I really, really like Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. But somehow, as a blogger it’s almost too spot-on – the show has rarely put a foot wrong so far, and Brains Base is doing their usual bang-up job with the visuals – not just pretty, but creative and clever, too. So all I’m left with at the end of the last couple of episodes is mostly “Damn – that was really good.” It’s believable while still fanciful, the characters are likable and identifiable but flawed, and the situations are easy to understand without the need of clumsy exposition. A 95 MPH fastball strike, right down the middle.
One thing I’m noticing is that the series’ male characters (with the exception of Sasayan) have made a bad first impression and rallied from it. It was true of Yuzan, who more than anything else came across as creepy at first, irrespective of his brother’s feelings towards him. I won’t say I like him after this ep, but it seems clear that there’s more there than meets the eye, and maybe Yuzan has taken on something of the role of protecting Haru from their father, rather than acting as his father’s agent in dealing with Haru. And one can hardly deny that Haru must have been a real handful to deal with.
If it was true of Yuzan it was certainly true that Haru didn’t make a great initial impression – I frankly didn’t much care for him at first. I’m still not crazy about the performance of Suzuki Tatsuhisa but Haru’s complete lack of social grace is starting to grow on me. He’s obviously a difficult person, but there’s no malice behind it – he’s just a kid with no personality filters whatsoever, bouncing from impulse to impulse like he’s inside a pinball machine. His love for Shizuku seems to be quite sincere, and underneath his (very) rough exterior there seems to be a genuine kindness that mostly manifests in his inclination to defend the helpless. How much of Haru’s dysfunction is inherent and how much the result of his family life we can’t really say, but it seems as if being away from his father is certainly the best thing for him.
Alas, Haru’s kindness seems to have gotten him into a bit of trouble as the megane girl Ooshima Chizuru (Hanazawa Kana, very much in her default mode) has fallen hard for her knight in shining armor. It seems to go almost without saying that she stands no chance against Shizuku, but really good shoujo can surprise with romance triangles, and I’m not writing her off as a major force. Chizuru seems genuinely awkward and shy, not the conniving other woman type that graces some shoujo, but that could make her an even more interesting rival. Jealousy is a side of Shizuku we haven’t seen before – indeed, it’s very possible she’s never really felt it – so this turn of events could provide some very interesting fodder for her development as well as Haru’s.
The other thing I like a lot about Tonari is that it manages to be serious about the characters without taking itself too seriously. Stuff like Shizuku’s helpless rage at Haru’s ability to rank 1st without studying is rock-solid character humor, but we also have Sasayan and Natsume (I really wish we were seeing more of them) who manage to be funny without really trying. There’s a general sense of whimsy here that pervades both the writing and the animation, and it keeps the show free of the overly heavy tone that can be a problem for shoujo romances. And if you want proof that everyone involved has a sense of humor, the hilarious “My Little Gangbanger” preview should admirably suffice.