Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun – 11

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I’ve never seen an anime romance quite like this one – and I mean that entirely in a good way.

As much as any show this year, Tonari no Kabutsu-kun is the one I’m disappointed to see ending when it is.  If ever a show had so much more story to tell than a mere 13 episodes will allow, it’s this one – it’s a rich and detailed character study that cuts few corners either with the source material or with the character development itself.  I suppose there’s always a chance of a small miracle and a huge boost in manga sales that would spark another season, but of late Brains Base has made something of a habit of making superb one-cour adaptations that should be much longer, but don’t sell enough Blu-rays to make it happen.

This ep was entitled “Yamaguchi Kenji-kun” (and it was chapter 15 of the manga BTW, which should give you an idea of the anime’s pacing) and as you could guess, it largely focused on said Yamaken.  As is often the fate of such characters much of his importance is derived from the impact his presence has on the main couple – and it’s considerable –  but he’s more than a plot device by a long stretch.  Yamaken is a complex and difficult character to summarize, as is everyone in this cast.  But one thing that’s become indisputable in my mind is this: he and Haru bring out the worst in each other.  If that was ever in doubt it was amply proven this week.  Yamaken sees Haru and he can’t help but tweak and provoke him, much as he did when they were children.  And Haru can’t help but take the bait and be provoked – as smart as he is in school, he’s incredibly dumb in matters of emotion.  There may have been a time when Haru considered Yamaken a friend, but I don’t think the feeling was ever mutual – and things between them have never been more charged with the potential for ugliness.

None of the three people involved in this growing triangle is solely responsible for this – Shizuku isn’t really responsible at all apart from the fact of her existence – but they’re all essential to the dysfunction it creates.  What’s always been clear is that Haru has been burned by a lifetime of emotional rejection, and we’re only now seeing scraps of detail about that.  And Yamaken, being far more self-aware than Haru, has clearly seen this too – taking advantage of Haru’s gullibility before Mitty entered the picture, and his jealousy now that she has.  As for Haru, Yamaken isn’t the problem where Mitty is concerned, he is – but Yamaken is the catalyst that brings it to the surface most violently and unpleasantly.  And as far as Yamaken and Mitty are concerned, she’s the one thing that really rattles his cage – his aura of serene self-assuredness broken every time he sees her and is forced to wonder why he’s fixated on her despite how “plain” she is and how he (in his own mind, at the very least, and probably somewhat in reality too) has his choice of girls any time he wants.

During their late-night chance meeting Haru asks Yamaken “Are you scared of me?” and of course, the unspoken answer is yes – and it isn’t without good reason, which cuts to the heart of the problem.  Haru is a scary person sometimes – the angry boy who throws cans after petty provocation (this is the third time he’s inadvertently struck Shizuku) and makes shocking comments on the spur of the moment.  I feel quite confident that Haru would never intentionally do anything to harm Shizuku, partly because I believe he means it when he says so (and that he loves her) and partly because at heart he’s simply not that kind of person.  But there’s a problem in that he’d say such things in the first place, and that he’s clearly capable of harming those for whom he feels enmity rather than affection.  We still don’t know all the ways in which those Haru has loved have hurt him – it’s very clear that Yuzan (good to see Sawashiro Miyuki finally getting some work) has done a considerable amount of damage himself – but it’s absolutely obvious than he’s just not capable of believing anyone can love him and not hurt him, which is at the heart both of his relationship issues with Mitty and his vulnerability to Yamaken.

While Mitty is neither responsible for the rehabilitation of Haru’s soul or his blood feud with Yamaken, she’s not completely free of baggage in this relationship herself.  Yamaken – who certainly understands her better than Haru does – has already put the “why does it have to be all or nothing?” question to her, and it sums up her issues pretty well.  Shizuku isn’t nearly so different from Haru as it might appear – they’re both extremely smart, socially inept (though in quite different ways) and dealing with issues of abandonment.  We don’t know how Haru’s relationship with his mother ended but it’s clearly a source of much neurosis for Mitty, but the difference – and perhaps why her frustration is channeled in a more inward and less dangerous direction – is that she still has a close relationship with her father and brother.  Haru seems to have no emotional parachute in his life whatsoever – he’s been in free fall for his entire childhood until he grabbed onto Shizuku’s spider silk.

