There’s a lot to praise in this series, but I can cherry pick a couple of things I think most people would agree on. First, it’s a beautiful-looking show, as Brains Base are doing their usual bang-up job of delivering high-quality if not lavish animation with a lot of style, visual humor and creativity. And two, it seems to be a sort of “super shoujou” in that it doesn’t want to fall neatly into genre traps but rather, deconstruct them – though whether that’s intentional or not, I can’t say.
It goes beyond that, though, to some things I would guess are a lot more personal. First off, Tomatsu Haruka gets more than her share of praise in these pages, but she’s delivering another one of her transcendent performances, on the Cross Game and AnoHana level. She’s nailing every aspect of Shizuku’s snarky disdain for the world, cut through with her genuine loneliness and the uncertainty she’s feeling as she experiences something she never has before with Haru. I also like the fact that the series is just plain wrong sometimes, and doesn’t give a rat’s ass – the characters are very flawed, say incredibly insensitive or frighteningly bizarre things and we just move it along. Take, for example, Haru’s explanation of his love for Shizuku: “Yeah, I would totally do you.” Of course it’s wrong, but he’s so off that it doesn’t even occur to him what that sounds like – he’s out there where the buses don’t run.
Another good sign is that we were introduced to the two presumably main supporting characters, and both made an extremely positive impression. Sasahara Souhei (Japan – please keep hiring Ohsaka Ryouta, who was fantastic in Tsuritama – playing Haru’s best friend yet again – and is off to a banner start here) is an old middle-school classmate of Haru who’s fascinated by anyone who could spend time with him. Sasayan doesn’t actually do all that much so it’s hard to explain why his few moments of screen time made such an impression, but they just did. Sometimes the magic of a series is simply the vibe the characters give off, and Sasayan is someone who immediately makes you want to learn more about it.
More flamboyant in her debut is Natsume Asako (Tanezaki Atsumi, impressive in a debut role). Asaka blows trough Tonari like a baka typhoon – she’s a complete mess. Terrible test scores and no social life, which she’s convinced herself is because she’s so cute the girls hate her. She spends most of her time in an online fantasy world she’s created around herself, and one that proves increasingly bizarre as the episode progresses. She enlists the help of first Haru and then Shizuku (who she calls “Mitty” for reasons I can’t figure out – a secret life, perhaps?) to help her study for her makeup exams (which Haru passes with perfect scores despite making no effort) and this leads to a series of very funny misadventures surrounding Haru’s rooster “Nagoya” and Asako eating too much. It’s on the edge of being mean-spirited, but I think dancing on that edge is what makes this series work.
Asako is very funny and Sasayan is charming, but there’s still plenty of the main couple to drive things along. We’re two episodes in, and already they’ve kissed (well, it wasn’t exactly mutual) and told each other “I love you”. It’s clear that these two are both messed up on their own terms and hopelessly clueless about relationships, so in no way, shape or form do I expect this to go smoothly. Given the sort of show that Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is, that should prove to be for the best.