The struggles of high school students looking for love is real in KISS HIM, NOT ME!. Unfortunately, so is the moral struggle to enjoy the anime at face value. Since the first episode aired on Crunchyroll in October of 2016, a number of themes have appeared in the show that are not easily reconciled.

While the anime is comedic and fun, it also has concerning themes of body shaming and unhealthy fandom behaviors. No story is without flaws, and sometimes we can overlook those flaws for the gems underneath. But the flaws of KISS HIM, NOT ME! are especially concerning. Whether those flaws take an ax to the show or if they can be overlooked is up to the individual, but it’s crucial that awareness of the problems in the anime is raised.

When High School Life Turns into a Reverse Harem Anime

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of the controversy, let’s go over what the show is all about. Kae Serinuma is a fujoshi, or a fan of manga and anime that center on gay relationships. At first, Kae’s high school classmates bully her for being overweight. But after her favorite anime character dies, Kae locks herself in her bedroom and refuses to eat. One short week later, a thin and wide-eyed Kae emerges from her room, shocking her family and peers.

KISS HIM, NOT ME! Makes use of the classic romance portrait, complete with roses and bubbles, in this close-up of Kae.
Kae dresses up for a date with all four boys after her weight loss. | Image: Crunchyroll

Now, Kae finds herself stuck in her own romance anime plot! Nozomu Nanashima, Yusuke Igarashi, and Hayato Shinomiya, the same boys who previously ignored her, fall for her “newfound beauty” and desperately attempt to win her over. Asuma Mutsumi, an upperclassman, and Shima Nishina, a female manga artist, also join the battle for Kae’s heart. Unfortunately for them, Kae would rather see all the boys fall in love with each other! The anime follows a typical reverse-harem recipe where her five suitors fight for her affections.

Right off the bat, KISS HIM, NOT ME! raises eyebrows. When Kae gains weight, her voice actor talks in a deep, throaty “fat girl” voice. On top of that, most of her suitors only see Kae as “pretty” after she loses weight. Before, most of them never took the time to get to know her. Now that Kae has lost weight, they leap at the chance to date her. Eventually, her suitors learn to love her for her personality, but the show continues to bring up her weight as an equivalence to her beauty.

Body Shaming in KISS HIM, NOT ME!

When Kae gains weight after eating Valentine’s Day chocolate, Nozomu hatches a plan to make her lose her weight again. Regardless of whether Nozomu’s intentions were good or not, he valued Kae’s appearance over her character. Nozomu takes it upon himself to decide that Kae should lose weight and even calls her a “beast”! He creates a rigid exercise routine and diet for her, working her to the point of collapse.

Lightning crackles in the background as Nozomu shouts at Kae. The subtitle reads,
There’s good-intentioned concern for someone, and then there’s…this. | Image: Crunchyroll

When Kae suddenly gains weight again, she shrugs off the topic nonchalantly. She most likely decided to lose weight only because Nozomu pressured her, not because she wanted to lose weight for herself. Kae even tells Yusuke she wants to lose weight because everyone works so hard to “help” her. Only Shima and Asuma think of Kae’s feelings. Shima tries to convince the others to stop and let Kae maintain her current weight. Shima almost has the right idea but goes about it the wrong way. It should be up to Kae to decide on her weight, not her friends.

For a country with an obesity rate as low as Japan’s, it’s not surprising to see body-shaming in its media. One study shows that feelings on body image (negative and positive) stem from media portrayals. People feel pressured by images in media to lose weight. Kae’s weight as a determining factor of her beauty is one such image. That idea alone is damaging enough by itself, but what’s worse is the way that it’s approached. In some cases, the stress of losing weight in Japan leads to eating disorders. Kae exemplifies this stress when she loses weight by starving herself. Her initial transformation promotes a romanticization of unhealthy weight loss methods which cannot be ignored.

KISS HIM, NOT ME!’s Golden Boy

Asuma Mutsumi is a refreshing, positive character and a stark contrast to the themes of body shaming. He puts everyone else before himself and tries to be the peacemaker when the others fight. His quiet and passive demeanor easily makes him one of the most charming characters, but he can also be pretty oblivious. It actually takes some intervention from their friends for Asuma to realize his own romantic feelings for Kae. Naturally, they tend to think lightly of him, but when he finally realizes his feelings and boldly declares his love, it lights a fire in them.

