You might say I'm a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to anime. I didn't watch my first show until I was well into adulthood. However, approximately a decade ago, I figured as a longtime JRPG fanatic, I really should give the medium a try. I went to a knowledgeable friend and asked him for his advice, Rosario + Vampire was one of the first shows he recommended to me, despite having not actually seen it himself.
The main love interest, Moka Akashino, was cute and sweet. But more than that, she could kick butt! A TV show where the male protagonist - in this case, Tsukune Aono - was helpless in a fight and where the woman had to save the day was inspiring to me.
As the harem filled out - though I didn't know that's what was happening at the time, as I had no knowledge of the genre - I fell in love with all of the other girls, too. They were women written not even just with strengths and weaknesses, but with quirks (No, not the My Hero Academia ones, though, actually, sort of?) They could second-guess themselves but also overcome their fears.
Rosario + Vampire review: Sometimes things just hit you right
Needless to say, I was hooked. By this point in my life, I had long realized that I gravitated to female friendships much more than male. A show populated almost entirely by women that felt more real than a lot of the women I had seen in media was always going to appeal. But more than that, it had one of my favorite tropes: Defeat Means Friendship. I will never tire of enemies becoming friends. It just brings joy to my heart. Also, yeah, it's not like I didn't notice the girls were all varying levels of cute.
For years, I called Rosario + Vampire my favorite anime. I received the entire set of manga one year for Christmas and devoured it. I bought DVDs of the show in case it fell off Netflix. Even then I understood the show well enough that I didn't crow about my fandom randomly, I made sure I was talking to someone who would understand that I didn't like it for its fan service, but rather for its interesting female characters. I even talked about how the show embodied feminist ideals I was growing to appreciate.
Years passed, I watched a lot of other shows, read a lot of other books, and played a lot of other video games. I gradually learned more about the world around me. I didn't ever question my fandom for the show. Then, one day earlier this year, the friend who had once recommended the show to me asked if we could watch the first episode together. He was curious about it since I loved it so much. Thirty minutes later, I realized for the first time just how much had changed in the past decade.
Just to be sure, I rewatched the entire series. The women were just as quirky and physically strong as ever. Tsukune was just as weak as before. But now I saw how he still looked down on them and how he kept putting himself in danger and making everyone's lives more difficult with his insistence on taking the role of masculine protector that he was ill-equipped for.
The fan service that I had so glibly ignored before became completely unavoidable. Panties were everywhere! The worst part, though, was realizing that not a single female character had a thought in her head except how to win Tsukune's heart.
For example, there's an episode about how they're trying to make the best newspaper possible, but in the end, it was just another way to try to seduce Tsukune. What I had once viewed as charming, good-natured competition for his affection revealed itself to me as petty squabbling over a man who didn't have the decency to speak his mind to any of them. He very clearly preferred Moka and could have greatly reduced the drama in his friend circle by admitting it.
The show lost a lot of its luster for me. It still has charming moments and cute character designs. But I was at a very different place in my life. Where once I was still relatively new to the ideas of feminism and easily swayed by what I wanted to see. Now the objectification bothers me.
I would not and don't think I will ever argue that Rosario + Vampire is bad, evil, or even necessarily anti-feminist. It will also always have a special place in my heart, even if I never truly consider rewatching it again. There was a time in my life when it helped me along my journey to understanding the kind of person I wanted to be, and I will always be grateful it got me that one step further.