My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun) Print
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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 - ****

1 - Sitting Next to Yoshida-kun
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...


2 - Weird
Shizuku and Yoshida end up going to the restaurant Yoshida has been rambling about for the past few days. But when Shizuku can't escape the thought of Yoshida kissing her, she decides to forget about it by eating. A lot. Later, a girl named Natsume Asako asks her a favor - Shizuku initially refuses, but it seems that she and Natsume may have something in common...


3 - Nusiance
Shizuku immediately regrets telling Haru she loves him, and backtracks as quickly as she can - a lie, she tells him - and she's surprised when this 'revelation' seems to please him. Just what does he really feel for her? Meanwhile, with Sasahara not being able to look after the chicken that Haru 'adopted', something needs to be done to create some living space for it - and so, with permission from their teacher, the gang start work of creating a chicken run - but some problem, in the form of Haru's former 'friends', keep getting in their way...


4 - Summer Break
Shizuku tells Haru that he should stop constantly glaring at people - it's what makes others so wary around him - so he makes an effort to me more approachable. It's a move that soon brings results in the form of increased popularity with the girls at school - and increased jealousy from Shizuku. Later, the gang head into the mountains during the summer break...


5 - Yoshida Family Matters
The more Shizuku talks to Haru, the more she realises how little she knows about his - and while she wants to know more about his past, apart from the occasional nugget that comes out in coversation it's a subject that he clearly doesn't want to talk about. When Yuzan drops by the school to speak to Shizuku, though, he turns out to be far more talkative...


6 - Girls Feeling Melancholy
Shizuku realizes that the more she thinks about Haru, the worse her grades get - and she's now down to 29th place in the mock exams. Oshima's also got Haru on her mind after their recent chance encounters, but she's too introverted to act on her feelings - until Haru decides to talk to her over lunchbreak...


7 - The Distance Between Us
Haru and Shizuku's relationship keeps flipping back and forth, and now that Shizuku seems to have friendzoned him, Haru's more determined than ever to win her over. You always want what you can't have, after all. Meanwhile, Oshima's doing her best to take advantage of Shizuku's changeable feelings.....


8 - Come Down to Syoyo Festival!
It’s the day of the school festival, and tension are running high between Haru and Shizuku. With Yamaken causing trouble, Natsume trying to help her friends, and Shizuku pushing everybody away, the group might be a verge of a breakdown - with the tipping point coming when Haru delivers a strong right-hook on Shizuku...


9 - All or Nothing
Haru may not have been on his most appealing form during the colture festival, but regardless, Shizuku has decided that it's time she stopped running from her feelings for him. The wind's taken out of her sails, though, when she learns that her father's business has collapsed - and that he hasn't bothered telling her...


10 - Christmas
It’s Christmas time and the mysterious Summer X has been planning a party for months - and whoever it is, they seem remarkably keen on having Shizuku attend. Summer X's cover is soon blown - Natsume, naturally - but Shizuku agrees to go along. The party takes a turn for the worse, though, when Yamaken and friends invite themselves to the festivities...


11 - The Yamaguchis' Son, Kenji-kun
Kenji is appalled at the notion he could have feelings for Shizuku - after all, where's the fun in falling for someone who as much of a study bug as she it? - but the more he fights it, the more he finds himself flirting with her. Haru, aware of Kenji’s feelings, approaches him one more time - with a warning...


12 - The Year Draws to a Close
Natsume's having to leran how to deal with other people - it's something that doesn't come naturally to her, especially when she's away from Shizuku. Somehow, she finds herself spending time with Haru, safe in the knowledge that he's not going to try and hit on her - but it seems that she may have some feelings of her own for him...


13 - Spring is Near
The first sunrise of the year - a mark for a fresh star, unless you're Shizuku and overly picky about precisely what the definition of a sunrise is. But while Shizuku and Haru are enjoying the occasion, Natsume slips quietly away, not feeling quite right with the others. But a case of Haru acting stranger than usual sees Natsume brought back into the mix again...



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