I think Mitty sums up this relationship best herself – “Why is it that we’re always out of sync?”  Haru always finds her when he’s at his most emotionally desperate as if by fate, and reaches out to her in a completely vulnerable and loving manner than touches her at every level – then says the worst possible thing he can.  When he says “I want you” and “I’ve been restraining myself” he doesn’t mean sexually – I think even Mitty realizes this after a moment – bur that he’s simply incapable of placing his trust in someone he loves without “proof” that they won’t burn him.  What really needs to happen is for someone to explain to one or both of them just what’s so obvious to the viewer, but life usually doesn’t work that way, and they agonizingly continue to fumble around in the dark, missing each other every time.  I don’t know if this is fixable, but I don’t join the chorus who dismiss Haru as a bad person or a bad character – in a universe full of uninteresting romantic leads, he’s utterly fascinating.  And Tonari pulls no punches by trying to simplify him or turn him into a teddy bear – he’s more of a grizzly.  Haru is a mess, and risky, and damaged – but for me, really fascinating both individually and as part of a relationship with Shizuku.

By necessity, this ep was somewhat short on both humor and on the rest of the cast – though there was an interesting bookend with Natsume.  She has a very interesting reaction when she sees the photo Sasayan has snapped of Yamaken and Mitty – and not because of them, but because Mi-chan is in the picture.  And Sasayan’s reaction is even more interesting, as always communicating a lot without words.  And we see Natsume at the end, apparently resolved to confess her feelings (I see a soft landing for her here, courtesy of Mi-chan’s regard for lost little birds).  And we have this friend of Ooshima’s, who catches Yamaken in the manly art of self-admiration a couple times during the episode – another reminder than Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun delivers up some of the best facial animations of the season.

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  1. B

    i just finished watching this. I feel bad for Haru, I really do. But he is just so damn scary that i'm left conflicted. I'm glad that they finally went into Haru's past though (about time too!). wait wait? just that many episodes. They definitely need another season. I mean, so far anyway, they've hardly covered anything. I feel like the series is just beginning! How is the manga. better?

    What do you think. Think he would have pushed Yamaken that day if shizuku hadn't appeared? A bit of a scary thought isn't it.

    Yamaken is frustrating when he pushes Haru's buttons. I also hate the fact that he basically took advantage of him throughout his life but there's another part of me that is really starting to like him. And that part of me roots for him when there are those moments between him and Shizuku. But realistically speaking, Haru and Shizuku are good for each other, so I just hope that Yamaken can find someone that can change him for the better too.

  2. N

    I find it interesting how Yamaken doesn't try to walk in front of Haru even after remembering that he told Haru to never walk in front of him. And I am not sure if it is just fear that stops him.

  3. A

    I wonder if Haru remembers this to?

  4. A

    I really really like how flawed Haru is as well. He's far from perfect but he's changing bit by bit thanks to Shizuku, no? Yamaken may be a better match for Shizuku but in the end, Haru is the one she loves.

  5. H

    Is he really changing? Or is he getting worse? It seems he was much better about dealing with Shizuku before, and for the last few episodes he's been threatening people more, harassing people more, and generally being a real bratty thug. And even if that's because Shizuku isn't giving Haru something he wants, it seems pretty obvious that 1) she doesn't know what he wants and 2) Haru may not even know what he wants. The demands he's making lately seem wholly unreasonable.

  6. I don't think he's getting worse, he's just not getting better when it comes to his violent streak. His social interaction among his group of friends is certainly far more normal than it was at the start of the series. The problem is that his insecurity about Shizuku is bringing out his dark side.

  7. H

    I really don't think Haru's a bad person, but I do think that he is a dangerous person to be around for everyone. It's obvious by this point that he cannot control his temper, and his idea of 'restraining himself' is woefully inadequate. While he's a sympathetic figure, he loses some of that sympathy by complaining about having to restrain himself in ways that *he should do anyway*.

    And while they are again out of sync, at this point I'm not sure if Haru has any chance at being in sync with Shizuku. To me, he seems to have regressed, although that might be because we didn't see how he'd interact as a boyfriend before. Even as Shizuku tries to reassure him, he's gotten seemingly more paranoid about the presence of other guys around. Maybe that's because of who those guys are, or maybe it's because Shizuku really wasn't around anyone before, but so far we haven't really had much of an adequate explanation for any of Haru's issues.

  8. g

    Well there must be a reason why Yuzan resented his brother towards the end in that flashback scene; he was struggling with that resentment in the first scene when he said "I wish I could (hate you)". Again I refuse to get stuck in "default audience sheep mode" like many include unfortunately G. Enzo here just because that's what the story tells you via Haru's point of view and just blame the bad guys all the way. That's too fucking easy. I choose to believe that a life doesn't really have black and white characters and instead many shades of grey (more than 50!!)

