Ah, Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun – another great anime that tanked commercially. My endorsement (I ranked it #6 in a quite strong 2012) is surely the kiss of death for any series, but no matter how many times it happens it never ceases to piss me off. Because this show will almost surely get no further anime adaptation, this OAD amounts to very likely its swan song – so I can’t help but have a heavy heart, no matter how much fun it is. And damn, this one was a lot of fun.
There are lots of different routes a studio can go with an OVA/OAD, but I very much like the path Brains Base chose with this one. They adapted a side story from the manga, a re-imagining of the main cast set in the Edo Period, and it allows them to have a blast with the characters without worrying too much about canon. Too often OADs play like episodes that weren’t good enough for TV or teasers for the manga, but this is solidly entertaining in its own right and as these fantasy stories sometimes do, subtly shed some light on the characters.
The plot is pure gleeful silliness: the gang is living in an Edo Period village torn by fighting between the Mizutani and Yoshida factions. Shizuka is a schoolteacher, Haru (as Harunosuke) the Gokudou (gangster) of the title. Natsume is a gossip-sheet peddler, Sasayan is a ninja/government spy, Yuu a sort of snarky Greek chorus… Haru and Shizuka (“O-Shizu”) meet randomly after he saves her from drowning and begin a forbidden flirtation neither knows is forbidden. There’s a district-wide ban on sweets, Yuuzan continues to be a big troublemaker, and a hilarious random plot twist involving Nagoya leads to the improbable (no less so than DNA testing in the Edo Period) yet somehow quite touching ending.
More than anything it’s just great to see this cast again. I love this group as much as any in anime for a long time – the main four are wonderful individually and have great chemistry both as friends and potential paramours, and the supporting cast is equal to their standard. If I have any complaint it’s that Natsume ends up pursuing her crush on Mi-chan rather than wising up and realizing she and Sasayan are great together, but the ending involving Mitty and Haru (again, the format gives the writer the freedom to go places he might not otherwise go) makes up for it. Gokudou-kun isn’t strictly essential as it relates to the main timeline, but how could anything be more essential if you love Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun? This is for my money the best – and the least genre-constrained – shoujo romance of the last few years, and even with their great track record some of Brains Base best work ever.