Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun: The paranoid muppet
October 3, 2012 4 Comments
Shoujo is a curious genre, one that is prone to melodrama and terribly weak female characters that spend half their time waiting for ‘prince charming’ to come along and whisk them off of their feet. But, like most manga and anime genres, shoujo is so broad that there are also numerous gems to be found that decide to either challenge or change this vicious circle of melodrama and often annoying characters. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is one such series, an anime about dysfunctional characters who are so weird they fit together perfectly. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun starts off very well largely because of the larger than life character of Haru, his high jinks and weird interpretations of what it means to be at school help to propel the story forward. There is drama like all high school romance anime, but it has yet to fall into the trap of standard shoujo melodrama.
The series is more of a character piece at the moment with the fopcus squarely on the weird and whacky relationship between the two main protagonists. Shizuku Mizutani is the series main protagonist, a fairly dull girl who is utterly focussed on her studies so that she can achieve her goal of earning ¥10,000,000 a year (roughly £80,000/$129,000). With such a focus she has no room for friends and is therefore a loner, staying in her small world of sums and figures without ever trying something different. We are told that during elementary school when the classes’ rabbit died her indifference to the situation (despite also loving animals) caused her to gain the nickname ‘Dry Ice’. This suits her initial characterisation quite well; she is as dry and as cold to everyone around her as dry ice, showing complete indifference to everyone in the class and even her teacher.
By comparison Haru Yoshida is completely delusional with an overactive imagination and a penchant for attacking anyone who looks the least bit threatening. Seeing him jump out of what is possibly a second or third story window as soon as Shizuku brings up his school just shows how crazy he is. The way he is suspicious of everything involved with this mystical place known as ‘school’, while also being fascinated by it and wanting to know what happens there. He is a character that angers easily, but is also very innocent of the world, showing his naïve side when he willingly gives away money to people who he considers to be friends, but who consider him as an easy way to get some extra cash. His dysfunctional and willingness to give people money so that they keep hanging around with him suggest a naïve and very innocent character.
Haru’s innocence borders on the ludicrous – seeing him willing to essentially kidnap and threaten Shizuku with rape so that he can show her a dog just shows his inability to properly interact with others. Like Shizuku he has no friends, however, in his case he truly wants them and does his best to keep people near him. In Shizuku’s case she is utterly focussed on studying and considers friends to be a waste of time, whereas Haru yearns for them, and because he is so eager to please people is used and abused by others. He is also utterly dislusional and despite his fascination with school views it as a dangerous place where everyone is attempting to hurt him in some way. His violence at the beginning of the school term can be attributed to this mindset, with him lashing out in self-defence, or at least what he considered to be self-defence. The threats and general combative attitude that the school has with him, such as suspending him before he even had a chance to properly attend the school has lead to his feelings of mistrust.
Haru is however a very straightforward and trusting character that immediately considers Shizuku a friend even though she only delivered the class notes in order to get a new study guide. Her selfish reasons for delivering these notes are in stark contrast to the completely open and sincere trust that Haru displays when around her throughout this first episode. Furthermore, the way she ignores his constant advances and simply dismisses his friendship as being ridiculous and unneeded demonstrates how cold, calculating and perhaps dull she is. But, as with all such series by meeting Haru Shizuku slowly begins to change and adapt to her surroundings. By accepting his friendship and allowing herself to do something other than studying we see Shizuku start to change and grow even though it is the first episode. There are a couple of scenes that some people may find offensive such as the afore-mentioned scene involving the threat of rape (although in keeping with his character it never seems serious), along with the scene where he accidentally hits her on the nose. In both cases these scenes really help to show how naive and childlike Haru is – he hurts Shizuku despite apparently rushing to her rescue, demonstrating his inability to asses the situation and act rationally. Basically neither scene seems particularly serious or troublesome in any way.
Overall Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun got off to a good start with the introduction of our main characters including numerous side characters that are likely to feature more as the series progresses. The relationship between Haru and Shizuku is obviously central, but at the same time it is also a fascinating one to watch with Haru’s weird behaviour and Shizuku’s ability to control him. It is a bit like Shizuku and Haru is the large, floppy dog that likes to wander around the place, and who constantly jumps up to hug passers-by. Such a description perfectly encapsulates their current relationship – but at the same time Haru is straightforward with his feelings in a way that Shizuku is currently incapable of. His confession of love along with the sudden kiss at the end show that he loves her in some way, but because of his naivety and innocence he doesn’t necessarily understand or even think about the consequences of his actions. It was a good first episode and demonstrated that while it is a genre often associated with melodrama and weak or annoying female characters, there are plenty of shoujo titles out there that are worth looking at.