Body-function-based humour is rarely the pinnacle of wit. To be fair, bodies are weird—whether we’re talking sex stuff or digestive system stuff or teeth stuff or whatever—so naturally as a coping mechanism, and perhaps simply because sometimes that weirdness is inherently funny, humans have been using their own bodies as a basis of comedy for time immemorial. Usually, though, the kind of candid and verging on gross-out discussions of Body Stuff and the humour that comes from that is a guy thing. There’s a stigma that girls/women just don’t talk about their bodies and the weirdness as much, when in turn makes girls/women feel it’s inappropriate to talk about that sort of thing. Which makes shows and movies that bring Body Stuff to the forefront, on the vessel of humour, from the mouths of women, subversive in their own strange way.
I talked a while ago about how Lucky Star somehow managed to walk the perfect line between relatable realism and whacky comedy while capturing the spirit of ordinary high school girls’ conversations, and somehow making that engaging. Well, Please Tell Me! Galko-chan is in much the same camp, but much, much more candid around the whole girl talk thing. Its main characters—each presented as a different archetype, with a matching nickname to pigeonhole them and everything—are friends who openly and frankly discuss stuff like periods, breast growth and soreness, pubic hair and safe sex. Combined with the playful subversion of the tropes the girls are initially pinned into, this is where a lot of the comedy of the show comes from. Not necessarily in an excessive and lewd way, though the fact it’s being talked about could come off as excessive to some—considering it’s not normally discussed at all.
Internet commentator AnimeWeebGod takes an interesting perspective with their review on My Anime List:
WARNING This show is degenerate normie propaganda intended to destroy otaku culture
Show is about some gyaru schoolgirl hanging out with her other friends, sounds innocent enough right? Wrong! Everything about this anime is secretly part of a government conspiracy lead by Shinzo Abe the Prime Minister of glorious Nippon, to eradicate otaku and raise the birthrate of the country.
Don’t believe me?
Almost every joke is about the female body, trying to shatter the unrealistic standards of 2D females and open the viewers minds to realize that real women aren’t so bad. Gyaru in real life are easy lays so by making the main character a nice pure girl it tricks the otaku into thinking that 3DPD gyaru are fine too, thus creating more children to save Japan from extinction.
While I wouldn’t… leap to agree with this report, I do enjoy the idea that at least a little bit of the show is designed to tear up some illusions around the female being. Who knows, maybe some anime fans sat down to eagerly watch some relaxing, fan servicey cute-girls-doing-cute-things show and ended up learning about the uterus by accident? I don’t even say that in a “ha! We tricked you listless perverts into seeing that women are complicated!” way necessarily; there could well be a genuinely educational aspect to the discussions Galko and her friends have (for men and women). Or at least, them discussing them so openly might help some people realise that it’s okay to discuss them openly. Is one short comedy anime singlehandedly going to lower to stigma around the female body? Probably not, but every little effort helps.
And by mingling the body stuff with the humour, it not only creates a very natural air—as I said before, people joke about bodily functions all the time, because bodies are weird and hilarious, and girls do often confide in each other about that stuff—but establishes it as a perfectly normal and respectable part of the series and of everyday life. It’s not crude humour, nor does the humour lie in relishing the lewdness and weirdness of anatomy that’s normally not talked about so openly. It’s just kind of there, and the show’s openness about it combined with the genuine friendship and associated silliness of the main characters makes Galko-chan strangely enchanting.
Bridesmaids took a similar leap by giving a traditional whacky comedy with liberal doses of toilet humour and sex jokes to women instead of men, as we usually expect. Bridesmaids is not my favourite movie, simply because I don’t tend to like those kinds of movies, but even I was able to appreciate that women had been given the chance to star in that kind of movie. I’m not saying that Galko-chan’s jokes about your butthole hurting after you eat and pass a lot of spicy food are any more tasteful or clever just because they come out of a girl’s mouth. But it’s important, in a way, that we show that girls are just as capable of a) having regular bodily functions, b) talking openly about those bodily functions rather than keeping them locked away as a taboo, and c) finding that stuff funny. Butt jokes are a universal human experience and need not be gendered.
I, personally, have never been super good at talking about Body Stuff, for whatever reason—maybe it’s the asexual thing, maybe it’s natural squeamishness, maybe it’s because I was raised in a relatively polite and sheltered corner of suburbia. Not to say I’m repressed into nunhood, but I think most people grow up with the background radiation of misogyny that gets internalised—subliminal or not-so-subliminal messages in media and from the mouths of adults saying that the female body is a taboo thing, leading to all sorts of messes. Like the trope that women are confusing and mystical, which most media would rather buy into than attempt to explore or explain. Or the age-old silliness of the idea that girls have to be pure and clean, and that truly good girls would never even consider their own genitalia, much less explore it sexually. Or the stigma that has taught grown men to flee in all directions when a tampon is even mentioned, because periods are weird and gross and not to be trusted, rather than a perfectly natural part of the circle of life.
In any case, it’s progressive—yes, even the toilet humour of Bridesmaids, in its own weird way—to see these stigmas slowly, slowly shifting in some pieces of media. Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am (above) spends most of its skits attacking sexism through comedy and speaking about what was once (and a lot of the time still is) Secret Women’s Business very loudly. Galko-chan is a sweet and fun comedy that actively looks into myths and questions about the body, with each episode beginning with a title card like “Is it true you can tell how thick someone’s pubes are from their eyebrows?” or “Is it really okay to wear tampons when you swim?” and has its characters take the issue apart, with equally hilarious and informative results. True, sometimes everyone gets a bit embarrassed, but the characters are so shockingly frank it’s kind of beautiful.
As in Age of Youth, the girls also aren’t shamed by anyone else or the narrative for talking about this—it’s just there, presented as a natural part of day to day life and the story. As, you know, having periods and itches and needing to pee is a natural part of life. Women’s bodies do equal amounts of weird and funny stuff—perhaps more so—to men’s, so why should boys and men be the only ones society allows to talk and joke about their vital or not-so-vital parts? Again, Galko-chan is not going to change the world on its own (though I like to think it surprised, educated, and perhaps changed the minds of some otaku boys who watched it) but it contributes to a trend of frank comedy that gives women and their issues a voice.
And, at its heart, it’s also comedy that’s all about the relationships and trust between women. By portraying women talking about this stuff, it encourages women in the real world to be honest and open about what’s happening with their bodies, with each other. Maybe it will help some people be confident in themselves, maybe it will help some people speak up about problems they’re having—problems that could be nasty, but which they aren’t otherwise encouraged to talk about and seek help for because the woman’s body is taboo.
Please tell me more, Galko-chan. Your hijinks and your budding genre might be whacky, but they’re doing good work.