Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun – 06

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It seems fitting considering the theme of this episode that this was the week my affection for Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun turned into love.

There was so much happening this week that I could start almost anywhere with this ep, and why it was such a good one – it’s an embarrassment of riches.  But to start with it’s worth repeating again that this is a truly excellent series in terms of sheer technical proficiency.  The cast is mostly superb, starting with the peerless Tomatsu Haruka delivering another fantastic performance as Shizuku, and Tanezaki Atsumi (Natsume) and Ohsaka Ryouta (Sasayan) also stellar.  The BGM is not only fitting, but used cleverly and with restraint.  And the visual style of the show is consistently inventive and whimsical.  There are too many reality-themed anime that simply “point the cameras” and let the dialogue carry the day – writing is obviously extremely critical, but visual flair doesn’t have to be limited to sci-fi and fantasy.

At this stage I can’t really point to a single thread in Tonari – and there are many – that doesn’t interest me.  I’m intrigued by Shizuku’s family – there’s some stuff going on under the surface that’s only being teased so far.  Mom is and apparently always has been mostly absent, Little Brother is only shown sleeping or in dim half-awake visions – or shouting one word from off camera – and Dad seems tasked with the burden of raising the family himself.  I sense that Shizuku’s obsession with over-achieving comes as a direct result of this odd family life and trying to gain the attention of a mother who’s never around – and one might guess she had to act as a mother to Takaya in his mother’s absence – and we’ve only skimmed the surface of this particular part of the story.

Another satellite story seems just as interesting as the main one, and that’s the situation with Asako and Sasayan.  While I always find myself craving more screen time for these two, I also find myself wondering just why the heck neither one of them has initiated a romantic play towards the other.  They’ve clearly settled into the same orbit around the main pair, and they seem like an ideal match – though admittedly, Sasayan probably has some emotional baggage that hasn’t been explored on-screen and Asako certainly has some that has.  “Natural” is the word I’d ascribe to the pair that makes each appearance so delightful – they’re easy and fun to watch, consistently funny without trying too hard (Sasayan even less hard than Asako) and it feels natural that they should make a go of it as a couple.  Later days, perhaps.

And then there’s the matter of Oshima, who acts as the catalyst for much of what happens this week.  She’s not fitting neatly into the “other woman” box as usually presented in shoujo romance – she’s shy, awkward, and seems genuinely mortified to think that she might be causing a rift between Haru and Shizuku.  Yet she can also be surprisingly direct, and she’s so obviously in love with Haru that it’s obvious to everyone but (not surprisingly) him.  Fact is, if Shizuku continues to play the “just friends” game with Haru for too long she would be quite justified in making her move, and he for reciprocating her interest.

That you can have all those compelling satellite plots orbiting around the main couple in a shoujo is nice in itself, but sometimes – often in fact – it’s because the supporting cast outshines a boring pair of leads.  Not so here – Haru and Shizuku are both interesting characters, and their relationship is complicated and original.  They each have their own reasons for putting romance on the back burner.  In his case, it was fear that he wasn’t ready for a mature response to the “I love you” moment, which caused a temporary retreat (he’s already “run away when the  moment comes” though not in the way his brother meant it).  In her case, she doesn’t like the way her feelings for Haru distract her from what’s always been her singular purpose – over-achieving for its own sake.  For Shizuku studying is a crutch, and it’s one she leans on whenever things get a little confusing.   Haru, for his part, was I suspect speaking from experience when he cautioned Oshima about the dangers of expectations – I believe more strongly than ever that one reason he fled home is that his father actually preferred him and placed huge expectations on him, and one reason Yuuzan isn’t anxious to have him return home is that in doing so Haru would threaten his place as his father’s inheritor.

Sasayan expresses his surprise that Haru and Shizuku still haven’t sealed the deal, because they’re both so honest.  And they are in some ways – in his case expressed in a complete lack of tact, and in hers the way she always tells him exactly why she does what she does – but they both have aspects of themselves they’re running away from.  My sense is that so far, it’s mostly a question of bad timing – Shizuku and Haru have each been ready to go to the next stage, but never at the same time (and how realistic that is, even for teens).  Of course unless that changes sooner or later one of them is going to move on, and it seems Haru is the more likely – he’s already got another girl seriously in love with him, and a class full of girls admiring him from afar.  The thing is, though, that while Tonari is dealing with serious relationship issues there’s a lightness to the presentation that keeps it from playing as melodrama – the sense is that this will all work out somehow, though the story is going to be more about the journey than the destination. 

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  1. i

    This has moved into second place for my favorites of the season. Love the animation and characters. The pacing is superb thus far too! Shinsekai yori obviously takes the top spot but i wasn't expecting to look forward to this so much each week.

