Title: A Girl & Her Guard Dog
US Publisher: Kodansha
Age Relevance: High School and Up
How Essential Is It?: Purchase if You Need to Burn Money
Curricular Connections?: Independent Reading
Reader’s Advisory Tags: Yakuza, Romance
Anime: Coming in 2023
Content Warnings: Age gap, grooming, stalking behavior, kidnapping, assault, organized crime, attempted sexual assault
Publisher Synopsis: Isaku never asked to be the daughter of a yakuza boss, but when her parents died in a car accident when she was 5, her gangster grandfather took her in and raised her as part of the clan. After years of being avoided by her schoolmates because of her family ties, Isaku is finally ready to make her high-school debut, live a normal life, and maybe even find love…until loyal family servant and Isaku’s dedicated guardian, 26-year-old Keiya, enters high school right alongside her and vows to protect her from all of the above! Now she’s got a chain-smoking, pistol-wielding knight-in-shining(?)-armor to deal with, and navigating high school besides? What’s a young lady to do?!
So, this manga is getting an anime, and it’s time to talk about it. A Girl & Her Guard Dog is a popular series in Japan and here in the US, but it’s also got a fair bit of controversy attached to it because of the relationship dynamic of the two leads. The female lead, Isaku, is the granddaughter of a yakuza boss. She’s desperately trying to live a normal life. Naturally, when she enrolls in high school, her guardian from when she was a child, a yakuza member named Keiya, decides to disguise himself as a fellow teenager.
The reason is supposedly to protect her, but it’s very obvious that it’s to keep her from dating boys her age. The big reason why this dynamic is controversial is that Keiya has, for most of Isaku’s life, taken on a paternal role.
There are a lot of flashbacks to the family dynamic the pair has had, which makes many readers uncomfortable- it’s different from similar stories wherein there’s an age gap, but the romantic leads meet because the man has been hired to protect the girl when she’s sixteen or older. This plot point borders on incestuous for some readers and has a grooming element. Keiya borders into the yandere territory as the story progresses. It becomes very clear that Keiya has an extreme obsession with Isaku.
The thing is, I can understand the appeal of all this to a teenage girl reading the series. A handsome and dangerous man, obsessed with a cute and wholesome young girl. The series plays up the protection angle, and it’s precisely what makes this brand of romance addictive. The thought of making a powerful and dangerous man go all soft and romantic is intoxicating and certainly sells a lot of books. As a teen, I would have gobbled this series up. It has echoes of many YA and romance series that hinge on similar dynamics- Colleen Hoover and Sarah J. Maas have made a business out of this dynamic, and so have many shojo mangaka before this series (Vampire Knight, anyone?).
This is all to say, while I find this manga problematic, I don’t think it doesn’t have a place. The key, as with anything, is being open to having conversations with teens who are reading or watching this series. I will say I’d put the age relevance at high school. It’s been getting spicy in recent volumes. This is definitely a teen romance with all of its associated drama. At the moment, it’s not in my school library, but I’ll probably get it if it’s requested by students. I suspect that’s coming because of the anime announcement, and it’s certainly garnering social media attention.