Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun – 10

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Have I mentioned that I love this show?  No?  Well, then let me say it again – I love this show.

Talk about value – Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun continues to overdeliver in every department.  It’s a romance that’s much more than a romance.  A show about a couple in love with an enormously interesting supporting cast that’s at least as compelling.  A character-driven school life series with art and animation that would put most action series to shame, and delivered with an enormous amount of visual creativity and wit.  In just about every aspect this is a series that delivers more than it needs to in order to be a merely good show, and that’s what great series do.  I’m not ready to call it that yet, especially knowing we’re likely dealing with a non-ending ending, but it’s dangerously close.

As always with Tonari, I could start with any number of things – but this week I’ll open with tone.  In terms of that it strikes a perfect balance between abject silliness and serious emotional heft, something few shows are able to do.  It can be typified in a single character like Natsume, but also with the larger picture – the Christmas party being a perfect example.  It’s leaden with serious implications for pretty much every major cast member, but it’s also full of hilarious tidbits like Mabo and Tomio’s catfighting  (“You don’t get to hit on her first.  You have phimosis anyway!”) and Natsume’s usual irresistible brand of over-earnest randomness.  There’s no separation between the frantic silliness and the character drama – they’re happening side-by-side, sometimes with two conversations literally occurring simultaneously. 

It’s very hard for me to make a call on which I found more involving, the main couple or the supporting cast.  Natsume continues to provide the most pronounced spikes on both sides of the tonal spectrum.  Good lord, she’s adorable with her cosplay and her puzzle books and her online support groups – she tries so damn hard, and that’s what’s so heartbreaking about her.  Organizing group events isn’t enough, she even takes it upon herself to call Yamaken onto the carpet for getting in-between Mitty and Haru – and then has to try and rationalize it when he tells her that Ooshima, one of her prospective (and desperately desired) social circle confessed to Haru. 

As for Sasayan, there’s finally some real movement there this week.  First off, we get another example of his perceptiveness when he doesn’t take Ooshima’s “no” for an answer when it comes to the Christmas party.  He sees her momentary hesitation before declining to attend, and you can almost see the wheels spinning in his head – he’s about to ride off before he decides that the right thing to do is give her the nudge she needs.  He’s also spotted Natsume’s crush on Mi-chan-san, and reveals in cryptic form that he may just be interested himself – “It feels like I’ve lost.  Not that it matters…”  His easy good humor may just be hiding a shyness and a reluctance to put himself on the line by telling Natsume he has feelings for her – and to be fair, we’ve seen no indication from her that they’d be reciprocated.  It’s easy to see from a distance that Sasayan would be a great fit for her, but if she doesn’t feel it, there’s not much to be done.

And then there’s Yamaken.  While it was an unintentionally cloddish (and hilarious) moment, Natsume’s “She knows her place!” about Ooshima was unerringly on-point.  Ooshima seems unwilling to knowingly be the cause of trouble for others, but that can’t be said about the fascinating Yamaken.  What I see here is a cruel streak in him that’s impossible to ignore.  He likes to provoke Haru, to push his buttons – some of it because he resents the fact that Haru is with Shizuka, but some of it because he simply has that dark side to his nature.  He knows he can manipulate Haru’s emotions, and it’s fun – so he does it.  He may now be also thinking that he could push Haru far enough that he does something so stupid even Shizuka won’t forgive him – but I don’t think that was the initial calculation.  He’s also still torn between the intellectual side of him telling him that chasing Shizuka under Haru’s nose is a bad idea, and his hormones telling him otherwise (“Why am I making a competition of this?  It defies all reason!”).  He’s in love with her, and he’s obstinate and combative – it’s a dangerous combination, and makes him a much greater thread to Haru and Shiuka than Ooshima (and a threat to himself, too).

Of course the greatest threat to Haru and Shizuka is Haru and Shizuka themselves.  They just can’t seem to get in-synch with each other, and Haru’s complete social ineptitude and lack of delicacy is a constant problem.  He’s still in the “She’s mine” mode of a grade-schooler, and when Shizuka finally comes out and says that yes, she does love him after all, he has absolutely the 100% textbook worst reaction possible.  When she says “I love you, you can trust me!” he says “Great!  So you won’t go to cram school?”  Damn, he’s clueless – Shizuku is stubborn and proud and she has no wish to be owned by Haru or anyone else, and though she knows her study addiction is a crush, it’s hers and her academic excellence is something she’s genuinely proud of.  Of course Haru should trust her to begin with, but here Yamaken’s relentless poking at his psyche is again partly to blame – he’s doing everything he can to exploit Haru’s insecurity and make him fearful about the future. 

It would be easy to dismiss this as a mismatch and leave it there, but Tonari has done a fine job of portraying just what the true meaning of this relationship is.  The reference to Akutagawa’s Buddhist parable “The Spider’s Thread” is hardly subtle as it applies to Haru and Shizuku’s relationship, but it captures it perfectly. She’s the precariously thin strand that he clings to for salvation, but it’s his possessiveness that threatens to break the strand and cast him back down to Hell.  Mitty surely isn’t responsible for Haru’s salvation and she has her own share of baggage and then some, but the point is still poignant – and it’s a beautiful thought, that this messed-up but fundamentally compassionate boy and emotionally barricaded and lonely girl might end up lifting each other up and finding happiness by providing the other with something they desperately need and want.  It makes me root for them to make it as a couple despite all the setbacks and frustrations, and it allows that struggle to stand up at the central pillar of the story and not be overshadowed by the exceptionally interesting characters and subplots surrounding it.  It’s rare for a series to get so many things right, and that’s why I love this show as much as I do.