  2. D

    Boo~~, everyone say Shinsekai yori this, Tonari that… Don't misunderstand me, I like this show must as much as next guy (and Enzo), but my favorite remains (still is) Jormungand this season.

    Tonari doesn't need any help, it will get a plenty of fan fair and will do just fine. Shinsekai yori oddly seems to get a lot of traction as well and i say "oddly", not because I doubt its greatness, but because it seems to be a bit too obscure and unconventional to be super-popular among general populace. Now Jormungand, on the other hand, not as weird and obscure as SSY nor as mainstream formulaic as Tonari, but a very unconventional show (despite some "over-the-top thousands of bullets flying and none hitting main cast while one shot killing bit characters", it really is one of the kind show) gets freaking no love! Comments section for Jormungand is "always" a ghost town.

    Jormungand all the way, pals.

  3. D

    No "must" in that 2nd sentence of "I like this show as much as the next guy…"

  4. i

    I have a confession. I never started watching Jormungand because the character designs are completely not my style. The preview images just really turned me off to it. Stupid i know, but that is how it is… I'm sure it's great but now i probably don't have the time to start it.

  5. S

    Ahh my heart can't keep taking this hot and cold from haru and Shizuku… As for the side characters I thought it was hinted that Asako might fall in love with the sunglasses guy from the batting centre since she blushed at him a few eps ago and there was a shot him petting her head this episode. But I figure you might be right about Sasayan crushing on Asako because unlike the other 3 he's not socially inept so when he hangs out with them it feels more intentional like there's an ulterior motive. Or hey maybe it's a rare shojo where he really just wants to stay comfortable friends. I can't wait to see where it all goes from here 😛

  6. B

    So far this anime is pivoting as the number one anime for the fall. 🙂

  7. B

    I forgot to mention my LOL moment for this episode. It was either Haru finding out the chicken had an egg or Shizuku's and Haru's fight where Ooshima was stuck in the damn middle of all this. Shizuku and Haru are f**kin' awesome.

  8. A

    I couldn't help laughing out loud throughout the whole episode and yet felt saddened by the turn of tide when Shizuku decided to retreat this time… I love Tonari — I like how each episode has something new to tell adding so much fun and content to the story, but above all, I love the characters…all of them…and their interactions among one another. No doubt that this is my favourite shoujo of the season, and I can't help but wanting more…


  9. B

    I feel comfortable declaring that this will go down as, if not a classic of the genre, then at least a staple of the genre. A show that will make the short list of examples when people are asked why they like shoujo. That is assuming they don't blow it by the end, which is always possible in this medium, so let's hope for the best.

  10. e

    background music 🙂

  11. A

    I'm not sure if this has been asked, but will you be publishing the Fall 2012 Check-in soon? Really curious about tonari's ranking:3

  12. H

    I do think it's interesting that Sasayan and Asako have become people who go and hang out together without Haru and Shizuku. And I start to wonder if they actually *are* a couple, but the show just hasn't announced it to the audience, but either way, they do seem natural together.

    Haru and Shizuku remind me of two pendulums that have different lengths. Up to this point, they haven't both been at the same point in their swing at the same time, but you figure eventually they'll have a time when they do. I think that Oshima doesn't really 'owe' Shizuku and Haru anything, and would be justified in confessing to Haru at any time, but there's just something about him that isn't going to go for anyone else as long as Shizuku is around (even if she claims not to love him at the moment).

  13. G

    I actually find Tonari's approach to teen romance more realistic than Sukitte. Yes, it's got a more dramatic air around it, but at the same time it's also full of dynamic. Sukitte is too blatantly shoujo and that caps off its potential, my interest for that show has mostly been seeing how it's executed and so far so good. Tonari on the other hand is fascinating and could go anywhere since the story is told in multiple layers. The folks at Brains Base needs to be awarded for originality, I love how the camera angles are used, it's so effective in setting right tone.
    As for the characters, I find them very likable. Shizuku's obsession with studying is probably a self-defense mechanism, because with something like studying, you can predict the outcome from the input, as long as you devote enough effort, you'll be rewarded. That's not always the way it works with relationships, let it be family or romance. There is no set pattern as people are unpredictable, and Shizuku is clearly insecure about not knowing. It's a realistic mentality that I can relate to. Haru is becoming more aware of his feelings, it would be interesting to see how things go from here, but whatever it is, I have no doubt that we are going to a fun journey with this series.

  14. A

    I like how you put it. ~Ronbb

  15. f

    Man, if I was Haru I would GTFO. I dunno if it was just the sub that I watched, but Shizuku said "I'm not attracted to you anymore." As the audience we can tell that it's just a self-defense mechanism, but Haru sure as hell doesn't know that, and if I was in his place I wouldn't be able to hang around her for at least a while after hearing that.

  16. A

    Yeah, I got that also.

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