya falling over so stiffly I could almost hear a lumberjack shouting, “TIMBER!” But as the series wore on, the production fell apart more and more. There were basic animation mistakes, like characters’ mouths not moving when they spoke, or their lips flapping with no sound coming out. I can only imagine the mood at the studio project No.9, which also animated two other shows, including the equally ignominious Butareba. By the final two episodes, it was a miracle if the characters looked the same for two shots in a row, and if they weren’t blobby in any of them. About half the finale was recap, and all the new footage looked outright awful.
That is, tragically, a death knell for a series that is supposed to hinge on hot people getting into erotic situations. Lots of anime have fan service, but very few depict sex outright like A Girl & Her Guard Dog does or attempt to. The result is one of the most hilariously awkward, least alluring sex scenes I’ve seen in my life, and certainly not deliberately so.
It’s a shame because while I don’t think I’d find it sexy in any case, it addresses one of the concerns of age gaps in a real way: not just the difference in maturity, or societally-granted agency, but the difference in experience and how that affects expectations. Keiya has been having sex for a good decade, often in the context of the sex trade or casual hookups; Isaku is just starting high school and has never even been on a date. The two of them have extremely different ideas about the natural progression of their physical relationship, based on their lives thus far. While it certainly doesn’t float my boat, it does show a bit of thought put into their dynamic.
It also highlights that, even outside of the obvious issues with their relationship, Keiya sucks. I hate that dude and would have even if he were her peer rather than her guardian. He’s overprotective to the point of being a creep. He actively sabotages Isaku’s social life by preventing her from participating in activities that are perfectly normal for girls her age, like going to karaoke or wearing a swimsuit to the beach. He throws violent tantrums when she doesn’t listen to him but is proven right time and time again. It’s a classic trope in shōjo manga where everyone out there is worse than the mean, jealous love interest, and one of my least favorite contrivances. It’s a recurring issue where I always feel like the seams of the narrative start to show, like the artist had to make a garbage guy look like a prince and could only do so by introducing a bigger dirtbag.
This could have been somewhat alleviated if there were something to the secondary characters, but alas, they are about as colorful and interesting as the animation style. The world is populated by nameless, practically faceless goons who have nothing better to do than kidnap Isaku, forcing Keiya to rescue her. There’s no context to these kidnappings, no grander conflict that Isaku and Keiya’s clan is going through that could inject some actual story into the proceedings; it’s all just there to stir up their relationship. At school, Isaku has the requisite two best friends, one tomboyish and one feminine. They are nothing. They have no personalities, no interiority, no lives of their own. All they do is gossip about Isaku and Keiya’s relationship. They are so utterly forgettable that I can’t even remember their names.
I could see myself liking Isaku in a better series. There’s not a whole lot to her, sure, but the vestiges of a personality are there. Perhaps it was just that my expectations were low. Still, she had more fire to her than I generally expect out of the heroines of this type of romance, fending off ill-intentioned baddies alongside Keiya instead of being a shrinking damsel. I suppose it makes sense; her attempt to go to a school far away to escape her crush/overprotective guardian shows something resembling get-up-and-go. That may also have something to do with her voice actor, Akari Kitou, who has played several characters I enjoy. An unconventional gravelly aspect to the voice she uses to play Isaku makes her interesting to listen to and adds texture to the otherwise bland aural landscape of the show.
A Girl & Her Guard Dog has caught a lot of heat for its premise, but the claims that it’s written by or for pedophiles just don’t hold water. The story is from Isaku’s point of view; it’s meant to indulge the fantasy of a sexy older man returning your feelings. However, I doubt many people’s fantasies involve hands that look like flesh-colored gloves, or facial features that warp from moment to moment. Maybe some do because you can find someone into pretty much anything. If that makes you happy, godspeed to you, I wish you well with your freaky self. For the rest of us, A Girl & Her Guard Dog is an utter disaster, with a terrible production and poor character writing, making it so that few but the most enthusiastic fans of age-gap romance will find it worth their time.