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18 comments

  1. S

    Wha?? Enzo like this show?? I am flabbergasted, gobsmacked, I really am! Why did keep this sort of feeling from us for so long??? Why?? Why?? … okay I will stop now before it stops being innocently cheeky and starts being annoying.

  2. A

    Your sacrasm is duly noted by all to see.

  3. d

    I don't think teenage girls, let alone many grownup women, knows what phimosis is, LOL!! I, too, find this sort of out-of-the-blue-shout-out lines very funny. C'mon, fess up, members of fairer genders! You didn't know what it is, either, before hurriedly googling, then blushing/grossing out/giggling, right??? I know what you are~~~.

  4. S

    Well, I'm not a girl, but a quick googling hade me roaring with laughter. Brilliant stuff!

  5. A

    All i could do was go: "Guuu….Guh….GUUU!"
    For a couple minutes XD

  6. d

    "She knows her place!”: how Japanese of you.

    My initial take: well duh? even most 5-year-old know where their home is located these day……wait a minute!!

  7. A

    BTW, Enzo, not entirely fair on Yamaken. It seems like you've already made up your mind on him a few episodes ago (I notice that once a character gets on your bad side, they hardly ever escape that from that on, BTW), but at least in one instance here, Haru CLEARLY provoked Yamaken first by rudely telling him off in his face "you're NOT allowed to come" while Yamaken was telling Mitty that he wasn't interested in going to the party (as seen in that B&W pic). You can rationalize and defend poor Haru all you want by saying that he was on edgy since Yamaken told him that he loved Mitty in last ep and all that, but make no mistake, Haru started that one. It's not all Yamaken's cruel and twisted mind even if Haru's past may give him a little more break than Yamaken. These two boys are almost equally to be blamed. I don't take any side in their petty bickering.

  8. A

    Haru says "he doesn't get to come" (according to the sub), but it's basically the same thing.

  9. I know people get emotional when they feel their favorite character is under attack. But Haru has gotten plenty of criticism from me, including this week, and I think Ive made it pretty clear that I think Yamaken is fighting a battle with himself. Hell, he even chastises himself for the way he provokes Haru – its hard for me to understand how anyone could deny that he does it. I think the phrase partly to blame is quite accurate and for me, one I feel quite comfortable with.

  10. K

    If Haru had pushed Yamaken, Yamaken is not to blame because nothing he said deserved that crazy violent reaction (threat or not)

    Yes Yamaken was a jerk & he was wrong in this episode too but we can't make excuses for Haru's violent behavior or how possessive he is of Mitty.

  11. Yes, I agree – that's why I've criticized them both. I don't see criticizing one as a unilateral endorsement of the others sterling character.

    And for the record, let's point out that "if" or not, Haru didn't push Yamaken – and you can't just assume he would have. Let's also remember that Yamaken grabbed Natsume by the face hard enough to make her yelp in pain, and it wasn't accidental – it was quite deliberate and calmly done.

  12. K

    He didnt push but he still threatened.

    And yes I agree Yamaken was wrong in how he treated Natsume.

    I think why I am coming down harder on Haru in this case because this is about Haru & Mitty's relationship ultimately. Right now that relationship has negative associations to me because of Haru's behavior. I understand that Haru needs to grow as a character but until he does its hard for me to get behind the relationship or see it in a positive light.

    Yamaken liked Mitty too of course but that's always going to be one sided. I am not excusing Yamaken's behavior at all but on the contrary there is no relationship I have to get behind either.

  13. T

    I do agree that Yamaken pushes Haru's buttons and drives him to be a so insecure but damn, I am against guy on girl violence and girl on guy violence, I really wanted Mitty to rear back and slap Haru to hell. He was annoying me with his possessiveness and it is a dang show. I guess that shows how well it is written and a testament to the quality though.

  14. A

    Yes, Enzo, you did say that you loved this show before, and I can't agree with you more — Tonari is my favourite shoujo of the season, and I am just so hooked by the characters. In these ten episodes, I have grown to laugh and cry with them, worry about them, cheer for them, feel for them. We have only two episodes left, and I am so anxious to find out how this show will end and what they will do to the characters. Also, Natsume rocks…you're so totally and adorably one of the kind. Thanks for making me laugh out loud so much in this episode.

    ~Ronbb

  15. L

    I love it too!! ^^ and I don't want it to end =( All the characters are so great, but seriously, Haru and Shizuku are just lovely when they are together and in good terms >.< I hope they start dating before the series "ending"…

  16. m

    how can anyone stand winter cram school? okay i know that's not the point.

    everyone keeps talking about haru and yamaken, but what about mitty herself? she does say that she loves haru, but it's pretty obvious yamaken is special to her, to be on the level of natsume or more. notice the blush when she hears that haru busts yamaken's "secret" crush (ROFL) and how she always asks yamaken along to all the stuff. i wonder where things can go from here heehee~~

    IMO, i always forget oshima is the love rival to mitty. sorry oshima, i honestly think you're cute, second to only natsume in looks ><

  17. H

    I thought Haru was completely atrocious nearly the whole episode, almost regressing to a state extrapolated out before the show started. His possessiveness and combativeness had me about convinced that Shizuku's "big talk" with him at the end of the episode was going to be about how he has driven her away with his terrible toddler behavior. Even as he recalls the fable, he has no insight regarding his role in it.

    And I wonder if Tonari will even continue with that same imagery next week. I was disappointed earlier in the series when they introduced the teeter-totter imagery (my thoughts in the previous episode was pendulums, but the teeter totter was an adequate, if inexact, substitute) and referred to it multiple times in one episode, only to abandon it with no mention after that one episode. So I hope they don't abandon the spider silk thread imagery in the same unceremonious manner.

  18. A

    A really good anime, but it's very forgettable…
    Such a shame

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