Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun – 07

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No question about it – in terms of charm and originality, Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is the most interesting shoujo romance to come along in quite some time.

There are a lot of reasons why I find this show so appealing, starting with the animation and the really creative and even odd visual style.  What really stands out this week for me is just how odd this main pairing is.  Haru is odd on his own, for starters, and it’s only with the passage of a few episodes that the title of the series really begins to reveal just how accurate it is.  He does very odd and even disturbing things sometimes, and there’s a sense of danger to him all the time – as if he were a bomb that could go off at any moment.  I’ve known people like that, been friends with them, and it can be exhausting.

But for me at least, Haru has won me over because more than anything, he’s just someone who just doesn’t fit.  He doesn’t do the things he does because he wants to isolate himself, he simply has no choice – it’s how he’s wired.  He has no filters, and he has no unspoken thoughts and very few un-acted upon emotions.  He’s a lost soul, really, and that’s why the scenes with Kyoko (Orikasa Ai) were really heartbreaking despite their brevity – most especially when in his mind she said “I hope you meet someone who will soothe your pain”, and he looked at Shizuku and smiled his little smile

No one would blame Shizuku for distancing herself from Haru based on some of the things he does – the fights, the inappropriate remarks, the weird licking incidents.  But the thing is, that’s not why she’s distancing herself – she’s doing it because she’s scared of what having feelings for Haru has done to her carefully constructed barricade (Haru’s childish gesture is actually quite perceptive), and because the feelings won’t go away despite her efforts to push them away.  She can say “I’m not wrong!” to herself as many times as she wants, but that’s not going to make it true – and in the end, running away from herself is certainly not going to bring her happiness.

For the first time this week, I actually found myself a bit irritated with Mitty – although rationally, I found Haru’s behavior quite irritating too.  Haru may see her as his lifeline but he’s not her responsibility – and he’s unbelievably high maintenance (a real “problem set” indeed).  Intellectually I’m on her side but on a gut level it feels as if she’s the one who’s behaving more unreasonably because her attempts at self-deception are so transparent, and Haru’s fault is in being too honest.  And the world isn’t stopping at her convenience – Ooshima is more than interested, and despite doing her level best to do the right thing and help Haru with his courtship with Mitty, she’s slowly overcoming her staggering lack of self-confidence – mostly thanks to Haru’s open admiration of her – and coming ever closer to letting her feelings be known to him (and becoming a more feasible alternative with each passing week).  And Yamaken is clearly positioning himself to make a run at Mitty, which could certainly have catastrophic results if Haru gets wind of it.

Part of the reason for the success of Tonari is undoubtedly that neither of the leads are really all that likable by any conventional measure (though for completely different reasons).  What makes them compelling is their complexity and just plain weirdness.  By contrast the supporting couple continues to be utterly winning, and desperately in need of more screen time, especially Sasayan – he has a strong presence in every scene he’s in, but we’re never allowed to get to know him better.  Natsume, at least, has an opportunity to grab the spotlight and she never disappoints – be it her banana juice, her overwrought condemnation of Haru for talking to Ooshima, her sage advice about unwanted physical contact, or her spectacularly delusional plans for a “My site never gets any visitors offline meet-up”.  There’s an  underlying tragedy to her character too, that isn’t getting much oxygen at the moment as she’s mostly a (superb) comic device – but it’s there.  I want to see more of that, more of what makes Sasayan tick, and the two of them testing the waters as a couple that seems a much more natural fit than the pair at the center of the show.

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  1. A

    I am a bit of a categorizer; i watch shows like this and fit them in boxes. I started watching Sukitte and this about the same time and Sukitte was my initial favorite due to it's realism. I see few anime willing to be realistic, but Monster has become one of my favorite shows of this season and Sukitte is dropping off of my list.

    Haru and Mitty are great characters but Natsume, what do you even say? She is so real, developed and heartbreaking in many ways she almost needs her own show.


  2. R

    "And Yamaken is clearly positioning himself to make a run at Mitty, which could certainly have catastrophic results if Haru gets wind of it."

    That's like saying Haru is a dangerous sociopath and Mitty should distance herself from him as soon as possible. The violence and the licking are already valid reasons to believe that. I don't like that the series is not going through seriously with all that. Like,it's not that big of a deal,simple faults that can be overcome or something. Haru is dangerous, period.

    And Kyoko actually failed at her work,considering how Haru behaves.

  3. J

    I don't really think you can just say Kyoko failed. After her passing there's no telling what Haru had to go through as far as life with Yuuzan and his father was like. Haru has very clearly internalized her lessons, but the trauma of his past prevents him from operating like a normal person. It's not so unusual for someone to revert to old habits when someone so important leaves their life. It's not like he's ever had anybody to help him deal with those complex emotions; not even Mistuyoshi is likely able to penetrate Haru's natural social barrier. Still, he's definitely too crazy and needs to gain some control over his life and actions, and if Shizuku would open up her own barrier a bit, she could help him with that. As it is, the distance will only increase his social dysfunction and destroy their relationship, and I expect that we'll see a little of that in the next few episodes before our two lovebirds get their heads in the right place.