    Now to be clear, I have no doubt Yuzan is no angel and all likelihood has many unappealing qualities as a character. I am no Yuzan lover since I barely know the character to be begin with. And it's clear that he has hurt Haru in some ways. Nevertheless it seems to me that he was jerked around in his youth against his will and stuck in unhappy childhood due to Haru or at least that's his point of view of the events- and perhaps Haru has hurt him in some ways as well. Some gets close with their siblings to overcome distress while some starts to resent the other.

    In any case, I don't buy that Haru is 100% victim while Yuzan is 100% perpetrator in the brothers relationship until I see more evidence (even though I do see the damages done to Haru) and I suggest many of you to withhold the condemnation until the due time. Why can we all be less judgmental especially when not having all the evidence?

  9. g

    Also not sure who claims that Haru is a bad person? That's just as bad and just giving up and tossing aside the character. He's no saint, either, but I refuse to give up and toss them aside any of Tonari characters. They all are imperfect and hurt each other intentionally or unintentionally and that's how it should it be.

  10. I'd be very interested in reading the post you're responding to, but sadly it doesn't look familiar.

  11. d

    Why yes. Sawashiro Miyuki finally landed a role for a change! Fuck yeah! I was so~~ worried sick since we haven't heard her for so long! It's only like 3-5 lines, but it's a start damn it! We really missed her talent. Let's all hope for her speedy rebound and getting back the voice acting world after such lengthy hiatus/semi-retirement…..

  12. A

    She's been in around 10 or more shows every year for the last 5+ years…are you thinking of someone else?

  13. T

    Watch out Shirokuma-kun! There is a new trolling sheriff in town!!!!! Yuu's speciality is the dead-pan childlike staring until the opponent loses all confidence and walks away in shame. Even Haru has no chance against her staring. Seriously it should be an epic trolling match between those two.

  14. I

    I don't know what will happen to me in January. Will I be happy that Chihayafuru is back (small miracles happen) or sad that Tonari will be gone? Will Positive outweigh Negative? Can one anime replace another?

    There both so similar in the way they treat characters; with dignity, respect and occasionally brutal honesty. What do you think Enzo?

  15. No anime replaces another, really. Be sad about the one and happy about the other, I guess.

  16. h

    You need to give a credit when it's due. I give the studio of this anime a big chunk of the credit for making this show fairly unique.

    The adaptation here is "highly stylized" and it seems like it's working with most of audience. When I read the manga, I thought it was a good shojo manga, but not necessarily an outstanding one, but this anime adaptation has, I dare say, improved it and give a different flavor with this stylized treatment. It has this vivid color treatment+rapid cut frames+good voice actors+"highly stylized" vibe the anime gives that I can't really articulate here.

    If you look at what others have done to, say, "sukitte ii na yo", which I consider as more of the typical anime adaptation method, the studio for Tonari clearly made some bold move and it's paying off here.

  17. That's classic Brains Base, though. They're a studio with real talent and creativity, and they have a track record of taking really good source material (Natsume and KamiDolls come to mind) and making it even better by giving it faithful but not photo-realistically so adaptation.

  18. A

    Well, here's what I would think and wish — definitely very much looking forward to Chihayafuru season 2 but also want to see Tonari season 2 coming.

    I like Tonari a lot for not only how easy that it can make me laugh, but — and most importantly — how much I am drawn to the characters. Tonari is not a simple shoujo. Underneath the romance and comedy, it is a show packed with a lot of likable but complex characters — they all have likable traits, flaws and baggages…pretty much like us all. In a one-cour, I think the creator has done a great job in giving us a nice tip of the iceberg while making us giggle and weep and letting us enjoy the wonderful visuals all at the same time.

    I also like its story-telling. Things happen naturally and subtly in Tonari — unlike in some other shows that the story is either formulaic or it is full of two-dimensional characters with changeable traits to fit the plot.

    While doubtful, I still hope for a nice ending but truly wish for a season 2.

    How's the sales of Tonari's manga or BD? Does anyone know? Please share. Appreciated.


  19. A

    Not good the first volume only sold about 2000+ copies. Among all three shoujos Kamisama Hajimemashita is the only one doing well while Sukitte might end up like the poor sales of Natsuyuki Rendezvous..

  20. A

    That isn't surprising. I think people overvalue the taste of the Japanese buying public sometimes.

  21. A

    Thanks…let's just hope that there will be a season 2 then. Thanks again.


  22. Actually 2500, which is what V. 1 did, isn't bad for a shoujo at all. That's about what Chihayafuru averaged. It really depends on the manga sales – Tonari isn't the seller that Chihayafuru is to begin with so the numeric bump will be smaller, but if it's enough by percentage we might see a second season.

  23. A

    Thanks, Enzo…hopefully we can see a season 2 that delves deeper into the characters and gives us more laugh…


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