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My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 21 March 2013 00:00
Autumn was a good season for shoujo, what with this, Say 'I Love You' and Kamisama Kiss - and that wasn't even all of them. But none of them managed to switch so easily between sweet, funny and disturbing as My Little Monster...

Shizuku Mizutani is one of the most dedicated students you'll ever meet, determined to always be top of her class and put the knowledge gained to endless studying to good use in making her filthy rich. Haru Yoshida is the Phantom Student in her class - suspended early in the year for an excessively bloody punchup, he hasn't been back since - but when their year teacher sends Shizuku to deliver some class printouts to Haru, it marks the beginning of a rather strange relationship, as Haru instantly falls in love with the first person who's made any sort of effort to get to know him. And Shizuku isn't initially impressed by his attention...

"Studybug" quickly becomes Shizuku's nickname in this series, and it's well deserved - there's nothing, Haru included, that rates higher in her mind than getting the best possible grades and securing the best possible educational future for herself. It's an obsession for her - and so when Haru comes along and starts making demands on her time, it's hard for her to deal with. Add in the complications of actually making friends - something she's never really bothered with before - with the likes of classmate Natsume and class rep Oshima, and there are many changes afoot in her life.

Shizuku was instantly 'best girl of the season' for me - she has a cynical outlook on life and a general disregard for what other people might think that I found refreshing. In short, she takes hery little sh*t from anyone. Natsume is insecure and needy under the surface, but for the most part does a good job of hiding and comes across as a genuinely likeable girl, who's pleased to have formed a friendship-of-sorts with Shizuku but who can be a little fragile when Shizu's too honest with her - her facade is easily punctured. Oshima in some ways is Shizu's potential rival for Haru's affections, at least in her own mind, but her overbearing shyness would ruin any chance she had there that may have existed. It's a classic case of a bunch of dysfunctional characters, brought together to eventually find in each other that that's all okay.

Haru, then, is the exception that proves the rule. He's also dysfunctional, but in ways that very much aren't okay. The warning bells go off very loudly half-way through the opening episode, when he drags Shizu into an alleyway and threatens to rape her if she doesn't do as he says - which to him seems a perfectly normal thing to do, but scares the wits out of Shizu. And yet a few minutes later he's telling her he loves her. At another point in the series, he gives serious thought to tossing someone off a building, for daring to spend too much time with Shizuku. Haru is dangerous, prone to violence and lacking the emotional intelligence to know when he should pull back and behave. You can see why the series is called My Little Monster - he very much is, to the point where I didn't want to watch him.

But then in many ways, the series is about Shizu being a moderating influence on him, and calming him down to the point where he too can make friends and have a normal high-school life. It's just that every so often he slips back into his own way, and reminds us all of the beast that lurks beneath the surface. When that happens, My Little Monster is difficult viewing, and you can't help but wish Shizu would pay more attention to him and realised she'd be better off away from him.

And the strangest thing is that apart from Haru's "issues", the series plays out like a highschool comedy, with more than a hint of His and Hers Circumstances about it - and that's a really good comparison to make. For 80% of each episode there's plenty of fun to be had, watching the antics of the growing group of people that Shizuku's striking up friendships with, and it very rarely sets a foot wrong. The only thing I'd really complain about was the way that the first episode seems to set Haru and Shizu up as a proper couple, before undoing all that in episode 2 and dropping us back into are-they-aren't-they territory for the rest of the series. Without Haru messing it up, it would be a properly enjoyable series. But every so often he goes off the rails and messes it up.

The end result, then, is a bit of a conundrum. There's so much good about it, but it's heavily weighed down by Haru's inability to treat people properly, and that can get to be a real frustration at times. Balance the two aspects off and it's still very good overall, but its flaws lead to it getting a lower mark than it otherwise would.

Rating - ****