  4. R

    Well Shizuku had her own problems at home as well and we don't see her being violent or making people scared by impending sexual assaults. She has her issues as well,and they may be self destructing in nature but at least she is no harm to others like Haru is.

  5. J

    Qualitatively, Haru's situation was worse considering he was an outcast in his own home and the only person he ever felt a real connection with died. Shizuku had her father around all the time and at least had the ability to communicate with her mother. It's understandable that he'd end up with all kinds of behavioral and social issues. I don't discount that his actions are extreme and unrealistic, but in this form of media I don't think it's a problem to see those actions as justifiable based on his history.

    …He's still weird as hell and needs to fix that.

  6. s

    I agree. This is one of the most unique shoujo that I have seen in a long time. I laughed out loud through this entire episode. I'm really enjoying it.

    Do you know how many episodes this will run?

  7. h

    I was a bit tired of this love phone-tag thing going on between Haru and Mitty while reading the manga at this plot point and watching this also does not change the fact that it's a bit tiresome after a certain point. You know, the whole "I love you and I will wait for you and being all sincere while the other pushes away", then change that roles 180 degree respectively, then back again, then back again, and again… Yep, these kids, are they f*cking with the audience? It stops being realistic after 3rd and 4th change of roles.

    Thankfully they soon move to a different plot device soon with Yamaken completing the classic shojo love triangle thing, just as the Ooshima is meekly doing it (admittedly he also has zero chance of succeeding, but at least he's a bit more entertaining to watch than that timid girl character). Yes this is the good old tired formula, but that love phone-tag device was getting old fast, so it's a good thing that they move to something else.

  8. A

    Yamaken may actually be quite a match with Shizuku, considering they are both cynics,they look down on people and tend to follow logic over emotions.

  9. L

    This show is absolutely brilliant. I'm really trying to contain myself here in order not to read the manga before the series finishes, but the urge to know what's happening next is killing me! ToT

  10. G

    I feel like the episodes have been dragging a bit, but I guess Mitty needs the screen time to really push herself out of her comfort zone. I agree that her denial is so transparent that it's a tad irritating to watch, though I empathize with her mentality. Not only is Haru high maintenance, he's quite unpredictable from the relationship standpoint. He confessed to her at the beginning of the series, but that was more of an innocent gesture of friendship, he confesses again in this episode and definitely with more weight. But just where do you draw the line? How much does he wants to be romantically involved with her? Yes, he loves her, but the substance of that love is difficult to decipher even at this stage. Mitty is someone who's so used to packaging and labeling her emotions that she's clearly overwhelmed by Haru's unpredictability and her own tangled feelings. Though I guess that's exactly what makes this odd couple so charming but frustrating.

  11. A

    I love this post of yours, Enzo — and every perceptive deduction of the episode, the characters, the relationships presented, or simply every word in this post. ~Ronbb

  12. A

    About Sasayan, he does get his chance to shine later on, but I don't think the anime will cover those parts.

  13. D

    Haru and Shizuku definitely keep this up this game. When one steps forward, the other backs out. I'm fine with this though; as they are now, a relationship between them probably wouldn't work. Haru still needs Shizuku's support as he learns how to interact with others, and Shizuku is so unused to her feelings that it's got her scared. Though, adding more distance between them probably isn't for the best. It's also worth pointing out that Haru actually seems more…obsessed (?) with Shizuku rather than actually romantically liking her. When he was saying that their likes weren't the same, he was right. It's alright with me if they want to take the time to wort out their problems.

    Ooshima is a nice girl, but unfortunately for her Haru is just too focused on being with Shizuku. I really hesitate to call her a "love rival" since she's not quite in the running for Haru's affections, but I like her character and it's really refreshing to see a shoujo that doesn't have some type of manipulative character as the one opposite the female lead vying for the male lead's heart.

    Hehe, I find it funny that you think that Sasayan and Natsume are already being set up as a beta-couple. They're great to watch together, but Natsume is pretty focused on making female friends, and on her part, she'd have to develop feelings towards Sasayan first, since she's only so comfortable with him and Haru because she believes neither of them see her as a romantic prospect. Notice how uncomfortable she gets with Yamaken's posse, and not just because they're obnoxious losers.

    Natsume is basically Kurumi from Kimi ni Todoke if she had turned to internet blogging instead of manipulating her classmates haha.

  14. m

    i love this show, it's one of the rare ones that's more real. life isn't all love. IMO, mitty isn't wrong for distancing herself, not just cos haru's a bad distraction. but beyond love, their appreciation for each other (in cases of accepting just how intolerable each other can be) is growing stronger, and i'm glad to see that neither compromises on what they believe in and do.
    yeah, we need more natsume and sasayan. they are a perfectly likeable couple contrasted to mitty and haru's weirdness

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