Araugakuen is, to put it fairly bluntly, an attempt at a Light Novel-style set in contemporary Japan written by a white-bread American schoolgirl who has only ever read two light novels and whose only experience with Japanese culture is anime and scattered research on Wikipedia and TV Tropes. Yeah.
This series follows one year at Araugakuen, which can be most lazily described as a "Fat Camp High School", though it deals with any student afflicted with any eating disorder or of any weight considered above or below popular standard providing intervention, fitness training, and a bare minimum of psychological help. However, from the image it gives off to others, it's clear that it is also used to "fix" those who are considered societal "failures", especially in Japan, which has a very warped sense of body image. However, with the myriad of personal issues and personality flaws that often contribute to their eating disorders, they often experience or are unable to realize that they must undergo recovery of a different kind, and not just because of the school, either.
The story revolves for the most part around 16-year-old Ken Ashida, a new student at the school who, for most of his life, has been a fairly pleasant, plain person who has always been a little lazy about solving difficult personal problems. He has no goals or motivations, and for 15 years, he is able to coast his way through life fairly simply at least until he is thrust into serious issues for the first time in his life. His parents divorce, and due to a mishmash of circumstances involving an alleged kidnapping, he's stuck living with his emotionally abusive mother. Days earlier, his girlfriend had split with him for not being intimate enough with her (he claims that she is "too beautiful to kiss"), and he soon realizes exactly why he doesn't want to kiss her he's gay. Because he associates his sexuality with the alienation of his best friend, and feelings of abandonment about his father, he's convinced that his life is taking a turn for the worse and he doesn't have the confidence to do anything abou it. He turns instead to comfort food for relief, and ends up addicted to it. By the end of his freshman year of high school, he's a bloated, friendless caricature of himself who can't do anything but think that reality is out to get him.
Ken does have an awareness of how pathetic he is, but forces himself not to give up his only mode of pleasure and it is through this conflict (and an incident involving the boys' showers) that his embarrassed mother forces him to go to Araugakuen. He's not entirely enthused about the idea, but attends only to escape from his mother. There, he meets a whole host of others who are going through the same kinds of issues the Plus, the overeaters, the Minus, the undereaters and the Other, those with issues that do not have any physical manifestation and all have to figure out their own ways out. His class, Class 2-A, all have fully developed personalities, and every one of them plays a part in Ken's journey to recovery in particular, Arisu Tsumemasa and Naruto Hideyoshi, his eventual True Companions; Seiichi Ariyoshi and Namika Ui, the heads of the sinister "Chess Club", and Kaworu Hasegawa, a Bishōnen and fat fetishist, whose parasitic relationship with Ken jumpstarts both of their redemptions.
The series deals not only with the issues of using physical pleasure as a solution to one's emotional problems (especially as a good half of the cast is trying to overcome food addictions), but also with the effects that personal selfishness can have on everyone else's problems. (The message isn't Puritan, though it's more about the avoidance and respect aspects. Physical pleasure itself is not condemned, but its abuse is not good.) Also plays with the concept of healthy and unhealthy romantic relationships. (Also not Puritan more about what goes wrong when you confuse sexual attraction with emotional love.) Issues of body image are not heavily addressed, as most of the students (even Kaworu, in an indirect way) actually have negative relationships with food that need to be resolved in order for them to live normal lives.
The author is currently looking for anyone who is significantly familiar with Japanese culture, and can point out any errors I've made or suggest improvements, an illustrator or both. The author cannot pay them as she has no job (yet) but would like someone with these skills eventually, if not right now.
Also a little unusual in that it has heavy LGBT themes (covering every letter of that abbreviation, actually) without really explicitly being an LGBT story. And the author's about as LGBT as she is Japanese.
Character sheet to come.
Boku No Araugakuen provides examples of:
- Alpha Bitch: Daishiki Miki. Surprisingly enough, not Haga Ai.
- Asexuality: Mina.
- Balloon Belly: Only realistically. Can occur when students fall off the wagon.
- Boarding School
- Bollywood Nerd: Saeed James, who is half-Indian, half-white. More like Bollywood Superdork, as he isn't that intelligent.
- Cast Full of Gay: A good third of Class 2-A falls under some letter of LGBT. Ken and Naoki are gay. Sakaki and Tai are lesbians. Kaworu, Kyoko, and Tosh are bi. Dan is a female-to-male transgender person.
- Class Representative: Izumi, who's so hyper and headstrong about everything that she not only manages to be excessively annoying, but turned herself from a Plus into a Minus before the series' start.
- Closet Key: KAWORU.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Many of the Plus, but with food, not alcohol.
- Fetish: Talking strictly in-universe here, personified in Kaworu and his fat fetish.
- Former Child Star: Haga Ai.
- Gayngst: Ken. Played with by Naoki, who has angst, and is gay, but does not angst about being gay.
- Gratuitous Japanese: Honorifics and phrases with no real English translation are left intact. Otherwise, this is mostly avoided...except for "Araugakuen".
- Hollywood Pudgy: Drove several of the "Minus" into their current state.
- Keet: Saeed.
- Japanese Delinquents: Hisato is a textbook case. Ken laments how he was often mistaken for one at his old school because, due to his weight gain, his coat was too small to button.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: All of Class 2-A has individually developed personalities...and that's only about half the cast.
- Measuring Day: There's one every week.
- Meganekko: Izumi. Tosh is a male example that tries very hard to be Stoic Spectacles but fails because he's too darn cute.
- Nerd Glasses: Sho, Saeed
- Parental Abandonment: Tons.
- The Power of Love: Runs on it and unashamed to say it.
- Single-Minded Twins: Sakaki and Sadako, until they begin to drift apart.
- Smitten Teenage Girl: Towards the end, one-off character Mai, who is so out of touch with her crush (Naoki) that she doesn't realize that he can't reciprocate her feelings.
- Stoic Spectacles: Naoki.
- The Theme Park Version: The author's only knowledge of Japanese culture is anime and manga clichés. She tries to play it for laughs, and probably fails.
- Through His Stomach: Kaworu's main seduction tactic, which is very effective on his targets.
- Transparent Closet: Ken is again an offender here.
- Transgender: Kimie Dan, who prefers his last name.
- Tsundere: Naoki. S-stupid Yoshii, i-it's not that I'm screaming that I hate you b-because I like you or anything
- A source of endless amusement for Sadako, who delights in putting signs on his desk that say things like "Caution: Raging Tsundere"
- The Unfettered: Kaworu, to satisfy his whims.
- UST: Ken's fear of coming out of the closet keeps him away from...well, anyone.
- Wacky Homeroom: Deffo Class 2-A. At one point, Ken is surprised that everyone else in the other classes is, for the most part, whiny and fairly unlikeable.