Kae treats a cut on Asuma's arm in the nurse's office. The subtitle reads,
Asuma may be oblivious at times, but he’s still the only who recognizes Kae. | Image: Crunchyroll

Out of all of the love interests, Asuma has known Kae the longest. He and Shima are the only ones who do not convince Kae to lose weight. Asuma is also the only character to recognize Kae when she returns to school. In that way, Asuma almost counteracts all of the negativity on body image. He loves Kae for her personality and not what she looks like. Best of all, he genuinely cares for her and wants to see her happy, even if that means she chooses someone else.

Asuma is a good character who deserved better. His peaceful attitude and heart of gold act as a force of positivity to counteract the body shaming. Unfortunately, his kindness only redeems KISS HIM, NOT ME! so much. The loud and clashing personalities of the rest of the cast drown out his voice. His kindness may be proof that the show acknowledges that beauty comes from within, but sadly it’s not enough. What little body positivity the anime promotes disappears beneath the constant barrage of body shaming.

KISS HIM, NOT ME! and Fandom Behavior

The portrayal of anime fan culture in KISS HIM, NOT ME! is another concerning issue. Kae’s love for Shion (the character that died) and shipping male characters together is exaggerated for comedic effect. Kae drools over Shion and “naughty” fan comics of her favorite gay ships. If her antics were written in a moment of self-awareness by the artist, it doesn’t come across that way. The show encourages the viewer to relate to her unhealthy obsessions rather than harmless expressions of fan behavior. While the concept of five people desperately trying to confess their love to an ever-oblivious main character is entertaining, KISS HIM, NOT ME! loses its appeal with Kae’s obsession over shipping her friends together.

Let’s Talk about Boy’s Love: Exoticization or Revolution?

At school, Kae quietly gushes over her ship of Yusuke and Nozomu. This obsession of shipping her friends together from the shadows is uncomfortable at best. It gives the impression that gay relationships are something forbidden, watering them down to nothing more than a guilty pleasure. Her obsession also has an impact on her friends. Kae projects her hobbies onto her friends, and they become less real to her in the process. When she ships her friends together, she becomes a spectator, isolating her friends behind the glass of a TV screen.

This isolation and projection of her hobbies onto her friends is also apparent with Nozomu. Because Nozomu physically resembles Shion, Kae can only see him as a 3D copy of the character. Nozomu thinks his likeness to Shion helps him connect with Kae. Sadly, Nozomu’s relation to Shion in Kae’s mind puts him well outside the realm of her reality.

A Cute Anime, But in Poor Taste

Kae’s actions are portrayed in a way that makes them relatable. Because of that relatability, it’s easy to think that her behaviors are okay in real life. It’s funny to see Kae geek out, but shipping her friends devalues them as people. These issues are treated lightly (or not at all) and are not portrayed as the unhealthy behaviorisms that they are. Because media influences our attitudes, we need to properly address the body shaming and harmful fan behavior.

Nozomu thinks Yusuke is being ridiculous for liking Kae as is and shouts,
Tell us how you really feel, Nozomu. | Image: Crunchyroll

The show inadequately deals with issues that are too heavy to ignore. Had it addressed these issues seriously and pointed out why the attitudes portrayed are negative without treating them like a joke, it could have been revolutionary. But the statements on body positivity fall flat and the anime brushes off the characters’ unhealthy behaviors too lightly.

KISS HIM, NOT ME! is a tough nut to crack. It’s funny, cute, and easy to get sucked into. Despite their flaws, the characters are loveable and fun. Audiences can relate to Kae because of her nerdy antics (admit it, we’ve all been like Kae at some point). At the same time, the negative themes gnaw at you with every click of the “next episode” button. When relating to Kae, we also need to recognize which actions are purely comedic. We need to be more aware of unhealthy behaviors and how these portrayals affect us. KISS HIM, NOT ME! can be a great addition to your watched anime list if those behaviors are (ideally) understood as just media portrayals, not as a model for real life.

Featured image courtesy of Funimation

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